(PHOTO: “The Two Johns”. Longtime Stittsville News reporters John Curry (left) and John Brummell at City Hall in January 2017. Brummell received a Mayor’s City Builder Award after his retirement from the newspaper. Photo via Deborah Brummell / Stittsville Neighbours.)
IT WAS MAY 1975 WHEN JOHN CURRY, a young newspaperman with six years of experience in journalism, made a deal.
For $6,000, he became the proud owner of the Stittsville News and embarked on a community journalism career that would span more than 40 years and counting.
It was a tough gig. The hours were long and the pay was low. The newspaper served a small community and barely broke even. But Curry wasn’t in it for the money. He wanted to do good journalism, report for the community and have fun doing it.
The paper changed hands, but he stuck around. In 2001 he sold it to Runge Newspapers. In 2005, it was sold again to Metroland Media.
All seemed well until late 2017, when Postmedia picked up the paper and immediately announced it would close in January 2018. The last edition landed on doorsteps on Jan. 11.
“It was sad because you knew that that was the last one and the last time you were able to tell stories about the community,” Curry told CBC Radio on Jan. 13. “But that’s the way it was, you had no control over it.”
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS, Curry has a lot to remember. He is admittedly an old dog, around the age of 70.
“Age to me, is not relevant,” he said in an interview with StittsvilleCentral.ca in December 2016, although he acknowledged perhaps he isn’t quite as energetic as he was decades earlier. “It isn’t a thing I think about.”
(Curry did not wish to be re-interviewed for this profile and most of his comments are drawn from a 2016 interview.)
He knew he wanted to do journalism when he was getting his bachelor of arts at Carleton University, in 1968. It dawned on him that he likes history and he likes writing. “Working in newspapers is like writing history,” he said.
In the early 1970s he got a bachelor of journalism and a bachelor of journalism honours at Carleton.
In 1970, he got his first job when he walked into the offices of the Arnprior Guide and asked if they needed help. Their editor was in the hospital, so they hired him on the spot on a temporary basis.
While he was at the Guide, he got involved in the business side of newspapers in 1972 when he published Constance Bay Cottager for ten weeks.
“I always think it was the only paper in the world to ever run a blank page on purpose,” he said. “I was running out of money and… I paid per-page to lay it out and I only had money to lay out a certain number of page (spreads) so one page had to be blank.”
He then worked for a few years at another paper in Elmvale, a small community about 25 kilometres northwest of Barrie, Ont.
In 1975, he bought the Stittsville News and moved into the area.
THE PAPER WAS IN A BAD SITUATION. Its circulation hovered between 1,100 and 1,200 and barely made any money. Curry saw holes for local news coverage, and seized on them. He increased the page count from eight to 40, and added new sections for the nearby communities of Richmond and Glen Cairn. After a few years of owning it, he had increased the circulation to 3,000 – more than the population of Stittsville at the time.
“It wasn’t much of a paper at the time,” said Curry. “[But] I was doing what I liked to do.”
When Curry was just getting started in journalism, he was always told he would have to start at small community papers and work his way up into the big city ones. He never was inclined to move up, and said he didn’t believe there was any shame in small newspapers. Because of this, the Stittsville News was the first community paper to join the Ontario Press Council, in the 1980s. Today there are hundreds of community newspapers on the OPC’s successor organization, the National NewsMedia Council.
Why did Curry stay with the same newspaper for more than 40 years?
“I just had no desire to change. It’s an active community, I find people are really friendly and open and there’s lots going on,” he said.
Ryland Coyne has known Curry for more than 20 years, since he worked at Performance Printing in Smiths Falls and Curry would come in to print his papers. For the past six years, he was Curry’s boss as the editor-in-chief of Metroland Media’s Ottawa newspapers.
“He is tireless, he has a deep rooted love for his community,” said Coyne.
“Community journalism is something that’s in your blood,” he said. “You take joy in peoples’ accomplishments and want to share those stories.”
