The Sounder and GAFA - bringing the Anchorages issue to light

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 3 2018

October 1 to October 7, 2018, is National Newspaper Week in Canada, with the theme of “Newspapers Matter. Now, More Than Ever.”

As part of highlighting the importance of newspapers in communities, newspapers across Canada are reaching out to profile issues in their communities in which the newspaper played a key role.

While there are innumerable issues reported on in the Sounder, one of the issues to spring to mind was that of the proposed Gabriola anchorages, first reported on by the Sounder on the front page on July 7, 2015.

The story and issue quickly gained the attention at a local, regional, provincial and national level.

Stakeholders and government officials began trading emails and phone calls with what is now known as the Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA).

The Islands Trust organized meetings in Victoria with Trustees from around the southern Salish Sea and with industry representatives and national government officials.

Currently, the Islands Trust is calling for the removal of existing anchorages throughout the southern gulf islands, as well as cancellation (not just pausing) of the proposed anchorages off Gabriola.

Chris Straw, President of the Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages, has a 29-year history with CBC Radio.

“I’ve done everything from the bottom to the top,” he describes.

Straw spoke with Derek Kilbourn and Sarah Holmes, co-owners of the Gabriola Sounder, which remains an independently owned community newspaper. 

Kilbourn did the initial investigating for the Sounder but credits Bob Bradley who sent a letter to the editor to the Sounder and the then-operating Nanaimo Daily News about his concerns.

The anchorages issue, according to Straw, was not a new one, but one that industry and government had been working on and planning for a long time, and the community had no knowledge about it whatsoever. 

“It could have a potentially huge impact - a level of industrial impact beyond anything in the gulf islands area, taking place metres from shore.

“The fact the Sounder was able to bring this story to light, and to tell it in the context of the local community and what it could potentially mean, immediately engaged the community. We went from knowing nothing about it, to mounting a protest that got provincial attention within a matter of days.

“Unlike social media - where information comes out in dribs and drabs - the community saw this at the same time, and had pretty much the same reaction to it.”

Part of that, says Straw, is the demographic on Gabriola, where there are a lot of older citizens who did not grow up as digital natives for whom the way to reach them was not through social media or the internet. 

“We find even today, three years into this, that the Sounder remains the primary way to reach the citizens who have a lot of stake in this.

“Even those who are on social media have come to rely on a voice that is familiar to them and one they trust, and they have access to the Sounder.”

Being published in the Sounder also means getting regional and national attention.

As Straw said, “With the ongoing centralization of media, there are fewer sources for regional and national news outlets to get their stories.

“What [GAFA] has found, even more effective than press releases, is a story in the Sounder. Not only do regional media follow the local paper, but we know anecdotally the stakeholders, governments, and shipping industry, were passing around Sounder articles. That’s the most direct way to get their attention even though they are many kilometres away from Gabriola.”

Straw was asked what might have happened if the Sounder wasn’t there.

He said that as someone who’s worked in local and national media, he’s concerned with the demise of local newspapers.

“There are many forces, be they for good or bad, who can take advantage of the fact they can do things that people aren’t going to cover. 

“That’s not the case on Gabriola, but there are places where someone isn’t going to meetings, reporting on it, and explaining what is going to happen in their local community.”

So what can locals do?

Straw said that “people need to speak up. The vertical integration that is going on in the media business. People need to take responsibility in what they are investing in, as they would with climate change. There is a function of a community newspaper that has journalistic standards, transparency and accountability versus social media where the mix of opinion, fact and propaganda are just soup.

“People need to understand - a newspaper is like a library in a community...people need to lobby for them, fight for them, and react.”

He said newspapers have a responsibility to be in the place where people are going - and that includes the digital realm and social media.

“That’s where people are going.”

GAFA will be hosting another town hall on the anchorages issue, at the Agi Hall on October 14 from 3pm to 4pm.