The State of Local Media and Journalism
The rise of digital platforms and tech giants like Google and Meta has had a profound impact on the local media landscape in Canada. These technology companies have revolutionized the way news is consumed, distributed, and monetized. While they offer new opportunities for media organizations, their dominance also poses challenges and raises concerns for the sustainability of local journalism.
Changing News Consumption Habits
The digital transformation of the media landscape—including the prevalence of Google and Meta—has led to changes in news consumption patterns, with more Canadians turning to online sources for news. This shift is impacting the viability of traditional local news outlets.
Established conventional news sources, such as newspapers and local television stations, have struggled to adapt to the evolving digital age. Each year, an increasing and substantial number of individuals turn their attention to online and digital sources to keep up with the times. As a result, local media’s audience and readership have declined.
While Google and Meta offer convenience and customization, they often result in users accessing news articles from various online sources without directly visiting the original new source’s websites. This decreases traffic for local media outlets and limits their ability to generate ad revenue through page views and impressions.
Canadian newspapers have experienced significant revenue loss due to declining readership, subscriptions, and advertising revenue. This has led to the closure of newspapers and the reduction of news coverage in many communities. Over the past 10 years, over 250 Canadian news media outlets have closed, with a majority of the closures being community newspapers. Only 93 new outlets have since opened to fill the gaps left by these closures. The closures were across different ownership entities, with Postmedia being responsible for the most shut downs.
Shifting Advertising Landscape
One major way in which Google and Meta have impacted local media in Canada is through the transformation of the advertising industry. Newspapers and local television stations heavily rely on advertising revenue to support their operations. With the rise of online advertising, these tech giants have become major players that account for the majority of ad spending in Canada.
According to former Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, 80% of all ad revenue in Canada, or almost C$10 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2022, went to Google and Facebook. Google, with its search engine and advertising platform, has become the go-to destination for businesses to reach their target audiences. Meta’s vast user base and ability to collect large amounts of personal data allow it to offer powerful advertising solutions. Canadian media companies have not been able to compete.
Challenges for Local Journalism
The dominance of Google and Meta also poses challenges for local journalism in Canada. Local media organizations play a crucial role in providing news and serving as a watchdog for their communities. However, the decline in revenue and resources makes it increasingly difficult for them to fulfill this role effectively.
Local Canadian journalism is essential for keeping communities informed, holding the powerful accountable, and strengthening local democracy. It provides fact-based and fact-checked information that Canadians value and trust. Journalists hold the powerful accountable and keep communities connected by reporting on local events and issues, ranging from city hall and the courts to high school sports and community milestones. Local journalism plays a crucial role in ensuring that residents have access to necessary information about news, issues, and events that affect their day-to-day lives, especially in underserved communities where access to journalism may be limited.
Despite the importance of local journalism, news coverage in Canada is declining, particularly at the local level, due to the changing media and advertising landscapes.
Another challenge for local journalism is a decline in trust in the news media. According to the Reuters Institute’s 2022 Digital News Report, trust in the Canadian news media has sunk to its lowest point since 2015. They report a decline in overall trust in news since 2018 from 58% to 42%, including a three-point fall in 2022 alone.
Potential Solutions and Collaboration
To address these challenges, local media organizations, tech giants, and policymakers must engage in collaborative efforts. Recognizing the importance of local journalism, Google and Meta have launched initiatives to support local news organizations, offering grants and partnerships to promote sustainability.
The Canadian government has taken steps to support it through measures such as the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) and The Online News Act, or Bill C-18.
Announced in October 2022, the LJI is a $50 million, five-year effort aimed to strengthen local and diverse journalism by providing funding to eligible Canadian media organizations to hire journalists or pay freelance writers.
Bill C-18, was enacted into law on June 22, 2023 requiring digital news intermediaries, such as search engines and social media sites, to reach fair commercial agreements with Canadian news organizations. Media outlets that can receive funds include any news publisher with an online presence in Canada. The tech companies must reach financial agreements with each individual outlet, or one single agreement in which multiple news outlets receive a percentage of promised funds. In response to the bill, Meta blocked access to news on Facebook and Instagram for Canadians. Both Meta and the Canadian government are refusing to compromise from their respective positions. Google, on the other hand, has agreed to pay Canadian news outlets C$100m annually.
And most importantly, local media outlets themselves need to adapt and explore innovative ways to engage audiences and generate revenue. This may involve embracing digital platforms, exploring new revenue streams, building strong relationships with their communities, and rebuilding trust with their readers.
The impact of Google and Meta on local media in Canada cannot be ignored. While there are challenges and concerns with the state of local media and news consumption, there are also opportunities for collaboration and innovation. Hopefully, by recognizing the importance of local journalism and working together, stakeholders can strengthen the sustainability and vitality of local media, ensuring that Canadians have access to diverse and reliable news sources that serve their communities.
AI tools were used to research this article.