Williams Lake was evacuated as wildfires threatened access to highways in July 2017. (Black Press files)

Tools new, community news the same: keeping the public informed

CEO and president of Black Press talks about innovation in the newspaper industry ahead of the Innovation in Emerging Cities forum on April 2.

Although the tools of the trade have evolved, the role of media has stayed the same: keeping the community informed.

Rick O’Connor, chief executive officer and president of Black Press Media, believes there are more opportunities to do that today than 40 years ago.

Journalists across the province are not only writing stories and uploading videos “within the immediacy of the here and now,” they are engaged on a number of social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Innovation in the industry has not been easy, O’Connor said.

“Everybody throws out a word like innovation as if it’s the simplest thing to accomplish,” said O’Connor.

“And the truth of the matter is, people do not adapt well to change.”

He added that some changes require employees to reach out of their comfort zones to embrace and adapt to ways that people want to receive information.

To innovate, O’Connor said, two things have to happen: your leaders have to lead by example, and you’ve got to train and innovate twice as hard as you think just to get the basic message across.

He is excited to see the changes in the industry and the quality of content that is coming out of Black Press Media.

Innovation has been critical to the success of the franchise, said O’Connor, a keynote speaker on the topic of innovation and resiliency at the upcoming Innovation in Emerging Cities forum at the ACT Arts Centre on April 2.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that, while we have a certain audience in print, we also have another audience, not necessarily the same audience, on digital.”

Journalists coming out of school now not only have to know how to write, take photographs and be competent at video, but they also have to have an understanding of social media and be able to interact through that medium.

O’Connor said it is critical that any readers who contact a community newspaper by Facebook or Twitter get an answer to their question or comment because, he said, it’s part of the two-way communication process that exists now in the industry.

These skills were put to the test as Black Press journalists in the B.C. Interior covered the wildfires in 2017.

In 100 Mile House and in Williams Lake, journalists could only work online, using their paper’s website, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts because they had been evacuated and could not put out a print product. Coverage was mostly done by video.

“It was really a fascinating case study in how to communicate effectively when you are in a crisis,” O’Connor said.

During the two-week evacuation, journalists were working around the clock to cover the breaking news. Using social media platforms, they were able to get the news out in a timely fashion, while making sure they got time off to recharge.

And because of the hard work and dedication by those journalists, some residents who had dropped their subscriptions to the papers picked them up again because they realized how important local media was to the health of their community.

“That was kind of cool to hear that from readers who appreciated that our journalists were out there on the front lines shooting really critical video,” said O’Connor.

Black Press has 185 journalists across the province who not only create content, but also filter stories for a fair and unbiased message.

However, there are still many people who attempt to manipulate the news medium to get people to think in a certain way or use the term ‘fake news’, which, O’Connor said, is inappropriate because it is not true.

It is another reason why local media is critical, he said, because there is no filtering of the message on Facebook.

“Facebook and platforms like that are going to have to either spend more money hiring people or come up with new artificial intelligence algorithms to monitor content because I just don’t think you can have the wild west and expect there not to be problems created as a result,” said O’Connor.

He believes that Maple Ridge is an attractive place to do business and needs to get that message out by investing in an economic development group to work alongside the tourism association.

“Make sure you are investing in people who will get out there and send the message that it’s not just a great place to do business, but a wonderful place to live,” he said.

The Innovation in Emerging Cities forum takes place at the ACT Arts Centre, 11995 Haney Place, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 2.

Other keynote speakers: Jen Hamilton, founder of Oxygen Yoga and Fitness, on the topic of innovation and entrepreneurship; Manu Nellutla, executive-director of Actsafe Safety Association, on innovation in the Third World; and Dr. Kendall Ho, lead, digital emergency medicine unit at the University of British Columbia Department of Emergency Medicine, on Riding the Digital Health Revolution: how can citizens and industry get on board.

Discussion panels will explore how businesses and residents in Maple Ridge can prepare to compete and thrive in Canada’s increasingly knowledge-based economy, addressing topics like: supporting diversity in technology and advanced manufacturing; regional airports as catalysts for innovation; how the cannabis industry drives innovation; and from the kitchen table to the boardroom. Tickets are $20 to $35.

• Tickets: eventbrite.ca.

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(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck) Smoke from wildfires filled the air and burned trees are were in an aerial view from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter near Williams Lake, B.C., in 2017.

A wildfire was seen from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured the area near Williams Lake, B.C., in 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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