Valley Journal Advertiser
Perilous state of local media — a wakeup call
The recent announcement by NordStar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, that it is seeking creditor protection for its Metroland Media Group division, which owns more than 70 local newspapers, is a grim reminder of the perilous state of local journalism in Canada.
The move will result in the loss of 605 jobs, or about 60 per cent of the division's total workforce, and the transition of these community newspapers to a digital-only format. This is not just a business story; it's a cautionary tale about the fragile state of local democracy.
Local media outlets serve as the lifeblood of their communities. They cover local government, schools, businesses, and other aspects of community life that often go unnoticed or underreported by larger, national media organizations. They hold local leaders accountable, provide a platform for community voices, and foster a sense of shared identity and purpose.
When local media is in decline, we lose more than just jobs and newspapers; we lose a vital pillar of democracy.
The decline of local media is often attributed to the rise of digital platforms. While it's true that consumer preferences have shifted towards digital content, the problem is exacerbated by the monopolistic practices of tech giants like Google and Meta, who have siphoned off the majority of advertising revenue that once sustained local journalism.
Even with legislation like Ottawa's Online News Act, which aims to force these digital giants to pay for content, the response has been less than encouraging. Both Meta and Google have started to block content from Canadian news publishers, further undermining the financial viability of local journalism.
The COVID pandemic has only accelerated the decline. With businesses closing or reducing operations, advertising revenue has plummeted. The Metroland Media Group cited “unsustainable financial losses” as a key reason for its restructuring, noting that the pandemic significantly accelerated the decline of print and flyer distribution.
The situation is dire, but it's not hopeless. To save local journalism, a multi-pronged approach is needed that involves all stakeholders — governments, corporations, and citizens.
Government support: Legislation like the Online News Act is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. Public advertising dollars shouldn't be spent with foreign monopolists but spent at home where local journalists live and pay taxes. Tax incentives, and other forms of financial support can help local media transition to sustainable business models.
Corporate responsibility: Companies that benefit from the local community should consider advertising in local media or sponsoring community journalism initiatives.
Citizen engagement: Readers can support local journalism by subscribing to local media outlets, engaging with their content, and understanding the value of local reporting.
Collaboration: Failed merger talks between NordStar and Postmedia indicate that even within the industry, collaboration is challenging. However, media organizations need to explore partnerships, shared resources, and other collaborative efforts to survive.
The creditor protection sought by Metroland Media Group is a wake-up call for all who care about the health of local democracy. The decline of local media is not just a business concern; it's a civic emergency that requires immediate, collective action. We cannot afford to lose our local media — the cost to democracy is too great.