So – why did you change your name from Our Burlington to the Burlington Gazette? Better optics and a clearer identity

By Pepper Parr, Publisher

REVISED with comment from former Mayor Walter Mulkewich.

BURLINGTON, ON.  June 8, 2013  Why use the name the Gazette?

For a number of reasons.  Burlington once had a newspaper called the Gazette.  It served the community well.

The very first picture I took and sold to a newspaper was published in the Montreal Gazette.

An old newspaper name revived.

But the biggest reason for the name change is this:  The Gazette sounds like a newspaper.

Our Burlington didn’t sound like a newspaper; it could have been a flower shop or a pet grooming store.  The decision to create a newspaper came from the late John Boich, who at the time was involved in another community based venture that he couldn’t get off the ground.  He asked if I would give him some help.  I did and out of that came a web site with local news that has gone on to grow topsy turvey.

We grew to the point where we had the credibility to be accepted as members of the Ontario Press Council. 

The readership told us that people wanted what we were offering.

The commercial sector began to ask if they could run advertisements in the “newspaper on a web site”.  What had begun as part of the response to the Shape Burlington report, which put on record that the city faced an “information deficit”,  grew to become the source of local news for many people.

Our Burlington was put together very quickly to show what could be done – that was back in October of 2010.  We still don’t cover sports or education very well.  But we do give this city the best city hall coverage.  We cover the arts reasonably well.

In the fall the editorial team will get beefed up and education will get the attention it deserves.

We have begun to cover the private sector and will do more of that as we work ourselves through the balance of this year.

Today we are a very different organization.  We didn’t set out to make friends; we did set out to tell the stories that make up this city in a way no one else has in the recent past.

We have some bumps and bruises to show for our effort with one libel suit that has still not been resolved.  We upset the members of the boards of a number of organizations who didn’t like the attention they were getting.

There are those who describe and despair over Burlington’s complacency.  We are a very wealthy community and yet we failed to reach the United Way target for this year.  We have pockets of poverty.  We have an aging demographic and a cost of maintaining our infrastructure that is not sustainable.

The city either has to do less or increase taxes.

We have a significant amount of land set aside for employment purposes, but we’ve not been able to attract a significant new employer to the city in the past five years.  We lost International Harvester to Hamilton. The city’s revenue from the ICI (Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional) sector is going to be less this year than last year.

The place is going to nee an oxygen tank nearby for the next little while. The search is one for a new Executive Director.

We have a new Performing Arts Centre that is failing financially and looks as if it is going to need double what was originally thought in the way of an annual subsidy.

We are going to open a pier next week that has cost more than double its original estimate.

There are too many negatives – we can’t survive if they continue.

We now have administrative leadership at city hall that can steer us through what are going to be difficult times, but it is going to be at least another nine months before we see the results of all the management changes.  The city manager is still in the process of building the management team he needs.

We have a city council that doesn’t have dynamic leadership.  It does have well-meaning leadership but good intentions are not enough.  We are seeing practices that smack of small time corruption at some of the boards and commissions the city has in place.

Also, our city council members are not working as a well-oiled team; there are some deeply rooted dislikes and outright animosities between council members that do not serve this city well.  Don’t let the sweet smiles fool you.

We are a city that talks about our being a safe place to live by a magazine that created a list that drives its readership goals.  We seem to need someone else to tell how good we are.

The city is more than just the Escarpment to the north and the lake to the south. It is the people in between that determine who we really are. And it takes more than a magazine saying we are the #2 city in the country doesn’t make it so.

We are a city that takes great pride on the Escarpment to the north and the lake to the south but we don’t talk all that much about what exists in between these two things we were given.

A community is not defined just by its geography; it is defined by its people and how they care for one another.

As publishers we got it wrong more than once but we think we got it right more often than we got it wrong.

Our first responsibility is to report.  To tell you what we see and hear.  However, we do not see ourselves as a pipeline through which the vested interests send their version of what took place.

The Mayor of the city has said publicly that he thinks we are doing a good job.

There are two stories, three actually where what is happening needs more than just simple reporting.  The Car Free Sunday that is taking place this weekend, the Committee Of Adjustment meeting that took place on May 21st  and the lack of lakefront access  problem that was pointed to by the Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory Committee.

The Car Free Sunday on Brant Street last year was a bit of a bust. Council chose to hold these events on Appleby Line and up in the Alton Village this year.

The two Car Free Sundays are costing $5000 each.  That item needed 4 of the seven votes to pass at Council Committee.  Sharman, Lancaster and Dennison were very much onside.  The events were to take place in the Sharman and Lancaster wards and Dennison is a big bicycle booster.  That was three out of the seven.  Where was the fourth vote going to come from?

Councillor Craven mentioned that he had an event, a Jane’s Walk,  taking place in Aldershot and they needed $500 to make that happen.  Craven got his $500, wards 4,5 and 6 got what they wanted and it passed.  That’s how your Council works.  Normally however, Councillor Craven would go on at some length about the need to conserve and be fully accountable and be strong stewards of the public purse.

A Committee of Adjustment meeting that was seen as odious to many is detailed.  Those at the meeting were aghast at what they saw and heard.  The city has not heard the last of what took place at that meeting.

