It was May 1975 when John Curry, a young newspaperman with six years of experience in journalism, made a deal.
For $6,000, he became the proud owner of the Stittsville News and embarked on a community journalism career that would span more than 40 years and counting.
It was a tough gig. The hours were long and the pay was low. The newspaper served a small community and barely broke even. But Curry wasn’t in it for the money. He wanted to do good journalism, report for the community and have fun doing it.
Years later, Curry is still at the paper, although he doesn’t own it anymore. In 2001 he sold it to Runge Newspapers. In 2005, it was sold again to Metroland Media, the current publisher.
Despite the new owners and the challenges newspapers face, Curry has hung on. He has managed to evade the layoffs, buyouts and cuts that has become common in the industry.
Indeed, despite the digital news revolution, him and his old-fashioned print newspaper are still going at it and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Looking back on the years, Curry has a lot to remember. He is admittedly an old dog, although not quite sure how old. He guessed his age to be about 69.
“Age to me, is not relevant,” he said, although he admitted perhaps he isn’t quite as energetic as he was decades earlier. “It isn’t a thing I think about.”
He knew he wanted to do journalism when he was getting his bachelor of arts from Carleton University, in 1968.
It dawned on him that he likes history and he likes writing. “Working in newspapers is like writing history,” he said.
So in the early 1970s he returned to Carleton to get a bachelor of journalism and a bachelor of journalism honours.
In 1970, he got his first job when he walked into the offices of the Arnprior Guide and asked if they needed help. Their editor was in the hospital, so they hired him on the spot on a temporary basis.
While he was at the Guide, he dabbled in business and in 1972 published the Constance Bay Cottager for 10 weeks.
“I think it was the only paper to run a blank page on purpose,” he said. He was running out of money and could only afford to print a certain number of pages, which he could not fill.
He then worked for a few years at another paper in Elmvale, a small community about 25 kilometres northwest of Barrie, Ont.
In 1975, he bought the Stittsville News and moved into the area.
The paper was in a bad situation. Its circulation hovered between 1,100 and 1,200 and barely made any money. Curry saw holes for local news coverage, and seized on them.
He increased the page count from eight to 40, and added new sections for the nearby communities of Richmond and Glen Cairn. After a few years of owning it, he had increased the circulation to 3,000 — more than the population of Stittsville at the time.
“It wasn’t much of a paper at the time,” said Curry. “(But) I was doing what I liked to do.”
When Curry was just getting started in journalism, he was always told he would have to start at small community papers and work his way up into the big city ones. He never was inclined to move up, and said he didn’t believe there was any shame in small newspapers.
Because of this, the Stittsville News was the first community paper to join the Ontario Press Council, in the 1980s. Today there are almost 200 community newspapers on the council.
Even if he doesn’t want to move up, why stay with the same newspaper for more than 40 years?
“I just had no desire to change. It’s an active community, I find people are really friendly and open and there’s lots going on.”
Ryland Coyne has known Curry for at least 20 years, back when he worked at Performance Printing in Smiths Falls and Curry would come in to print his papers. For the past five years, he’s been Curry’s boss as the editor-in-chief of Metroland Media’s Ottawa newspapers.
“He is tireless, he has a deep rooted love for his community,” said Coyne.
“Community journalism is something that’s in your blood,” he said. “You take joy in peoples’ accomplishments and want to share those stories.”
On a day-to-day basis, that’s exactly what Curry wants to do. He isn’t trying to accomplish a big goal. He simply wants to tell stories about the people who live in the community. One way he fondly recalled doing this was by covering local weddings.
“They were always probably the most popular thing we’ve ever run in the paper,” he said, because everybody wanted to read about good things happening to people.
“We’d go take pictures, we had a form that people would fill out and then my mom was really great at writing them up.”
“I wouldn’t call that the little stuff, I think that’s the important stuff,” said Curry.
He stopped doing it some time ago, because he said weddings have become less relevant in today’s society.
He was at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Dec. 3, 2016 to cover a concert by the Stairwell Carollers. He had published a story in the paper that week about them coming to town and about one of the members, David Rain, who’s first composition was to be performed that night.
Curry walked in a few minutes before the show and took a seat in the back of the church. His eyes scanned the room and he wrote some notes on the program. When the show began, he took some photos.
“We’ll see what develops,” he said. The concert has become somewhat a tradition over the past four years and he always makes it out to write a story.
Halfway through the two-hour concert, there was an intermission. As the carollers filed into the back room, Curry rushed over to join them and take photos of Rain along with director Pierre Massie.
The group was clearly grateful for the coverage. When the show continued, the master of ceremonies asked Curry to stand and the audience applauded him.
The applause is no surprise, with the tremendous goodwill that Curry’s work has generated in the community. One would be hard-pressed to find someone with anything but praise for him.
“I can’t say a bad thing about him,” said Heather Martineau, a resident in the neighbouring community of Richmond which the paper also covers. Martineau was the treasurer of the Richmond Community Association and said Curry never missed a chance to cover their meetings.
“He just pops up… wow, you didn’t even have to ask him,” she said. “Oh my God, it’s incredible.”
Although community journalism is often about the minutia of daily life, Martineau said Curry keeps an eye on the big picture. “He always wrote articles on city issues as they relate to rural areas,” she said.
When it comes to the little things, nothing may seem smaller than a photo caption. Yet, as several readers noted, the paper is always careful to name every person in every photo.
“Putting people’s names in a paper, to you and me is writing a few words on a keyboard,” said Shad Qadri, the councillor for the area. “To John, that’s his dedication to the community.”
Besides Curry’s work on the paper, he’s also known for heavy community involvement, especially as a history buff.
Kathryn Jamieson is the curator of the Goulbourn Museum, where Curry has been a founding member for 25 years. She said he’s always the first person they call when they don’t know something.
“I would say 99 per cent of the time, he knows it right off the top of his head,” she said.
Curry has also been the Catholic board trustee for the area since 2000. He’s well known by students and staff at local schools for dropping by to cover events. Every Catholic high schooler knows they haven’t graduated until they’ve heard one of Curry’s poems at their graduation ceremony, as has become tradition.
A tongue-in-cheek rap he performed for his 2014 re-election campaign was widely shared in Stittsville and can be viewed at johncurrytrustee.ca.
In his spare time, when he has any, he enjoys gardening, golfing, following sports and reading, especially biographies.
He does not wear a wedding band, for he has never wed. It’s not that he didn’t want to marry, but he said he never found the love of his life.
“You assume it’s going to happen, then a certain day happens and you turn around and it hasn’t happened.”
Once, there was someone special “but it didn’t work out,” he said.
“People who find love and get married are the luckiest people.”
It has been said he married his newspaper, but he said the Stittsville News is more like his child.
Certainly, it will be his legacy.