When I moved to Guelph in 2001, I didn’t know much about the place. I knew it had a university because Carin and some other friends of mine went there and I would visit them sometimes, I knew it had a couple of radio stations because that’s the sort of thing I tend to know, I knew it had a mall because I’d been in it once or twice, I knew the names of a few random businesses through word of mouth and years of watching CKCO, and I knew it had hockey and baseball teams for basically the same reasons. All of this is to say that when I got there, I was pretty well lost and useless.
I eventually figured things out, of course. Necessity tends to force that issue. but it wasn’t just necessity that helped me along. There were also those aforementioned friends, more than a few assists from some mostly kind strangers, and the Guelph Mercury.
Until last week when it became the latest victim of media cost cutting, the Merc was Guelph’s daily newspaper of record. And now, as crazy as it sounds, a city of well over 100000 people no longer has one.
I’m not sure how true this is in every town (I can’t say I’ve noticed quite the same thing reading the Waterloo Record, for instance), but once I started reading the Mercury fairly regularly, it didn’t take long for me to start putting together a picture of what Guelph was. Every day brought new stories about fun things to do, places I should avoid, activists doing good work, activists who’s hearts may have been in the right place while their brains had very clearly taken a walk, silly local outrages that some crank felt needed attention, entirely logical outrages that some crank (Carin and I included) felt needed attention and so much more, all put together in a package that gave Guelph an identity and a character I could relate to, making it feel less like a mysterious mishmash of university students, bars and vegetarian restaurants and more like someplace that felt as though it might just be home. thanks to the Mercury, I could have a conversation about something Guelphish with someone without sounding like a total fool. Thanks to the Mercury, my radio shows were a little better and a bit more focused…sometimes. And thanks to the Mercury, even though I haven’t lived there in over three years, Guelph still feels more like a hometown to me than anyplace else I’ve lived.
And now it’s gone, and it sucks.
I’m sure that eventually something will come along to fill at least some of the void. Hell, If I know Guelph, City Hall might already have four or five new citizen reporters lined up to blog the blow by blow of every open meeting. And while that’s great and I absolutely encourage it, it’s not going to teach Guelph to the next me the way that the Merc did, and it’s not going to hold those in power accountable the way that the Merc did, either. It’s a lot easier to bully some dude with a Twitter account into silence than it is a newspaper with the resources to chase down stories. And that’s the biggest shame in all of this. Guelph has so many stories, good and bad, that deserve to be chased down. Who’s going to be able to do that on a wide enough scale now? No matter how you feel about newspapers, the truth is that every city needs them and that all of us, whether we read them or not, are worse off when they disappear.