4 Jul 2017

Here's why papers don't deserve support; money should go to committed Internet sites

News Media Canada – formerly the Canadian Association of Newspapers – has submitted a proposal to Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly for a whopping $350-million a year to prop up the journalism of the country’s struggling 105 dailies.

The publishers are asking for:
  • $175-million of our tax dollars per year to subsidize the first 35 per cent of the salaries of hundreds of journalists who are paid $85,000 or less, including luminaries such as the Globe and Mail's  columnist Margaret Wente, who creates her own reality, and the National Post's right-wing reporter Christie Blatchford. 
  • And $90,000 a year to help each of these newspapers improve their presence on the Internet – a request that comes 18 years after Kijiji and others began grabbing their classified ads. This reveals their ineptitude to successfully get on the Internet themselves. 
I’m against this proposal for a number of reasons, including the fact that the self-important papers want to be the only ones getting government support. They apparently never thought of approaching the dozen or so small digital media groups that have worked hard over the past few years to establish themselves.

But I have a more fundamental problem with the newspaper industry.

First, I want to acknowledge that some newspapers, particularly The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, produce some excellent journalism, including important investigative stories.

How corporate media censors the news.

But, having followed the content patterns of several papers for a number of years, it’s obvious to me that Canadian corporate media systematically manages and censors the news.

Four examples:
  • Mainstream media seldom, if ever, examine whether capitalism, neo-liberalism, austerity, and trickle-down economics are good for society overall. Media companies first and foremost follow corporate and capitalist practices. 
  • Labour is demonized or ignored in Big Media. When unions are mentioned, it’s usually to blame them for strikes. There’s seldom any background information in stories on the conditions facing workers, and labour leaders don’t get the puffed up profile stories given to “the captains of industry.”   
  • Newspapers criminally accept the destruction of the planet by not campaigning against climate change. The concerns of environmentalists are usually played down and buried somewhere inside papers. The papers cater to the views of much of the corporate world, which knows that fighting climate change would be costly for business. 
  • From what I have seen, every newspaper in the country, except The Toronto Star, has fired their progressive and left-leaning journalists and commentators. As a result, newspaper readers have no access to alternative views that are necessary in the discussion about politics and other important issues.

If we had non-profit public interest media the news would be much different compared to what we get from corporate-owned media. I’ll guess there would be, among many other things:
  • less support for international trade agreements, 
  • more exposure of poor commercial products, 
  • a strong push for the adoption of a $15 minimum wage, 
  • greater exposure of the unfairness in the tax system that allows the 1 per cent to become more wealthy every year, 
  • a push for stronger environmental laws,
  • defence of our non-profit health care system,
  • and much more.

With the kind of manipulation in mainstream media being an everyday occurrence, it is time we began tracking the quality of news being produced in the country. I would like to see the creation of a media evaluation project that would report annually on the performance of all Canadian news media.

This would be an excellent activity for a journalism school.

A media evaluation project could assess whether the journalism of media outlets is fair and balanced, and whether false news is being disseminated. It could address one of my long-time concerns – identifying stories coming out of Washington and appearing in Canadian media that falsely report on U.S. foreign activities, particularly military activities.

Newspapers could be extinct by 2025

I don’t think that Heritage Canada should fall for the publishers’ proposal to prop up their antiquated institutions. The industry is doomed.

Long-time media analyst Ken Goldstein predicts that, if current trends in the newspaper sector continue, it is likely that there will be few, if any, printed daily newspapers in Canada in 2025.

Goldstein, former Associate Deputy Minister of Communications for the Province of Manitoba, bases his dire prediction on the near total disappearance of highly profitable newspaper classified advertising and the decline of paid subscriptions.

Only 20 per cent of households subscribed to a daily paper in 2014, and he believes the percentage will continue to fall, decimating the industry.

.....and it gets worse.

So far two daily newspapers – the Guelph Mercury and the Nanaimo Daily News – have stopped publishing because they are not viable. However, the Guelph paper is on-line.

