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Quality journalism is priceless

by Dave Adsett

In a recent survey of Advertiser readers, 60 per cent of respondents answered no when asked whether or not government should subsidize newspapers.

The result of the survey was not really a surprise considering Wellington County has a fairly conservative readership that still believes in self-reliance rather than government handouts.

My work on the Canadian News Media Association board, which includes both daily and community newspapers, has been a bit of an eye opener on a few fronts.

First off, I am glad to do business in this part of the country with the strong support of this community.

Second, I am glad to be on the community newspaper side of the business rather than running a daily newspaper.

Third, journalism is truly in a perilous position, as is democracy.

News this past week that tech giant Facebook has been used and manipulated to have an effect on elections comes as no real surprise. That people are catching on is good news, with recent polls suggesting over half of citizens don’t trust Facebook.

Up until a few weeks ago, even the Minister of Culture and Heritage was counselling Canadian publishers to work more closely with giants like Facebook since our industry, she said, is “a broken business model.” Talk about pulling out of a nosedive just in time.

There is reason to fear that this storm will blow over and this close call with Facebook will be forgotten. Yet another shiny ball will come bouncing along and distract the public from being wholly engaged in the immediate world around them.

Journalism has always been a tough racket. In many respects it’s an underpaid field relying on long hours and dogged determination to assemble a story based on facts that will hold up to scrutiny. It’s never a matter of throwing some ideas together and running with it.

Publishers, tasked with keeping all the balls up in the air these past few years, chose to eliminate newsroom positions. It was quick, it was easy and the absence of a reporter or two is not felt as quickly as, say, a carrier person or a pressman. Those positions have had hours cut too, but by far journalists were pretty easy targets for trimming expenses.

At the Advertiser we took a different approach and hired more journalists to ensure readers stayed engaged – with us. As we expand into different ways of telling stories, we will be positioning ourselves to continue as the premier source for local news on whatever medium we choose to share it.

There are other choices the government can make, rather than talk subsidies.

The time is long overdue for the federal and provincial governments to institute polices that would insist on advertising in newspapers owned by Canadians. Currently millions are spent with Google and Facebook with no tax benefit to the government. Those millions were bled in part from the newspaper businesses currently under stress.

The practice of stealing news online should also be halted. It is akin to shoplifting at a menswear store with the intent of getting inventory to start a new menswear store down the street.

The theft of news is not fair and original works should be subject to strict copyright laws to ensure the publisher and journalist involved get credit – and remuneration - for their work.

The proliferation of the CBC and other non-profit organizations involved in news procurement and advertising sales requires better regulation to ensure government funds only they can access are not used to provide a competitive advantage over for-profit operations.

Quality journalism is what keeps democracy real.

March 30, 2018

 
 

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