For newspapers, death comes slowly, then all at once. One year ago, Canadian newspaper company Metroland Media announced that the 149-year-old “intensely local” Guelph Mercury, one of the oldest newspapers in the country, would stop publishing its print edition. The announcement came on a Monday; on Friday, Jan. 29, the paper printed its last issue, and Guelph lost its last daily newspaper.
In many ways, the outline of the Mercury’s decline is a standard one for the industry: Torstar, Metroland’s parent company, said that its print advertising revenue dipped 13 percent from 2014 to 2015, echoing declines felt at newspaper companies across the board. It was an afternoon paper, a type of daily that’s been particularly endangered for decades, and it counted just 9,000 subscribers at the time it stopped publishing, a 25 percent decline from two years prior.
But most North American newspapers have adapted to revenue and circulation declines by shrinking — not by closing altogether. And the Guelph Mercury story also diverges when you consider Guelph itself. The city’s population, 121,688 according to Canada’s 2011 census, grew at an average of 1.58 percent per year from 2009 to 2013, outpacing Ontario overall, according to official city data. It has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and is home to the University of Guelph. In other words, it’s the kind of market that, by conventional metrics, should be able to support a daily newspaper. This makes the Guelph Mercury’s closing either a natural extension of current trends — or the start of a disturbing new one.
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