The future of local news looks grim as six small town newspapers are set to close adding to the 108 which have folded since 2008. In addition, 11 paid subscription daily newspapers and 23 free dailies have closed in that period of time, according to the Local News Research Project database.Listen
‘Nobody…putting people on the record’
“The result is, in a lot of communities, there’s less and in some cases no coverage of what’s going on in the community and nobody playing the role that journalists and news organizations used to play of putting people on the record, whether it’s public leaders, individuals, business leaders, politicians,” says Christopher Waddell, a professor at the school of journalism and communication at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“Nobody’s putting them on the record for what they say they are doing or going to do and nobody is going back to check and see whether they actually did it. As well, nobody’s digging up stories in communities about things that are happening in the community.”
Advertising revenue bleeding out to online giants
The problem is a steep decline in advertising revenue which is being siphoned off by foreign online giants like Google and Facebook which don’t pay taxes and a steep decline in readership.
The Canadian government has budgeted $50 million over five years to support local journalism but it has not yet decided how to spend it. It is also considering new models such as allowing private and philanthropic support for some journalism.
Government offers help, but what kind?
Waddell suggest Canada could look at what England is doing to support local journalism. It is giving its public broadcaster, the BBC, money to hire local reporters and the content they produce would be available to other outlets for free. Such a model could be applied in Canada, but he notes, Canadians are skeptical of government giving money to media fearing that they would then favour government in their reporting.
Waddell says it is difficult to make policy because not much is known about the changing habits of news consumers, but it’s clear to him that change needs to happen to support local news.
Community news ‘important for democracy’
“I think it’s significant and important for community development, for democracy, for people to have the information they need to have in order to be engaged citizens in their community and to participate in the decision-making and the debate and the discussion that precedes decision-making about what should happen in communities…
“If that’s not being provided, it makes it much easier for people to do things that may not be in public interest but may be in the interest of people who are doing them.”