The Valley Voice fiercely defends the diverse voices of these West Kootenay communities
The owners of the newspaper talk about the role of local independent media in an information-overload world
For 17 years, Dan Nicholson and Jan McMurray have had their ears to the communities in the Slocan, Arrow Lakes and North Kootenay Lake valleys.
They’ve listened, learned and served their fellow citizens through crises such as wildfires, a fuel spill into a river, and a company closure that was the chief employer in town.
Through hard times and good times they have run a successful locally-owned small business located in New Denver. That business is The Valley Voice, an independently-owned community newspaper.
At the heart of this newspaper is showcasing, defending and celebrating the strength of community. “Stand up for community” is one of Nicholson’s values. “Love the community and it will love you back,” he said.
To anyone who lives or visits the region, this free biweekly, regional rag is legendary. In a loud media-overload world, people want and need to be heard, and this newspaper’s most popular section is the letters section—called Voices from the Valleys—which encourages locals to have their say.
When asked what they like best about producing the newspaper, Nicholson said, “I like being able to have an effect on local issues. I also enjoy the nuts-and-bolts of making everything fit.”
“I like being 'in the thick of things,' “ said McMurray, “keeping up with the news of our wonderful communities, and I like being able to inform my fellow community members about what's happening in the region. I see The Valley Voice as a community service and I get much satisfaction from serving my community. I am always learning new things, both as editor/ reporter and as business manager, so there's never a dull moment!”
The couple has learned a lot as they’ve produced The Valley Voice over the years, and they have noteworthy opinions on the role of independent local media and advice for all of us as media consumers.
The history of The Valley Voice
Dan and Jan bought The Valley Voice from Bonnie Greensword in 2003, which was started by Greensword and Kate Campbell in December of 1992 to fill a void in news coverage for the Slocan Valley. Campbell left the paper after a few years, but returned and worked on and off for the paper until she retired at the end of 2019.
Greensword expanded the paper into Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes Valley, and made some inroads into the Kaslo area. When the husband and wife team took over the paper, they expanded solidly into Kaslo and area. Nicholson takes the title of publisher, and McMurray takes that of editor.
The biweekly has a distribution of about 7,600 copies. The paper is delivered free of charge to every residential mailbox in the Slocan Valley, Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes Valley, Kaslo and North Kootenay Lake Valley. The rest are left at local business drops. Regular subscriptions, e-subscriptions and voluntary subscriptions are also available.
Besides the two owners, the staff comprises one full-time and three part-time members, in addition to the six to eight stringers who write articles.
“Everyone loves the Voices from the Valleys,” said Nicholson. “We print all kinds of opinions, especially those that we disagree with.”
Readers look forward to receiving the newspaper, and some even read those letters to the editor first.
“I think people appreciate that we have a very open letters policy,” said McMurray. “Everyone's opinion is published, as long as we follow the law—no libel, slander or hate speech.”
Consistent big topics are municipal politics and forestry practices. Other big topics over the years have included:
- the re-emergence of the Sinixt Nation
- the Lemon Creek fuel spill
- the demise of the sawmill in Slocan and the purchase of the property by the Village of Slocan
- the City Hall renovation in Kaslo
- the Columbia River Treaty
The role of local media
The need for a trusted source of information is more urgent now than ever in our complex world and current challenges—and this newspaper is one of them.
“We were fortunate to buy a paper that was already well respected and trusted, thanks to Bonnie and Kate,” said Nicholson. “We are very objective in our reporting. We do straight reporting—just the facts. We are very strict about accuracy and are not shy about publishing corrections if we make a mistake. Particularly in small communities, we know how important it is to keep good relations. Having a very open letters policy also builds trust.”
McMurray said that first and foremost The Valley Voice has an educational role to inform people.
“I strongly believe that the role of local media (and all media) should be to inform people and to provide a forum for people to share their opinions,” she said. “Good local media provides a wonderful community service.
Our paper also connects the people of three valleys that are fairly isolated from each other geographically but have so much in common. Many people thank me for bringing the communities together in the Voice.”
“At its best, the newspaper gives a voice to the voiceless,” said Dan. “It gives a space for civil debate of important community issues.”
He appreciates that the newspaper teaches us to “speak truth to power.”
Both co-owners had succinct advice on how to fight disinformation, which is often widely disseminated on social media.
“We have to educate people to be discerning,” said McMurray.
And Nicholson advised, “Read more, scroll less. Think more, post less.”
The change around the corner
We chose to interview this duo when we noticed a small ad tucked among the classifieds. The ad was as self-effacing as the two owners—the newspaper is for sale.
“We haven't put a lot of effort into selling yet,” said Nicholson. “We wanted to put it out there first of all to our readers. We plan on retiring in five to 10 years, and we know it can take quite some time to sell businesses in this area, so we decided we had better start thinking about succession planning. We're still very happy to be running the paper and hope to find just the right buyer before we want to retire.”
When asked about the financial viability of the newspaper, Nicholson said, “We have raised our family doing this. It's a modest income, but we are very comfortable.”
There aren’t many small independent community newspapers left in British Columbia. But for now, this little gem presses on.