It has been a sad week for Canadian journalism.
The bad news started quietly Sept. 12 with word the Glengarry News, a 131-year-old family-owned newspaper in Alexandria, Ont., north of Cornwall, was closing.
Then, three days later, Metroland, a sister company of the Toronto Star, said it was shutting all 71 of its weekly community print publications, including several across Niagara.
Consolidation in the print media isn’t new and Metroland’s crash was not totally unexpected but it was shocking that so many papers were simply shuttered and converted to online-only publications, with just a fraction of the journalists left behind to produce the work.
This not only costs people jobs and livelihoods, it leaves a gaping hole that likely will never be filled in many towns.
It’s easy to shrug “who cares?” and suggest it’s no big deal, but the reality is that people need and want to know about their communities, to connect with the people and organizations near where they live.
Without reliable, professional news media, many communities will be left with only online clickbait-driven social alternatives.
Even if some new wave or old-school publications successfully convert to being solely digital, without enough reporters to dig, interview, research and bring balance and perspective, you could find mostly a regurgitation of one-sided institutional news releases, with no critical assessment, turning web platforms into public relations tools for those in power.
In fact, if you look closely, that is already happening on many news sites.
If you accept the notion that news organizations are an important part of the checks and balances on society’s power structure, then many communities will not have that. Don’t let NOTL be among them.
Given the closings, it feels a bit odd to publish the humble brag story on this week’s front page, telling readers about the eight national journalism awards our wee paper just received from the Canadian Community Newspaper Association.
Notably, some of those awards involved keeping an eye on those in power in society. It’s an integral part of the job.
The good news in Canadian journalism is that in this corner of Niagara, two publications are writing about the community. While we touch on some of the same topics, there are distinct differences in the approach and the types of stories each covers.
In the industry, it’s referred to as hard news vs. soft news, and The Lake Report definitely takes a more hard news approach, along with a generous helping of softer, community and human interest stories.
Does Niagara-on-the-Lake need two weekly print publications? No, and yes. No, because, realistically, it is too small an advertising market to economically support two papers forever.
But yes, because having multiple voices and perspectives on issues in the community is healthy.
The Lake Report is healthy, growing and trying to do good, effective, compelling, relevant journalism. You, our readers, keep telling us how much you appreciate what we do. Many even back that up with personal donations to show their support.
But to succeed long-term means more growth is essential and inevitably that will lead to market consolidation – one paper. Plus some form of online publication.
It’s our belief that The Lake Report and our website niagaranow.com will survive and thrive. No disrespect to any other media organizations, but we feel the product we offer readers is what you want and need. It’s not perfect and we’re always trying to be better.
To do so is eventually going to require even more commitment from the community and readers.
Barring some new innovations, readers – here and elsewhere – will some day have to decide how important community news is to them.
And that will mean digging into your wallet to pay for it. Not a lot, maybe a few pennies a day to ensure there is someone here to keep an eye on the community’s interests and bring your stories to the world.
It’s a small investment that will pay huge dividends – and the community will be the ultimate beneficiary.