Centre d’études sur les médias, Université Laval
The Canadian government announced a major package of support for news organisations producing public interest journalism – one of the most extensive in the world. This amid widespread fears that local newspapers in particular are struggling to fulfil their democratic function.
The past decade has been especially hard for local newspapers in Canada. Hundreds of local news outlets – most of them community newspapers – have closed, though this has been somewhat offset by launches of new local operations. Research shows that depth of reporting about civic affairs declined sharply in small and mid-sized Canadian communities between 2008 and 2017, leaving citizens less informed about their democratic institutions.1
Advertising revenues in 2016/17 fell most sharply for newspapers (-20.4%) and magazines (-28%), -8% for media overall.2 Many media groups made significant layoffs, including the Postmedia group, owner of the largest newspaper chain in Canada; Vice Canada; Rogers; Huffington Post; Canadian Press; and Star Metro, a group of free dailies owned by Torstar and Metro International. The new ownership of Métro Montréal appears to be off to a rocky start, with a series of resignations, including several newsroom managers. Also in Montreal, Voir ended publication of its monthly print magazine, launched in 2016.
Rogers, once Canada’s biggest print magazine publisher, sold its remaining publications including Maclean’s (news) and Chatelaine (women, general interest), to St Joseph Communications. Torstar acquired iPolitics, a digital news source focusing on Canadian politics. New media initiatives include the Logic, a subscription-based digital news source focusing on the innovation economy, and QUB, an online French-language radio service from Québecor.
National newspapers the Globe and Mail and Le Devoir continue to focus on paid online content, especially subscriptions. The Toronto Star and the SaltWire Network, a chain of 35 newspapers in Atlantic Canada, launched metered paywalls for online content. Ownership of La Presse, now entirely digital and centred on its free tablet app, has been transferred to a non-profit structure.
In its 2019 budget, the Canadian federal government outlined criteria for qualifying journalism organisations that will benefit from non-profit status and refundable tax credits on labour costs. Canadians with digital subscriptions to qualifying Canadian news outlets will also be eligible for an annual tax credit until 2025. The government initiatives, which won’t come into effect until 2020, raised concerns in the journalism community about transparency, as well as comment about the types of media that would be excluded (i.e. broadcasters, specialised outlets, small local publications with a single journalist).
Agence France-Presse became the Canadian partner of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme, with a journalist dedicated to rating accuracy of news stories circulating on the social media platform. After ending its joint venture with Rogers, Vice Canada entered a broadcast agreement with Bell Media.
Several industry-based initiatives were launched to foster news literacy, digital citizenship, and ‘counter-disinformation’, with new projects focusing on local news (Facebook) and underserved communities (The Discourse/Public Policy Forum) and teens (CIVIX). Partisan news sites such as Rebel Media and National Observer still have limited reach in Canada.
Podcasts are as popular in English Canada as in the US, but much less among Francophones. One in three Canadians listen to podcasts and are highly engaged with this format, averaging five podcasts a week.3 Facebook, and increasingly Facebook Messenger, are used more as vehicles for news consumption by French-speaking Canadians than English speakers, who in turn are more keen on Twitter.
Attacks on media and journalists from right-wing politicians seem to mirror those of Donald Trump. They are coming from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who uses his ‘Ford Nation TV’ on YouTube to connect directly with voters, and from Maxime Bernier, a former Conservative minister who launched a new federal party with a populist platform.
Oil pipelines, immigration, and – especially in Quebec – religion continue to be polarising issues, and concern regarding disinformation is on the rise. However, trust in traditional and online media remains higher in Canada than in the US.
In early February, the Globe and Mail published allegations of political interference in criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin, an engineering firm. This led to the resignation of two cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and the Clerk of the Privy Council, the top federal civil servant. Although early polls suggest the scandal has been damaging to the governing Liberal party, it remains to be seen whether trust in media will be affected as a result of this heavily covered story.
Traditional media habits such as television and print have fallen significantly over the last five years while online and social media use has remained broadly flat. Smartphone user continues to grow, reaching over half of our national sample.
Trust in media declined in Canada this year, returning to 2017 levels. The shift is most perceptible among respondents under 35 and Francophones, who previously had higher trust in media than Anglophones.
- A. Lindgren et al., Local News Map, http://localnewsresearchproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/LocalNewsMapDataasofFebruary12019.pdf; Public Policy Forum (2018),Mind the Gaps, https://ppforum.ca/publications/mind-the-gaps/?sf_data=all&sf_paged=5 ↩
- Compiled by ThinkTV for 2016–17, based on data from Statistics Canada, Television Bureau, IAB Canada, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. ↩
- GlobalWebIndex Q3-Q4 2018; Edison Research, The Infinite Dial Canada 2018. ↩