Sunday, June 10, 2012 | Categories: Young Journalists Blog
Gordie Wornoff on who's not hurting in the digital vs. print news battle:
There are 1,100 community newspapers in Canada, publishing in print and online, and in the fight against free digital news content, they are boxing well above their weight says Paul MacNeill, former president of the Canadian Community Newspaper Association.
"Newspapers are strong in Canada," says MacNeill, who publishes of The Eastern Graphic out of Prince Edward Island. "Readership is higher than ever."
MacNeill says that if the content is local, unique and relevant to the community, the readers will pay for it - whether it's on paper or online.
Tyler Waugh, Editor and founding member of The Hinton Voice near Jasper National Park agrees.
"Our biggest factor in how successful we'll be is how relevant we are to the community," Waugh says.
Many Canadians will rarely pick up a newspaper, now favouring tablets and other mobile devices. Some of the larger media outlets offer major headlines and stories for free online, but for full access, one must pass through a paywall. It's a trend that is growing.
Neil Bryan, a contractor from Prawda, Manitoba says he doesn't need to pay for news whether it's online or hard copy. His rural municipal council's website posts news and council minutes online. He receives his free weekly print paper on his doorstep and relies on Facebook for most news.
"In terms of the content, in terms of what filter I end up using to receive information, get opinion and educate myself about the world...honestly it's Facebook," says Bryan.
Bryan likes Facebook because his circle of friends and family are connoisseurs of premium news. They share links and analysis from international sources like The Guardian, Al Jazeera, and The New York Post.
"What you get in a mainstream newspaper...is yesterday's news," Bryan says.
With spotty Internet and even telephone connections in Southeastern Manitoba, Bryan can't always rely on the Internet for news. Having just kicked a frustrating dial-up connection a year ago, Bryan experienced what 16 per cent of rural Canadians must deal with when they go online - dial up.
Most websites are designed with high-speed users in mind. This exacerbates the slow, inch-by-inch process of visiting websites with a dial-up connection.
Since Bryan depends on the Internet for his news and information, he sees quality Internet access as a critical service. "There has to be a focus on making it available to everyone," he says.
George Affleck, the General Manager of the Community Newspapers Association of B.C. and Yukon says hardcopy community newspapers in Canada are popular in their communities for good reason.
"In a lot of cases they distribute them (community newspapers) for free to your doorstep, so it's almost impossible to avoid your community paper. There are very few websites that are impossible to avoid," Affleck says.
"People still want to see their kid's head in the paper, they still want to see community sports, read their obituaries in community paper," Affleck says. "There are still very specific things people look for in community papers - good local news."
Both local and national advertisers are eager to purchase ad space in community newspapers because of the solid readership levels. "If you focus on your content, the advertisers come," he says.
Affleck points out that more community newspapers are popping up over the past several years, and some owe their success to an online presence. He says mobile technology and community news "are really beginning to complement each other now," adding that community news websites can be updated daily rather than weekly due to the simplicity of digital photo and video technology.
"It's a very nimble industry," Affleck says. "With so many changes over the past 15 years, the fact that we haven't lost our readership in community papers is a testament to the nimbleness and the willingness to keep up with technology."
Affleck says the larger dailies suffer more from the free online content on the Internet. "One thing community newspapers didn't do was reduce their editorial staff," he says.
Ray Banach from North Bay, Ontario says he resents online news and regards it as a cheap imitation of the physical newspaper. For 15 years he has subscribed to large daily paper and has a weekend subscription for his local paper.
Banach says reading news from a computer screen is detestable. "News isn't just the headlines ticking by - it's the small opinions, the editorials, the context and the placement of the stories on the pages."
He mentions the Keystone XL pipeline as an example. "There was a six-page spread in The Star, how could you get all that on a tablet?"
Al Center from Sudbury, Ontario agrees. He is a long-time subscriber to his local paper and considers a newspaper subscription a "civic responsibility."
He remembers his first paper route in 1958 where he "got up all the loose dogs and delivered the paper with a dog team."
His main beef with the move to online news is the newspaper's eagerness to send readers to their website. "They'll write up a little bit and then they'll refer you back to their website to get the complete story...I'm pretty upset about this because I'm paying the freight, I'm paying for the newspaper, why should you refer me back?""
Center believes in paying for thoughtful, local news and is baffled by the most common online business model. "Why give it away for nothing?" He wonders.
Gordie Wornoff, 31, (BJ,'05, Carleton) is thrilled to be a production assistant on CBC's Cross Country Checkup. He is a writer and woodworker living in Toronto. He specializes in reclaimed materials and artistic furniture designs. His carpentry work can be seen on Discovery Channel's "Junk Raiders," now in its third season.