Sunday, June 16, 2024

Where Will We Get Our (Small Town) News in the Future?

Stephen Vance, Editor

It has certainly been a depressing few weeks in the newspaper business as another round of layoffs and paper closures has punched the industry in the gut once again.

Our nation’s largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Star, dropped the axe on nearly 300 employees with the announcement that they would close their printing plant, and instead outsource the printing of their newspapers.

We also heard that Postmedia, publishers of the National Post and a range of papers across the country, is cutting 90 jobs and merging newsrooms in cities where it owns more than one newspaper.

In these ever-changing times, it seems that while people still want to be kept informed, paying for news is just so 1960, and though it is currently the newspapers themselves that are suffering, in the coming years it will be the reader who will wake up one day and realize that they don’t know what the heck is going on in their own backyard.

As the trend of not wanting to pay for news continues, the big corporate players will continue to merge their newsrooms into regional hubs, newspapers within a corporation’s portfolio will increasingly share news stories, and before long, local news will be a fanciful memory of a time when we were better informed.

Just this week we learned that the legendary Guelph Mercury would cease publication of its print paper. The nearly 150 year-old Guelph Mercury is currently owned by Metroland Media, which is owned by the Toronto Star. Our other local newspaper, the Express, is also owned by Metroland, and just last year they closed their Meaford office, forcing their readers to have to deal with the Collingwood office to send their letters to the editor, or to check on their subscriptions – but how long will it be before Metroland, like Postmedia, begins merging not just their newsrooms, but their actual papers. So long local community newspapers, hello regional weekly papers that will naturally place their biggest emphasis, and by extension the most effort and copy space, into the largest centre of a regional hub. Sorry small towns, you’ll have to get your news un-filtered and un-fact-checked from your local coffee shop.

Will small communities like Meaford know in future years when the local quilting club is holding an event, or will they hear about junior curlers, or the latest program at the library if the trend continues? Not bloody likely.

It’s a curious dilemma. Newspapers are the foundation of news dissemination in this country, and community newspapers are the grassroots of the news business. A friend of mine who works in television news told me once that he begins his day by scouring the local newspapers to find his own stories. Has anyone considered what might happen to the quality of television or radio news if they don’t have the grunt work done for them by the newspaper reporters?

I don’t know what the answers are, and I haven’t figured out how to convince people that if they don’t start paying for news, they will lose it all together.

I do know this – bringing news to readers doesn’t happen without cost, and speaking from our own experience here at The Independent, we’ve been bringing news to Meaford readers for more than six years. We’ve built a strong and loyal readership in that time, both in print and online. Our website was visited nearly half a million times last year alone, resulting in three million article reads, yet the overwhelming majority of the cost to bring that news to our readers still comes out of our own pockets, in part because readers no longer want to pay for news and advertisers have become wishy-washy in this new media landscape. Trust me, we have no desire to get rich, but we do dream of covering our costs one day, before it’s too late.

My primary concern is that local news, the news that actually touches us each and every day will eventually become a thing of the past unless readers and advertisers step in before it’s too late.

In reading various articles and commentary about the latest round of cuts in the newspaper business, I managed to find a sliver of hope in the comments left by readers. Some folks do indeed recognize what we are about to lose. I selected a few from an article in the Globe and Mail about the Guelph Mercury to share with our readers.

Detalumis: Join the future, Guelph is 115K, I live in a place with 182K with no media coverage either. Have no clue what is going on. Our newspaper consists of advertising with a pile of flyers. They will be the same as will most places eventually.

Raellerby1: This is a surprise. The Mercury was always a quite success back when it was a Thomson rag, and it served Wellington County and North Halton well. However, Torstar has a history of shutting down local dailies, such as the Brampton Times and the Oakville Journal-Record, and replacing them with weeklies that more resemble a stack of flyers.

Clairehall: It’s interesting to see how many people on here are cheering for the demise of newspapers, despite the fact that:

– this means that a lot of Canadians are losing their jobs, including many who are not Those Columnists You Hate, or billionaire newspaper barons (e.g., circulation staff, techies);

– the decline in advertising revenues (because of that cheap Internet content we all like so much) was why newspapers had to cut quality (e.g., expensive, lawsuit-magnet investigative journalists) in the first place;

– journalists (note, this word does mean the same as pundit) are really, really important, and none of us have enough spare time to do their job effectively (well, maybe some of you do);

– you were all informed of these events by the supposedly useless, irrelevant media, which then provided you with a (free) forum on which to spout off at length about how useless and irrelevant they are.


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