The recent visit by the area’s federal Conservative candidate was relatively tame as political visits go. The small crowd that turned up for the hour appeared to be satisfied by drinking coffee and listening to candidate Cathay Wagantall speak rather than introducing any serious issues to discuss.
Aside from what their opinions of the other federal parties’ leaders were, questions were asked around undecided voters, the Universal Child Care Benefit and (financial) help for university students. Other than the two topics raised by the News — one on the Senate and one on government advertising — Wagantall was, as she said, “preaching to the choir.”
According to Wagantall, part of her predecessor Garry Breitkreuz’s publications, along with a semi-regular newsletter mailing, was distributed as “OpEds” to be published in local newspapers.
The News informed her that these were not always printed locally because they constituted, in our minds, mainly government propaganda that had no purpose other than to act as free advertising. With this Wagantall and her husband Marty differed, saying that it is the newspaper’s job to disseminate that information, seemingly just because it came from the office of our Member of Parliament.
Well, first of all, yes we are a newspaper, more specifically a local newspaper, that has up to 70% of its available space for sale on its pages; this is the current industry ratio of advertising-to-news that defines us as a “newspaper.”
More to the matter, we are considered “hyper-local,” which means that we endeavour to record only local material that is not being recorded, and consequently archived for posterity, anywhere else. Our space (number of pages) available for that local news is determined through financial constraints, which are limited each week by the amount of advertising that is booked. We are a business first and foremost.
The erosion of federal government advertising in community newspapers in favour of the Internet, television and radio has been at the cost of community newspapers. This has created not only added stress within the industry, but has contributed to the closure of community newspapers and the loss of the local voice for those communities. Wagantall was unaware of last month’s closure of the Hudson Bay Post Review, a community newspaper in her own proposed constituency.
“At a time when newspapers are facing big challenges, [the federal] government has gone and spent a bunch of money in places like California … with limited results,” John Hinds, CEO of Newspapers Canada, recently told the Shellbrook Chronicle. “We talk about disengaged citizenry and voters. But it’s really easy to further disengagement when citizens don’t know what [government’s] doing on a day-to-day level.”
Last year, Canadian community newspapers received an average of $1021 in federal government advertising. That’s only an average, as many of the ads are booked into the larger community newspapers where we are all being painted with one brush, using the excuse that the ads will hit “most” of the voters. More to the point, it does not even come close to hitting those of us in rural areas who also vote.
To demonstrate, did you know about the “new” Family Tax Cut, the Children’s Arts Tax Credit, the doubling of the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, and the Family Caregiver Tax Credit offered by Canada Revenue Agency? Maybe yes, maybe no.
So when a constituent asked a question of Wagantall about the Universal Child Care Benefit, the News pointed out that it was just one example of the government not advertising in community newspapers to inform the public of its programs. At least that was the case in this newspaper, although there was a barrage of ads seen on TV, heard on radio, and taken out in the dailies.
The numbers speak for themselves. More than 20 million copies of community newspapers are distributed weekly and 73% of non-urban Canadians read their community newspaper, either in print or online (“Connecting to Canadians with Community Newspapers,” 2013). Advertising in newspapers is trusted more than any other medium (Totum Research Inc. 2010) and 61% of Canadians say they’d rather look at the ads in a newspaper than watch advertisements on TV. We have the deepest reach in our respective communities, and an enviable shelf life. We could also fill a full unpaid page with the stats.
We are not sure why the government is not listening. The community newspaper is the “original social media” and we have the numbers to prove it. As to educating Wagantall and any others on the campaign trail about the difference between government propaganda and advertising, look it up. We recommend the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the official dictionary of the Canadian Press.
All Wagantall could say to the room of mild-mannered mature supporters was, “I wish you were all on Facebook and Twitter.”
So far in 2015, the Wadena News has received two federal ads; one from the Canadian Grain Commission and one from Elections Canada. Apparently the Canadians who depend on their community newspaper are not worth the spend.
By Alison Squires