The News Room

Canadians want government advertising in newspapers

October 4, 2017

More than seven out of Canadians want to see advertising for government programs and services in newspapers, based on a survey of more than 2,400 Canadians in December 2016. In smaller markets across the country (under 100,000 population) six in ten adults believe their local community newspaper is the most appropriate medium for government ads.

Contrast this with the shrinking advertising expenditures that the federal government allocates to the third largest advertising medium in Canada (based on advertising industry data on net advertising volumes in 2016). In 2015/2016 the federal government spent less than 6% of all advertising dollars in daily and community newspapers, compared to 27% in 2009/2010.

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OP-ED: Journalism matters more than ever. We need help to save it

September 29, 2017

On Sept. 1, an agency of the Canadian government directed nearly $100-million to support local television news. Suddenly, more local television reporters are working stories on more broadcasts across Canada.

But why just television? Why not newspapers or digital-only publications? It’s the reporting of news that’s important, not the platform on which it resides.

The answer is purely bureaucratic. Television is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which collects a levy on the revenues of cable and satellite distributors and then redirects the funds into producing content deemed to serve the public good, such as television news. Other parts of the Government of Canada, supported by the same taxpayers, have so far resisted measures to bolster an industry that plays an essential role in our democracy, one that’s even explicitly written into the Charter of Rights.

The situation is bad and getting worse. More and more newspaper jobs are disappearing—at least one in three since 2010 by our count—and newspaper closings in more than 200 federal ridings have loosened the social glue news provides to communities. These reporter-intensive organizations are the tributaries for much of the news about democratic institutions generated in Canada, both in print and online. Digital news start-ups in Canada, with a few exceptions, so far have been unable to fill the growing deficit in reporting capacity.

Please adjust the dial. There’s something wrong with this picture. This isn’t a good time to allow the weakening of news organizations. We are seeing in the United States the critical role newspaper companies, particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post, are playing in keeping the public informed of deep stresses in their democracy. The classic relationship between whistle-blowers and reporters can’t work if the latter become an endangered species.

In Canada, the threat is more acute because the market is smaller. Canadian daily newspapers have seen more than half their ad revenues—about $1.5-billion—bleed away over the past decade, most of it going to Google and Facebook, which together served up more than eight out of 10 digital ads in Canada last year. Unfortunately, they don’t invest in generating news.

Meanwhile, as the sources of verifiable news dry up, fake news—designed to disorient and disillusion the public—proliferates. Making something up or simply distorting facts costs a fraction of real reporting. Whether for commercial, partisan, ideological or geopolitical reasons, it represents a direct assault on our democracy. Again, there’s something wrong with this picture.

In many places, calling the mayor the day after council meetings for an account of what happened constitutes coverage of city hall. Even in provincial capitals, some governments go uncovered in between legislative sessions and fewer specialists work the corridors of power in Ottawa.

From a public-policy point of view, this raises vexing questions. Nobody wants to give governments leverage over the reporters meant to hold them to account. That said, the CBC is both publicly funded and independent, so it’s not an impossible task.

We see two problems that cry out for attention: getting more reporters on the ground and financing innovation so that news producers can keep up with ever-evolving consumption habits.

Last April, on the heels of The Shattered Mirror report on news, democracy and truth in Canada, the Public Policy Forum brought together about 40 news organizations and unions to propose solutions that would support employment of reporters and investment in innovation without sacrificing media independence or shutting out new competitors. Out of this process came a proposal to add a new component to the well-established Canadian Periodical Fund, one that would support journalism of a civic, or democratic enhancing, nature.

This new Canadian Journalism Fund would feature a pre-programmed formula to cover 30 per cent of the costs of reporting, creating an incentive to hire rather than fire reporters, and, critically, denying governments the discretion to play favourites. We have established a definition for who qualifies and an appeals process independent of government. As well, companies would be forbidden from diverting the funds to dividends, bonuses and debt payments. There are those who rightly worry any government involvement would compromise a free press. But a broke press isn’t much of a free press. Others contend it’s best to wait for news organizations to go bankrupt and then pick up the pieces. But once in bankruptcy court, it is the debt holders and not the public interest that is served, as we saw in 2010 when Postmedia emerged out of bankruptcy court with bondholders as owners and an unbearable burden of debt.

Some say the companies seeking assistance are doomed in any case. That may be true, but established news companies and start-ups should be given five years to prove they can make a go of it. The alternative of more and more fake news and less and less reported news is antithetical to the precepts of a healthy democracy.

Bob Cox is chairman of News Media Canada and publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press; Jerry Dias is national president of Unifor; Edward Greenspon is president of the Public Policy Forum.

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News Media Canada releases 2017 Freedom of Information Audit

September 29, 2017

News Media Canada released its 2017 National Freedom of Information Audit report earlier today, September 27, 2017. The release of this year’s report comes during Right to Know Week, and represents a key pillar of our organization’s ongoing commitment to Freedom of Information issues within the wider scope of national public affairs.

The 2017 audit reviews the performance of Canadian governments (federal, national, provincial, local) and numerous other public institutions with respect to their access to information regimes. As such, it provides the public with the opportunity to see the degree to which our governments are in compliance with their own FOI legislation, as well as facilitating comparisons among jurisdictions.

“The audit represents an important tool for asserting the public’s right to access government information,” says John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada. “The results of this audit show that we’ve still got a long way to go before we really have a culture of openness and accountability around government data.”

As in previous years, the 2017 FOI audit was done in collaboration with Fred Vallance-Jones, associate professor of journalism at the University of King’s College, in Halifax. To obtain the data for the audit, a team of researchers requested the same information from the federal and provincial government, as well as a selection of municipalities across the country.

“I’ve been doing this study since 2008 and I keep hoping for the day when everyone gets an A and I can call it a day,” says Vallance-Jones. “Sadly, some are getting worse, and particularly troublesome is the worsening performance by the federal government.”

The 2017 FOI Audit report is available online here. Previous editions of the FOI Audit can be found here.

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2017 National Newspaper Week: October 1-7, 2017

September 29, 2017

Every year, during the first full week in October, newspapers across North America celebrate National Newspaper Week to acknowledge the men and women who work tirelessly to bring the news to their communities. Carrier Appreciation Day is also celebrated on the Saturday of this week to recognize the efforts of newspaper carriers young and old who make a vital contribution to the industry.

The theme of this year’s event is “Real Newspapers … Real News!” News Media Canada is pleased to provide a series of print and digital ads, as well as other resources. We encourage members to download and publish these materials during this week-long celebration and promote the enduring strength of the newspaper industry.

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