Because Canadians are not getting the news they need, I agree that Canadian Heritage must pump millions of dollars annually – not into the newspaper sector -- but into Internet-based media sites.

No support for daily newspapers

If some newspapers are still profitable, they should continue to publish. But they should not receive any government funding that aids their publishing activities. We owe them nothing.

On the other hand, if a publisher decides to close down a paper and have a news site on the Internet, they should be eligible for support. In Montreal the influential La Presse now publishes only on line through the week, but still has a weekend print publication. The on-line tablet edition is very successful.

Any government-funded support program should pay particular attention to assisting existing news sites that have had the courage to launch out on their own – sites such as iPolitics, National Observer, Ricochet, rabble.ca, and others.

Incidentally, some of the most creative journalism in the country comes from sites such as Jesse Brown’s Canadaland and Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner   And there are dozens of blogs that leave mainstream media in their dust.

Independent sites require funding to increase their journalistic capacity, stabilize their business model, buy technical equipment, and market their product.

On another level, the government should look to the future and reach out to communities across the country poorly served by Internet news sites. Small grants should be made available to help communities establish viable sites.

The local groups would be required to create a business plan, a news strategy, sell a certain number of subscriptions in advance, and perhaps obtain some funding from foundations or “sugar daddies.”


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Thanks Nick


  1. I agree. Print is dead. If they are on-line only, and not just repeating or linking to the hard work of others, they should be subsidized. It seems like it might be a difficult issue though - do we subsidize The Rebel? What are the criteria? Above my pay grade, I'm afraid. But an independent press doing the primary work of research and uncovering stories can not be allowed to disappear.

    1. Richard Michelson5 July 2017 at 14:43

      corporate owned media is NOT "the Press"

    2. I think rules could be put in place so we wouldn't have very many Rebels. You call mainstream papers independent, but they're not independent - as I explained in the piece. Their censorship is very destructive. They would be much less powerful on line as long as the government also helped support real independent sites. By the way, I think having indirect and fair support for media from government is less dangerous than what corporate media does to us.

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  2. Couldn't agree more with this post.

    As it happens, today I visited the National Post website looking to see how the conservative side of things viewed the Proud Boys incident in Halifax on July 1. Hadn't been there since the last federal election when Conrad Black, the unCanadian bloviated on the unsuitableness of that carpetbagger harper - the only time I've ever ever agreed with the man, the living, breathing relic of the idea that aristocrats because they're just so darn smart should rule over we mere serfs . Not only that, despite having thrown away his Canadian citizenship and having been accepted as some British baron, then having been incarcerated in the USA for criminal acts, harper saw fit to let this person resume living in Canada, where his past practice of lecturing the proles for even existing continues apace.

    What a rag the NP is! I'm seven decades on, yet the bile still rises in me when I see the fangs of rabid conservatism present in the articles. Blatchford being subsidized? Not on my tax dime, thanks all the same. The very same arguments we have been lectured on for well over a century, survival of the fittest in business, apparently does not apply to corporate-owned media, and a foreign-owned newspaper at that among them.

    Let these whiners suffer the fate of all losers and disappear, hoisted on their own petard. We need not socialize their nonsense - and for paid "journalists" ha ha, who spew venom at every pore in denigrating independent thought, well too darn bad. Should have thought about that years ago when the internet future was on the wall. Nobody wants to pay for corporate Canada toadying up to power by sunsidizing the National Post, so the whole thing should just get stuffed.

    It is worthwhile recalling that Pulitzer was the man who made journalism a "profession", so that hosts of new reporters could enjoy the sinecure of a job at a paper and pass on its corporate message to the great unwashed, rather than gambolling about having independent thoughts and little pay. There are few truly independent journalists, none of any note in Canada, simply because if they report what is not approved by big business, then they are shunned. The latest US example is Seymour Hersh, reduced to reporting the Syrian situation in an obscure German periodical.

