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Profits wrecked the media—public interest journalism can save it

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Trust in Canadian media has reached a new low.

A new study from Reuters Institute found just 42 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they trust “most news, most of the time.” It’s the latest in a long decline in confidence, which is even lower with people under the age of 35—among whom less than a third said they trust the media.

“Canada still remains among the countries with relatively higher trust levels, but this position is not as reassuring as in previous years,” the Digital News Report states.

The crisis in Canadian media isn’t just a crisis of confidence. It’s intimately tied to decades of consolidation and the concentration of power.

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If there’s any one factor that has led to the decline in trust in media institutions, it’s the profit-making nature of the enterprise—from devastating disruptions and cuts caused by market shifts, to skewing effects of advertiser-dependent business models, to disproportionate editorial influence by the ultra-wealthy.

The need to develop a common long-term vision of a vibrant, diverse, publicly funded and dominantly nonprofit media ecosystem has never been more pressing.

The late 1990s saw a spike in mergers and acquisitions, but consolidation can been continuous since the early 1990s. Credit: Canadian Media Concentration Research Project

Postmedia, post-journalism

Media in Canada has undergone several waves of mergers and acquisitions, each creating the possibility of further concentrations of control. The biggest consolidation happened around 2000, with mergers worth more than $80 billion.

Homegrown media titans of the late 90s—Canwest Global’s Asper family and Hollinger’s Conrad Black—eventually ran into financial trouble. Both empires were considered heavily centralizing forces at the time, and eventually became part of Postmedia, which was founded in 2010 and is owned by New Jersey hedge fund Chatham Capital.

Conrad Black started the National Post as a right wing competitor to the Liberal-leaning Globe and Mail, investing millions and sustaining annual deficits as part of a political vision of “uniting the right.” Unable to continue investing, he sold to Winnipeg-based media mogul Israel Asper, whose CanWest Global was ballooning with acquisitions. Asper later ran into similar issues and sold to Chatham.

Unlike his flamboyant right wing predecessors, Chatham CEO Anthony Melchiorre keeps a low profile—there are no photos of him on the Internet, and he doesn’t give interviews. Postmedia, which now owns over 130 news outlets in Canada, has executives who support the Republican Party (Melchiorre contributed to fellow private equity CEO Mitt Romney’s campaign, and another board member has ties to Trump).

The owners’ politics have tilted the vast conglomerate’s journalism even further to the right, suppressing a union drive at the National Post, and pressuring editors to be more supportive of Conservatives. But their main interest is in extracting maximum cash from each of their outlets.

In a bizarre deal with TorStar in 2017, Postmedia swapped dozens of local papers with the Toronto conglomerate, almost all of which were immediately shut down. When the dust settled, Postmedia had cut 244 jobs and closed 24 newspapers. In 2020, they closed an additional 15 papers, cutting another 80 jobs.

Postmedia’s cuts were a major part of the more than 250 local media outlets in Canada that have closed since 2008.

Chatham has been diligent about creating “efficiencies” and sucking cash out of Postmedia.

In 2020, the New York Times reported that the conglomerate reported losses of $40-million for two consecutive years, and had spent nearly $127-million on debt payments. “During that time,” the Times reported, “it invested relatively little, about $5.4-million, to try to improve the business.” (Figures in USD).

None of the above has stopped Postmedia from scooping up millions in federal subsidies ostensibly aimed at preserving journalism. At the same time that its columnists were bemoaning the giveaways of the CERB, the company pocketed $35-million in relief funds. It seems that, short of funding any journalism, much of those funds went directly onto a balance sheet in the nondescript offices of a hedge fund in New Jersey.

CBC offices in Toronto. Photo: Joseph Morris.

Cable and broadcasting

Private cable and telecom companies have also reached extreme levels of consolidation—a drastic change compared to the 1970s, when there were dozens of regional cable companies.

By 2013, four companies controlled nearly two-thirds of Canada’s television market: Rogers, Shaw, Bell and Quebecor. While cable viewership is on the decline, telecommunications profits are as high as ever.

The slow-motion merger between Rogers and Shaw means power in both media and telecommunications will be even more concentrated. “Efficiencies,” otherwise known as job cuts, are bound to follow.

Cable companies are actually mandated by Canada’s Broadcasting Act to fund community production, including journalism. But the big four have found ways to pocket almost all of that money, with scarcely a word of protest from regulators.

