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Film captures the forces contributing to the closure of small-town paper, The Canadian Record

Staff members stuff the weekly community newspaper The Canadian Record. The paper ceased regular publication on March 2, 2023.
Courtesy Heather Courtney
Staff members stuff the weekly community newspaper The Canadian Record. The paper ceased regular publication on March 2, 2023.

When a local newspaper shuts down, who continues to tell those stories? That’s still being determined in the panhandle city of Canadian.

After more than 130 years of publication, The Canadian Record suspended its print edition on March 2.

A new film track’s the paper’s recent struggles and uncertain future. “For the Record” is screening free on April 13 as part of the International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ). While the 6:30 pm screening is open to the public, registration is required.

Heather Courtney directed the film. Laurie Brown is The Canadian Record’s longtime publisher and editor. They both spoke with Texas Standard. Listen to an extended interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Could you describe what kind of a place Canadian is? Laurie, you’re from there?

Laurie Brown: Yes, I was born here, grew up here, escaped for a few years and then came back. It’s a small town in the Texas panhandle, northeastern corner of the panhandle… It’s a beautiful little town.

What’s the history of The Canadian Record?

Laurie Brown: Well, it’s always been a weekly newspaper. It was established in 1893.

My dad became co-editor of the newspaper and then quickly purchased it from the owner in the late 1940s. When he died in 1993, I took over and helped my mom.

Heather, what attracted you to telling this story in the first place?

Heather Courtney: I guess what attracted me initially, and throughout the process, really were the people, especially Laurie. Initially I met Laurie in 2017 and I was just going up to sort of meet them and see how it felt. And, you know, right away I was interested. And then I got pulled away on another project.

But two years later, in 2019, I went back to Laurie and started going to Canadian off and on 2019 through 2022. And I knew, financially, it was difficult to keep the paper going. But you know, who could have foreseen when I started all of the things that happened after, including the global pandemic, which exacerbated the oil bust, and everything else that came along in these last few years.

Laurie, could you share some of the internal tussles you worked through when you were deciding whether to close the paper?

Laurie Brown: I believe in the importance of a community newspaper. I mean, I’ve lived places that didn’t have a good newspaper or that didn’t have one at all. I think it makes a huge difference. And I’ve seen, just in the time that I’ve been editor, I have seen the difference this newspaper makes to the community.

The issues that… we are aware of, we make others aware of. The problems that you need to call attention to and just not only reporting, but editorially commenting on. Issues that are of concern to the community or just to me and trying to influence the decisions that are made not only by the government entities but by the citizens themselves, just by making them aware, more aware, of what’s going on around them or what could happen around them.

Setting aside the financial aspect of it, could you say a little bit about how the job of a small-town newspaper publisher has changed in recent years? I mean, just the atmosphere in which you work?

The obvious changes are the technological ones, and we’ve changed, we’ve reinvented how we produce a newspaper, about, I can’t even count how many phases we’ve been through since I’ve been doing it.

As far as the climate in this community, and the state in this country, it’s become more difficult to work in. Particularly in the last five or six years, for obvious reasons. The divisions in this country are clear in this community as well. And the difference is that, in a small town, everything is a lot more personal.

People walk in [to The Canadian Record] and the editor’s there, and if they have something they want to say, they say it. Or, you know, I go buy groceries and they say it in the produce aisle or wherever they catch me there. So, I mean, there’s this immediate feedback that you get from your community… These are tense times, these are very tense times.

Heather, what do you hope people come away with after watching your movie?

Heather Courtney: Well, what I hope is that, you know, people realize how important local news is and, in particular, local newspapers.

You know, there have been lots of studies that have shown that when there is no source of local news or when this area does not have a local newspaper, that people don’t vote as much, that there is much more corruption in local politics. Most of the issues they cover are about making communities a good place to live.

Laurie, what’s the future of The Canadian Record? The print version is no longer being published, but you are putting some vital updates on Facebook and on the website.

Laurie Brown: Well, I wish I knew. We’re still trying to find someone who is interested in taking over this newspaper. Someone who wants to come and continue what we think is a valuable tradition in this community of good reporting, good news, you know, good news coverage.

We learned that we were being sued for defamation in a case that involves a local story that we were writing about of a youth, a young man, who disappeared and was later found dead. And just the mystery that surrounded that. And which has torn this town apart. It’s been very difficult.

So we suspended publication when we realized we were going to have to be spending most of our time fighting this lawsuit and trying to find a buyer. And, you know, just keeping our heads above water, really.

So we don’t know what the future is, but we’re hanging in here and we’re trying to continue to deliver information without spending all our time doing it. We’re not making any money doing it. So it’s gotten really – it’s more a personal cause at this point. We’re just trying to keep it going.

Heather Courtney: Yeah. And I will add, regarding the defamation suit, that there is no basis to the defamation claims, but it still takes time and money to deal with it.

I also hope that [the film] inspires aspiring journalists to think about reporting in a small town or a rural area where they actually are very connected to the community. In particular, to think about The Canadian Record as a place to go to because they couldn’t have a better mentor than Laurie.

Laurie Brown: It’s very nice of you to say. I have the same hopes. You know I do. I would like to see a younger generation come in and do this job. And they’ll find new ways to do it, obviously. But the basic principle will remain the same: reporting news in your community, in a community that pays attention, that values what you’re doing and that benefits from what you’re doing. And there is no greater reward than that.

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Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.