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Daily media can learn lesson from weeklies

Posted on November 28, 2013 by Vauxhall Advance

It must be a subject of some chagrin for rural Albertans that their smaller communities are often left out in the proverbial cold when it comes to the spotlight of provincial and national media, at least from a more positive perspective.

While it is admittedly the nature of the beast at times for media to focus on negative stories — most people would probably admit that death, chaos and controversy interest a majority of readers over a variety of more positive media stories — the somewhat selective focus of provincial and national media on negative stories emanating from rural communities in the province might leave readers with the perception that this is all that happens in places like Vauxhall.

Taber, more than most others, is a good example of this unfortunate phenomenon. Ask an outsider what the community is known for, aside from its corn, and the answer is most often a deadly school shooting at W.R. Myers High School in 1999.

Vauxhall hasn’t escaped some scathing attacks. Provincial media jumped on the community in 2010 during the municipal election that year when it struggled to fill a number of vacant council positions, prompting the consideration of little-known contingencies under the Municipal Government Act.

A petition from a group of Vauxhall citizens to officially dissolve the municipality in favour of the town coming under the jurisdiction of the M.D. of Taber centered the attention of provincial media several years ago, as did controversy surrounding the eleventh-hour sale of the Vauxhall Airport by an outgoing town council in 2010.

More recent examples of stories that garnered provincial and national attention in Taber include the assault case involving Joseph Singleton, the online sexual improprieties of a former police commission chair, the extradition from Greece of a former resident on sex-related charges, and a peeping Tom camera incident at a local gas station.

Grassy Lake was also on the hit list when it was revealed some residents of the community had been arrested and charged with a litany of drug smuggling offences in the United States.

And of course most recently, and still grabbing provincial and national headlines, the question of the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at Dr. Hamman School in Taber has elicited strong opinions amongst those on both sides of the issue.

Again, we are not about to suggest that these kinds of stories are undeserving of coverage or are not provincial or national in scope. It should come as no surprise that readership surveys of our own publications have consistently shown coverage of local court to be one of the most widely read areas of coverage in our newspapers.

And the allegation oft-directed by members of the public that coverage is based on “just trying to sell newspapers” reflects a significant misunderstanding on the part of the public on where most papers derive their primary revenue: from advertising, not circulation.

While it is an unfortunate reality that provincial and national media (often with good reason) focus on negative stories in rural communities in the province, weekly publications such as our own are fortunately the rule rather than the exception. The pages of this publication are often full of positive stories and features that abound in this community.

The unfortunate truth is the reading public’s perception of a publication’s focus can often be skewed by a negative story, as we all know these are the stories that are most frequently read. This can lead to an unfair view that this is all a certain newspaper might focus on. It would be a nice change to see provincial and national media focus on a majority of positive stories in rural Alberta, or at least attempt to effect a balance between the two, rather than the apparent status quo.

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