Nickie Shobeiry is Apt613’s correspondent at Synapcity, Ottawa non-profit for civic engagement, connecting people across diverse communities to share perspectives and create positive change.
The Richmond Hub is an independent community news site that opened following the closure of the Stittsville News, aiming to be a vibrant part of Richmond’s community life. The support from the community has already been astounding, with over 1,200 unique visitors to the site, and growing reach across social media platforms. Below, we speak with John Shearer, the editor.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: You launched in Richmond’s 200th year following the closure of Stittsville News. What was the inspiration behind this? What is the importance of community papers?
John Shearer: They’re absolutely vital in a small community, and with the history that Richmond has. Without some form of communication like a community newspaper, what do you have to bind the communities together? You just become another suburb, or a place to eat and sleep as opposed to a community, in my view. The closure of Stittsville News was the spark that really got us going.
Do you work with sponsors?
Local businesses have been very supportive of the Richmond Village Association. Through their sponsorship, and working with the Village Association, we’ve been able to make this thing possible. It’s entirely funded by the Village Association, and that allows us to have a degree of independence in terms of our editorial content, to cover stories from all angles.
I have absolutely no background in this! I was a career public servant at the federal level. Since retirement, I’ve done a bit of volunteer work with the Richmond Village Association. I got involved in looking after the website – I had no experience, but I learnt as I went.
When this project came along, I knew it was easy to put up a website – that’s not the challenge. The challenge is creating engaging content that gets the community engaged, and sustaining that content over time. The bicentennial year, coupled with the demise of our paper… you couldn’t ask for a more ideal time to launch something like this.
How do you overcome the mentioned challenges?
I had faith that there were people in the community who would step forward, and that faith is being realised. Within the first week of launching, there were two people who wanted to publish stories on the site. There’s been a photographer who has given us access to his great work. I’ve since been contacted – out of the blue – by the South Carleton High School with an inquiry as to whether or not we’d be interested in having a co-op student come on. It’s happening!
What is the most important thing you have seen come out of the Richmond Hub?
The support has been absolutely tremendous. The Manotick Messenger has decided to extend their publication to cover this area as well, and again, within the first week of publishing the Richmond Hub, the owner and publisher of the Manotick Messenger approached me to collaborate. He’s picked a couple of stories from our site and published them, and we’ll be doing the same, using some of their resources to get different stories out.
The Manotick Messenger is in print. How have you found this to differ from digital platforms?
I don’t see them as competitive – I believe there’s a synergy between the two. The digital is of course an ongoing thing. There’s new content appearing every day, an event happens. Print is a bi-weekly publication.
If you’re a hockey player on a local team, and you won a game, boy, you would love to see your picture in the print paper, to pin it on the refrigerator! You can’t do that with a digital copy, but if you want the latest news instantaneously, then digital is the place. You can put up calendars with events from within the community that are live and organic, from churches and other community groups. It’s a place people can go to find out what’s happening in our community, how they can participate. There’s opportunities for both print and digital.
New public high school for Stittsville. Impact on South Carleton yet to be determined. https://t.co/7CT4pUnB17
— Richmond HUB (@HUBreport) January 21, 2018
A CityMaker is someone who contributes to their city with the aim of making it better, whatever that means to them. How are you a CityMaker?
I hope the Richmond Hub helps to fill the void that was left when the Stittsville News folded. Beyond that, I hope that we can be a catalyst by engaging and informing the community, so more and more people at the local level get involved on a volunteer-basis, or otherwise, to support their community, especially in this bicentennial year.
For local businesses, I see a real opportunity to promote them and encourage people to shop locally. Not that there’s anything wrong with shopping beyond the local area, but if we don’t support our local businesses, it affects the infrastructure that is so nice to have within the community.
From one CityMaker to another, what advice do you have about making Ottawa better?
Just get involved, get out there. You learn by doing, it’s all experience. You might not be successful on the first attempt, but just try it and keep trying.