By June 22, 2017 Read More →

Time for Trudeau to support high quality journalism with a Canadian Journalism Fund

journalismCanadian Journalism Fund must have expiration date, exclude pseudo-news organizations like Rebel Media

A new public opinion poll shows that Canadians don’t care if newspapers fail, and if they do that the Canadian government should not intervene. Fine, let print news die, the future of journalism is online, anyway. But the Trudeau Liberals should support the transition from print to online with a Canadian Journalism Fund, a recent proposal from the national newspaper industry.

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Almost half of Canadians (44%) enjoy one daily newspaper, a quarter (24%) have more than one to choose from, and one-third (32%) don’t have a daily, according to an Abacus Data poll that suggests Canadians really aren’t worried about those newspapers failing.

Canadians apparently think that if their local newspaper disappears, there will still be plenty of other sources of daily news to replace them.

According to the Abacus report, an astounding 86 per cent believe “they would still be able to get the news they need if their daily newspaper went out of business. Only 14 per cent felt they would not.”

That attitude cuts across every region, all age groups, both genders, urban and rural dwellers, homeowners and renters, and supporters of the Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP.

This is not news.

Newspapers have been dying for a decade, victims of their own inability to re-engineer business models for the online world.

Advertising dollars have fled to the digital behemoths like Google and Facebook, which deliver better results for less money.

I’ve been an online news publisher for nine years, watching the industry play out its death scene from a front row seat.

In 2008, advertisers were just thinking of switching some of their ad buy away from print to online. I sat in hundreds of offices, talking to businesses small and large about the direction of advertising and marketing, listening to their frustrations with print ads that no longer worked as they once had.

One conclusion became very clear: Journalism and advertising has come uncoupled.

Craig’s List and Kijijji killed the classifieds. Google killed display ads.

journalism

There simply isn’t enough advertising left to support high-cost newspaper business models. Printing presses, ink, buildings – all the trappings of corporate newspapers – are too expensive for the dwindling revenue trickling in the front door.

The digital advertising newspapers have frantically – and half-assedly – adopted are delivering only a fraction of the needed revenue.

Everyone in the industry knows this. No one has a workable plan to stop the trend.

Instead, we’re inflicted with endless moaning from unemployed journalists longing for the Golden Age of Newspapers, dinosaurs who want to go back to the future of the 1970s when reporters broke important stories, brought down governments, and earned a damn fine wage doing it.

Oh, and the lucky ones wrote books and had movies made about their exploits.

Those days are long gone. Journalists need to stop living in the past and get on with the future.

“Newspaper bankruptcies, should they occur, may have a more severe impact on the amount and the quality of information than Canadians imagine will be the case,” says Bruce Anderson, CEO of Abacus Data.

Not necessarily.

News Media Canada is the new voice of the Canadian newspaper industry and on June 16 the organization released a proposal for an expansion of the Canada Periodical Fund – which provides financial assistance to Canadian print magazines, non-daily newspapers, and digital periodicals – that would turn it into the Canadian Journalism Fund.

“We are calling upon government to continue its support of one of our Charter rights—freedom of the press—whose very existence is threatened,” said Bob Cox, News Media Canada chair of the board.

The proposal is meant to support journalists, not executives or dividends to hedge fund owners (hello, Postmedia). And qualifying organizations have to be corporations with at least a year under their belt, producing news for Canadian audiences.

The proposal has merit, but I would add a few amendments.

One, News Media Canada is clearly targeting real news organizations with real journalists practising real journalism. But only last year many in the Canadian industry backed the granting of media credentials in Alberta for Rebel Media, muckraker Ezra Levant’s social conservative political advocacy organization that many observers consider a hate group because of the anti-Muslim rallies it organized.

The Fund’s regulations must be written to filter out Rebel Media and any wannabes lurking in the dark corners of Canadian society.

Two, the Fund must have an expiration date. In fact, the Fund should be seen as a means to help industry transition from print to online-only.

The last thing Canada needs is fatally wounded newspaper businesses kept on life support indefinitely with taxpayer dollars.

An expiration date will also help generate support from Canadian voters, who are split on Ottawa stepping in to help the industry, according to the Abacus poll, which wound that a significant minority (44%) think the feds should do something, but most (56%) say “this is not an area where government should get involved.”

“On the question of whether government should act, people seem a little bit more concerned about what could go wrong with government intervention, rather than demanding some sort of solution,” says Anderson.

What could go wrong is that Canadian news executives are rescued from their own incompetence by a publicly financed slush fund that relieves the pressure to deal with the daunting challenges presented by the transition to new platforms and the changing news consumption habits of younger readers.

If the Canadian Journalism Fund supports quality journalism and innovation, then by all means let’s get on with the job.

And sooner rather than later. As an Innovator who has bootstrapped online news businesses for the better part of a decade, I can tell you that there are limits to any entrepreneur’s capacity for sacrifice and overwork.

Canadians may be blase about the future of Canadian journalism, but we journalists are not. The industry has done good work, now it’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step up and take the next step by making the changes recommended by News Media Canada.

 

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