Serving Toronto's most liveable community with the Annex Gleaner

When you say it fast it sounds like fifty: The Annex Gleaner celebrates 15 years

May 17th, 2010 · No Comments

By Jacob Arnfield

The brainchild of original editor Deanne Fisher, The Annex Gleaner originally had a mandate to represent and foster our local community and we’ve stuck to our guns.

This month marks 15 years of the paper being published. Fisher recounted why she felt it necessary to start a local paper back in 1995. When it came to various local concerns she said there were, “Issues that seemed to interest all my neighbours and me and there wasn’t a place where these were being written about. I was also interested in holding our elected officials at the very local level accountable for what they were doing and knowing what they were doing.”

While at the time the Gleaner was the only game in town, competition from larger news conglomerates began in the Annex when they realized they could cash in on the lucrative local market.  But we remain the only independently owned community paper in the neighbourhood.

Brian Burchell, our publisher since the paper’s inception, said a large part of the Gleaner’s staying value could be attributed to being a paper that calls it like it sees it. “We’ve done that frequently and we’ve faced the consequences to the bottom line. It’s not a bottom line business. We’ve done it for all the right reasons. We firmly believe in the craft and we believe in the community we’re serving,” he said.

Another part of our success is a business model of giving people something they didn’t know they wanted, right at their doorstep. “In an iPod driven world, people know what they want to hear, they go get it, they put it on their iPod, they get on the subway,” said Burchell. “We’re providing information to people they don’t know they want to glean.”

Fisher said an early addition to the paper she made—our annual parks reports—is something she’s glad to see is still around. “I think that’s what local coverage is all about,” she said, adding that by focusing on small things like parks, communities can grow strong.

Burchell said he was proudest when the Gleaner was able to successfully champion the cause of local businesses. The most prominent example he mentioned was helping save Dooney’s Cafe (which sadly closed last year) from becoming a Starbucks in the Gleaner‘s early days. The response from the community to our article was so strong that Starbucks backed out and took a full-page ad in the paper “apologizing to the community for daring to try and take away their treasured café.”

“We saved the business and we got to champion community values, which are buy local and not being terrible thrilled about a big corporation pushing the little guy around,” he said.

And our relationship with local businesses is reciprocal. Fisher said one of the reasons the Gleaner was able to flourish is, “there’s a lot of local advertisers who don’t have anywhere else to showcase their mom-and-pop-type businesses and who really are catering to the local community.”

And what would a story trumpeting ourselves be without a little community response? We spoke to a few residents and they said such nice things we felt obligated to share them.

“If someone wants to make a statement or communicate to the community, the Gleaner‘s always been there,” said Neil Wright, a local real estate broker and advertiser since day one. “You have excellent reporting. You’ve always been unbiased. You’ve taken the stories and you’ve looked deeply into them. You’ve had excellent writers and at times you’ve even scooped the national newspapers on stories because of your research.”

Another advertiser, Larry Freedman, a dentist and resident of the Annex for the past 21 years said the Gleaner, “Echoes the neighbourhood and let’s us know what’s going on about some stuff because we’re all living way too busy lives.”

Freedman added, “There’s always an article that I actually read in the Gleaner. There’s a bunch that I glance over, but there’s always something that I read. So that’s cool. I think that’s a good thing, for a community paper. I think that’s actually pretty good.”

Gus Sinclair, former chair, and long time member of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association had equally wonderful things to say. “To have a paper… to tell people about what’s going on in the community with a strictly local interest, it’s incalculable how good it is.”

While the Internet has changed the media landscape irrevocably, it seems community papers like the Gleaner are still thriving where major metropolitans are suffering.

“Community newspapers have fared very well over the recession because they’re hyper local. They are the main communication source in their communities,” said Anne Lannan, executive director of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association.

Still, changes have been necessary over the years. The Gleaner has introduced a web page and has incorporated social media as a communication tool, although Burchell notes that these are still “adjuncts to the primary vehicle.”

“We’ll continue to evolve. We’re not so arrogant to think that we can be in a position to ignore changes going on around us,” he said.

Here’s to the next fifteen years.

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