Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
PRESCOTT – South Grenville residents woke up to the news Monday morning that the fledgling South Grenville Journal is closing immediately. The weekly is normally published on Wednesday for distribution Thursday.
Ironically, the Martelle family which owned and operated the renamed newspaper after acquiring the former Prescott Journal from Beth Morris, announced the demise on social media. There was no hint in the SGJ edition of Dec. 10 that it would be the last one.
Closure of SGJ follows hard on the heels of local radio station Coast 107.9 FM vacating its King Street studio to fully merge with the amorphous Moose chain; SGJ also had an office on King Street.
On SGJ’s Facebook site, publisher Kate Martelle said the decision was made with “much sadness and very heavy hearts.” January would have marked SGJ’s first full year of operation. Also closing is the related monthly Business News. Parent company Evans Printing owned by Kate and husband Mike Evans will continue operating.
Martelle insisted SGJ’s closing shouldn’t be seen as a failure: “We achieved many successes since taking over the Journal. Although we were unable to overcome the financial pressures of the pandemic, we’re grateful for the connections and experiences we’ve had seeing this wonderful community from the inside out.”
As part of acquiring the Prescott Journal, the Martelles — some of whom worked there — were required to rename it. The family added several creative features including local “Star of the Week”, an Arts & Entertainment page, and a Wheels page including “Show Us Your Ride”. Kate’s father, editor Joe Martelle, is a car buff and the family owns a salvage business called The Boneyard where, pre COVID-19, they regularly staged weekend concerts.
The heart of SGJ has been its stable of mainly gratis local columnists including several Martelles and Evans, three South Grenville mayors, Sue Vallom, who runs Walker House, a seniors’ activity centre, Richard Willis, Artistic Director of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, and Eastern Ontario rural nostalgia legend Mary Cook.
Columnists were advised of the closing by email in which Kate thanked them for their contributions which she said helped make the Journal “more popular and well received than it had been in decades.” She blamed the outcome squarely on loss of ad revenue due to C-19. She said there was a slim possibility of an online version coming back eventually.
SGJ was one of the last remnants of the once mighty Morris weekly newspaper empire overseen by brothers John and Robin. At about the same time as the Prescott Journal folded into SGJ, the Winchester Press closed and wasn’t replaced; the Chesterville Record remains in business under new ownership.
The Prescott Journal had a history dating back to 1890; demise of SGJ brings to an end the newspaper tradition in Prescott and area which began in 1816 with the Grenville Gazette.
While community newspapers in Eastern Ontario have been falling like flies due to social media and corporate takeovers, some continue to thrive, notably the independent Eganville Leader, Renfrew County’s largest paid circulation newspaper. Selling for $2 at newsstands, the Leader’s weekly broadsheet pages are well balanced with paid advertising.