Working on Manitoulin changes young reporter’s idea of print media’s importance
LITTLE CURRENT – It has been nearly three years since writer Warren Schlote joined Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper as one of The Expositor’s stable of writers. It seems like just yesterday, but now he is moving on to work for Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC. As he set out on his new career, Mr. Schlote agreed to an exit interview on his thoughts in coming to a small rural newspaper and how he views that experience in the rearview mirror.
“I didn’t go to a traditional journalism school,” he said. “Our program didn’t spend a lot of time devoted to print, besides the world of magazines. It was broadcast and online oriented, because that is the way a lot of people view the way the industry is going, and in many ways it is. So when I got out of school, I didn’t really have any preconceived notions about where I was going to end up geographically or the work I was going to be doing. I applied to broadcasting jobs, online jobs, print jobs, newspapers like The Expositor, all across the country. I wound up with the opportunity to work on Manitoulin Island at The Manitoulin Expositor.”
The opportunity piqued his interest. “I thought ‘cool, I can probably transfer the broadcast style to newspaper style’,” he recalled. In the event, however, Mr. Schlote still had an opportunity to hone his broadcast chops with The Expositor through person-in-the-street interviews, although the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic did curtail a lot of those opportunities.
“That’s one of the great things about The Expositor,” he said. “Even though we have been around for 142 years, we are always adapting to the web presence, to an online presence.”
Still, for a young person just heading into journalism the prevailing winds seemed counter to landing a job at a small rural community newspaper.
“I never thought I would end up in a world of print news. I never thought I would end up working in a newspaper,” said Mr. Schlote. “I thought it might be cool to work in a magazine, or start up my own one day, but day-to-day news? I never considered it. A newspaper in 2018? Who’d a thunk it?”
It turned out to be a fortuitous wind that blew him onto the Island’s shores, however.
“It wasn’t until I got up here that I really came to understand,” he said. “In some ways the idea of print is dead, but that really depends on your perspective of how and where you are looking at it from. If you are looking at information on the fly and if you have a lot of sources, you are going to look at whatever is easy—and that is digital. But, when you come to a place like Manitoulin Island, you realize that a newspaper is so much more than an information source—it’s a way to build community.”
To that end, The Expositor really has no equal.
“I am so fortunate that the newspaper I ended up at was The Manitoulin Expositor, because the paper has a such a sense of community behind it, because it is still locally-owned and all of the content inside has something to do with the area,” he said.
Mr. Schlote noted with all of the consolidation taking place in the media these days, a lot of smaller publications have been subsumed into larger corporations. “They tend to lose that personal touch if the people putting together the news are not part of the community,” he said. “When you are coming to a smaller place, and you really want to see the power of what print can do, that hyper local focus means so much to so many people. It really opens a lot of doors and keeps people together in a time when we’re being increasingly pulled apart—that’s going in the story,” he laughs.
“One thing that really blew me away was the level of accountability there is in a small community publication,” he said. “There is no better place for a journalist to start than at a small place like this. If you don’t take the time to have your facts straight, you will hear about it. You will get a tap on your shoulder in the grocery store from someone telling you ‘that story sucked, go revisit that.’ If people don’t have that experience, they won’t develop the same sense of accountability for their work.”
The stories are up close and personal—it is invariably about or involving someone you know.
When it comes to his experiences deep in the microfilm “stacks” at the Northeast Town library, sifting through 142-odd years of information of Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper (and attempting to avoid the innumerable rabbit holes that crop up), there was another lesson to be discovered.
“You are chroniclers of the modern day,” he said of the paper’s archives. “You get a snapshot of the what life was like at that time. You suddenly realize, hey, somebody 40 years from now might look at The Manitoulin Expositor someday to discover what life was like.”
Perhaps a story by one Warren Schlote? Mr. Schlote laughs in agreement. “Perhaps a story about a retired paramedic who invented a way to deliver oxygen to COVID-19 patients, or how an entire Island community came together to create field hospitals and ventilators and discover how Manitoulin is a community today.”
Mr. Schlote received a keychain created by The Expositor’s talented salesperson and side-gig jewellery creator Robin Anderson bearing the letters WWRA. “That is one of the greater pieces of advice I received when I first started at the newspaper,” he said. The paper’s former owner, Rick McCutcheon, still takes part in the Monday flurry of activity that is production day, the day everything comes together to be sent to print. Mr. Schlote was warned to be fully prepared for a barrage of questions on many of the stories that week. Mr. McCutcheon has amassed a huge amount of information and experience in journalism over more than 50 years in the industry. That cache of information has been informed by Mr. McCutcheon’s genuine interest in everything and everyone around him and the impact of events on Manitoulin and has proven time and again to be an invaluable resource. The letters on that keychain Mr. Schlote will be taking with him will stand him in good stead in any journalistic endeavour—those letters stand for “what would Rick ask,” an Expositor reporter’s guiding mantra.
“I would never have expected that I would be working with several people who had decades of experience and who would be so willing to share,” said Mr. Schlote. “Every one of my colleagues who have done any sort of writing or have any sort of historical knowledge of the place have given so much of themselves and are willing to share.”
As for The Expositor’s sister publication and friendly rival, Mr. Schlote was equally effusive. “Tom Sasvari is probably the most dogged reporter I have ever met in my life,” he said.
The story of pedophile Father Epoch is one that stands out for Mr. Schlote.
It was a story that really brought home the impact that abuse has, not only on the direct victims, but for the entire community. “It is a story with so many facets to it,” he said.
When it comes to the future of newspapers in general, Mr. Schlote sees a bright renaissance ahead. “Perhaps I am just being optimistic, but there is a lot of retro interest going on in the world right now,” he said. Isn’t that just the baby boomers though? “No,” he said. “I could easily see a group of young people coming together to create a local print publication that delivers local news. I don’t think the journalism world is finished shrinking, it isn’t done yet, but I do think when people realize the loss of that in their community, there will be a yearning for it to come back.”
The Manitoulin Expositor is celebrating its 142nd birthday with this edition of the paper and, with all of the doom and gloom being bandied about regarding newspapers, we thought it might prove interesting to our readers to have a glimpse into the thoughts and perspective of the industry from an individual who is starting out on their journalistic career and as a storyteller. The Expositor has been honoured to host several talented writers over the years, many of whom have gone on to high profile and accomplish great things. We have every confidence that we will be hearing (and seeing) great things from Warren Schlote in the future. Thank you for providing us with your many talents.