This year’s National Newspaper Week runs Oct. 4-10 and it is intended to recognize the role newspapers, like the Outlook, and their websites play in providing Canadians with credible and factual news.
It is also designed to showcase how local newspapers continue to be a trusted source of information for citizens.
With everything that is happening in the world right now, including south of the border and COVID-19, the vital role that journalists and newspapers play in our democracy should not be understated.
It should be held up as an example of why independently verified and properly researched information about our daily lives is a cornerstone of our free society in Canada.
Unlike a meme your Aunt Sharon shares on Facebook, community journalism can be trusted to provide factual information in a world brimming with “fake news” and misinformation.
While we would like to reflect on the benefits that community journalism provides to our community, province and country – the industry is in a crisis that started long before the pandemic.
What many readers of these pages and our website may not realize is that providing this service to the community is not free. Yes, you pick up the Outlook each week or go to RMOToday and there is no paywall.
Readers do not pay for the community journalism provided by our newsroom. The economics of the newspaper industry for this very reason have been struggling for years.
Advertisers were the ones who are paying to provide journalism in this community and across the country up until the pandemic hit.
But advertising has been in a downward spiral for 15 years as a result of the fact that Canadian businesses are choosing to use big Internet companies like Google and Facebook for marketing.
When the state of public health emergency was declared in Alberta and the Bow Valley went into lockdown, our local businesses that were closed no longer needed to advertise. COVID-19 restrictions on events have resulted in cancellations for our local event producers, who would have advertised in the Outlook as well.
The difficult financial situation we are all in has left many of our advertising partners scaling back on their marketing. Perhaps they look to websites like Facebook and Instagram as cheaper alternative to advertise locally.
But there is a cascading effect as a result of these shifts in how businesses advertise and when it leads to reductions to newsroom staffing and page counters – it affects our society and democracy.
This time last year, the Outlook published 80 and 120 page editions. This week we are 40 pages.
While we have been relying on the federal government’s wage subsidy to get us through this crisis, like many others – when it ends, the Canadian newspaper industry will still be in crisis. We need, as an industry and country, to explore solutions in earnest, otherwise we will lose even more journalists and newspapers over the next few years.
Some efforts have been made at the federal level. Funding for journalists has been made available, and in the recent Throne Speech, the government has again committed to getting the big Internet companies to pay taxes in Canada.
This is a good start. What would be even better, however, is if the government would commit to using that new tax revenue from online advertising to support newsrooms across Canada.
Newsrooms and local journalism are worth saving –they are vital to our future as a democratic society.