MANITOULIN—This edition of the newspaper marks the 134th birthday of The Manitoulin Expositor, Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper, as the volume number (located below The Expositor flag on the front page) rolls up to 134, issue No. 1 of the new volume as this week is the anniversary of the paper’s first edition on May 24, 1879.
Each week for all of those 134 years, this newspaper has been sharing with its Island community, and beyond, local news, timely topics, hard news, human-interest stories, editorial content, letters and community events that make up the unique fabric and culture of Manitoulin Island. This newspaper has always prided itself in keeping Islanders informed and so when the digital highway was starting to make roads on Manitoulin, The Expositor realized it had better start driving, yet another tool to keep Islanders, and those who wished they were here, informed on Island news. This year, the paper is able to boast an award-winning website at both the provincial level and nationally as well.
In the early ‘90s, Mike Pereira, a recent communications studies grad from the University of Windsor, came to work at The Expositor’s production department, bringing with him a background in web design and it is thanks to Mr. Pereira that a basic www.manitoulin.ca was born.
Jane Hubbard, also a former employee of this newspaper who now resides in Ottawa, took over the maintenance of the website in 2000. “It was pretty basic,” she admits, “and I really had to build it all by hand.”
Ms. Hubbard says website updates were always “rather interesting,” in that she had to make sure they were done before the newspaper hit the stands or the mailboxes Wednesday morning, often working late into the night on Tuesday evenings no matter where she was.
“I did the updates all over,” she adds. “Wherever there was Internet access, even on holidays. It was kind of neat because the website really dovetailed with our shift from a very old and outdated layout mode to a modern newspaper,” Ms. Hubbard says as she recalls the days of sending flats (the newspaper’s hand-laid out pages) aboard an AJ Bus to be printed in Sudbury and the newspaper’s old dark room, which now acts as an office supply room.
“I also had the joy of putting This is Manitoulin (the annual tourist magazine printed by The Expositor) online as an add-on for This is Manitoulin advertisers,” Ms. Hubbard continues. “It was a humongous mission because of all the internal and external links.”
“Back then, our website was hosted by Snooks out of Espanola—an Internet pioneer and a real character,” she recalls. “He taught me how to do the updates. Everything was cut and paste back then.”
Ms. Hubbard says she had learned some Java and HTML before moving to Manitoulin, so she was the logical choice to take over the website’s operations.
“It did get quite a bit of traffic and comments,” she admits. “It had three front page stories, a primitive form of classifieds done through a third party service, the front page photo and cutline, death notices and the editorial.”
“That’s the meat,” Ms. Hubbard says.
After 10 years of maintaining www.manitoulin.ca, Ms. Hubbard moved on to Ottawa and Evansville’s Julia Winder took over, streamlining the website, making it more navigable and also keeping the stories, classifieds, death notices and editorial current each week. In 2010, The Expositor hired Dave Patterson to fill the role of production manager. Mr. Patterson brought with him not only the gift of graphic design, but also web design and IT mastery.
“The website is now fabulous,” Ms. Hubbard says. “Dave has really done an awesome job. It’s great for me to keep up with Manitoulin from here in Ottawa.”
“I wouldn’t say Rick (publisher Rick McCutcheon) was dragged kicking and screaming, but it was a slow process,” Ms. Hubbard chuckles, noting The Expositor’s entry into the 21st century. “You guys have definitely entered the digital age.”
While “the meat” still remains (front page stories continue to go up each week from both The Expositor and Manitoulin West Recorder, but front page stories only in order to encourage the purchase of a copy at Manitoulin stores, via subscription or online), the paper’s latest award winning website offers much more.
Mr. Patterson admits to “wiping the site clean” and starting anew. “I saw an opportunity to modernize it and re-brand,” he says, noting that The Expositor had its brand covered in the print department, but it was time to stretch into the online world.
“Because we publish once a week, the website is crucial to keep our readers updated in the interim,” he continues, noting that breaking news as it relates to Manitoulin can be found at manitoulin.ca. Mr. Patterson gave the example of last summer’s car crash on Highway 6 at Clear Lake, just south of Espanola. Soon after the police announced the crash and subsequent road closure, The Expositor launched a map on its site, directing traffic to an alternate route. It proved to be immensely popular and readers were thankful for this useful information.
Reporters are now encouraged to shoot not only photos wherever possible, but videos too. Click on the ‘multimedia’ button to see all of The Expositor’s videos, from Easter egg hunts to Chi-Cheemaun rallies, alpaca shearing and more (you name it, we’ve got it, including video from last Saturday night’s Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline fundraising event for the Mindemoya Hospital’s chemotherapy room). “Videos create an interactive experience for the readers that accompanies print very well,” he adds.
From May 20, 2012 to May 20, 2013, 691,386 pages have been seen on manitoulin.ca with 246,982 unique visitors from around the world. A mobile version is also available, catering to the needs of the 32 percent of visitors (and growing) who visit the site using smart phones or tablets. An application is also available through a mobile device prompt while visiting manitoulin.ca
The Expositor is also fully plugged in through the social media forums of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which readers can also use to keep on top of breaking Manitoulin stories, and then some. The front-page photo from May 8, which depicts the South Baymouth sign with a handmade sign below reading ‘no exit,’ was first posted to Facebook and has been seen over 11,000 times with a typical post averaging between 1,500 and 2,500 views. (Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@man_expositor) to receive updates on your news feed.)
This spring, all of Mr. Patterson’s hard work paid off with the website garnering two first place awards, for best overall news website and surfer’s choice, from the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA), and a silver medal from the Canadian Community Newspaper Association. (Video of Mr. Patterson receiving one of his first place wins is also available on the website.)
As staff celebrates 134 years of newspapering on Manitoulin this week, the future looks bright as The Expositor continues to shine a light, in all media, on the topics important to Manitoulin Island.