Where is Ottawa’s help for Canada’s newspapers? by John Honderich

Oct 9, 2018

SOURCE: TORONTO STAR

This being National Newspaper Week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to send out a tweet extolling the value of newspapers to our democracy.

“In an ever-changing world with an ever-changing media landscape, our local newspapers play a vital role in protecting our democracy,” he wrote. “We salute the papers — big and small — working to keep us informed.”

It is reassuring to know the role of Canadian newspapers is appreciated. For many, myself included, the feeling is deeply inbred that our democracy is only as strong as the strength and vitality of our newspapers.

Yet in the past decade, at least 137 community and local newspapers have folded or ceased publication. This, in turn, has led to the creation of “news deserts” where some communities are left with no news outlet at all. Many others are struggling desperately to stay afloat.

To deal with this, the Trudeau government in its February budget committed to spend $50 million to support local journalism. It also promised new charitable models to aid “professional, non-profit journalism.” And third, it promised to reexamine its advertising budget which is almost exclusively digital, virtually excluding all print newspapers.

One should not forget Ottawa had commissioned two studies on the plight of the industry, both of which came out with a long list of recommendations. The vast majority of these were rejected.

So what has happened since?

A little talk, but absolutely no definitive action.

Take the $50 million to be spent over five years. The plan was for the funds to go to “independent, non-governmental organizations” to support journalism in under-served communities.

But it seems the government can’t decide who that would be. One or two exploratory talks have been held but there has yet to be even a request for proposals. Maybe next year, we are told.

On the new philanthropic models, there was a committee struck to study the issue. When might something be forthcoming? Probably next year.

The advertising issue is the most frustrating. Last year Ottawa spent about $36 million on advertising, virtually all of it dedicated to digital advertising.

Since about three-quarters of all digital advertising is owned by either Google or Facebook, that means millions of Canadian taxpayer dollars are going straight to the two American tech giants.

What’s worse, a House of Commons committee studying the issue last year concluded that Ottawa’s strategy had resulted in a “misalignment” of the reality that many Canadians still rely on traditional media. It urged more spending be directed to “TV, radio and print media.”

Again, there’s been talk.

But last month’s federal cannabis campaign had absolutely no print media.

We are now told this issue has been placed on the mandate letter of the new heritage minister.

Put together, there has been a lot of talk and no action.

You can also throw in the copyright issue where newspapers have long argued they should receive a licensing fee when articles are posted or distributed by aggregators (read Facebook and Google).

The European Community passed a law doing precisely this last week. And Australia and the United Kingdom are considering the same.

In Canada, it is not even on any agenda.

Meanwhile, media companies, including Torstar, continue with new strategies to compete in this new digital environment. Many are moving to paywalls, which could well benefit from special tax treatment from Ottawa.

So prime minister, we appreciate your kind sentiments.

But, on balance, I think we’d prefer some real action on these files.

And in case you missed it, I’ve listed below all those papers that have disappeared.

Daily newspapers

Duncan, B.C. — Cowichan News Leader Pictorial Daily

Abbotsford, B.C. — The Fraser Valley Daily

Amherst, N.S. — Amherst Daily News

Calgary, Alta. — 24 Hours Calgary

Edmonton, Alta. — 24 Hours Edmonton

Victoria, B.C. — Victoria News Daily

Campbell River, B.C. — Comox Valley/Campbell River Daily

Kamloops, B.C. — The Kamloops Daily News

Dawson Creek, B.C. — Dawson Creek Daily News

London, Ont. — Metro London

Regina, Sask. — Metro Regina

Saskatoon, Sask. — Metro Saskatoon

Surrey, B.C. — Peace Arch News Daily

Vernon, B.C. — The Morning Star Daily

Port Alberni, B.C. — Alberni Valley Times

Nanaimo, B.C. — Nanaimo Daily News

Guelph, Ont. — Guelph Mercury

Vancouver, B.C. — 24 Hours Vancouver

Winnipeg, Man. — Metro Winnipeg

Barrie, Ont. — The Barrie Examiner

Cobourg, Ont. — NorthumberlandToday.com

Orillia, Ont. — The Packet & Times

Ottawa, Ont. — Metro Ottawa

Toronto, Ont. — 24 Hours Toronto

Moose Jaw, Sask. — Moose Jaw Times-Herald

Community newspapers

Kenora, Ont. — The Holidayer

Merritt, B.C. — Merritt Herald Weekender

Toronto, Ont. — tonight Newspaper

100 Mile House, B.C. — Cariboo Connector

Kapuskasing, Ont. — Horizon

London, Ont. — London Community News

Huntingdon, Ont. — The Gleaner

Salaberry de Valleyfield, Que. — Le Soleil de Salaberry-de-Valleyfield

Campbellford, Ont. — Trent Hills Independent

Stirling/Northeast, Ont. — Central Hastings News

Campbellton, N.B. — L’Aviron

Mont-Joli, Que. — L’Information de Mont-Joli

Manitouwadge, Ont. — The Echo

Grenfell, Sask. — The Grenfell Sun

Broadview, Sask. — The Broadview Express

Cape Breton, N.S. — Cape Breton Star

Yorkton, Sask. — The News Review

Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows — Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows Times

