When the Moose Jaw Times-Herald prints its final issue next month, people in the Saskatchewan city will be losing more than their city's paper — they'll be losing a crucial democratic service, says Steve Nixon.
"Having people focus on a particular community and watching the store, so to speak, keeping an eye on the elected officials, things like that — I always think it's quite dangerous when you lose that capacity," said Nixon, who is the executive director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspaper Association.
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Star News Publishing Inc., the company that owns the city's only daily newspaper, announced earlier this week that after more than a century of publishing, the Moose Jaw Times-Herald will print its last issue on Dec. 7.
Of the many weekly papers affiliated with the SWNA, Nixon says some are doing better than others but many are facing pressure from the drying up of main streets in smaller communities.
Though the world of print media has taken a beating, Nixon feels the printed daily itself is far less important than what's on its pages.
"What's important is the journalism," said Nixon. "The medium it's printed on, or displayed on, is secondary."
Nixon said that a big concern for him is that many people in smaller communities can't access the news reliably online and will not be able to get their local news any other way.
"It could be where they're living, it could be age based, and I think that's a problem," said Nixon. "It's always sad when a community loses its voice."
He pointed to the provincial government making announcements on social media — Premier Brad Wall's retirement announcement, for example, which was made on Facebook — and said that denies people who rely on non-digital media access to the news.
He worries about the effect the growing trend of politicians using social media to make announcements could have on citizens in the province.
Nixon says that approach can be seen as an attempt to be fiscally responsible — something he agrees with. What he does not agree with is "sacrificing information to the general public," he said.
The future of print journalism
University of Regina school of journalism professor Mitch Diamantopoulos feels that people have taken journalism for granted for some time, and hopes that the shuttering of another paper will make people reassess their views on journalism.
"We've heard this incessant parade of announcements of cuts. The industry has been dying a death of a thousand cuts and we've become numb, the public has become numb," said Diamantopoulos.
He said that the decline of journalism is a public issue and should be treated as such, going so far as to say that news media should be treated as a public utility. Reporting on civic, provincial and federal politics is a crucial element of a local paper, he said.
"It's become cliché to talk about how the business model of journalism is broken, but the policy model is also broken. So we need to find new ways to reinvest in quality journalism," he said.
Diamantopoulos pointed to models in other parts of the world, such as press subsidies in Scandinavian countries that assist publications. But within Canada he points to the origins of the CBC and the National Film Board, which came out of the Great Depression.
"There is a history in this country of communities pulling together to help improve our cultural sovereignty, to improve our democracy to build a better country," he said.
"Perhaps we need to change our gaze from radio and film, a half-century later, to looking at how that would work in this period of transition."
Diamantopoulos also stated that the loss of newspapers could affect the democratic ability of the city and its citizens, adding the presence of journalism in any community is to check on leaders and serve as a way to prevent important decisions being made behind closed doors.
"When you don't have journalists on the scene to hold the powerful to account, it's kind of giving a gift to the corrupt and the deceitful."