Who pays for journalism? One way or another — you

Tim Shoults of Aberdeen Publishing writes about Ed Greenspon’s report on the Canadian media industry

“I don’t need farmers; I get my food from the grocery store.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?

The Colorado Press Association used it as part of a recent marketing campaign, comparing it to the phrase, “I don’t need newspapers; I get my news from the Internet.”

I was reminded of that as I read Shattered Mirror, the report from Ed Greenspon of the Public Policy Forum on the Canadian media industry.

(Disclosure: I attended one of the PPF’s roundtable discussions this past fall in Vancouver on behalf of the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association.)

It’s a comprehensive report that does an excellent job of describing and analyzing the challenges facing Canadian media in a global digital age.

READ MORE: Most Canadians believe journalism plays critical role in democracy, poll says

More importantly, it has several recommendations on how to help support Canadian media and local news, including closing a tax loophole that gives advertisers a break when advertising in non-Canadian-owned online media (a break they don’t get for foreign-owned print advertising) and using the money generated from it, estimated at $300 million to $400 million per year, to fund local news and new media initiatives.

But what I think the report does best is make it clear why media outlets struggle in the digital age — it answers the question about not only how the food gets to the grocery store, but how much the farmer gets when you pay $1.29 for that tomato.

People have long misunderstood who pays for news, and how.

In the days of paid circulation, many believed they were supporting the entire cost of their local newspaper when they plunked down their pocket change for a copy.

In reality, reader revenue — where it exists — covers only a fraction of the real cost of reporting news, never mind the mechanical and logistical costs of preparing, printing and delivering it to readers.

Even the many community newspapers that deliver the news free of charge still hear the grumbling from unhappy subjects of coverage that we are just “trying to sell papers.” (!)

The advent of the Internet has made people more aware of the real way people pay for content — with their attention.

Sadly, this realization has come just at the point where the real money online goes not to the people who pay to produce what you read, but the people who organize and distribute it — primarily Google and Facebook, two U.S.-based corporations that between them employ a grand total of zero journalists in Canada.

However, readers are led to believe because they continue to be flooded with seemingly ever-increasing amounts of content for which they do not pay, and because they continue to be bombarded with marketing messages attached to that content, that somebody must be making enough money to pay for it.

They need to know the model has shifted entirely.

Advertising dollars online have become largely detached from content and those who package others’ news to readers get the overwhelming share.

Those who pay journalists to perform civic journalism simply can’t afford to do so off the dregs of digital revenue Facebook and Google have yet to siphon up.

The fundamental contract of media in the 20th Century between reader, publisher and advertiser, when applied to the digital landscape, is as shattered as the mirror Greenspon uses to title his report.

People need to realize this contract has been fundamentally disrupted and that, if it continues without some form of change, those who pay to create local journalism, many of who have already been forced to cut back severely, will simply disappear from the landscape, to be replaced with nothing in the case of countless communities.

That’s the message we as media outlets need to take from this report and bring to public attention.

If readers want to keep getting news as they’ve been getting it — that is, without paying directly — the Greenspon report’s recommendations provide a workable answer. If those aren’t acceptable to the public, or to the government, then the choices are for readers to pay for that content directly or watch it disappear.

Greenspon is trying to keep that from happening and I salute him and the PPF for their work. But neither the PPF, nor the media industry in Canada, nor the government will have the final say. In the end, the reader will.

And, in the end, if the farmer can’t afford to grow tomatoes, you won’t find them at the grocery store.

Tim Shoults is the operations manager of Aberdeen Publishing, which publishes newspapers in B.C. and Alberta.

Just Posted

Nathan Cullen named Parliamentarian of the Year

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP won the top-title Nov. 5

On the Wing: Arriving without fanfare in the high tide

By Margo Hearne As November rolls along we remember the birds of… Continue reading

Oversoaked crab traps shows need for shared authority: Kitasoo Guardians

Any longer and the crab are likely to die and go to waste.

New Coast Guard radar boosts marine traffic monitoring off B.C. coast

Six radar installations set up for Georgia Strait to Queen Charlotte Strait to Prince Rupert

Port post office delivers a thank-you to first responders

Commemerative stamps honour firefighters, police, SAR teams, paramedics, and armed forces

Six students arrested, charged in sex assault probe at Toronto all-boys school

The school’s principal, Greg Reeves, described the video of the alleged sexual assault as ‘horrific’

Laine scores 3 as Jets double Canucks 6-3

Injury-riddled Vancouver side drops sixth in a row

Deportation averted for Putin critic who feared return to Russia

Elena Musikhina, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, has been granted a two-year visitor’s permit in Canada

B.C. to allow Uber-style ride hailing services to operate in late 2019

Fee will be applied to fund options for disabled people

Auditor general takes aim at Liberals’ fighter-jet plan

Suditor general Michael Ferguson is about to release a new report on Canada’s attempts to buy new fighter jets

B.C. couple converts ambulance into a traveling home

The Revelstoke couple plan on touring B.C. ski hills then driving to Mexico

Cyclist defecates, throws own poop at car following B.C. crash

Man defecates in the street before throwing it at a driver locked in her vehicle

Jamie Koe, other curlers kicked out of bonspiel for being too drunk

‘You don’t kick around other players’ bags, it’s disrespectful and we expect better of our players’

Terrace man killed in Highway 16 hit-and-run

Police ask for public’s help in their investigation

Most Read