Of course, Canada still has the CBC—an arms-length public broadcaster with a mandate, at least on paper, to represent Canadian society and the political, economic and cultural lives that constitute it. That mandate is a threat to corporate interests, and has been neutralized over time.

The CBC has long faced Conservative threats to defund the institution, and Liberals have taken little action to reverse the right wing tilt of the Harper years. During his time as prime minister, Stephen Harper cut the CBC’s budget continuously and stacked its board with Conservative loyalists. That’s the threat implicit in endless Conservative attacks that claim the public broadcaster is too left-wing.

CBC’s Montreal newsroom long ago. Journalists haven’t just lost stability and numbers; they have lost institutional power. Photo by Jason Paris.

Cuts to power

Optimistic assessments note that the number of journalists has remained steady despite deep cuts to newsrooms. However, accounting for population growth tells a story of precipitous decline: while there were 415 journalists for every million Canadian residents in 2001, by 2016 there were only 334.

In 2022, journalism jobs are less stable, less unionized, less civically oriented. In recent decades, the proportion of freelancers has more than tripled, while journalist unions have reported drastic drops in their membership. Unifor Local 2000, representing newspaper workers in B.C., saw its membership drop by more than 60 percent since 2010, according to one reporter. Newsrooms that cover public interest beats like city hall or even provincial assemblies have also experienced deep cuts.

Less stable and increasingly precarious journalists are employed by powerful corporate structures that have never been more concentrated, and never been more ruthlessly devoted to extracting value from their employees.

As a result, journalists are required to produce more with less, and have less freedom to follow their own instincts when it comes to fulfilling the public interest part of their role.

Owners and bosses aren’t the only ones getting more powerful.

While journalist positions decline, the public relations industry has seen massive growth. Since the 1980s, the number of workers in public relations and marketing in Canada has tripled. For every journalist in Canada, there are more than 10 people working to influence public perception.

Nearly doubling the number of journalists in Canada would be imminently affordable by government standards.

Public interest journalism is cheap, but its absence is expensive

When contemplating solutions, however, there’s no need for excessive hand-wringing. Solving the problem of too few journalists is cheap by government budget standards.

For example, adding 10,000 working journalists with a public service mandate (to the current 13,000, many of whom have no such mandate) would cost about $700 million annually (assuming an average salary of $70,000). That’s about $17 per Canadian each year. Paid out proportional to income, that comes to pocket change for the majority, and the cost of a few meals out per year for the wealthy.

An influx of public interest journalists working in towns and cities across Canada would mean a seismic shift in the scrutiny faced by government officials, business owners, and other centers of power. It would also open countless opportunities for informed local civic engagement and debate, drawing down the numbers tempted to engage in reactionary attitudes and activities.

There are a variety of ideas about how such a hypothetical sum would be allocated. One proposal would see every taxpayer receive a voucher to allocate to the nonprofit media of their choice. Others would allocate resources based on objective criteria, or through federations of nonprofit news outlets, or directly to journalists who meet standards evaluated by their peers. Or a more transparent version of the already-existing Qualified Journalism Organization program, which has requirements for non-profit status and democratic governance.

Whatever the final mix, the mechanism or mechanisms would be the subject of justifiably rigorous debate.

Some of the Postmedia-owned publications which qualify as “journalism organizations” according to the government. Subcribers receive a tax receipt for their subscriptions, and Postmedia has collected millions in additional tax breaks.

Status quo solutions

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have undertaken a variety of measures aimed at curbing some of the most extreme civic degradation—and backstop existing media conglomerates and their shareholders.

The Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), for example, provides money to outlets to create positions that perform “civic journalism” in “underserved communities.” (Full disclosure: CUTV, where I am employed, received LJI funding). While recipients include many non-profit and small community outlets, Postmedia has also benefited. In 2020, for example, the media giant announced it was hiring for 12 new positions through LJI funding.

Other measures from the federal government include a tax credit of $14,000 for news organizations for every journalist position. In 2020, Postmedia reported that it was receiving $8-10 million annually in journalism tax credits.

Ottawa has also incentivized subscribers to qualifying news outlets by providing a tax credit for the cost of subscriptions. About 91 outlets currently enjoy this status, and 33 of them are owned by Postmedia. Far from focussing on assisting local and community media, over 80 per cent of qualifying news organizations were part of a parent company that owns two or more publications.

On top of this patchwork of initiatives, the Liberals have introduced two complex pieces of legislation that make major, complex changes to the media landscape: Bill C-11 and Bill C-18.

