By Ken Waddell, Neepawa Banner & Press, April 14, 2023
The Toronto Star publisher and owner Jordan Bitove made an impassioned plea recently to Canadian corporations and governments to step up and support journalism. Bitove argued that journalism is essential to democracy and that smaller communities are being starved of essential information.
Bitove, speaking to a packed audience of business and community leaders at a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto, said big tech companies including Google and Meta have drained crucial advertising revenue from media companies, endangering journalism’s business model and indirectly, democracy itself.
“The advertising revenue that once funded our newsrooms has been moved, ironically, to companies that use our content for their benefit. The result is that we are seeing local news disappear by increments,” said Bitove, who estimated that tech giants control up to 80 per cent of the online advertising market.
Lower revenue means less money for newsrooms to spend on the editors and reporters who keep Canadians well-informed, he said. “The result is we are seeing local news disappear at an alarming rate.”
“Fact-checked, investigated, accountable truths — the stories that inform civil discourse, how we vote, what is happening in schools, hospitals, in the offices of influence, and on our streets — this comes from journalists — real people putting in a ton of effort to keep citizens informed,” said Bitove.
“Without trusted, accountable journalism how are we going to counter the misinformation and disinformation that has come to dominate discussion and impact on our safety and public discourse?”
Bitove cited statistics from the News Poverty Map showing that 361 news outlets have closed across Canada since 2008. He also noted the Canadian Media Directors’ Council says that over 3,000 editorial and noneditorial news jobs have been lost since 2020.
That closure scenario has played out in Manitoba in the community newspaper industry. In the past few years, newspapers have shut down in Melita, Reston, Deloraine, Souris, Brandon, Carberry, Altona, Morden-Winkler, Carman, Stonewall, Selkirk and Gimli-Arborg.
Bitove also pointed out that the tech giants are “manipulating” their algorithms so fewer readers see vital news stories. Just about every social media site user has voiced complaints about feeds being manipulated. Everyone knows that if you do a search on a particular product, you will be flooded with ads for that or similar products. The internet is both tracking us and controlling what we see.
News Media Canada (NMC)said it wants to see increased ad spending from the government. NMC CEO Paul Deegan said, “The federal government needs to put its advertising dollars where its mouth is. It is unacceptable that they spent just $6 million on print ads out of an advertising budget of $140 million.”
The situation that Deegan is speaking of is especially annoying in that Canadian dollars, be they spent by governments or corporations spent on internet advertising, goes to the U.S, never to be seen again in Canadians’ bank accounts.
Changes are coming in the journalism field. Newspapers are gaining strength, especially locally owned newspapers. Advertisers and readers alike are realizing that reliable and relevant information is more dependable, the closer you are to the sources. In contrast, news and ads on the internet and even on television can be as phoney as a three dollar bill.
It has been said that there are three things you need in real estate; location, location, location. In journalism it’s local, local, local!
It’s nice to see the trend in journalism is trying to head back to local but it won’t last without advertising dollars.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.