OCNA Executive DIrector got her start at hometown newspaper in Sarnia
Burlington Post By Ian Holroyd
If community newspapers are the lifeblood of Ontario’s towns and cities then Anne Lannan is the heart.
However, after a quarter century at the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA) – working her way up to executive director — she has decided it’s time to move on.
“I hit the 25-year mark at the association in September. That was the big milestone,” she said from the OCNA offices in Burlington “I felt like I’ve accomplished something and said, ‘Now what?’”
Lannan admits it’s hard to leave a job she still loves but she is reaching for the skies — literally. A new chapter of her life is taking off as she explores new opportunities in the world of drone aircrafts for marketing purposes.
Her ambitions are simple – build a business of her own where she can earn a comfortable living, and craft a suitable working environment for her 24-year-old son David, who has Down syndrome.
While the sky is the limit for Lannan and her new venture, she said there is so much about the community newspaper industry she will miss.
Lannan, who is now 52 years old, was 17 when she began her career in print at the Sarnia Observer in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. She babysat for the circulation manager but when she expressed interest in finding new employment, he offered her a job at the paper, but only if she continued to babysit for his family.
She took death notices on Fridays and Saturdays, and though it wasn’t the most glamourous position, she was hooked.
Lannan would often speak to the reporters on the weekend, asking them about the stories they were writing. After a while, she thought, “Hey, I could do that,” and signed up to take journalism at Humber College.
Throughout her 35 years in the community newspaper industry, Lannan said she has had the pleasure of working with some of the best in the business and it’s those people who kept her keen all these years.
“Newspaper people are so passionate about what they do and they’re so passionate about their communities,” she said, “being involved in their communities, the growth of their communities, and it’s a really great atmosphere to be around.”
The OCNA hired Lannan in September 1989 to produce the group’s newsletter and run the networking advertising program. Not long after that, the member manager retired and she was promoted to that position. She took up the reigns as OCNA’s executive director in 2008.
The OCNA is a non-profit industry association, representing 310 community newspapers in every corner of the province. They range from small community newspapers to large suburban publications. The OCNA provides programs and services for its members, including AdReach, which connects ad agencies and advertisers with local readers across Ontario.
OCNA President Gordon Cameron said Lannan’s departure will be felt throughout the organization. Her knowledge of Ontario’s newspaper industry acquired over the last quarter century, he explained, will be irreplaceable.
“She knows the members very well, members all across the province, and that in part comes from 25 years experience but also that’s the kind of person she is,” Cameron said. “She’s very personable. She wants to know what’s going on and she genuinely wants to help newspapers as they go.
“I always joke that it’s not too late for her to change her mind,” he added.
As a longstanding staff member at the OCNA, Lannan has seen how the community newspaper industry has changed over the years. Despite the advent of technology and internet-based news organizations, she believes the value of community newspapers is as strong today as it has ever been.
Regardless of the evolving landscape, she explained there is no other medium that can connect the audience and its advertisers quite like community newspapers.
“If a community didn’t have a community news newspaper, what would happen? Someone would start one,” she pointed out. “And that’s happened all around Ontario — in Deep River, in Blyth, in Fonthill. They’ve all got community-run newspapers.
“I think even if more news and interaction gets put online, there will always be a print component for communities,” she added.
Many community newspapers are using the Internet to further connect with readers, managing their own websites, using social media and producing mobile apps. But according to Lannan, there is a limit to how far community newspapers can rely on the Internet.
“If your readers want to access it online then you’re meeting those needs.” she said. “The challenge with our business is the revenue that sustains quality journalism is not being generated online. The majority of our revenue is still being generated through print.”
While the Internet can be a tool for journalists, Lannan believes it is also threatening the quality of the journalism.
“It’s drawing a finer grey line for people who may not understand the value and the purpose of true journalism,” she said. “Opinion pieces and blogs are not true journalism. You have to be out asking the questions and making sure you get balanced articles, talking to actual sources.”
Lannan is saying goodbye to the OCNA in April, opening the doors on her own marketing firm called Dragonfly media. Her goal is to “soar above the competition,” providing marketing solutions for businesses using aerial drones to shoot videos.
“I have always wanted to have my own business I just didn’t know what and I had been researching drones for the newsgathering purposes for the association,” she said. “And then I thought, ‘There’s a real opportunity here because it’s such a new industry in Canada.’”
There is something else motivating Lannan to venture out on her own, something close to her heart. It’s her son David, who has Down syndrome. As Lannan explains, while he is high functioning and social, it is difficult to find him a fulfilling career.
“Finding employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities is very challenging,” she said. “You have to have an employer who’s willing to take the extra time for training.”
Lannan believes this is her chance to get her son involved. “Everybody deserves working opportunities that are challenging and make them feel fulfilled and like they’re contributing,” she added.
There is change in the air at the OCNA offices in Burlington. Not only is the executive director leaving the fold, but they are packing up and moving operations.
On July 1, the association, which has called Burlington home for the past 19 years, will be moving to Toronto, sharing office space with its national counterpart, Newspapers Canada.
As the OCNA staff prepares to move to Toronto, Lannan remembers all the good times they had together. “They really do care about what they’re doing and they really want to see the newspapers succeed and excel,” she said.
She confessed she will also miss her daily dealings with publishers and newspapers across the province. She said the strong personalities and their antics always kept her on her toes.
She explained, “There are some crazy people in this business.”