Pablo Rodriguez discusses Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Bill, at a press conference in February. Photo: CPAC

C-11: Redefining broadcasting and taxing streaming

Bill C-11, sometimes called the Online Streaming Act, promises to tax Netflix, Youtube and other lucrative online streaming and put the proceeds toward funding content made by Canadians.

That “Canadian Content” (CanCon) will be evaluated under the CRTC’s points-based system. The platforms will also be obliged to modify their algorithms to feature CanCon.

Some groups think taxing streamers and channeling some of the revenues to Canadian producers makes sense. They don’t want to lose the opportunity and are campaigning to back the bill.

Others are less convinced, and openly opposed to Bill C-11. CanCon rules lean heavily in favour of large-scale projects by established production companies. Without big changes to CanCon rules, the bill could mean more subsidies for the same conglomerates, shutting out smaller producers.

Community TV and radio stations have taken a more tactical approach. Seeing the legislation as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the Broadcasting Act, two community TV federations launched a campaign to close a key loophole and “Rebuild Community Media.” (I was involved in organizing this campaign.)

For years, cable companies had shrugged off their duty to fund community production by defining their own operations as fulfilling that purpose. As a result of a small but enthusiastic mobilization, on June 19 the House of Commons Heritage Committee passed a last-minute amendment that could boost community media’s efforts to close the cable loopholes.

If it passes the Senate, Bill C-11 appears poised to tax streaming giants, but it still allows the corporate-dominated Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to decide who receives that money.

Could Bill C-11 be a net benefit for the public good? Potentially, but not without a fight.

Ad-supported media have seen revenues decline as Google and Facebook have grabbed a greater share of ad budgets.

C-18: Making the duopoly pay?

By undercutting advertising markets, Google and Facebook have both played major roles in the large-scale destruction and further consolidation of local news outlets in Canada. When advertising budgets were redirected to the “duopoly,” local newspapers and other providers closed, sold or were shuttered by their corporate owners.

As of 2020, the duopoly’s revenues from advertising in Canada had grown continuously for a decade. By the same measure, ad revenues going to media outlets peaked in 2008, and have been steadily declining, across the board. Radio, television, magazines and newspapers all tell the same story.

In response, the Liberals have turned to what is called the “Australian model,” a scheme that forces big platforms to directly pay media outlets when their users link to journalistic content from their sites.

Under the proposed Bill C-18, Google, Facebook and others would create individual agreements with media outlets to provide them with some share of their advertising revenues.

The legislation has attracted criticism from the same corners as C-11, and support from media conglomerates like Bell Canada. And for essentially the same reasons: corporate conglomerates can count on the CRTC to resolve things left vague in the legislation in their favour.

As with C-11, a coalition has emerged to push for reform C-18 instead of the outright rejection suggested by some players. The Independent Online News Publishers of Canada—a group of more than 100 outlets including many startups and smaller publications—seeks to shore up vague parts of the bill by adding transparency measures, funding in proportion to investment in journalism, inclusion for smaller outlets, and a reduction in exemptions for the duopoly. (The Breach is a signatory to the group’s demands).

Both bills talk tough about taxing the extremely profitable US players that dominate our media landscape. Unfortunately, both also appear to propose the resulting revenues be used to benefit Canadian corporate media giants. That is, unless a force emerges to fight for public interest journalism.

Ownership matters

No one in a news startup feels like they’re repeating history—indeed, that’s usually the opposite of their goal.

But by adopting a for-profit, investor-driven model, the newest generation of media outlets in Canada runs the risk of repeating the same history that led to Postmedia. As the founders of Canada’s new media retire or move on to other projects, their ventures are either shuttered or sold.

When that happens, audiences, reputations and relationships risk becoming  assets to be monetized. Thousands of hours of work done by well-meaning (and often underpaid) journalists and editors will, at that point, be bent toward other ends.

While democratic ownership by readers or community members doesn’t guarantee longevity or integrity, it does anchor media institutions with their audience, while creating a pathway for revitalization when leadership hiccups occur.

In democratic, non-profit outlets, the community of readers and viewers, together with reporters and editors, have an opportunity to veto big changes in ownership, and more ability to gather community support and build on the efforts of the past.

A starter kit coalition for media democracy

In the current media ecosystem, nonprofit media—and demands to expand it—is on the margins of the margins.

