Centre d’études sur les médias, Université Laval
As media companies continue to reduce staff, restructure news coverage, and explore new revenue sources, governments are reconsidering their role in supporting news production beyond public broadcasting, and to improve ‘discoverability’ of national content.
As advertising revenues continued to decline for legacy media, hundreds of layoffs were announced throughout the year. In October, the troubled Postmedia group disclosed its plan to reduce staff by 20% across its newspaper chain. Multimedia group Québecor closed its cable business news channel, Argent, and announced the restructuring of its digital operations, including layoffs at the French-language Canoe web portal. Bell Media, Torstar, The Globe and Mail, and even Huffington Post cut jobs as well.
Several weekly community newspapers either merged or closed. Transcontinental Media sold all of its 28 publications in Atlantic Canada to the owners of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, whose journalists have been locked out since January 2016. In April 2017, 93 Transcontinental newspapers in Quebec (91 local or regional weeklies, and the free daily Métro Montréal) and one in Ontario were put up for sale. Meanwhile, news magazines such as Maclean’s and Les Affaires reduced frequency of publication. Rogers sold several of its French-language magazines to Alexandre Taillefer, a Quebec businessman.
Vice Media’s success with millennial audiences has led to partnerships with Canadian media companies, most notably Rogers for the specialty TV service VICELAND, but also the aboriginal network APTN and the parliamentary channel CPAC.
Vancouver Island now has a new free daily newspaper, published by Black Press (which previously closed several newspapers on the island). The New York Times and BBC launched Canadian operations, while BuzzFeed closed its Ottawa bureau. The Toronto Star has found what appears to be a natural companion to the daily newspaper as a new revenue stream: coffee delivery. Readers can order a monthly dose of locally roasted fairtrade coffee as a supplement to their print subscription package. Torstar reported profits in the last two quarters of 2016, and smaller losses over the course of the year compared to 2015.
Meanwhile, the national public broadcaster (CBC) is focusing on new digital formats to reach a younger audience, and launched an opinion page on its website. The CBC came under pressure from private media companies to remove all advertisements from its websites. It says it is prepared to go ad-free, but only in exchange for a substantial increase in its public funding. According to an Ipsos study, the public broadcaster is the most influential Canadian media brand.1
Attitudes and reported consumption of news online appear relatively stable compared to our 2016 study. Use of ad-blockers appears to be growing slightly, as well as almost all offline news brands – both in English- and French-language media. Canadians report getting online news more from smartphones and a little less from a computer or tablet.
The Canadian and Quebec governments have undertaken significant reviews of their cultural and digital policies. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) and Canadian Media Fund seek to promote ‘discoverability’ of national content (news and entertainment) on digital platforms. Labour groups and a coalition of Quebec newspapers have lobbied for public funding to help commercial news media weather the digital transition, while a report commissioned by the federal government recommended a series of measures, including introducing a levy on digital advertising revenues from foreign-owned websites including Google and Facebook. This revenue could be used, it suggests, to support local, civic, and indigenous news reporting.2 But for the moment, there has not yet been any significant policy commitment to support news media, although new measures introduced by the CRTC allow existing funding to be shifted to local news, much of it from community channels run by commercial networks.
Revelations of electronic surveillance of journalists by police have recently come to light. They seem to have been especially widespread in Quebec, where a commission of inquiry was created to address the problem. Sponsored content and native advertising practices continue to raise concerns for journalistic independence and trust in several media companies, including the CBC. The satirical website ‘Journal de Mourréal’, a parody of the tabloid newspaper Journal de Montréal, was sued by Québecor and won a first round in court. It was later revealed that the site’s creators also produce an English-language fake news site, the World News Daily Report.
Canadians are concerned about unreliable information and fake news, especially since the US election campaign where such content was widely circulated. A recent study suggests that most of them believe that social media have a negative effect on the news. But their level of trust in the media remains relatively strong in comparison to other countries.
- http://www.broadcastermagazine.com/acquisition/ipsos-survey-says-cbc-1-media-brand-canada/1004122266 ↩
- Public Policy Forum (PPF), The Shattered Mirror: https://shatteredmirror.ca ↩