Tara de Ryk admits the idea seemed, even to her, to be a bit ‘loonie’ – keep her Saskatchewan weekly newspaper alive by selling the business for the price of a well-written editorial and a dollar.
But after months of searching fruitlessly for a local buyer for the Davidson Leader and after only ‘tire-kickers’ responded to an online pitch for purchaser, de Ryk was willing to try “this crazy idea” suggested by Steve Nixon, executive director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association.
Run a contest, he told her. ‘Sell’ the paper to an enthusiastic applicant whose purchase price will be $1 and a 500-word column.
Just a week or so into the promotion, there have been several national news stories and a couple of promising buyer prospects. “I’ve had some sincere interest,” she said.
While at Western, de Ryk, BA’92, lived in “a big old house” near campus with eight roommates while she earned a degree in Medieval History.
Although events of 1,000-year-old Europe aren’t as pressing as today’s deadlines, the social sciences offered a good foundation for her later diploma in journalism. de Ryk learned layout and pagination in her job at the St. Thomas Times-Journal and then became reporter at the Amherstburg Echo, where she gained an appreciation for community news.
“I really found my niche. I became aware you just have to have a bit more consideration, more empathy in how you’re writing things” when you see your readers every day at the local gas bar or feed mill, she said.
Eventually, she and her husband made their way to Saskatchewan, where she was hired as editor of the Davidson Leader in 1999.
Now, 20 years later, it’s time to move on. She would like to spend more time with her husband and their three children and visit with family in Ontario more often – without the looming weekly commitment of a Friday deadline and Monday publication.
The paper is distributed through roughly a 100-kilometre radius of Davidson, which is midway between Saskatoon and Regina.
Her decision to retire was two years in the making.
“It’s profitable; it still is,” she said. “But, yeah, it takes a lot of energy – I’m not going to sugar-coat that. In a weekly paper, even in traditional media, you have to be ambitious. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to be.”
The family has no plans to leave Saskatchewan, where she admires and respects the smart, entrepreneurial spirit of residents, who persist in spite of the vagaries of weather, crop failure and low prices. “It’s always ‘next-year’ country,” she said. “It’s been a difficult couple of years but they’re a tough farming community and they’ve always been resilient.”
A little like the newspaper itself which, despite a rural exodus and a 24/7 Internet news cycle, does better than hang on week after week.
It’s a region where people prefer the feel of paper in their hands to grazing through an online version.
Davidson has a population of about 1,000 and the Leader has a print circulation of about 1,200.
In the left-corner ‘ear’ of each edition is a photo of Davidson’s roadside attraction, a world’s-largest 7-metre-high painted giant coffee pot that represents the community’s hospitality.
There’s no shortage of news, whether it’s a police search for two men who tried to pass off counterfeit cash and gift cards at the local gas station, or a campaign to rebuild a nearby curling rink that blew down in a plough wind.
Nor is there a shortage of advertisers, and the Ford dealer 45 miles away (“We talk in miles here,” de Ryk said.) considers it well worth his while to buy full-page ads because he knows readers in Davidson will be interested in his best deal on pick-up trucks.
de Ryk is keen on seeing the paper continue as one of the important institutions of the area. The contest closes on Dec. 13. She hopes to help train the new owner within the next few weeks, with a possible Jan. 1 hand-off.
“I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic, which I haven’t been for a bit,” she said.