There has been some initial success amending Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, but the path to meaningful results requires reclaiming the corporate-captured CRTC, restoring a public interest tilt to the CBC, and fighting out lobbying battles with cable companies.

The 100+ member coalition of Independent Online News Publishers taking aim at C-18 is the more high-profile association of smaller outlets, but many if not most of its members are for-profit. While in some ways far-reaching, the reforms the coalition is  demanding are well short of transformative, and remain compatible with corporate domination of the news.

A transformative shift in how our society thinks about and funds journalism is a necessary step in building a more just future. This transformation requires action from a broad base of media activists and journalists, support from multiple unions and civil society organizations, and the involvement of political parties at multiple levels of government.

The ideological underpinnings of such a coalition scarcely exist. There are still major questions that remain to be answered:

  • How much funding do we need for truly public interest journalism, and who should pay?
  • What is the best role for the CBC, and what is our strategy for getting there?
  • How can we ensure a media ecosystem is publicly funded but meaningfully independent of government or corporate influence?

Even if we had common answers to those questions, mobilizing sufficient support could take years, or decades.

However, a starter kit version of that same coalition—hundreds of supporters, a few MPs, a few dozen media organizations, a few key labour movement allies and a campaigning organization—is in view.

In a volatile and dangerous moment for the media in Canada, relatively small efforts to build alliances around a common vision of journalism in the public interest could have outsized positive results.

Seizing the opportunities before us wouldn’t just benefit journalists and media outlets, but the society they serve.

A note from our editorial team

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Seychelles media guide

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Locals shopping at the farmers' market in Victoria
Locals shopping at the farmers’ market in Victoria

Media pluralism, diversity of opinion and the capacity to tackle major issues have been developing in Seychelles media over the past decade or so.

Since the introduction of the multiparty politics, the practice of self-censorship has slowly dissipated. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says that state-owned media outlets no longer shy away from criticising the government or from reporting on corruption.

In October 2021, the national assembly decriminalized defamation.

BBC World Service (106.2 MHz) and Radio France Internationale are available on FM.

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There were 71,000 internet users by December 2021, comprising 72% of the population (Worldinternetstats.com).

  • SBC TV – state-run, operated by Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC)
  • TéléSesel – launched in 2017, is the country’s sole private network

 

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Hong Kong journalists regroup abroad

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When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News were forced to close by authorities in 2021 under a sweeping Beijing-led crackdown on dissent, Jane Poon made herself a promise.

Poon, a Hong Konger who worked in the city’s media for nearly three decades before moving to Australia in 2017, promised to do whatever she could to keep the spirit of the defunct outlets alive.

After more than a year of planning, Poon’s vision became a reality in mid-January with the launch of The Points, a new online media outlet dedicated to covering news about Hong Kong and its growing diaspora.

Based entirely overseas, The Points, which publishes in Chinese, hopes to fill the gap left by the demise of most independent media in Hong Kong, where journalists now face the risk of arrest and imprisonment for coverage considered critical of Beijing.

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The Points’s staff is made up of former employees of Hong Kong media, including Apply Daily and Stand News, who moved overseas amid the city’s crackdown on press freedom and other civil liberties.

With staff in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the outlet hopes to be the first 24-hour news operation for Hong Kong that is based outside the city.

The Points’s recent coverage includes the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s unannounced decision to redact the names of legislators in transcripts of official proceedings, and a recent meeting between Hong Kong activists and Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.

“As some Hong Kong journalists disperse to other places, I think that although the Hong Kong media is in a difficult situation, it might also be a chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Poon, who worked for Apple Daily’s parent company as the head of digital news for Next Magazine, told Al Jazeera.

“We could set up a media platform for the journalists in various places who may work together to cover stories across countries for the Hong Kong diaspora, and also cover stories which are not allowed to be published in Hong Kong anymore.”

Media hobbled

Hong Kong, a British colony for more than 150 years before its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, was long regarded as one of Asia’s most vibrant and freewheeling media scenes until the imposition of a Beijing-drafted national security law in 2020.

Since then, most of the city’s pro-democracy media have been forced to shut down or decided to close out of fear of being targeted by authorities.

Jimmy Lai, the garment-factory owner turned media tycoon who founded Apple Daily, is facing up to life in prison in a sedition and foreign collusion trial scheduled to begin in September following repeated delays.

In November, six of Lai’s former employees, including Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces by advocating for sanctions against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.

