Rat Creek Press’ evolution from newsletter to newspaper

Flash back to the verge of the new millennium: the May 1999 inaugural issue of Rat Creek Press is delivered to residents and businesses in Alberta Avenue and Eastwood. 

Karen Mykietka, current publisher of Rat Creek Press, started as a volunteer delivering the paper on her street in Eastwood in 2001. Month after month, she thought of all the potential articles and information that could be in the newsletter.

In 2004, when she heard the newsletter partnership was at risk of collapsing, she offered to do a review and soon found herself responsible for publishing a newspaper. 

“I recruited another stay-at-home mom friend of mine, Dawn Freeman, to help me. We had no idea how to put together a newspaper and had very little budget to work with,” says Mykietka. 

“We volunteered our time and figured things out issue by issue.”

“From the start, I was trying to build a community newspaper for the community by the community,” she recalls. “We provided the opportunity for people to explore their creative side, to try a hand at writing.”

The first issue’s front page, more of a newsletter style, took readers on a stroll through local history. They called their publication the Rat Creek Press in reference to the historically important creek that ran where Norwood Boulevard is now to the North Saskatchewan through Kinnaird Ravine. 

The newspaper header and front page has changed several times over the past 20 years. | Karen Mykietka

The first partners included Alberta Avenue Community League, Alberta Avenue Business Association, Norwood Neighbourhood Association, Women’s Economic Business Solutions Society and Success By 6, a United Way initiative focusing on children from 0 to 6 years old. 

The Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation, now known as CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation), joined the team later, sharing partner space with the Alberta Avenue Neighbourhood Patrol.  

Jump ahead five years, the beloved newsletter found its adult legs as a fully developed tabloid-style newspaper. Incorporated as a non-profit society, publication transitioned into a monthly paper with a distribution of 8,500. In September 2007 circulation again increased, and is now at 12,500.

Perhaps more importantly, having society status opened doors for recruiting board members and applying for funds from highly prized casinos and grants. But those early days were a steep learning curve. 

“We pulled off producing our first issue but also encountered major distribution problems, and many homes did not receive the paper into which we put many hours of labour,” recalls Mykietka.

But those were initial birth pangs. Today, with its online format, readers can find the RCP’s current issue, mission and goals, advertising information, and contributors as well as back issues. 

“I was thrilled when we finally got our our new website up and running,” says Mykietka. “The website finally has the ability to post and share articles individually, which is important in today’s social media world.”

Surviving as an independent newspaper continues to pose challenges, both financially and in terms of reader numbers. 

“For every issue, you are constantly thinking of ways to survive and thrive as a community newspaper.” 

Building up to their 2018 annual general meeting, the board made a plea for public attendance, posting that “the only way papers like ours will survive is if we, as a community, make it happen.” 

Residents and businesses took it to heart, and community leagues have stepped on board. All seven leagues now help keep the paper afloat in the form of an annual partnership donation. What they get in return is delivery to neighbourhood mailboxes, ongoing promotion of league activities, and relevant news.

The paper has also started Friends of the RCP, offering regular donors perks such as advertising discounts. 

But thriving is something altogether different. It stems from being connected to the community.

“Everything depends on good relationships, an effective production team, a strong and diversely skilled board, happy advertisers, willing financial supporters, and giving volunteers.” 

Today, she contends, community newspapers are even more important.

“Social media and online aren’t always the point of entry for many groups, including seniors, immigrants, and people on low-income.”

Currently, the RCP’s focus is volunteer development and forging deeper connections with the neighbourhoods. 

“A free community paper delivered to every household in a small area gives everyone an equal opportunity to learn about and get involved in their neighbourhood.”

Featured Image: Publisher Karen Mykietka holds the first issue of the RCP from May 1999 and the September 2019 issue. | Steven Michos