Former Wadena Barry Bowman, of Bowman Productions in Victoria, B.C., stays connected by reading the Wadena News
By Alison Squires
As the sun sets on National Newspaper Week, a campaign designed bring awareness to the urgency of maintaining a healthy ‘news’-paper industry, we draw your attention to a couple of points, in our view, are why newspapers matter.
A series of publications through the Public Policy Forum (PPF) over the past two years have examined the issue from the failing business models of the newspaper industry (The Shattered Mirror) to conversely, what is the information people actually need from their communities (The Knight Commission, Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, 2009).
The very first in the The Shattered Mirror series, News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, was published January 2017 and states, “Canadians need — and want — real news to make educated decisions about their governments and to keep the powerful accountable. Without it, we’ll be in the dark about our communities and our country. Without it, democracy itself is at risk.”
The second, What the Saskatchewan Roughriders Can Teach Canadian Journalism, September 2018, stated that from 2008 to 2016, a total of 169 local media outlets closed with another 54 that had reduced services. In Saskatchewan, part of those numbers include a membership of 84 down to now 69, just within the weekly newspaper association itself.
The aforementioned Knight Commission report concluded almost a decade ago that “information is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public health … access to information is essential” and that no access constitutes denial “of an element required for participation” in community life.
Some argue that newspapers are no longer relevant. With the insertion of the above quote, we beg to differ. It’s not just the medium that’s at stake. A loss of a community newspaper goes deeper than most may realize. People care about what is happening in their communities and without a “watchdog,” the results may very well end up like the municipalities that have sought provincial intervention in their civic affairs.
The question of the digital age has certainly created what was termed as “an information and communications renaissance.” The problem is, it is not serving all communities equally.
An example of this is when local organizations/businesses choose to advertise only on social media. Those organizations are, in effect, preaching to the choir. It may be free, or appear to be less expensive, however, it is proven to be ineffective in reaching the greater community, in our case a population of 8400 according to statistics, who may also be truly interested in the cause/service offered.
The local newspaper doesn’t just provide a vehicle for advertising, it can double exposure by actually attending the event/business and writing a follow-up article. This serves to attract both interest and support (think in terms of volunteers, customers and/or dollars); it creates anticipation for further events; and is something that will be archived – a highly underestimated value of a hardcopy newspaper. Try finding that information on your social media page 20 or 30 years from now.
The question to organizers/businesses then, particularly in rural communities that rely on local support, is why would you NOT engage your local community newspaper?
We are also not just a newspaper. We provide a hub of other services. We photocopy. We fax. We design. We print. We even provide a temporary shelter for found pets! We provide information for visitors and a connection to the past for returning pilgrims.
For every dollar we lose, the community suffers. We can no longer provide those services; we reduce staff; we no longer support other community organizations through sponsorships; we spend less, we close, and “Main Street” loses yet another tax-paying business.
There is a push at the national level for governments to fund the newspaper industry. We do not want handouts, we just want governments at all levels to use us to inform their citizens of what they are doing. Study after study continues to show that readership of printed local newspapers, especially for communities of 50,000 or less, is 79 per cent. So tell me again, why our leaders spend thousands of taxpayers’ dollars using social/digital media that does not even hit the intended audience? And, the money doesn’t even stay in the province – or country. It’s a slap in the face.
Several weeks ago, Murray Mandryk wrote about the province’s latest job creation figures, or lack thereof (Regina Leader-Post, Sept. 12). He referenced an earlier observation made by Calgary economist Todd Hirst, who pointed out the most recent statistics, which indicated yet another wave of migration of workers from Saskatchewan to Alberta.
Perhaps instead of focusing on massive industry to save the province’s (country’s) economy and apparent out-migration, we have a suggestion: instead of cloaking advertisements as news releases, buy an ad in a community newspaper. Tell us about that service you just introduced for veterans, that passport rules have changed, or invite us to that event at the “provincial park near you” or invite that feedback from rural residents about current trespassing laws.
Every ad in a community newspaper helps pay for the work we do that no one else does. Increased revenue equals reinvestment in staff; more opportunity to report on more items; increased inventory and equipment equals expanded services equals perhaps less migration to the city for services. People are complaining that our main streets are dying, maybe we should focus on one – or 69 – at a time, or the over 1000 community newspapers across Canada (19 million circulation).
The Wadena News has played a vital role in this area for the past 110 years, and although we cannot accurately predict what the consequences of the loss of this publication would be to our communities, we guarantee it would not be insignificant.
That’s why newspapers matter, now more than ever.
It only takes a few minutes to pledge your support at newspapersmatter.ca.