Two former editors of Stand News, which closed in December 2021 after its offices were raided by national security police, are currently on trial for sedition.

Last year, Hong Kong’s global press freedom ranking plunged nearly 70 places to 148, according to Reporters Without Borders. The territory, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and civil liberties that do not exist in mainland China for at least 50 years after the handover, ranked 18th in 2002.

A woman hands out final editions of the Apple Daily as people queue to buy it.
People queued to buy the final edition of the Apple Daily, which was forced to close in 2021 [File: Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

More than 1,500 journalists in Hong Kong have been put out of work in the crackdown, according to an analysis carried out by Bloomberg News last year, with many former media workers moving into other industries or migrating overseas.

At the same time, the growing Hong Kong diaspora — about 150,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK alone since the passage of the National Security Law – has created opportunities for new ways to report on Hong Kong.

The Points follows the launch of a number of other Hong Kong-focused outlets located abroad, including Flow HK, which is based in Taiwan, and Commons Hong Kong, which is based in the UK and Taiwan.

“There’s always a need for a vibrant, independent press. It’s hopeful to see resilient journalists inside and outside Hong Kong continue their excellent journalism,” Iris Hsu, China representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera.

“If the overseas media outlets provide a safer platform for Hong Kong’s critical journalism that has been under attack for years, it would help preserve Hong Kong’s press freedom and slow the government’s deliberate erosion of checks and balances of power.”

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly insisted that the city’s press freedom remains intact. Hong Kong’s leader John Lee last year said there was no need to talk about defending press freedom because it “exists and we attach great importance to press freedom”.

Reaching across the divides

For now, The Points has a modest size and reach.

The outlet relies on six full-time journalists and freelancers, according to Poon, who said the website attracts about 3,000-4000 readers each day, although that number is growing fast.

Finn Lau, The Points’s executive director, said the outlet relies on a small pool of reader donations to pay its staff and is exploring other sources of revenue, which could include government grants or wealthy donors.

“Financial sustainability is one of the key issues, that’s why it took us around 15 months to prepare our media before launch,” Lau told Al Jazeera. “For the upcoming two years, our top priority must be to get the media [outlet] to be financially sustainable.”

Despite its links to Apple Daily, The Points is also keen to reach Hong Kong people from across the political spectrum and to avoid charges of political bias and sensationalism that critics levelled at the defunct tabloid, said Lau, a Hong Kong activist known for his opposition to Beijing.

“We don’t want to overly politicise our media outlet,” said Lau, who popularised a protest strategy of escalating violence known as “Lam Chau” during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020.

“On the other hand, we don’t want to self-censor. So we are trying to find a dedicated balance between being a tabloid or being a so-called … intellectual newspaper.”

Journalist Bao Choy speaking to the media outside court. She is wearing a black face mask. People behind her are holding up signs reading 'Fearless'.
Journalists have come under increasing pressure since the national security law was passed. Bao Choy Yuk-Ling was convicted of accessing public data for a documentary on a mob attack during the 2019 protests [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Apart from financial challenges, The Points has had trouble getting the word out on social media.

Soon after its launch, the outlet’s Twitter account was suspended without warning or explanation, Lau said.

Lau said the account had not violated Twitter’s terms of service, but it may have been targeted with vexatious complaints by pro-Beijing figures or fallen victim to the shortage of staff at the platform following Elon Musk’s takeover. The account has yet to be reinstated.

“We are very frustrated with Twitter and we are still considering what we should do with this platform,” he said.

Still, Lau has big ambitions for the media outlet.

“I am rather optimistic about the visibility of this project. Actually I am a pragmatic dreamer,” he said. “That’s why I believe it might take one or two years to stabilise.”

For Poon, the launch of The Points is about more than upholding press freedom. She hopes the outlet can help preserve Hong Kong’s distinct culture and values.

“We have our next generation. We have to look after our children,” she said.

“That’s why it’s important to have our own media, to tell our own stories. Then our history and everything can be given down to our next generation.”

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‘More uncertainty’: Sask. journalists weigh in on changing print media landscape

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As large corporations make headlines showcasing an apparent decline in Canada’s newspaper industry, Kevin Weedmark and the Moosomin World-Spectator continue to thrive.

Weedmark purchased the southeast Saskatchewan weekly paper in 2002, with a circulation of 1,700. Today, that number sits around 5,000, bringing overall circulation to 43,000 when the publisher’s two additional regional papers are included.