Lakefront access is detailed in a story we did in June of 2011 – more than two years ago. That problem has still not been resolved and with the Waterfront Access Protection Advisory Committee,  now dead,  city hall administration just might choose to let it remain forgotten. It hasn’t been resolved because city hall doesn’t want to go up against those who live on lakefront properties – they have just a little too much clout.

The point we make is that a simple reporting job isn’t enough by itself.  What is happening has to be put in context.  Often what is taking place needs some analysis and wherever possible some humour.

It can be very dreary at times.  Municipal budgets that come out in a two inch binder defy understanding by anyone who is not well versed in the way municipalities handle your money.  The finance people in Burlington are the best run department in the city.  And if you ask them a question you always get a straight understandable answer.  But they don’t do accounting the way the rest of the world does.  Reporting that the tax rate is going to go up (they never go down) is not enough.  The numbers have to be explained and the process reported on.  In 2010 the city had a whopping surplus; more than $9 million –that was $9 million of your dollars that were taken from your bank account –  and put into the city treasury.  Once they get it – they don’t give it back.

Reporting, analyzing, salting news with a little humour are how we see what we do.  We add to that what we call some “animation”. By animation we mean taking some action when we spot something that can be fixed.  When the small business operators were advised they would have to move out of the Regus offices on Brant Street we began making phone calls and bringing the situation to the attention of the people who could make changes – and then reporting on the changes that got made.

This is what the original Burlington Gazette office on Brant Street used to look like.

Media is now much different than it was when Elgin Harris published the Gazette out of an office on Brant Street.  In those days they reported exactly what people said and added no context or analysis.

Former Mayor Walter Mulkewich advises that the Gazette was originally published by Elgin Harris from 1899 to 1956.   Elgin Harris also became a Burlington Mayor and the house he built for his family is now home to A Different Drummer.  

The Spectator, according to Mulkewich,  bought the Gazette in 1988 and turned it into  the Burlington Spectator which was a daily for several years before finally ending the Burlington Spectator and resuming the Hamilton Spectator only. 

The information deficit Mulkewich wrote about in the Shape Burlington report probably began back when Elgin Harris was both Mayor and publisher of the local paper.  Talk about a conflict of interest – whey!

Welcome to the new Gazette.  And I will not be running for Mayor.

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6 comments to So – why did you change your name from Our Burlington to the Burlington Gazette? Better optics and a clearer identity

  • colleen rousell

    thank you – I was given a card at the pier last night, and here i am reading the burl. gazette, LOVE LOVE LOVE IT, im a snowbird and can keep up on the burl. i love when im away. great work.

  • Did you consider Our Burlington Gazette, merging the past with the present in order to move forward?

    No matter what you call it, thank you for always putting Burlington first. You keep us well-informed, inquisitive and a little off-balance (which is a good thing).

    This is the place where, as newspaper vendors used to yell at each passer-by, we can “read all about it”.

  • Diane Gaudaur

    Keep up the good work. I love your take-no-prisoners style of reporting. I remember the original Gazette with much fondness. It is refreshing that someone is speaking frankly and bluntly about issues of concern to us all.

  • Burlington Gazette. Nice ring to the new name. Well done and keep up the good (and very worthwhile) work.

  • James Smith

    The Burlington Gazette.
    I like it.
    Historically evocative while new all at the same time.

    Sounds at once both vaguely posh and somewhat seedy, like the classy dame that wanders into the newspaper office in some forgotten film noir. You know, something like:

    She tossed her fur wrap onto a chair of the Burlington Gazette’s editor office and adjusted her hat pin. Standing with her legs akimbo she accepted the drink poured from the bottle the editor kept in his desk drawer, the bottom drawer, the good stuff. The Gazette’s shamus work had brought her this far, it was now up to the bourbon & the editor’s guile to get this filly to dish the skinny. The Gazette was all set to get this doll’s scoop before all the other papers even got a sniff little own wind of this thing.
    The editor put down the hooch, picked up the phone, dialled the Burlington Gazette’s press room & barked into the blower. “Charlie! Stop the presses! Boy oh boy do we have a doozie!”

  • Donna

    I LOVE the new name!!! It is simple, identifies your purpose and rolls nicely off the tongue.

    You choice of name perfectly reflects all that I have come to love about your paper. I grew up with the Montreal Gazette but played Word Search in the Star as a 60’s Irish Anglo kid in Montreal. And later in high school the Gazette was the paper to read.

    Ever since I accidentaly discovered your paper I look forward to seeing each new article show up in my virtual mailbox. It is actually your paper that launched a whole new exciting and exhilarating life for me. Through your articles and annoncements of upcoming events I have since linked up with some extraordinary people and groups here in Burlington.

    Your articles are in depth, well research and teach me so much about my new home of only 4 years. All this is why I adore your paper. Your paper and passion for community ranks right up there with the orher Gazette. The fact that there was once a paper of the same name speaks to your love and passion for Burlngton by chosing a name from our history.

    By the way. This is coming from a pretty critical newpaper snob. I only read 2 Canadian papers. The Burl ington Gazette for regional news and another for national and foreign news.

    I also like the name change as now, when I quote where I learned something, people will know to what I am refering.

    Keep up the great reporting. And I welcome Mr. Ricers as a new addition to you staff.