As many Saskatchewan communities are facing the loss of their local newspaper, one town's publication is growing its reach.

When Ray and Andrea Stewart took over the Cut Knife Highway 40 Courier about a year ago, there were only 17 email subscriptions.

Now, there are now nearly 160 subscribers and another 250 subscribers for the actual paper which publishes out of Cut Knife, a town about 175 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Ray and Andrea Stewart

Publisher Ray Stewart and editor Andrea Stewart took over the Cut Knife Highway 40 Courier about a year ago. (Supplied by Ray Stewart)

They plan to launch a website soon as well, with the help of their son. This is in an area of less than 1,000 people.

'My belief is ... that the little local papers are the heart and soul of community.'- Chris Odishaw, Battleford business owner

"We had one woman in the States who is from the area. She's been getting the paper for 30 years," said Ray.

"Now she just loves having the email. A paper gets hung up in the border. It might be two, two and half weeks before she gets the paper."

Ray said the paper pays for itself, but doesn't generate much more revenue than that. It isn't about making lots of money; the couple now considers the town their home.

"The town of Cut Knife is a fairly open and friendly town. We're part of the community and that makes a big difference to us," Ray said.

Local business owner supporting local media

Battleford business owner Chris Odishaw supports local media — in all forms. In the nearly 30 years he's been in business with Battleford Furniture, he places ads with eight radio stations, two television stations and the local paper every week. 

Chris Odishaw

Battleford business owner Chris Odishaw estimates he spends about 20 per cent of his marketing budget in the local paper. (Chris Odishaw)

He estimates he spends about 20 per cent of his marketing budget in the local paper.  

"My belief is that the media and, I think probably more these days, that the little local papers are the heart and soul of community," he said.

Odishaw thinks that the local paper is like the coffee table book in that people still refer to the newspaper, but not as frequently.

"I go to lots of people's houses and the newspaper is sitting on the coffee table and it stays there until next week's paper comes," he said.

Journalism in crisis, says prof

But University of Regina journalism professor Mitch Diamantopoulos thinks the newspaper reading habit has disappeared — and he believes journalism is in crisis.

Mitch Diamantopoulos

Journalism professor Mitch Diamantopoulos thinks that journalism is at a crisis point. (Mitch Diamantopoulos)

"It's kind of like one of those slow-motion catastrophes that kind of sneaks up on you and people don't see coming," he said.

But he also see this crisis as an opportunity for change.

"A lot of communities are losing their services, but it's also an opportunity to fix what's been broken with our media for a long time, which is it has tended to have a corporate bias."

Diamantopoulos notes that some of the most recently closed small town papers were owned by chains. Many of them are built on debt.

'A lot of communities are losing their services, but it's also an opportunity to fix what's been broken with our media for a long time, which is it has tended to have a corporate bias.'- Mitch Diamantopoulos, associate professor

He points to examples such as Canwest Global Communications, which went into bankruptcy protection in 2009 when it was overextended, and Postmedia dealing with a huge debt from gobbling up its competition.

He added that most small town papers are locally viable but not profitable enough to be competitive for investors, which is in part due to the debt burdens they are carrying.

"I think we're living through a reform moment, if you like. Either through this crisis we're going to have a lot of closures and layoffs as we've already seen, but we may also have the opposite which is like in Prince Albert — to rescue newspapers with innovative firm models," he said.

"You see new coalitions of interest coalescing that aren't based solely on profit-making, that are based on community service, that are based on sustaining employment and that of course implies a turn towards non-profit, co-operative models."