“When I bought this newspaper, I didn’t think of it as a business-first. I thought of it as a community service-first,” Weedmark said Monday.

“There’s nothing magical about Moosomin, or what we’ve done here, that you couldn’t do anywhere. I mean, a proper newspaper that’s there to serve its community first is going to be successful.”

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It’s a stark contract to the reality playing out for some major papers owned by Postmedia Network Corp.

The company announced last week it is laying off 11 per cent of its editorial staff, among other changes to printing presses, office spaces and publishing schedules.

Postmedia employs about 650 journalists across Canada, and also owns Saskatchewan’s two major urban daily newspapers: the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post.

It’s selling the historic StarPhoenix building and all remaining journalists will work from home. The papers’ printing press will also be moved from Saskatoon to Estevan, Sask., located around 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.

Blue Sky50:02What does the future of newspapers in Saskatchewan look like?

It’s a time of great change for Saskatchewan’s two biggest daily papers and those changes are very alarming for the people who work at those papers and those who depend on them for local news. Today on the show we take a look at what is to blame for the latest Postmedia problems and we talk to weekly newspaper editors across this province who say the future is hyper-local. We heard from Journalism professor Patricia Elliott, Moosomin world spectator Editor Kevin Weedmark, Prince Albert Daily Herald Editor Jason Kerr, and Steve Nixon Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association.

Austin Davis, a journalist with the Regina Leader-Post since 2014, tweeted about the changes on Jan. 25.

“It’s more uncertainty for beleaguered, resilient newsrooms and hardworking reporters,” Davis wrote.

“I can’t and won’t defend these decisions. In nine years, I’ve seen dozens of colleagues take buyouts or leave due to burnout, stress and low pay. The survivors are expected to continue publishing the same standard of product. It is impossible.”

‘Maddening and frustrating’

Trish Elliott, a distinguished professor of investigative and community journalism at First Nations University of Canada and an executive member of J-Schools Canada, wrote an opinion editorial for CBC Saskatchewan published Monday and joined Blue Sky later that day to share her thoughts.

“It’s just madding and frustrating. The state of media concentration in Canada has been this like growing train wreck,” Elliott told CBC’s Heather Morrison.

“It seems like every 10 years we have a commission saying that the way media is owned here needs to be better regulated. But nothing ever happens.”

Trish Elliott, shown in a photo from 2015, believes Canadian newspapers are being plundered by monopoly capitalism. (Jordan Bell/CBC)

Elliott pointed to the fact her local newspaper in Saskatchewan is currently owned by a hedge fund in the U.S.

“We’re not being protected from foreign ownership, obviously, as the majority shareholders are in the U.S. for Postmedia. And again that is a regulatory failure,” she said.

Steve Nixon, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Newspapers Association, also pointed out the impact large corporations are having on the overall state of print media.

“Good journalism costs money,” Nixon said.

“The money that’s being used to pay journalists is being sucked out, mainly, by two major companies, neither of which are owned by a Canadian entity.”

Independent daily seeing success

Jason Kerr is the editor of the employee-owned and operated Prince Albert Daily Herald, one of Canada’s few independent daily newspapers.

In 2017, a group of employees reached a tentative deal to buy the paper from Star News Publishing Inc., preventing the paper from folding. The deal was completed on May 1, 2018, with the Prince Albert Herald beginning operation under FolioJumpline Publishing Inc.

“It’s definitely been a lot of work, but it’s been very rewarding and the community has responded by backing us,” Kerr said.

Kerr, who has worked at the paper since 2015, said being employee-owned and operated has allowed the paper to focus in on local stories and support community events.

Still, he noted the number of newspapers in northern Saskatchewan has been on a slow decline. He pointed to the end of the La Ronge Northerner, a weekly paper that closed after 41 years in 2015.

“It just left a huge gap, so there’s not a lot if you want to get your news from a print newspaper,” Kerr said, adding the north is often referred to as a “media desert.”

“A place where there’s just a ton of stuff happening, a ton of news, both good and bad, that’s going unreported because there aren’t enough reporters up there.”

The independent publishing company behind the Herald has looked to fill that void. It prints a monthly stand-alone newspaper called The Northern Advocate, which is distributed across northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Kerr said the other great thing about being an independent entity is having the choice to reinvest in the community and support local events.

“There’s really no discussion,” he said. “We just look at and go, ‘Yeah, this is something we want to support and we support it.'”

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