Newspaper closures, media staffing cuts causing dark clouds to appear, but hope amid negative news
Newspaper closures, staff cutbacks and an exploding multitude of media platforms make these troubling days for supporters and lovers of newspapers.
Beginning in 1787 with the arrival of The Royal American Gazette and Intelligencer of the Island of St. John, Prince Edward Islanders have been supportive of newspapers.
The province’s population has always meant our newspaper distribution numbers look humble in comparison to big city markets. But, when looked at on a per capita basis, P.E.I. newspaper penetration numbers have always been among the nation’s leaders.
A quick look at national media news is depressing.
The Guelph Mercury in Ontario and Nanaimo Daily News on Vancouver Island have closed. Montreal’s La Presse is still produced daily in a digital format but only printed on Saturdays.
Along with the outright closure of papers comes news of staffing cutbacks. Newsrooms at Postmedia and Sun newspapers in Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton have merged, resulting in layoffs.
It’s no surprise that someone with my background and in my age demographic, wants to see newspapers not only survive, but flourish in the future. But it’s apparent that the glory days of newspapers are over in terms of revenue and circulation numbers.
Or, at least they are in terms of the amount of money that could once be made rather easily. The squeeze on revenue caused by competition from new forms of media and changing consumer habits have corporate owners feeling the pinch.
Most papers still make money, just not enough for owners carrying heavy debt loads.
It certainly would be a tragedy if newspapers disappear and/or lose their place in society. After all, a person can’t help but come away feeling more connected to the community after reading a newspaper.
The Internet presents endless opportunities to inform, but in too many cases instead of expanding people’s minds, it contracts them. It allows a person to place himself or herself inside a bubble of self-interest where they can personalize what information suits their interests. So they get the information they want, or what entertains them, but not necessarily all the information they should know when it comes to living and participating in their community.
It’s all well and good to be up to speed on the latest meaningless spat between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, but people also need to know about environmental concerns, the fact that food bank shelves are bare and what issues they should be concerned about in a local election campaign, as opposed to knowing the last ridiculous pronouncement from Donald Trump.
But along with the doom and gloom there is a positive when it comes to the news business, and that is society’s insatiable desire for news and information.
So going forward, perhaps the important questions are not whether newspapers or traditional media will continue to exist or how they will evolve, but whether today’s newsrooms continue to exist.
And not just newsrooms in name only, rather newsrooms with the necessary resources to provide the service the public demands - and deserves. As the old expression goes, newspapers need to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
But they are not only associated with noble enterprises like protecting democracy, fighting corruption and ensuring the downtrodden are not forgotten, they also bring communities together and tell us what our neighbours are doing, not doing or should be doing.
Maintaining those newsrooms will challenge their owners, be they corporate or local, to figure out new funding models to generate sufficient profits in the new digital age. It’s a challenge society as a whole needs to pay attention to, given the important role newsrooms play in a free and caring society.
- Gary MacDougall is a retired P.E.I. journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.