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Logos of Metroland Media community newspapers on a flyer, in Mississauga, Ont., on Sept. 15.Megan Leach/The Canadian Press

Sakeina Syed is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

Growing up, I remember asking my grandmother to save her weekly copies of the Scarborough Mirror. I’d spend sunlit afternoons at her dinner table, poring over the newsprint, absorbing stories about transit and community events, education and art. I remember being 9, staring wide-eyed at an article about a stabbing before my aunt slid the paper out of reach. As the years progressed, I kept reading. Modern technology would someday deliver an endless barrage of alerts and posts and pings to the phone in my pocket, but that local weekly paper was my first introduction to news.

When a photographer from the Mirror stopped by a Malvern community lunch I volunteered at, it all clicked. The people and places around me – where I took the bus, where I went to school, were newsworthy. Even if we didn’t look like the people on TV, the stories around me were worth telling.

Last week, Metroland Media Group announced the shuttering of the print editions of more than 70 community newspapers, including the Scarborough Mirror. With 600 people laid off, including almost 70 journalists, it’s a crushing blow to the people affected. It’s also a brutal loss to an uncounted number of communities. As what remains of the coverage pivots to digital, one of the most vital functions of a local paper is lost.

When I picked up a copy of the Mirror, I might not have known what I was looking for until I read it. Firing up a search engine or scrolling through social media serves me a jumble of content. Enmeshed in that vast, international, interconnected web, my community might as well be non-existent. Local journalists do the work of being embedded – taking on stories that don’t garner buzz, interviewing shy or reticent community members, navigating the minutiae of regional differences.

Hyper-local news covers the fabric of people’s day-to-day lives; it can sometimes be a matter of life and death. A story about a protest or a shooting in a small Ontario town means just as much to members of that community as endless coverage of happenings in the downtown core means to me.

Metro Media to declare bankruptcy as local journalism takes another hit

Much of what’s covered in a local paper every week may not be hard-hitting news. Local stories don’t earn clicks and rarely garner virality. They’re not great for SEO, they’re difficult to universalize. By design, our digital alternatives may be ill-suited to filling the void left by a local newspaper. What could have been a front-page story for the people it mattered to most is now an easily ignored, practically unsearchable blip in a sea of online content.

Many of these papers have existed for decades; some for over a century. The Perth Courier, one of the affected papers, published its first edition in 1834. With the absence of an issue this week, we see a gap in the historical record. Individual communities, with their own rich heritages and stories, have always been worthy of documentation. Local news doesn’t just inform and document – it immortalizes.

I’m a freelance journalist, and I find ideas for reporting in Scarborough almost every day. My experience trying to write those stories is a grim forewarning of what we lose in the pivot to online. News read by everyone is forcibly tailored to an ever-widening readership. I can’t count how many times I’ve pitched a Scarborough story and been asked how the “average Torontonian” will relate. I try to justify why my community matters. I attempt to prove why the story should be told. I adjust the lens, broaden the scope, and lose what sparked it in the first place.

In an era where misinformation runs rampant and news is stifled, access to information is more important than ever. I’m 22, and it wasn’t very long ago that the Mirror served as a gateway for me. I’m acutely aware that this door has shut. The small publications that facilitated my own journey to journalism are gone or diminished. A nine-year-old with no phone or laptop won’t be able to read this essay – or news that matters to her – at her grandmother’s dinner table. She might not know why news matters at all.

As we shift to an increasingly commodified news landscape, I worry that physical editions are just the first to go. People living in rural communities, those with limited access to the internet and communities who are already under-represented and marginalized will suffer most. Some people who rely on their weekly papers might not even know they’re gone for good. Who will tell them the news?

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