By Jim Poling
Published Feb. 22 2018
Few people notice or really care but there is a daily newspaper crisis inCanada. It is a crisis that has huge ramifications now and certainlyover time for our country and our culture.
The daily newspaper industry is in fact dying and resuscitation efforts have been meagre and not well thought out.
The Canadian Media Guild representing workers at CBC and the country’slargest news services estimates that between 2008 and 2016 more than16000 media jobs disappeared across the country.
Accurate numbers are difficult to assemble because news media job losses mountevery month. However it is likely that roughly 10000 of the 16000jobs were lost at newspapers.
In the U.S. between 1990 and 2016 the newspaper publishing industry shrunk by nearly 60 percent from roughly 458000 jobs to 183000 jobs theU.S. Bureau of Job Statistics reports.
What we do know for sure is that Canadian daily newspaper titles such as the Orillia Packet and Times the Guelph Mercury and the Moose Jaw Times-Herald which served significant urban areas for decades no longer exist.
Last November the Canadian newspaper industry took a huge hit when TorstarCorp. and Postmedia Network Inc. traded 41 papers then closed 36 inplaces where they compete. The closures including weeklies and dailies eliminated 291 jobs.
This death spiral has prompted a daily newspaper industry attempt to get the federal government to include help for journalism in its culturalpolicy.
The Trudeau government did commission a study of the problem which last year resulted in the report titled The Shattered Mirror. It produced a number of good thoughts and recommendations which the government has pretty much ignored.
A Commons committee also investigated the failing industry and made somepractical recommendations. Those also have been ignored.
Trudeau and his ministers have done nothing to help newspaper journalismbecause they feel that they cannot “bail out industry models that are no longer viable.”
That is an uninformed unintelligent position.
First it shows a lack of knowledge about the importance of daily journalismto a country’s democracy and culture. Secondly the industry does notneed a financial bailout. It needs fresh smart thinking to help itreinvent itself in an age where online companies (Facebook and Google to name two) are amassing trillions of dollars by killing traditionalindustry models.
The newspaper industry desperately needs help in re-inventing itself. Itsown efforts to date have been pathetically slow and unimaginative.
Just one example is the TorStar launch of Star Touch a tablet platform that cost the company $40 million and two years of re-invention time. Manypeople in the industry said it was a silly project destined to fail. Itdid and was closed down last summer.
Re-invention efforts outside Canada have been better. Companies like the New York Times Washington Post and The Guardian in England have been somewhat successful in their efforts to providestrong online models that produce journalism that people are willing tobuy.
More and more Canadians are getting their non-local daily news from onlinedailies in New York Washington Los Angeles London and Melbourne. That likely is the future – people around the world subscribing to one ormore online dailies located in major world centres.
Community newspapers like this one have a brighter future than the dailies.That is because they focus on hometown news that people want and need.
As the daily newspaper industry has shrunk huge black holes havedeveloped where news coverage no longer is available to the entirecountry. Newspapers like the Moose Jaw Times-Herald and the Orillia Packet and Times shared their news with newspaper and broadcast services that distributed it nationwide.
The dailies that survive now are mere shadows of themselves with muchreduced news coverage areas skeleton staffs and therefore less news toshare.
The result is Canadians have fewer news sources for learning about what is happening in other parts of their country.
Instead of saying “why should we do anything to help?” the Trudeau governmentshould be asking “what are the ways we might help?”
That’s the way leadership is supposed to work.