It is a trope of the so-called information age that newspapers (and even all traditional media) are doomed. That all too common viewpoint is bolstered by a constant barrage of bad news stories about the closure and rationalizations of newspapers along with the commiserate image of legions of laid-off journalists infesting the nation’s breadlines.
First off, let’s be clear, The Expositor isn’t going anywhere soon. Sure we have our struggles in an increasingly digitized world, but our loyal subscribers and advertisers recognize something that a lot of our more urban neighbours seem to have missed. Community newspapers reach people. They reach people very well, and the secret to that isn’t so very secret to anyone who picks up a copy of our publications. We are decidedly hyper-local and a trusted source of information about local news and events. That trust and local focus is reflected in most of Ontario’s 379-odd local publications with a reach that extends to a circulation of over 8.3 million Ontarians. On a national level that reach extends through over 1,032 titles to reach 18,802,329 individuals. Those are individuals who actually seek out the information that is important to them—in fact many of them pay for it through subscriptions or by picking up individual copies of a paper at the newsstand. In fact, Canadians overwhelmingly (75 percent) say that newspapers are the most appropriate source for mediacoverage of government information.
When it comes to sources of local community information, community newspapers rock. Community newspapers are the key source for local information for 62 percent of the population—if you include all newspapers that figure jumps to 75 percent. Three quarter of Canadians rely on newspapers (community or daily) for their local community information that includes information on local government and advertising of local businesses and classified, employment and real estate.
So community newspapers reach people. Not only do we reach people, but in an important consideration for advertisers we reach people with money to spend looking for a place and things to spend it on. The numbers are there, but for some unfathomable reason, government seems blind to the numbers they so often tout as the foundation of policy.
The 2018 budget has earmarked $50 million for non-profit sources of local news in underserviced areas and are looking into ways to make newspapers non-profit and/or charitable organizations. Thank you very much, federal government, but we don’t need a hand out, or a bailout. We don’t need to be a charity case. If the government, or business for that matter, wants to support local news we have a simple solution—advertise.
It is clear that we reach Canadians, especially rural Canadians. You know, those people that you are constantly fretting about getting your message to. To borrow a phrase, newsflash, we reach those people and we do it well. If the federal government were to spend its advertising dollars with local news organizations rather than California-based digital platforms where it is mixed and mingled, buried even, within an avalanche of actual fake news and conspiracy theories that would make even a supermarket tabloid blush, it would go a long way toward their purported goal of supporting local media.
Instead they are part of the problem. A good part of the crisis hitting the community newspaper industry is the downward trend in government advertising. In 2013-2014 the federal government spent $75,213,380 on advertising, but by 2015-2016 advertising in community newspapers has fallen to just $867,153. That is, on average, an annual federal government spending of just $1,021 in each of Canada’s 849 local community newspapers.
If the federal and provincial governments want to help support the community and local news media in this country, and at the same time help protect one of the key pillars of our democracy, they don’t need to resort to charity, handouts or bailouts. Governments can help support local media by helping themselves; by advertising in community newspapers they will reach their client base, the taxpayer.
It’s really that simple.