“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
This cry on street corners shouted by a boy waving the latest edition of the newspaper is an iconic symbol of the early days of mass communication. For a few pennies, citizens could read about the latest calamity or crisis.
Those were the days – before radio, television and the Internet all played their part in undermining the daily paper as the first and sometimes only source of breaking news.
Pennies no longer suffice to buy a physical newspaper. Still, it must seem to those publishers trying to stay in business at all that they are left with mere pennies when trying to meet operating costs.
Classified ads have fled to Craigslist or Kijiji, and national advertisers are now more likely to peddle their products through Amazon, Google or Facebook. Many people no longer buy a newspaper at all and are unwilling to pay for consumed online content. Gone forever are the days when a visit to a newsstand was a daily ritual.
Millennials scratching their heads at what a ‘newsstand’ is illustrates the problem perfectly.
That reality is certainly a catalyst behind the proposal from News Media Canada to create a Canadian Journalism Fund, which would be a $350-million-a-year government payout to qualifying newspapers and online news organizations to allow them to continue operating. It would be an expansion of the existing $75-million Canada Periodical Fund.
Everything from Via Rail to Air Canada to the CBC receives varying degrees of government assistance under many names or structures. They allow these companies to continue operations or provide services that are deemed necessary and would not otherwise be cost-effective if one simply relied on the bottom-line mentality of corporate governance.
Our children’s education is funded through the public purse so the fact that taxpayers would also be tapped to support Canadian news organizations shouldn’t be an issue. All of us – in one form or another – have our hands in the communal cookie jar.
No, the real question is whether the news organizations are deemed worth protecting. If they are, then the fund should be a no-brainer. If they aren’t, then what does it say about our society that something as fundamental to Canadian democracy and national identity as independent voices could be so casually cast aside?
For those who wish to look, facts and data are available everywhere and easily accessible. News organizations need to acknowledge that the consumer of news has the ability on their own – if motivated – to uncover the dry building blocks of information in a fashion that was never realistically possible in the pre-Internet era.
But, just as importantly, those who would say that news organizations should live or die based only on their independent sustainability in the free market need to acknowledge that the assembling of those facts into a coherent whole, that the providing of context and relevance – and explaining the why behind the what – is a task best performed by those who have made it their life’s mission to do so and are, just as critically, providing a needed Canadian perspective.
It’s not just reporting that Canadian society needs, it’s also opinion and commentary. The editorial section is where a news organization lives and breathes; it’s where a collection of citizens comes together to form a thinking community.
What should be apparent is that a future without the scrutiny, oversight and local editorial consideration that Canadian news organizations provide is one that is more dangerously dystopian than any cataclysm that science fiction could imagine. It would undermine the foundation of our society and extinguish our unique voice in the world.
The weird dynamic at play in a democracy is that the people seemingly most in need of reading the news are often the same people least likely to do so. But news organizations – as healthy, functioning entities – have to be around in order for that to happen.
So $350 million is a small price to pay to ensure that they will continue to provide Canadians with the chance to “read all about it.”
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.