It was many years ago that a mutual friend, Donna Hilsinger, introduced me to Michael Atkins, the president of Laurentian Media Group. Laurentian Media Group publishes Northern Life, Sudbury.com, Northern Ontario Business and a whole range of other publications that have served not only the community of Sudbury but all of Northern Ontario, for many years.
In those days as a young entrepreneur (a title I can unfortunately no longer claim), I was immediately drawn to Michael. He was smart, confident, wise and a driven entrepreneur. He could detect both opportunity and nonsense all at the same time. He was passionate about Sudbury and all of Northern Ontario and over the years I would come to learn that he contributed in countless ways to the economy, culture and overall well-being of our entire region.
Just over six years ago, when I took over SooToday and we created Village Media, Michael was one of the first people I called. Our plan then was to create a media network that spanned Northern Ontario, including Sudbury. It was inevitable that we may eventually become competitors and I wanted him to know in advance. Michael responded immediately, sending his publisher and other senior staff up to visit and we quickly came to the realization that it made more sense to collaborate than to compete.
Michael and his company became the first partner in Village Media’s network, which now includes over 30 sites across Canada. He also instantly became a believer in our business, a contributor to our platform (the technology that runs the site you are reading this on) and a valued coach and mentor on our incredible journey over the past six years.
It didn’t start this way of course!
We negotiated a purchase agreement and were thrilled to do so. That was before travel was limited, the province declared a state of emergency and our teams across the country began working from their homes. It gives you pause. My guess is there are very few people buying a new business today before knowing the full ramifications of the challenges in front of them.
But, we did. And here is why we are doing it.
Sudbury.com is a fantastic news website — arguably one of the best in the nation. It has won three provincial awards and one national award as the best news website in Canada. The site has also won 12 awards for news reporting, editorial writing and video storytelling over the last four years.
I know the team that built this business and they are passionate and professional. They’ll fit right in with a team that, in these moments, I couldn’t be prouder of.
The highest and best use of our incredible community news sites is during emergencies when our readers and our advertisers need to act on critical information. Last year, during forest fire season our sites helped our communities know which roads were open, which way the winds were blowing, what people needed help, and what people were in a position to help. Just last week, Sudbury.com did a live broadcast of the press conference from Laurentian University about closing down classes and then raced across town to broadcast the Public Health Sudbury and Districts’ press conference with chief medical health director Penny Sutcliffe who reported on Sudbury's first positive COVID-19 case. No one else made that effort or had that impact. Our COVID-19 reporting is second to none. If not us, then who will do this work that we require to build our communities and keep them safe?
I was born and raised in Northern Ontario. I’m passionate about life and commerce in the North, and embrace the uniqueness and significance of our “Villages”.
In today's stunning volatility our advertisers need to reach their customers immediately, not in a day or two or three. If you have a perishable product that needs to be sold, our audience is available, live, for you to reach. If you have a product for a wider market, we give you instantaneous access to the largest digital market in Northern Ontario. The reach of our sites was unthinkable only a year ago. Sudbury.com is a huge part of that story.
We are more effective than our media competitors. We live here. We are owned here. And more importantly, we plan to stay here.
Finally, in these days of heightened stress and unique problems we are a trusted source of real news: Not fake news. We have more than 25 reporters across the North (many of them award-winning) who know what is going on and who are dedicated to making sure we are all dealing with facts and not speculation.
There is nothing easy about our immediate future. We are in uncharted territory. Sudbury.com is going to continue to play a leading role in helping us get through these times.
We are thrilled to have Mark Gentili and his editorial team remain with us. We are delighted that Melanie Junge and her digital sales team remain intact.
Abbas Homayed, Vice President and General Manager for Laurentian Publishing Limited, joins Village Media as Vice President of Business Development with a special focus on the Sudbury market.
I can’t share the reasons for acquiring Sudbury.com without acknowledging the people who made this spectacular community news product possible, so a special thank you to the thousands of employees who have been a part of the Northern Life/Sudbury.com story for the last 47 years. It is an extraordinary story of Northern Ontario entrepreneurship, hard work and enthusiasm. We stand on your shoulders. We promise not to let you down.
As for Michael?
Michael is my friend, mentor and No. 1 critic all at the same time. He will continue to sit on the board of Village Media, where he will ensure that our company operates with the same kind of integrity and dedication to the practice of journalism that he has always demonstrated.
He is a man of character and has provided invaluable advice and guidance to me and our entire company along the way. We couldn’t be happier that he will continue to do so.