On a day-to-day basis, that’s exactly what Curry did. One way he fondly recalled doing this was by covering local weddings.
“They were always probably the most popular thing we’ve ever run in the paper,” he said, because everybody wanted to read about good things happening to people.
“We’d go take pictures, we had a form that people would fill out and then my mom was really great at writing them up.”
“I wouldn’t call that the little stuff, I think that’s the important stuff,” said Curry.
He stopped doing it some time ago, because he said weddings have become less relevant in today’s society.
A LOT HAS CHANGED SINCE CURRY OWNED THE PAPER. Advertising dollars that previously supported newspapers have largely dried up as businesses turn to the internet and as a result, many journalists have lost their jobs. News consumption habits have shifted away from newspapers and towards social media.
“Certainly the print media has changed a lot,” Curry told CBC earlier this month. “Ads are still the lifeblood of newspapers and (with) a printed product, you have the distribution costs and you have the printing costs, which are immense… so you have to find some way that you can monetize the online.”
He told CBC most people still like to receive a printed product, so ideally one could make money online and also be able to put out a printed paper as well.
In the 2016 interview with StittsvilleCentral.ca, he also spoke about social media and said he was looking at trying it out.
“I don’t particularly like Twittering and stuff,” he said. “All these things help to drive readers to your product. That’s one of my goals, things that I’m working on, to get better at.”
With the newspaper now gone, one resident of Richmond said the community will lose a valuable connection to its events, issues and people.
“It means there will be no real public image for Richmond anymore,” said Heather Martineau, the former treasurer of the Richmond Village Association. “I think people are going to become really out of touch with their local community.”
She said Curry was very dependable and could always be counted on to cover local events and RVA meetings, often without being prompted.
“He just pops up… wow, you didn’t even have to ask him,” she said. “Oh my god, it’s incredible.”
Although the Richmond Village Association launched its own online news outlet, richmondhub.ca, and the Manotick Messenger announced it would expand its coverage into the community, Martineau said nobody would be able to match the level and quality of Curry’s work.
“Because he brought a human touch to the story,” she said. “And don’t forget this man came out (to events) at all hours of the day. There was no schedule for this man.”
The new online service by the RVA also won’t reach the large senior population in Richmond that doesn’t use the internet, she said.
BESIDES CURRY’S WORK ON THE PAPER, he’s also known for heavy community involvement, especially as a history buff.
Kathryn Jamieson is the curator-manager of the Goulbourn Museum, where Curry has been a founding member for 25 years. She said he’s always the first person they call when they don’t know something.
“I would say 99 per cent of the time, he knows it right off the top of his head,” she said.
Curry told CBC that he’ll keep busy in 2018 with a book he’s writing on the history of Richmond, as well as a movie about Richmond, to commemorate the community’s 200th anniversary. He hinted at more work ahead.
“I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue writing about the community, in one form or another,” he said. (Curry will write a regular column for the new Kanata-Stittsville Community Voice, launching in late February.)
In addition to journalism and history, Curry has also been the Catholic board trustee for the area since 2000.
He’s well known by students and staff at local schools for dropping by to cover events. Every Catholic high schooler knows they haven’t graduated until they’ve heard one of Curry’s poems at their graduation ceremony, as has become tradition.
A tongue-in-cheek rap he performed for his 2014 re-election campaign was widely shared in Stittsville and can still be viewed on his campaign web site at johncurrytrustee.ca.
In his spare time, when he has any, he enjoys gardening, golfing, following sports and reading, especially biographies.
He does not wear a wedding band, for he has never wed. It’s not that he didn’t want to marry, but he said he never found the love of his life.
“You assume it’s going to happen, then a certain day happens and you turn around and it hasn’t happened.”
Once, there was someone special “but it didn’t work out,” he said.
It has been said he married his newspaper, but he said the Stittsville News is more like his child.
“People who find love and get married are the luckiest people.”
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