Redvers, Sask. — Redvers Optimist

Fergus-Elora, Ont. — News Express

Fort McMurray, Alta. — Connect

Chilliwack, B.C. — Chilliwack Times

Ottawa, Ont. — L’Express d’Ottawa

Timmins, Ont. — Les Nouvelles

Carnduff, Sask. — Gazette Post News

Oxbow, Sask. — The Oxbow Herald

Rosthern, Sask. — The Saskatchewan Valley News

Cape Breton, N.S. — Cape Breton Community Post

Toronto, Ont. — Bloor West Villager

Toronto, Ont. — Parkdale-Liberty Villager

Drumheller, Alta. — Inside Drumheller

Bengough, Sask. — Deep South Star

Coronach, Sask. — Triangle News

Radville, Sask. — Radville Star

Grandview & Gilbert Plains, Man. — Exponent

Arthur, Ont. — Arthur Enterprise News

Harriston, Ont. — Minto Express

Mount Forest, Ont. — Mount Forest Confederate

Salmon Arm, B.C. — Lakeshore News

Surrey/North Delta/White Rock, B.C. — The Now

Fort Simpson, N.W.T. — Deh Cho Drum

Courtenay, B.C. — Comox Valley Echo

Gull Lake, Sask. — The Advance

Invermere, B.C. — The Valley Echo

Terrace/Kitimat/Prince Rupert, B.C. — Northern Connector

Sparwood, B.C. — Elk Valley Herald

Port Stanley, Ont. — Lake Erie Beacon

Whitewood, Sask. — Whitewood Herald

Lévis, Que. — Le Peuple Lévis

Kapuskasing, Ont. — The Weekender

Saint-Jérôme, Que. — Le Mirabel

Neepawa, Man. — Neepawa Press

Saguenay, Que. — Le Courrier de Saguenay

Sorel/Tracy, Que. — La Voix

Moose Jaw, Sask. — Rural Roots South

Bradford, Ont. — Bradford West Gwillimbury Times

Brantford, Ont. — Brant News

Collingwood, Ont. — Enterprise-Bulletin

Fonthill, Ont. — Pelham News

Fort Erie, Ont. — Fort Erie Times

Innisfil, Ont. — Innisfil Examiner

Meaford, Ont. — Meaford Express

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. — Niagara Advance

Norfolk, Ont. — Norfolk News

Port Colborne, Ont. — In Port News

St. Marys, Ont. — Journal Argus

St. Marys, Ont. — Journal Argus Weekender

St. Thomas/Elgin, Ont. — Weekly News

Thorold, Ont. — Thorold Niagara News

Vancouver, B.C. — WestEnder

Lumsden, Sask. — Waterfront Press Regional

Montreal, Que. — La Presse

Hornepayne, Ont. — Jackfish Journal

White City, Sask. — White City Star

Belleville, Ont. — Belleville News

Brockville, Ont. — St. Lawrence News

Frontenac County, Ont. — Frontenac Gazette

Kanata, Ont. — Kanata Kourier-Standard

Kingston, Ont. — Kingston Heritage

Nepean/Barrhaven, Ont. — Nepean/Barrhaven News

Orleans, Ont. — Orleans News

Ottawa, Ont. — Ottawa East News

Ottawa, Ont. — Ottawa West News

Ottawa, Ont. — Ottawa South News

Quinte West, Ont. — Quinte West News

Stirling, Ont. — Central Hastings/Trent Hills News

Stittsville, Ont. — Stittsville News

Stratford, Ont. — Stratford Gazette

West Carleton, Ont. — West Carleton Review

Macklin, Sask. — Macklin Mirror

London, Ont. — Our London

Exeter, Ont. — Times-Advocate

Grand Bend/Zurich, Ont. — Lakeshore Advance

Whistler, B.C. — Question

Toronto, Ont. — Beach-Riverdale Mirror

York, Ont. — York Guardian

Tisdale, Sask. — Parkland Review

Grimshaw, Alta. — The Mile Zero News

Manning, Alta. — The Banner Post

Dryden, Ont. — Dryden Observer

Leamington, Ont. — Southpoint Sun

Red Lake, Ont. — Northern Sun News

Wheatley, Ont. — Journal

Ingersoll, Ont. — Ingersoll Times

Kapuskasing, Ont. — Northern Times

Norwich, Ont. — Gazette

Petrolia and Central Lambton County — Petrolia Topic

Strathmore, Alta. — Strathmore Standard

Kirkland Lake, Ont. — Northern News

Pembroke, Ont. — The Daily Observer

Portage La Prairie, Man. — The Graphic

Camrose, Alta. — Camrose Canadian

John Honderich is the chair of Torstar, the Toronto Star’s parent company.

© Toronto Star