Do you read the newspaper still? I mean the physical paper copy that once was hand-delivered to your door each morning.
The newspaper market shifted rapidly after the Internet, coupled with smart phones, hit the scene. Instead of flipping through pages of a paper, you can scan through headlines and articles from all sorts of news sources online.
How have papers responded? They’re getting bought out, they’re adapting their branding and they’re prioritizing the reporters on the web desk.
The big players on the newspaper scene are Torstar, Post Media, and CBC. The Woodbridge Company is a runner up, but they only produce two news sources.
The newspaper scene changed in January 2016 when Post Media merged with Sun Media. They own multiple papers in each city, including the Sun papers, and the competition papers like the Ottawa Citizen and the Edmonton Journal.
Postmedia purchased a number of English papers in Quebec.
They own 45 of Canada’s 99 newspapers. The next biggest owner, TorStar, owns nine of Canada’s 99 papers.
So Postmedia owns nearly half of our papers, and in comparison, other companies own no more than 9.
In 1970, Senator Keith Davey was concerned with increasingly concentrated media ownership. He issued a report that recommended establishing a review board to monitor ownership of the press. The report was based on the premise that a higher concentration of news ownership — like Postmedia owning 45 of Canada’s 99 papers — is bad for public interest.
The government at the time didn’t quite follow Davey’s recommendations. About ten years later, in 1982, the Kent Commission was formed to analyze the state of Canadian papers.
By the end, both reports suggested legally preventing one or two companies from owning the majority of newspapers.
This has meant a big shift in terms of work for journalists. Newsrooms are downsizing, people are losing their jobs, and stories are all coming from an office in Toronto. If you know what journalism is about, this seems odd.
Typically journalism involves people talking to people and getting a story. That’s why each city has it’s own daily paper. So you can have news coming from your area, about things occurring around you or at least have a local perspective on a national story. Journalists get very familiar with the communities they report in.
When your newsroom is miles away, your paper tends to have a lot of content from outside your community. For example, the Sun Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, all share a newsroom. And competitor papers in each city, owned by the same company, share an editor.
Impact on Quality of Journalism
Less jobs for journalists may not impact you. But having a journalist from Toronto writing stories about your city, when your city is miles away, can lead to some disjointed perspective.
That’s not to say that Postmedia doesn’t employ journalists in each city. Freelance journalism can thrive in this environment. They can be based out of one city and write for a big paper or two. They can build the relationships needed for getting real stories, finding out what’s important and what could happen if certain stories don’t get coverage.
Journalism is supposed to function as an accountability mechanism in a democratic state. That means telling the public about what’s going on shows the people in power that the public cares what decisions they make.
But with less newsrooms, and more freelance journalists, there’s less positions dedicated to investigative journalism. Journalists are trying to produce more stories, instead of getting the meat of every story. It’s exhausting for journalists and allows for sub-par journalism.
Impact on Business of Journalism
We must remember that news is a business. Yes, the public interest is important, but profits are important too. And that’s why Postmedia owns nearly half of major Canadian newspapers.
Newspaper companies are slowly going under. Since information is so easily available online, people don’t depend on the paper. Merging companies allows smaller companies to survive (in ways) while giving bigger companies an opportunity to gain more ad revenue.
People don’t think they should have to pay for news. For decades, news has been free. Now that’s changing. But the primary source of revenue for a newspaper is advertising.
Advertisers have interests definitely separate form the public interest, yet their ads share space with information for the public interest. And provide the funding for such information publication.
You can imagine the tensions this creates. Newspapers won’t publish an honest, unbiased story about the dangers of a product or service next to an ad for that product or service. So even if the army is providing bombs to Saudi Arabia, causing thousands of deaths, or mining and hydro companies are damaging wildlife and treating workers horribly, stories with such conflict, human interest and impact won’t be published if the army, or hydro companies have ads in that paper.
Advertisers have a target demographic, whereas newspapers should provide news for the public. Because newspapers have to sell advertising, they have to have a target demographic. They have to have a brand. They have to place their product in areas that people with money will access. They have to market their product to survive.
When advertisers buy space in a newspaper, they deal with the parent company. Different newspapers can be branded differently, but the people deciding what goes where are the same.
This is news under capitalism. This is information for the public good curated to a specific audience that can afford it.
What can I do?
As usual, the best way to get full or unbiased coverage is to follow a number of different news outlets. If you’re only reading the two major papers in your city, you might be reading only Postmedia news.
And if you want the good journalism that only money can buy, pay some money!