Bring back government ads to support local news
Data from a recent poll appears to indicate that a majority of Canadians value community news and that they would like to see the government support the preservation of local media outlets.
With newspapers folding like, well, newspapers, it is a hot topic and while it would be self serving for us to call for some kind of government subsidy for community newspapers, the solution may be much simpler.
Governments could return to the practice of advertising in local newspapers to deliver their message and connect with communities. All levels of government have pretty much forsaken the community newspaper as a way of promoting programs, requesting feedback and communicating in general.
Many community newspapers are part of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association, which used to handle large ad campaigns that would run in a multitude of papers throughout an area. The ads not only benefited the local newspaper but also supported the association, which in turn would advocate for its publications. These ads have virtually stopped running in recent years.
If government would forget about creating a fancy subsidy and step up its advertising with true local community news outlets, be they online or print, it would go a long way to strengthen the operation. A big subsidy could end up mostly going to the shareholders of the big conglomerates, but actual advertising revenue gets into the hands of sales reps in the form of commission or going back into general revenues to be reinvested into the health of the product. It has been said that newspapers need to modernize and that there is no proposal to subsidize non-viable products. But who’s to say what is viable in different communities? That shouldn’t be a government decision, that should be a community decision. There are still many barriers to consuming online news, including access to computers and the internet, in addition to trustability. It is very difficult to know what is what out there.
According to a Nanos Poll prepared for the Globe and Mail in December and released in January, “When asked whether they supported additional government funding to keep news sources open, more than half of Canadians supported (22%) or somewhat supported (33%) the idea, while just over two in five oppose (26%) or somewhat oppose (15%) this. Four percent of Canadians are unsure. The number of people who support additional funding for local news sources was highest in Quebec where nearly two thirds (65%) supported or somewhat supported additional funding, and lowest in the prairies where just over one in three (37%) supported or somewhat supported additional funding to keep news sources open. The only age group to that did not have a majority that wanted to keep local stations (48%) open were those between the ages of 18 and 34.”