    The oligarchs never rest. If they wish to propagate their rubbish to the rest of us, well, let them pay the cost themselves. Without the relatively neutral CBC, Canada would be the nastiest of places in my opinion. No wonder the right wing disparages them at every opportunity, since the corporation stands in the way of their hegemony in manipulating public opinion with their "facts".

    They say as one grows older the more conservative one becomes. Funnily enough, my experience has been just the opposite. Since retirement, I have become more and more aware of the lies I was fed in my corporate career, which at the time I had no time to investigate. And I am most unhappy at how I was basically fooled by the one-sided, chest-thumping, patriotic drool I was fed, whether conservative or liberal. No, it was just two sides of the same coin fed me by my self-appointed "betters".

    The sooner non-paying unprofitable "newspapers" croak, the better, so far as I'm concerned. Perhaps then, a model such as you propose could find enough merit to be publicly funded. However, the thought of legions of independent journos swarming the land would probably induce choleric heart attacks among our betters, so I highly doubt it will happen. There is too much for the rich to lose to be exposed to the true light of day.


    1. Interesting comments. Great to hear you are more radical now compared to when you were younger.

  3. Nick, I agree with your arguments for why mainstream print newspapers should not be subsidized by the public.
    But I have trouble seeing how a funding programs for news websites would work. You mention a few progressive sites. But there are many more right-wing websites which would also qualify for funding. Anyone can claim to be publishing "news."
    This would open up a huge can of worms, I think.
    I don't have the answer either, but I think this requires more thought.
    Ulli Diemer

    1. Ulli, yes, you're right. This is a concern.

    2. Many thanks for your informative blogs, Nick. Also, it's not clear to me why after having savaged the mainstream media, you are then willing to subsidize the same owners on the internet. Wouldn't it make sense to limit the subsidies to some type of non-profit community-controlled organizations for which criteria would have to be established?

    3. Well I sure would be in favour of that, but I'm afraid the government (which needs to have big media as its friend), is going to help the papers in some form. I expect an announcement in September. But at the same time we have to insist that they support truly independent media on line. In terms of corporate media's negative influence on is, they will be less powerful on line. The government must not fund the papers as they exist now.

  4. I didn't realize that opinion columnists qualified as journalists. Why? They don't report the news, they colour it or make it.

  5. As a former editor of several publications, one of those released from employment, I could not agree more.
    The industry as a whole is not responsive nor forward thinking. Good ideas are ignored, bad ones put forward (lets put our content online for free! Yay! Awesome, now you just gave people zero reason to buy your product) and my favourite - firing local journalists and replacing their work with wire content, thus robbing papers of their unique proposition.
    I had one IT guy demand we put all content online, stat. I asked the guy who would do it. "Reporters," he said. "No, who will do it after I layoff all the reporters?"
    "Why would you lay off reporters?"
    "Because our website currently sells enough advertising to pay the salary of my lowest-paid employee about 23 minutes per day. When you can monetize our web, get back to me."
    The print industry is dead. Data journalism is dead, or nearly so. Real news is ignored, and too many papers now fly with press-release journalism. Sorry, my view is pretty clear: cut the corporate welfare. Let 'em die. That, folks, is real free enterprise.

  6. We do need a new model and I agree w/ you Nick, but not mentioned is one burning question: Trust government-funded newspapers to provide objective information and news?Slippery slope. Like Jefferson said “newspapers without government”. Like Kilian said this past spring : The Globe and Mail really just wants to be a trade paper for business; so let business support it."

    1. Yes, if done the wrong way, it can be a problem. But a number of European countries put millions of dollars into media. I don't think there are many complaints. Of course European countries and more advanced and more sophisticated in understand that government money is public money and the public wants good -- not entirely corporate-driven -- media.

