Money should go to committed Internet news sites
A Commentary from Veteran Canadian journalist Nick Fillmore
Posted July 5th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
News Media Canada – formerly the Canadian Association of Newspapers – has submitted a proposal to Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly for a whopping $350-million a year to prop up the journalism of the country’s struggling 105 dailies.
The publishers are asking for:
- $175-million of our tax dollars per year to subsidize the first 35 per cent of the salaries of hundreds of journalists who are paid $85,000 or less, including luminaries such as the Globe and Mail’s columnist Margaret Wente, who creates her own reality, and the National Post’s right-wing reporter Christie Blatchford.
- And $90,000 a year to help each of these newspapers improve their presence on the Internet – a request that comes 18 years after Kijiji and others began grabbing their classified ads. This reveals their ineptitude to successfully get on the Internet themselves.
I’m against this proposal for a number of reasons, including the fact that the self-important papers want to be the only ones getting government support. They apparently never thought of approaching the dozen or so small digital media groups that have worked hard over the past few years to establish themselves. But I have a more fundamental problem with the newspaper industry.
First, I want to acknowledge that some newspapers, particularly The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, produce some excellent journalism, including important investigative stories.
How corporate media censors the news.
But, having followed the content patterns of several papers for a number of years, it’s obvious to me that Canadian corporate media systematically manages and censors the news. Four examples:
- Mainstream media seldom, if ever, examine whether capitalism, neo-liberalism, austerity, and trickle-down economics are good for society overall. Media companies first and foremost follow corporate and capitalist practices.
- Labour is demonized or ignored in Big Media. When unions are mentioned, it’s usually to blame them for strikes. There’s seldom any background information in stories on the conditions facing workers, and labour leaders don’t get the puffed up profile stories given to “the captains of industry.”
- Newspapers criminally accept the destruction of the planet by not campaigning against climate change. The concerns of environmentalists are usually played down and buried somewhere inside papers. The papers cater to the views of much of the corporate world, which knows that fighting climate change would be costly for business.
- From what I have seen, every newspaper in the country, except The Toronto Star, has fired their progressive and left-leaning journalists and commentators. As a result, newspaper readers have no access to alternative views that are necessary in the discussion about politics and other important issues.
If we had non-profit public interest media the news would be much different compared to what we get from corporate-owned media. I’ll guess there would be, among many other things:
- less support for international trade agreements,
- more exposure of poor commercial products,
- a strong push for the adoption of a $15 minimum wage,
- greater exposure of the unfairness in the tax system that allows the 1 per cent to become more wealthy every year,
- a push for stronger environmental laws,
- defence of our non-profit health care system,
- and much more.
With the kind of manipulation in mainstream media being an everyday occurrence, it is time we began tracking the quality of news being produced in the country. I would like to see the creation of a media evaluation project that would report annually on the performance of all Canadian news media. This would be an excellent activity for a journalism school.
A media evaluation project could assess whether the journalism of media outlets is fair and balanced, and whether false news is being disseminated. It could address one of my long-time concerns – identifying stories coming out of Washington and appearing in Canadian media that falsely report on U.S. foreign activities, particularly military activities.
Newspapers could be extinct by 2025
I don’t think that Heritage Canada should fall for the publishers’ proposal to prop up their antiquated institutions. The industry is doomed. Long-time media analyst Ken Goldstein predicts that, if current trends in the newspaper sector continue, it is likely that there will be few, if any, printed daily newspapers in Canada in 2025.
Goldstein, former Associate Deputy Minister of Communications for the Province of Manitoba, bases his dire prediction on the near total disappearance of highly profitable newspaper classified advertising and the decline of paid subscriptions. Only 20 per cent of households subscribed to a daily paper in 2014, and he believes the percentage will continue to fall, decimating the industry.
So far two daily newspapers – the Guelph Mercury and the Nanaimo Daily News – have stopped publishing because they are not viable. However, the Guelph paper is on-line. Because Canadians are not getting the news they need, I agree that Canadian Heritage must pump millions of dollars annually – not into the newspaper sector — but into Internet-based media sites.
No support for daily newspapers
If some newspapers are still profitable, they should continue to publish. But they should not receive any government funding that aids their publishing activities. We owe them nothing. On the other hand, if a publisher decides to close down a paper and have a news site on the Internet, they should be eligible for support.
In Montreal the influential La Presse now publishes only on line through the week, but still has a weekend print publication. The on-line tablet edition is very successful.
Any government-funded support program should pay particular attention to assisting existing news sites that have had the courage to launch out on their own – sites such as iPolitics, National Observer, Ricochet, rabble.ca, and others.
Incidentally, some of the most creative journalism in the country comes from sites such as Jesse Brown’s Canadaland and Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner And there are dozens of blogs that leave mainstream media in their dust. Independent sites require funding to increase their journalistic capacity, stabilize their business model, buy technical equipment, and market their product.
On another level, the government should look to the future and reach out to communities across the country poorly served by Internet news sites. Small grants should be made available to help communities establish viable sites. The local groups would be required to create a business plan, a news strategy, sell a certain number of subscriptions in advance, and perhaps obtain some funding from foundations or “sugar daddies.”
Nick Fillmore is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and social activist. He earlier worked in many capacities at the CBC and for more than 25 years, was a member of the Editorial Board of THIS magazine, and was a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
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