Centre d’études sur les medias, Université Laval
In this highly concentrated bilingual media environment, publishers are under increasing financial pressure with the closure of dozens of newspapers and associated job cuts. Government initiatives to support local journalism and digital innovation may offer some relief but the media’s struggle to reinvent itself goes on.
In 2015, the Toronto Star, Canada’s biggest selling newspaper, launched a tablet-only app that was hailed as a revolution in news. This year the app, known as Star Touch, was axed with the loss of 30 jobs after a reported outlay of as much as US $30m. Neither readers nor advertisers had apparently shared the vision and it was replaced with a much simpler mobile and tablet app.
The Star’s parent company, Torstar, and the Postmedia chain, which owns the National Post – both groups own many regional and local papers — arranged to swap 41 titles. Soon after, 36 of them closed with the loss of almost 300 jobs. In March 2018, the Competition Bureau searched the Toronto offices of both companies, because of suspicion of possible anti-competitive conduct. The Chair of Torstar’s Board of Directors, John Honderich, said quality journalism was in crisis and that the company was ‘very, very close to the end’.
Private TV networks are also affected. Global TV, the second-most watched private TV station, cut 80 jobs, but is creating 50 new roles, mostly for local journalists in Ontario.
The Globe and Mail, the second biggest paper, launched a print redesign and an online metrics strategy to guide news selection for its print edition, but stopped delivery in four provinces on the Atlantic coast. Vice Canada and Rogers Media ended their local TV co-production; Viceland Canada went off the air.
Several new media initiatives were launched. These included the Conversation Canada, a branch of an Australian-based non-profit that sources content from the academic and research community, the West End Phoenix, a subscription-only print-only local publication in Toronto, and the Athletic/Athlétique Canada, offering in-depth sports coverage.
In French-speaking Quebec, home to 20% of the population, only two newspapers, Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec, continue to issue print editions seven days a week. These are tabloids owned by the family-run company Quebecor. La Presse stopped its last remaining print (Saturday) edition and became 100% digital. Le Soleil ended its Sunday print edition in March. Community newspaper publisher Transcontinental sold dozens of its local weeklies, and is also looking to sell the Montreal edition of Métro International.
The daily Moose Jaw Times-Herald closed after more than 125 years. Another Saskatchewan newspaper, the Prince Albert Daily Herald, was acquired by its staff.
The Rebel Media, a hard-hitting far-right-wing website, fired one of its contributors for her coverage of a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville. Several other contributors left the site in the wake of the controversy.
The public broadcaster CBC hired four anchors for its flagship news show, The National, to replace veteran Peter Mansbridge; Radio-Canada, the French-language public broadcaster, sold its landmark tower and will move to a new building in 2020.
Traditional broadcasters, especially privately owned networks, are the most used media brands among Canadians. MSN News and CNN are the most popular foreign brands, although French-language respondents are less likely to use the latter.
Canada’s new cultural policy for the digital age was outlined in September, including a review of the mandate of both the public broadcaster and broadcast and telecom regulator. The Liberal government named a new chair of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Ian Scott, a telecom executive and lobbyist; and a new president and CEO for the CBC, Catherine Tait, a television, film, and digital content executive.
The 2018 federal budget provided modest support (US $39m over five years) for local news in underserved communities, and an additional US $7.8m for minority-language community media. Publishers had requested US $275m a year. After years of resistance to a ‘Netflix tax’, the Canadian government’s position seemed to waver. Quebec has promised to apply sales tax to digital products and services. It has also earmarked US $52m over five years to support innovation in print media through an employment tax credit.
As Canada prepares to go to the polls in 2019, the Facebook Election Integrity Initiative was announced. The social media company will contribute to develop digital news literacy, offer online emergency support, and training sessions for political parties.
Desktop and laptop computer remain Canadian’s preferred device to access news. As in other countries where use of smartphones in general is much higher (and less expensive), most people seem to prefer to follow the news on a larger screen.
In English Canada, the most trusted brands are also the most popular. Only one right-wing media brand, The Rebel, appears at the bottom of the list. Among Francophones, the TVA network is in fourth place, although widely more popular as a news source, possibly because of its more populist and opinionated content. The Canadian Press news service is also highly rated, especially by French-speaking Canadians, for trustworthiness.