2 Feb 2016

Why feds should step in to
help democracy's watchdogs

"I think newspaper readership is strongest 
among people who are soon going to be dead."
-- John Miller 
former senior editor at The Toronto Star 

A flourishing, capable news media is the oxygen of democracy. In Canada, our traditional oxygen-providers, the mainstream corporate-owned newspapers, are dying. We need to come up with something better to serve our communities.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen papers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa bizarrely merged; a potentially disastrous strike in Halifax. The Guelph Mercury’s last print edition. The closure of The Toronto’ Star’s printing press, and gradual shaving back at every paper in the country.

Not all papers are losing money, but none is flourishing. And none still provides the scope or depth of balanced news essential to a citizenry that wants to be engaged.

How has this happened?

Citizens, government need to plan now to have quality media in future

Canada’s mainstream media are in a state of incipient meltdown. They no longer deliver the volume or quality of news that Canadians need to be informed about important happenings in their communities, let alone to participate in a healthy democratic process.

The corporations that own traditional newspapers, seeing their revenues and readership dissolve, have opted to cut jobs and slash the content that used to provide their product’s value.

News on the Internet: Everyone will get in on the act! 

This is a serious problem for the way our democracy is supposed to work, and it is not going away.
It is time for governments—federal, provincial, and municipal—to step up and find a way to make sure that Canadian communities once again receive the news and information they need to function properly.

I explained in an earlier column why it would be the wrong choice for governments to support the same media that are failing under profit-driven corporate ownership.

Instead, the best solution to our growing news crisis is for governments to provide the financial support needed so that community-based Internet news sites will be sustainable.

Finding government money for public interest news shouldn’t be a problem. Governments already spend millions of dollars to support the diversity of Canadian magazines, privately owned TV stations, and, of course, the CBC.

We also all need to recognize that the transition to Internet-based delivery for disseminating news and information is only accelerating, will soon be virtually complete.

Instead of thinking about the way news dissemination is now, with newspapers hanging on, we need to envision what conditions will be like in, say 10 years, and begin working toward that time frame now.

How? Here’s what I’d like to see happen.