Canadian news industry at crisis point, suggests new report

Canadian news media has been suffering through years of cuts, cutbacks, closures, consolidations and buyouts — Could they all be adding up to a threat to our democracy, and an opening for the spread of fake news?
A report by Public Policy Forum suggests the Canadian news industry is at a crisis point due to the decline of traditional media, fragmentation of audiences and the rise of fake news. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

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Roughly one-third of journalism jobs have been lost over the past six years.

That's one of the more troubling findings of Edward Greenspon, whose thinktank — Public Policy Forum — just completed a study of Canada's declining media and the impact it's having on democracy.

"If you lost one-third of journalism jobs on a single day that would be very striking to you. But you have a little bit of the famous boiling frog syndrome here," Greenspon explains to The Current's Friday host Nora Young.

"If you turn up the heat very slowly, when does the crisis occur? We believe the crisis has occurred."

Greenspon points to several factors in the collapse of Canadian journalism. One of the largest is the collapse of traditional advertising and the Canadian media's inability to offset that with online advertising.

The report examined one quarter last year in which 82.4 per cent of all digital ads served in Canada were served by Google and Facebook. Canadian publishers and broadcasters only accounted for 11.5 per cent of digital ads.

He says that loss of revenues is having a profound impact on the quality of journalism in Canada.

"Democracy is not being well served as we're accustomed to. There is less information, there's less investigation there's less analysis, there's less accountability."

Greenspon says the problem is even more acute in small-town Canada, where local newspapers and broadcasters no longer have the staff or resources to cover what's happening in their communities.  

"City halls can't get covered, school boards get covered less, legislatures get covered less."

Greenspon is hopeful that the rise of fake news and its impact on the recent U.S. presidential election will be a wake up call for Canadians who don't realize how important a robust media is.

He warns that journalism is at a crucial turning point.  

"I think we've hit the point where damage is being done to the coverage of our democracy," Greenspon tells Young.  

"It may not be completely obvious to people until after we see the damage really wrought."

"I'd rather not wait until that point."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar.