Last week the Quebec government released details on how it planned on disbursing $36.4 million to struggling newspapers over the next five years. This money is to help smaller newspapers that are especially hit by a steep ad revenue decline. The idea is to help newspapers make that inevitable digital transition. Print news media will have until Jan. 15 to present their plans and vision for a digital future. Those publishers with foresight will prevail, the rest will simply fold up and fade into the sunset. They don’t call print media a sunset industry for nothing.
This plan would help only legitimate newspapers that can provide proof in black and white that they have devoted their time and energy toward truly supporting and chronicling the life and times in their respective communities.
Federal help not in the cards as yet
Last September, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly outlined government’s vision for cultural and creative industries in a digital world which would help those in the television industry but it didn’t include the moribund print industry. A federal boost to the Canada Media Fund is set for 2018, to cover the shortfall caused by the drop in money from the private sector.
Late last month, a deal between Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. saw them selling newspapers to each other and in the process close 21 of the 22 community newspapers, this costs 244 jobs, many of them professional journalists.
Over the past few years, hundreds of journalists all across north America have lost their jobs as newspapers close down, merge or transition to digital.
Journalists face a bleak future
To be a journalist in the current climate, one may as well be a tech whiz or be able to tweet at great speed. Few newspapers that have transitioned to digital are turning a profit because for some strange reason no one wants to pay for anything on the net and gone are the days when households subscribed to newspapers. In the case of many community newspapers, you can’t get people to pick it up for free.
The only media house in Canada whose future isn’t in jeopardy happens to be CBC a fully taxpayer funded enterprise costing us big bucks- $1.04 billion in 2015 and given the intense competition it faces, an additional $150 million by the end of 2017.
While there is enough justification put out by successive governments why the CBC is important, there have been few who’ve made a case about the importance of keeping community newspapers alive.
There is even less of a case being made in regard to ethnic newspapers in major cities across Canada and that is more a result of short-sightedness on the part of publishers or the fact that many of them start newspapers simply out of spite for a fellow community businessman or to promote themselves or their other real businesses or perhaps even to run for public office one day.
When it comes to South Asian newspapers the situation is comical and often farcical, there are dozens of newspapers some of which exist in name and are published occasionally, others have upto 80 or 90 or even 100 percent of their news that is about India, Bollywood or just lifts from the web. Community news coverage is an after-thought if at all so it is unlikely that a majority of these so-called ethnic publications could qualify for any government help in the near future.
Government help could be too late
It is a matter of time before pressure is brought upon Ontario and other provinces to help out ethnic community newspapers given the large and growing immigrant community. Already there are influential South Asians who are mobilizing to rally for the cause of ethnic community newspapers. Unfortunately or rather fortunately, only a handful of genuine ethnic community newspapers, some of which are on life support will receive government funding. The criteria for receiving these funds would require these newspapers to make a case for their survival and provide proof of being a community newspaper and of course having professional journalists helming these newspapers would help the cause.
Few ethnic newspapers are quality products
I spoke with an influential and politically active South Asian recently on the state of the South Asian ethnic media and he mentioned he could only think of a handful of newspapers worth reading, the rest in his words were ‘garbage.’
Even if Ontario were to follow Quebec’s lead on supporting community newspapers and help them transition to a digital future, it will already have been too late. Hundreds of journalists are been forced to make a humiliating exit from the profession given the reality. Some have taken to writing blogs nobody reads or emails to long lost relatives hoping to be included in their Wills. But for the vast majority of laid-off journalists, the only meaningful writing they’ll do is writing their professional obituaries.
It is harder for community newspapers to ever entice talented journalists to invest their time and talent because they don’t see a future for the newspaper and would either opt for public relations or something online.
When it comes to ethnic newspapers, the situation is even more hopeless. It’s a Catch-22 situation, publishers cannot attract or retain talent because they are either unable or unwilling to pay their writers according to industry and Canadian standards, with the result, the quality of community coverage is minimal or negligible. So even when Ontario decides to spent up to a million dollars on ethnic publication, few if any will qualify. It is harder to manufacture proof of community coverage than it is to fudge circulation figures.
Smart mainstream media houses are meanwhile bolstering coverage of ethnic communities and are hiring token South Asian journalists in the hope that they can be ready for government handouts if and when it comes. Meanwhile ethnic community newspapers across the country with a few exceptions will continue to flounder. Mercifully it won’t be a loss to the community because there is little community news in the first place. By default it will be the big players that will benefit from any provincial or federal financial help. I for one won’t be around when all of that happens.- CINEWS