‘No one wanted it to end all so unceremoniously’: Winchester Press closes down after 131 years

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — This community’s long-standing traditional newspaper of record is calling it quits after more than 131 years.

The Winchester Press confirmed by Facebook today that its January 1st issue was its last, citing “circumstances beyond the control of staff” and thanking customers and readers for their support.

The paper “is officially closed,” the company makes clear in the message delivered “with mixed emotions.”

“We hope that those who have come before us and forged the reputation of the Winchester Press through late nights, early mornings, endless hours and honest journalism will know that we did all we could. Much like any great story, this too must have an ending.”

For decades, the Press was arguably the most prominent weekly newspaper in Dundas County — stitched for generations into the fabric of the area’s business, social, political, sporting and agricultural communities.

“It was a privilege to carry on the rich history of the Press throughout my 10 years, including seven as editor,” said Matthew Uhrig, who has already landed a new job with a human resources firm in Ottawa.

Uhrig, who along with fellow staff members received the bad news at the paper’s St. Lawrence Street office yesterday, called it a “tragic” end to the operation, laying the blame at the feet of the ownership. “We were handcuffed by an owner who lacked vision and didn’t consider the future, and undercut our community with shortsighted ideals,” he said.

“I’ll forever be proud of what we were able to produce with what amounted to nothing more than a shoestring operation,” added Uhrig. “Anyone reading this should know that the people behind the Press really cared, and no one wanted it all to end so unceremoniously.”

Reporter Thomas Schoch, a  two-year employee of the Press, said staff were informed by the company’s financial officer yesterday that there wasn’t enough money to pay employees. But that bad news, he said, was foreshadowed when half the workforce of 10 lost their jobs after a meeting with owner Beth Morris in the days before Christmas. Schoch himself was cut to half-time, leaving the staff complement at 4.5 positions. There were plans to close the Press office but keep remaining employees working from home.

In light of those earlier events, yesterday’s development “is a little strange probably because we all knew it was coming,” the Chesterville resident said.  “We just didn’t know how it would show up, and now that it has happened this way, it’s just really messy.”

“To have us go all the way through Christmas and then the New Year … and then to have the doors shut, it’s frustrating — really, really frustrating.”

The Press was part of a “multi-faceted business” that included printing operations in Johnstown (St. Lawrence Printing) — which, Schoch pointed out, auctioned off its physical assets at the end of November. Dwindling print jobs for municipalities and the loss of a pilots’ trade magazine a couple of years ago may have added to financial pressures, he surmised. “You can’t just run a newspaper printing only newspapers anymore.”

“Just as somebody who grew up in the area, who grew up reading the Winchester Press and wanting to see my picture in the Winchester Press … this is really emotional because this is home for me,” said the local journalist, who previously worked in broadcasting before landing a job in Winchester. “This is a newspaper that is as much a part of the landscape out here as anything.”

Recent paid circulation was “upwards of 3,000,” Uhrig said, with the paper also available at numerous stores in the region.

The Press archives were donated some time ago to the Dundas County Archives to be digitized for posterity.

Meanwhile, the Morris family’s longtime flagship title in Prescott has apparently avoided the fate of the Press. Rather, the Prescott Journal won’t be printing issues for the next two weeks as part of a “transitional period,” according to a statement released on Facebook. Journal editor Joe Martelle confirms the transition involves a “change of ownership,” and that he is not the buyer of the publication but is staying as editor.

Nation Valley News has reached out to Beth Morris for comment on the situation — and the end of an era: The Morrises were a force in local newspapers for decades. Her late husband, John, and his late brother, Robin, grew up at the Journal, when it was owned by their father, Jack. The Journal stayed in the family while the Morris brothers went on to acquire The Chesterville Record and the Winchester Press in the late 1970s, among other titles. The Record ceased to be a Morris property with its sale a couple of years ago.

According to Statistics Canada, print ad revenues have continued to slide precipitously at Canadian newspapers — dropping almost in half between 2014 and 2018 — as advertisers increasingly move online. In the U.S., the Pew Research Centre says that newspaper employment dropped by almost half between 2008 and 2018.

Below, Facebook posts issued by the Winchester Press and its sister paper, The Prescott Journal, on Jan. 3.

 

Scroll down to share this article. Scroll down to search nationvalleynews.com. Scroll down to comment.