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Friday, February 06, 2009

Saving Canada Newspaper Industy

When was the last time you picked up a newspaper and read anything new, controversial, or different?
These days, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting your news from TV, radio, or the papers. Its all the same stuff. You can pick up a Toronto Star or a Vancouver Sun and read all the same stuff, from the same perspective, with all the same subjects.
Is it any wonder people have abandoned the newspapers for sources like the internet, where one can at least get another side of the story?
Most papers in this country now go at the news from one particular angle, business! Reporters no longer ask how events affect people in their home communities. They ask how it affects business! It may come as a surprise to many of our modern day editors and publishers, but not everyone is interested in the business perspective.
The other major issue is what I call “mob mentality.” Take politics for example. All the reporters are gathered in one place interviewing the same people. Heck, some of them don’t even bother to ask their own questions. They just stick out their recorders and later transcribe all the same questions and answers.
When I was a kid I recall how folks would wait outside the St. Catharines Standard offices waiting for the paper to be printed. Sometimes they’d be pushing each other aside just to get copies when the paper was finally delivered to the box. Once people had their copies, they’d step aside and start reading, then the debates would begin.
It would be the same scene ten miles down the road in Niagara Falls, where a whole different set of stories and perspectives would be covered. Most folks would in fact buy The Standard, The Niagara Falls Review, and the Welland Tribune, just so they would be up to date on all the different news, from all the different little towns in the region. When they wanted a wider perspective, they’d go buy a Globe and Mail, a Hamilton Spectator, a Toronto Star, or even a New York Times.
Nowadays it doesn’t matter which of those papers you buy, one is as good, or bad, as the other. And the same picture on the cover of the Globe is more than likely going to show up in the Standard. Why buy more than one, when all the news and perspective you’re going to get is in one?
In my opinion, you can blame it all on the Blacks, both Conrad and David! Conrad began the process, buying up over half of the papers in the country and homogenizing them to the point where they all looked, smelled and tasted the same. David has taken it one step further, nearly eliminating any sort of news at all (especially local), and focussing the giant share of the papers’ content on advertising. These days you can get as much local information from a “Buy and Sell” as you can from most traditional newspapers.
Now, the industry seems intent on carrying through on their slow suicide by laying off their reporters and photographers, relying even more on the news wires and centralized information sources. With less reporters and photographers, local papers can no longer cover their own courts, police beats, neighbourhoods. Sadly, this results in less and less people turning to the local papers for information, mostly because there’s no new information in them.
This has a domino affect on advertising too. People stop reading the paper, and advertisers realize no one is reading the paper, so they stop advertising in it.
Sadly,this whole scenario is also starting affecting radio and TV. It no longer matters which radio or TV station you tune in. The news is all the same, and so is the opinion. Pretty soon, all we’re going to need is one national paper, one TV station, and one radio station.
But its not all doom and gloom and there is a solution. One example is right here in the West Kootenay. Out of New Denver BC there is a fledgling little paper called “The Valley Voice.” Its not well written, the photos are often grainy and out of focus, and it doesn’t have a lot of flashy ads. However, when that paper hits the street, everyone in the region makes sure to pick it up!
Why? Because there’s news in that little paper that can’t be found anywhere else! The opinion pages, at least two or more full pages every issue, are full of local voices, and the editorials are entirely from a local perspective. What’s more, the publisher of the paper is not entirely focussed on the bottom line. He’s not trying to make a million. His bottom line is producing a rag that people will read, while earning him a modest living. And the biggest threat to his business comes not from a lack of readership, but from big conglomerate, widely circulated, papers that suck up the lion’s share of advertising dollars from large corporations and government sources, and control the source of paper and ink. To him, the failure of these big sheets is good news, because when they finally go under, he will be left standing.
All this considered, if we really want to salvage the newspaper industry in this country, it is imperative the newspaper industry go back to its roots, and begin delivering news people want to read, the news going on down the street, up the block, and around the corner.
The solution is not in laying off reporters and photographers, but in hiring more of them to cover the stories in our home communities. Moreso, the resolution to the current problems in the newspaper industry is not to be found in more coroporate control.
Newspapers were invented for no other purpose than to give a voice to the people. For as long as they were the voice of the people, they thrived. In modern times newspapers have become parrots for big business and government. Therein is the real issue. To survive, they must once again become the place the people turn to hear what their neighbours have to say.

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