Newspapers in the news

Gary MacDougall
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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

Organizations: Royal American Gazette, Daily News, La Presse

Geographic location: Vancouver Island, Ontario, Nanaimo Montreal Ottawa Calgary Edmonton Kanye West

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Recent comments

    February 26, 2016 - 09:46

    But everything was perfect for Angus when Binns was in and the Guardian read like a Tory newsletter . The weekend edition was the worst , they took up the whole community section , pictures of Binns and his hatchet men . Selective memory is not a good sign .

  • Ryan
    February 20, 2016 - 10:49

    Gary I appreciate the points you make, but to many of us they are no longer valid. All media including newspapers seemingly have gone out of their way to turn off a large portion of their potential customers. I understand and appreciate valid criticism. But even you have to admit that both the demonization and/or the glorifcation of politicians and parties, day in and day out by certain journalists does breed cynicism. Once this was perhaps relegated to the Ottawa Press Gallery and the Hog Town Hotshots, but now it is prevelant in the media everywhere. To the point where polls are now saying that two-thirds of folks trust neither the ethics or honesty of journalists. Case in point - look at the number of reporters who covered the last federal election and who are now working in Liberal government offices. Suddenly they became partisans overnight? I don't think so. Media types complain about social media all the time, but then they use it themselves to criticize and celebrate the defeat of political parties and certain politicians. Case in point, look at the press's twitter party that celebrated the Conservatives defeat election night. This is a fair and balanced media? I don't think so. Quite frankly if I want biased political reporting or opinion, I can get it free online. Why should I pay for it? Enjoy you retirement, you're one journalist who I think did a good job.

    • Gary MacDougall
      February 20, 2016 - 19:25

      Good points Ryan. My column certainly didn't cover all the issues when it comes the news media and its challenges. It's hard to do that and come in at around 600 words. But one of my biggest fears with the loss of influence of "Newsrooms" is that they are crucial in helping set the news agenda, in digging out stories, etc. Traditional media sets the table which allows social media to wade in. I do agree that sometimes the table that is set isn't always the right one. It is always (emphasis always) impossible to cover all the day's news that needs to be covered, so it comes down to judgment calls. And sometimes the wrong calls are made — I know because sometimes I made the wrong calls. As I said, your points are valid ones, but I do fear a future when the public doesn't know who to get angry at. Traditional media is an easy target, rightly or wrongly, but at least it's a target and you know where they are. Cheers.

    • Very Well Stated
      February 21, 2016 - 09:22

      Very well stated , as was the case here in PEI during last election & the Guardian pushing voters in a certain direction when they hold the monopoly on PEI . I'm sure this move must have cost them some of the faithful readers who probably get their news online now .

    • Ryan
      February 21, 2016 - 12:35

      Thanks for the response Gary and the honesty. At least in your case unlike some other commentators, you do respond publicly and thus allow the conversation to continue. And I 'get' the necessity of forthright investigative reporting, but I do object to the shaping of the news in many cases, to reflect personal beliefs, which should be checked at the door. A poll I once read showed that 80% of the media lean Left in their political views. All the more reason why they have to be most careful in their reporting. I don't think you can tell me that all are. And your response didn't cover what I consider the most egregious examples of why many now look upon all media with jaundiced eyes. That includes as mentioned, reporters who suddenly become ministerial gofers a couple of weeks after a new government is formed, TV reporters publicly celebrating on-air the win by one party and the defeat of another and of course the Ottawa media twitterfest when Harper lost. We may not be at the point where they got to in the US and prime time news hosts were getting shivers up their legs over Obama's first presidential win and where 400 so-called journalists conspired by email to help him get elected, but we are getting close in this country. Again thanks for the reply - hopefully you'll see fit to answer this post as well. I would enjoy continuing the discussion.

    • Angus
      February 23, 2016 - 12:29

      Good job Ryan. I too believe Gary was for the most part fair and balanced, unlike some others in his industry. As you pointed out, watching Craig Oliver celebrate Trudeau's win at his election hq party and doing it on national TV was kind of the last straw. I don't care if he went canoing with Trudeau Sr. or not. I have said many times,until the press corps learn that we can get biased news reports, commentary and opinion free on social media and thus don't need to pay for that kind of service, they are going to continue to lose audience and jobs.