  7. I forecast that newspapers will continue. Publishers now offer many of them for free, funded by advertising, because that gives them complete editorial and financial control. Advertisers like them because they go to almost every household. Readers don't need phones, wifi, cable or anything to access them, thus no immediate and continuing cost (yes, I know, we pay through buying stuff from the advertisers). I'm not against Nick's idea, I just don't think it will happen.

    1. Well the way it is now, it's about economics and what investors and owners are prepared to put up with. If home paper sales continue to slide as they have for 30 years, advertisers will disappear, and there will be no money. You can't guarantee the continuation of newspapers just by wanting them to be there.

    2. True, home paper SALES slide, but deliveries don't. That's a financially feasible way for advertisers to shove their pitches in your face.

  8. if the choice is subsidies or death for the news, I choose subsidies!

    Newspapers are not like other businesses, and the arguments against corporate subsidies do not strictly apply. Bad as many are, democracy would be even worse without them. Sure they are mostly right wing, but mostly always were, because of who owned them and who paid for the ads.

    Bring back IF Stone. Bring back the underground newspapers.

    If all news moves fully online, they can track what you read. With print you can still buy a copy in a shop, pay with cash, and be anonymous. Paranoid? Who me?

    Media, both print and online, cover the spectrum, so government subsidies would have to go to both right and left. This does NOT mean government control.

  9. When granting public funds to media outlets be they in print or online there has to be a strict line drawing a line between publicly funded and adverting-funded media. To subsidize advertising-funded media is to subsidize their advertisers. I am trying to get a credible professional to confirm that data shows that, as a way to extract funds from the people for the purpose of funding production of media content, advertising is an inefficient way to extract funds. This is because less than half the funds extracted actually goes towards funding content production. Most of the funds go to profit for the advertisers. When funds are extracted from people, with a general progressive tax, 100% of the funds can go towards funding production of content.

  10. I for one would hate to see the demise of print journalism. The internet in general is largely for people with short attention spans who prefer to think in 140 characters, or look at baby pictures from their "friends", or surf porn. A printed newspaper encourages time and space to think and reflect, and intrusive advertisements are more easily ignored (turning the page for example) than the crap that bombards us every second on line. The problem with much of what is referred to as "journalism" is that it is in fact propaganda, be it print, television, radio or internet. The real issue is the widespread absence of critical thinking in society, and that can only be remedied through education.

  11. I agree with CorneredCat but I also work where the internet is poor or almost non-existent. It is bad enough that newspapers are few and those that are are decidedly right wing. I almost hope that the subsidy is accepted - wouldn't that give us a bit of fuel for Wente and Blatchford who would then have to give their salaries back or admit that they have dipped into socialism. Or is it only socialism if the subsidies are to the working poor?

    1. I am reminded that the feds subsidized Chrysler to the tune of $20 million or more. The plant still closed. You can bet that the executives didn't lose out even as the workers lost their jobs. Subsidizing capitalism has poor returns for the rest of us.

  12. If the mainstream media were willing to dialogue about the advantages of socialism and tell us the truth about what is happening around us (except the likes of Wente & Black, etc) then perhaps the people of Canada could subsidize them.
    To rail against unions & socialist practices & ideas but be willing to accept money to ensure their survival is simply hypocrisy. The 'crash' of 2008 is ample example of how fast corporations are willing to let the people's money support them when their capitalist ways fail them. I suppose Bombardier is another good example of a corporation who keeps going back to the trough to satisfy their indulgences. They're everywhere. Until then, no subsidies.

    Also, I agree that newspapers, hard copy, will be around a lot longer than 2025 but I expect they will be wagged by their advertisers, not their subscribers.

  13. This is a thoughtful and well-argued piece, in my view. I initially thought that the support might be a good idea, just to keep some form of news organizations alive, but have taken your point that, with few exceptions, they serve the vested interests. I agree that these sorts of resources should be dedicated to those groups and individuals that report on a wide spectrum of opinion. This might be a challenging task, most worthwhile things are. Well done, Nick!

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