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SHOULTS: Now, more than ever, newspapers matter

I’ve written a few times in this space about the state of the media industry in Canada, but this week I won’t be the only one doing so. That’s because this is National Newspaper Week.
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I’ve written a few times in this space about the state of the media industry in Canada, but this week I won’t be the only one doing so.

That’s because this is National Newspaper Week.

More than 1,000 community newspapers across the country are combining forces to celebrate the work we do, to thank our readers, our advertisers and our carriers — and to ask for your help.

In my 21 years in the business, I’ve had the privilege of working as a reporter, editor, publisher and administrator with community newspapers.

I have worked with the people who produce them in more than 40 communities across Western Canada, from Campbell River on Vancouver Island to Thompson, Man.

Some are tiny offices in small villages with only one or two people in them; some are sprawling newsrooms in metropolitan centres. But there’s one thing I see in every one of them — talented, dedicated people who are committed to connecting their communities.

It’s that community connection that makes it a pleasure and a privilege to be able to do what Robertson Davies (a journalist of many years standing before he became a great Canadian novelist) called “ordinary, necessary work” — and it’s wonderful to be celebrating 30 years of that community connection here at Kamloops This Week this past year.

But it’s getting harder to do that ordinary, necessary work as the media landscape changes.

It’s not a problem of having enough readers — if anything, we’ve got more than ever.

According to our national association, News Media Canada, eight out of 10 Canadians still read a newspaper every week. Among millennials, who are commonly thought to be less likely to read, the ratio of readership actually goes up to 85 per cent.

Rather, the problem is that local advertising dollars, which have long been the lifeblood that supports that local journalism, are going more and more to the digital space, where they are being sucked up by two massive foreign corporations: Facebook and Google.

Between them, they take 70 per cent of the online advertising revenue in Canada. Last I checked, they don’t employ any journalists in Kamloops — or anywhere else, for that matter.

As I said in a talk at TEDxTRU earlier this year, we live in an era in which there seems to be an infinite amount of news available and plenty of ads to pay for it all.

But because the business model is broken, all the money goes to the middlemen — the people who distribute, rather than create, content.

So, really, we stand at the brink of a famine in local news at what looks like a time of plenty.

We’ve seen the effects of that first-hand here in Kamloops with the loss of a daily newspaper and a dozen fine local journalists. A recent report studying news coverage in communities that have lost media outlets shows that local coverage of democratic institutions and civic affairs suffers. That’s a problem that has serious long-term consequences for the communities in which we live.

So, what’s the solution? A big part of it is acknowledging the problem. That’s part of what we’re doing here this week.

During National Newspaper Week, I’ve got a request for you.

Please go to our new website, newspapersmatter.ca, to sign a pledge of support and send a message — to Canadian businesses, to advertisers, to all levels of government, to newspaper journalists and to all Canadians — that newspapers matter, now more than ever.

At the same time, more than ever, thank you for your support.

Tim Shoults is operations manager for Aberdeen Publishing Inc. He can be reached by email at tshoults@aberdeenpublishing.com.