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.

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