Last week out of sheer curiosity, I attended a townhall event with this headline: What’s the cost to Bramptonians when the media does not represent them?
It was attended by several concerned citizens of the city, mostly aggrieved at the state of local media which they felt failed to report about or attend positive community events or reflecting the city fairly or accurately. While there was frustration from citizens who wanted more out of their newspaper or website, there was even more frustration from editors and news people who pointed out that many of the media outlets were operating on a shoestring budget. Newsrooms that were once bustling with reporters who worked their beats now have just a handful of underpaid and overworked reporters. Advertising revenue is dwindling, and the future looks bleak.
Without going into details, here is my pessimistic takeaway about media in 2019, it is depressing. The moribund traditional news media is losing relevance by the day. While nearly every household had a newspaper delivered to its door 60 years ago, these days it’s less than one in 10, according to the 2017 report Shattered Mirror, published by the Public Policy Forum. Few of the bigger news organizations have invested millions of dollars into making the transition online and fewer still are making money.
In the past few years, thousands of journalists and others working in news organizations across North America have lost jobs, few among them have successfully continued careers online hoping that it was the future and they operated in a stable online world. But recently there have been job losses reported at reputed news sites like BuzzFeed News where a hundred people found themselves out of jobs in 2017. The Huffington Post which was making waves not so long ago failed to turn a profit in 2018 despite taking in tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
Needless to say, enrolling in a mass communication or journalism course is in a downward spiral. Statistics Canada’s most recent numbers for post-secondary enrolment in journalism are significantly lower than in preceding years. From 2010 to 2015, enrolment was level at around 5,500, but by the 2015-16 school year there were fewer than 4,800 journalism students in Canada.
All across the media landscape, there are hardly a handful of organizations making healthy profits. In Canada the government-funded CBC network is one organization that comes to mind, although without government funding, it is unlikely CBC could exist in its current form.
The Federal Liberals in their budget has promised C$595 million-over-5-years tax package to bolster the country’s journalism market. But that promise of millions is unlikely to end up giving media tycoons and journalists reason to be optimistic about the future of their media world. Just last week, Rogers Media sold off seven of its digital and print publications which included, including Maclean’s and Chatelaine to St. Joseph Communications — a privately owned printing and publishing company with a collection of local and national magazines.
It is clear that sinking money into print and digital publications is unlikely to reverse the downward spiral media groups face. Nearly a third of journalism jobs in Canada were lost from 2010 to 2017, resulting not only in layoffs but the shuttering of many local papers. And even though the industry has largely migrated from print to the web, the complexity of advertising online has limited its financial viability. With Google and Facebook soaking up a bulk of advertising dollars, smaller local websites with few resources can barely stay solvent. Employing writers and setting aside budgets for investigative stories and features is something very few online news sites can afford.
There are several concerned organizations and individuals hoping to save Canadian Journalism, so far most of these efforts have failed to make any headway in tackling three of the biggest challenges facing the journalism industry: a lack of money, innovation and diversity. At a time when the advertising model which long supported journalism is collapsing, this group of outlets is focused on building new audience-funded business models that support quality journalism.
Bottom line is that there will be a huge and growing market for millennial bloggers and content providers who tilt to the left or right and currently, millennials are trending left which means a social media savvy millennial writer on platforms like twitter will be more powerful and appealing than a someone who isn’t as social media savvy. There are fewer and fewer independent media outlets and news consumers depending on their political and social preferences end up consuming news put out by their favourite websites, bloggers and social influencers. You also have fake news. All this is a consequence of a dying traditional media that has ceded its prestige, success and influence to twentysomething social activists and idealists who end up influencing people who either embrace left or right radical views.