Canada

Potter: How the Citizen helped create a shared community in Ottawa

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An edition of the Bytown Packet from Jan. 17, 1846. The Packet came to Bytown in 1845. jpg

Yet parochial as the paper may seem at times, there is another audience to which the Citizen has routinely sought to address itself, and that is the nation as a whole, through its coverage of the business of the parliamentary precinct. To this end, parliamentarians and their staffers, the party flunkies, the lobbyists, the diplomats and even the press gallery itself are all the Citizen’s constituents as the paper of record for the nation’s capital.

Vestigial logging town, public service company town, and G8 capital – these are our communities, and the Citizen has long fought to find a way of staying in close contact with the life of the city while serving the interests of a larger national and even international audience.

Historians of the Canadian newspaper industry have a habit of describing this as an “identity crisis” for the paper, but this misses the key point: At its best, the Citizen hasn’t been forced to choose between serving these distinct communities, allocating resources according to the changing whims of editors and advertisers. Instead, it has seen as its mission to bring these communities together, to create the feeling that these are just different ways of thinking about what is ultimately a single community of interest.

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This is a mission in which the Citizen has by and large been successful. If it hadn’t, the paper wouldn’t still be around. Indeed beyond merely surviving, for decades now the Citizen has played a leadership role in whatever ownership conglomerate it’s been part of, from Southam to Canwest to Postmedia. Often that leadership has been public facing, with the paper’s own house reporting staff serving on and off as the parliamentary bureau for the entire chain. Other times that leadership has been behind the scenes, as the Citizen has routinely been the first outlet in the chain to test out new workflows, content management systems or operational structures. And sometimes it is a mix of both: In 2014, the Ottawa Citizen served as the launch site for Postmedia’s “Product 2.0” redesign that became an ambitious chain-wide reimagination of the news on four distinct platforms.

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