Is Print Journalism Ailing?

January 19, 2016

This week, the Toronto Star posted an article claiming that the federal government will announce a $50 million program to promote local journalism in its budget Tuesday. This could be good or bad, depending on the criteria for the program.

Presumably, the program is in response to John Honderich’s excellent opinion piece last month in which he asks the government to do something to save local media in Canada, particularly newspapers. Or perhaps it’s part of the campaign by Canadian media publishers to get the Federal Government to pay them for digital content, as outlined by an article in the Financial Post last June.

This seems like a good time to relook at the media landscape in Canada, particularly that of print journalism.

To me, this leads to three big questions. Who produces local journalism in Canada? How do they serve democracy? Why should the government pay for what they do, and how?

Also, I should say right up front, I’m biased on this question. As a freelance journalist since 1993, I really care about what happens in this industry. Over the years, I’ve seen jobs, outlets and opportunities cut. During the same period, working conditions for journalists have been wiped out. We’ve all had to compete internationally, with fewer stories focussed on Canadian content told. Investigative journalism has been harder to do, and some of the

If so, what will revive it or will something else take its place?

The last few weeks have made me feel particularly powerless as a local journalist.

I’ve been covering stories about municipal and provincial changes to education—the closure of schools and the elimination of school boards. At the same time, organizing a local event and trying to participate in a corporate meeting have me looking at the business of print journalism itself and wondering whether anything else could take its place.

English school closures

I’ve been covering Lester B. Pearson’s decision to empty out six of their buildings, including Lakeside in Lachine, Orchard in LaSalle and Riverview in Verdun.

It’s extremely moving, yet traumatizing, to listen to community leaders speak about crying children, disappointed teachers, abandoned community groups who rely on student volunteers, and parents who feel helpless in the face of processes that require unending volunteering in exchange for very little control. These crises destroyed the holidays for many families who had to attend demonstrations, sign petitions, create videos and set up meetings to try to get school board commissioners to change their minds about closing loved institutions.

Parents and local politicians can’t understand why the English and French school boards can’t get together to reinvigorate cherished entities that would serve everyone. School board administrators seem surprised that principals, parents and teachers didn’t realize that schools below their capacities are targets for closure. Newly elected officials are struggling to ensure their communities get heard.

School board elections to be eliminated

Meanwhile, as the parent of a child in French school, I’m also getting information about Bill 86, a provincial law that seems to propose to keep school boards structures almost exactly as they are, save removing those same elected officials that everyone knows. In exchange, it seems as though they plan to set up another complex structure that gives busy parents more to do with less hands-on knowledge. If I understand it, that is. The law is so convoluted it’s hard to be sure, but this idea seems like another inane way to keep parents busy, out of touch and unable to get the schools that children want.

Postmedia

As a new owner of Postmedia, last week was a downer, and now this week is too.

As one of the Montreal-based writers who got voting stock in Postmedia as part of a bankruptcy-avoidance settlement from a class-action lawsuit against the Gazette, I’d like to help turn this once-lively company back into a series of democracy defenders across Canada.

Last week was Postmedia’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Toronto, but there was so little interest in the company, none of my Toronto-based writer friends would go as my proxy.

It’s clear to me that the austerity plans of management aren’t doing anything good. If RBC analyst’s are correct, the stock price has dropped to zero from more than two dollars at this time last year. Five years ago, it was worth $15.

Despite this dismal news, Postmedia management is continuing on its austerity mentality and will be cutting $80 million from their operating budget in the coming year, according to the Toronto Star and laying off 90 workers according to the Globe and Mail.*

As if to make bad news even worse, the inane finger campaign launched last year is getting more attention.

On the positive side there, Montreal’s spunky digital visionary Mitch Joel joined the board at their annual meeting last Wednesday. If anyone can encourage that company to change how they do things and become popular again, he can. Listen to his podcast interview with Simon Sinek if you don’t believe me.

There’s also the possibility that someone will buy the Montreal Gazette and run it as a true local newspaper again. There are some fabulous writers and administrators there—I’d like them to be able to do some interesting stories again.

Journal de Montréal event

Meanwhile, I also spent much of the week inviting people to hear George Kalogerakis, the managing editor from Le Journal de Montréal and wishing that I could write in French.

As the Gazette clearly struggles to survive, it’s fun to see that two of the French papers are exploring very different options to expand circulation and improve their business models. Le Journal clearly sees La Presse’s decision to go digital and eliminate weekly print editions as a way to expand its own reach.

I’m really looking forward to hearing Kalogerakis’ pro-content pro-paper message in French and English to help me . Kalogerakis speaks on Wednesday, Jan 20 at 2047 Mansfield Avenue from 5 until 7. The event costs $25, which includes canapés but not drinks. If you live in Montreal and you want to attend, call (514) 288-0201 with your credit card to register.

Anyway, this week it feels like both education and print journalism in Montreal is under siege and may be ailing.

Clearly these are two issues that I care deeply about, but simply describing what’s going on doesn’t seem enough. At the same time, local journalism is the best way I can think of to get people engaged.

I dearly hope that all of the institutions we love will be able to reinvent themselves, but how they might do so is so up in the air right now.

On the journalism side, it would be a real shame if our community had only broadcasters to turn to when governments, employers, suppliers and neighbours let them down. Timely newspapers work hand in hand with broadcasters to keep people engaged in their community and ready to solve problems together.

Are these struggles happening in your area too? If so, I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

*Note: I added the Globe and Mail article one day after writing this post.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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