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This Is What's Wrong With Canadian Daily Newspapers

11/05/2015 03:12 EST | Updated 11/05/2016 05:12 EDT
Ursula Alter via Getty Images
A stack of newspapers

The Canadian daily newspaper industry is dying a slow death and it's all because of the Internet. At least that's the story the newspaper industry is telling itself.

I'm sure you've heard the sad refrain: "We can't compete with online outlets that simply recycle the news content we've spent so much time and money creating."

Granted, there is a bit of truth in the print media's whining. But it's only a bit of truth. After all, the New York Times recently announced its one-millionth digital customer and appears to have turned the corner of electronic profitability. Other venerable American and British dailies have also successfully adapted to the modern online news world.

So what is it about the Canadian newspaper industry that leaves it floundering in the red and apparently unable to find its way to profitability and relevance in the 21st century? I suggest it has a lot to do with a flawed business model and near-monopolistic ownership.

Not so long ago, there were a number of chains of Canadian daily newspapers which competed with one another in many metropolitan markets. That made for vibrant reporting and in-depth journalism the likes of which we haven't seen for years.

The beginning of the end occurred in late August of 1980 when the Thomson Corporation closed its Ottawa paper the Ottawa Journal at the same time that Southam Inc. closed its Winnipeg paper the Winnipeg Tribune thereby giving each of them a monopoly in one city with their remaining papers the Southam-owned Ottawa Citizen and the Thomson-owned Winnipeg Free Press.

The federal government launched a royal commission the following year which investigated the allegations of collusion between the two chains. The Kent Commission, as it was known, decried the continuing concentration of media ownership and the declining quality of journalism due to the over-emphasis on profitability and the bottom line. Sadly, little came of its recommendations except a belated acknowledgement years later by many that the Commission was right.

Since then, things have only gotten worse. Ownership is now concentrated in a few corporate hands and profitability has become just about the only priority of most major Canadian newspapers.

Sadder still is the fact that the current concentration of ownership has just about destroyed independent print journalism in this country. One has only to look at the editorial stances taken by the large Canadian daily newspapers in the recent federal election to see how out of touch those papers are.

Almost without exception, those newspapers endorsed the Conservatives. Notwithstanding numerous columns by their opinion writers criticizing Stephen Harper and his party, their editorial boards consistently sided with him presumably on orders from their corporate masters.

This corporate interference was most egregious in the case of The Globe and Mail. The paper's election endorsement editorial was an embarrassing contortion of Alice in Wonderland logic calling for the re-election of the Conservatives followed immediately by the resignation of Stephen Harper.

Now that Postmedia has swallowed up the Sun newspapers, almost every major Canadian daily newspaper has one owner, an owner that dictates a one-size-fits-all editorial stance. The identical electoral endorsement adopted by all those papers does nothing but reflect the corporate interests of the chain and must be an embarrassment to most of the editorial board members of each paper who watch as journalistic standards sink further into irrelevance.

It's sad to see this once reputable and influential sector give way to its corporate masters. With their ever-decreasing pages and decimated staffs, it's hard to take Canadian daily newspapers seriously any more. Where once their electoral endorsements had thought, weight and influence, now they are nothing but a joke. After all, how can we take them seriously when they all support a discredited government supported by little more than thirty per cent of the electorate?

It's probably pointless to rant and rave against the biases and failings of Canadian dailies. At this point, there's really no need since their clear failure to adapt to the digital age and still retain some semblance of pure journalism has made them a laughing stock. Sadly, however, with their inevitable demise, vibrant Canadian journalism will suffer and the ultimate joke will be on us.

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