Publishing Ltd.

Fort Smith, NWT

Don and Sandra Jacque own and operate the Slave River Journal, a regional newspaper serving the area between Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake, including the towns of Fort Smith and Fort Chipewayan. The head office is located in the town of Fort Smith, which sits on the west bank of the Slave River at the Alberta and Northwest Territories border. They also offer a computer graphics service and retail computing and office supplies under the operating name of Cascade Graphics.
The husband and wife are equal partners and serve as publishers for the weekly newspaper, which they started in 1978. Each partner handles the areas that reflect their expertise and interest while acting as a team on general issues of management and strategic planning.

Don's main duties are overseeing the operation of the newspaper, handling staffing requirements, writing articles and editorials, and managing their office building. Sandra heads the production team on the newspaper and is project manager for Cascade Graphics.
Strategic positioning and diversification in the marketplace are the key factors in the success of the Jaques' ventures. Their attention to the needs of their staff put them ahead in the competition for skilled employees. Finally, their slow, steady growth and aversion to debt helped them earn a reasonable profit and establish an excellent credit rating. These policies provided the means to accomplish many of their goals. Their first venture was the newspaper, and the record of that initial experience is described in the following section.


The idea for running a newspaper happened to come at a time when Don and Sandra were considering their next project. They had operated a group home for teenage girls in Fort Smith for four years but had decided that it was time to try something different. Sandra had taken some time off and Don had studied welding at the local college.
There had always been a community newspaper of some sort in Fort Smith. In 1978, there were two newspapers operating. One, the Slave River Journal, had been operating for a year, and the other, owned by a local man named Joe Mercredi, had been in operation for about five months. News North, a territorial weekly newspaper based in Yellowknife, wanted to expand and its owners approached Don and Sandra. Don recalls, "We had been looking at buying the Slave River Journal but were reticent about the deal. Somebody else in town bought it and their kids ran it for awhile. News North figured that the chances were that these kids wouldn't lst very long, so they decided to start a newspaper. They approached us to do it. At that time we were quite interested in doing a newspaper but we didn't have the expertise o
urselves. Our attitude was that if there was no risk involved and they were going to teach us, then let's give it a try. If nothing else we'll have an interesting experience and learn some new things."
Sandra has an arts degree with a major in sociology. Don explains, "My background was political science and I could write fairly well. I found that out in university when I used to make a little bit of money on the side writing people's term papers for twenty dollars."
They started a newspaper called the Fort Smith News and were affiliated briefly with News North. Sandra recalls, "We collected the information, wrote the stories, took pictures, and gathered the ads together.

We sent all the material with a mock-up dummy of the newspaper to Yellowknife every Tuesday and they put it together. We distributed our newspaper on Thursday."
Don recalls their rapid expansion in the first year. "Mercredi's newspaper folded about seven months after we were in operation. About that time we bought the Slave River Journal and used that name, since it was the oldest publication. It had been a tough period until then because a newspaper is not eligible for government advertising for the first nine months of operations. Advertising is the major source of income, which is the base of any newspaper. In the first nine months, we were losing money every week and working very hard for nothing."
They survived the first year operating out of their house. Their circulation was about 1,200 and has grown to 1,950 in twelve years. Sandra recalls how they split duties in the early years. Don sold the advertising, did all the writing, and developed the photos in the darkroom. I organized his work into a format and looked after the books and the circulation. We would work all week then we would be up all Tuesday night, so we could get the paper to the airport at seven o'clock the next morning.
We made money because we didn't have any expenses and we only had several part-time staff. The territorial government, Fort Smith businesses, and the government of Canada were our main advertisers. By 1980, we had bought another house and we moved the business there and out of the basement of our house.
We had help in the early years from the Federal Business Development Bank's program. They had retired people from all professions who were available for consulting. Three different fellows came to give us ideas about running a newspaper, organizing the books, and how to handle advertising. After several years, the next area they expanded into was graphic arts. Sandra states, "Some of our equipment wasn't used on Thursday and Friday, so we could handle other projects.

We've slowly evolved into that area." Until this expansion, they had operated as a partnership. On the advice of an accountant, they incorporated Cascade Publishing Ltd. in 1982. They had reached a sufficient revenue level, planned to continue operating, and could reduce the level of taxation through this legal move. Sandra notes: "We did our own books and taxes in the first years because we were always careful about spending large sums of money on people. We were always very frugal and so we paid fifty or seventy-five dollars and incorporated the company ourselves." The next step was to buy land for their own building. About three years later, they built the building and moved in.
Sandra recalls, "We thought that it would be a good idea to add a little extra space and rent it out." Don drew up the initial designs of the building and then acted as general contractor. The 4,000 square-foot two-story building is located on Fort Smith's main street. The newspaper office is on the upper floor and takes up one quarter of the building. Don assesses the changes in the newspaper since 1978. "The quality of our publication has grown significantly, in large part because we have hired university grads from the south. For the first year or two we tried hiring local people with a general arts degree or a teacher's degree. We found that there's turnover after one or two years. So we were training people and then they would move on. I decided to hire trained journalists who are committed to the profession."
Don does have some favorite memories. "When we first started out, the equipment was very antiquated. For example the typesetter that we used had one type style and one type size. When you typed you couldn't see the copy. You didn't know what you were typing until it came out on the ticker tape. Then you took that tape and fed it into another machine that put it on typesetting paper. If you made a mistake then you had to go back and do it again. Now our machines have hundreds of type styles and hundreds of sizes at the press of a button."