Life or death for newspapers in Canada’s North?

Don Jaque, publisher of the Northern Journal in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, says a territorial government decision to move its job advertising online could kill northern newspapers. (CBC)
Don Jaque, publisher of the Northern Journal in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, says a territorial government decision to move its job advertising online could kill northern newspapers. (CBC)
This October, the  government in Canada’s Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) launched a new website advertising job openings.

It’s a decision the publisher of the Northern Journal in the N.W.T. community of  Fort Smith says could mean the end of the northern newspaper industry.

“It’s the life and death of newspaper in the North,” says Don Jaque. “If the government doesn’t support them, they’re dead.”

The change comes after the territorial government found that most people applying for its jobs came across them online.

“And so that really says to us that the way to really drive people to where the job opportunities are, is to really focus on our web access,” says Sheila Bassi-Kellett, deputy minister of the human resources department.

The government says it will continue to advertise in the newspapers, but job ads will all go to its new career website.

Loss of revenue?

Bassi-Kellett says the newspapers shouldn’t lose much money, but Jaque disagrees.

In a region where the government plays a major role in the economy, Jaque says his business model only works with government support.

“If we don’t have the commitment from them, we simply cannot operate. That’s our reality.”

The move to online job advertising surprised some. The government recently announced new plans to fill its large number of vacant job positions by offering on-the-job training in communities, in an effort to reach people who might not qualify for the positions as advertised.

Northern newspapers had held an enviable position in the Canadian newspaper market.

Two years ago, Jaque took his newspaper from a smaller town format and expanded into 34 communities, partly to capture a larger, territorial advertising market. He now spends $8,000 a week on printing, employees, freelancers and distributing the paper throughout the Northwest Territories and Northern Alberta.

He says the decision will also spell trouble for Northern News Services Ltd. based in Yellowknife, the capital city of Canada’s N.W.T., which publishes seven local newspapers in the N.W.T. and Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Jaque is worried that government bureaucrats are looking at the issue purely in terms of short term cost savings. “I want them to understand the implications of what they’re doing.”

For Jaque, that means cutting off an important voice in the region downstream of the Alberta oil sands at a time of major industrial development — not to mention “the day to day chronicling of daily life in the North.”

The Northern Journal has already moved some of its publishing online, but Jaque says the news still costs money to produce.

“I’m worried about the newspaper industry in the North.”

CBC News

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