Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Crisis that Trudeau Ignores

Few people notice or really care, but there is a daily newspaper crisis in Canada. It is a crisis that has huge ramifications, now and certainly over 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’s largest news services, estimates that between 2008 and 2016 more than 16,000 media jobs disappeared across the country.

Accurate numbers are difficult to assemble because news media job losses mount every month. However, it is likely that roughly 10,000 of the 16,000 jobs were lost at newspapers.

In the U.S. between 1990 and 2016 the newspaper publishing industry shrunk by nearly 60 percent, from roughly 458,000 jobs to 183,000 jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Job Statistics reports.

What we do know for sure is that Canadian daily newspaper titles such as the Orillia Times and Packet, 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 Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. traded 41 papers then closed 36 in places 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 cultural policy.

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 some practical recommendations. Those also have been ignored.

Trudeau and his ministers have done nothing to help newspaper journalism because 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 journalism to a country’s democracy and culture. Secondly, the industry does not need a financial bailout. It needs fresh, smart thinking to help it reinvent itself in an age where online companies (Facebook and Google to name two) are amassing trillions of dollars by killing traditional industry models.

The newspaper industry desperately needs help in re-inventing itself. Its own 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. Many people in the industry said it was a silly project destined to fail. It did 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 provide strong online models that produce journalism that people are willing to buy.

More and more Canadians are getting their non-local daily news from online dailies in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London and Melbourne. That likely is the future - people around the world subscribing to one or more 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 have developed where news coverage no longer is available to the entire country. 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 much reduced news coverage areas, skeleton staffs and therefore less news to share.

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 government should be asking “what are the ways we might help?”

That’s the way leadership is supposed to work.

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