Towards paperless media

By Angelo Persichilli                                                 The Hill Times

The deal between Torstar and Postmedia, on surface, looked like one of the most important business deal in Canadian history. In reality, it was a strategic retreat signing the death sentence of local papers and building barricades around their main publications. If they don’t change the approach towards the new reality, this is going to be one of the last few acts of an old show starring the fading and obsolete once almighty print media powerhouses.

After the Torstar-Postmedia announcement, I have heard, again, people decrying the “death of journalism”, or, more specifically, “local journalism”, the concentration of power, diminishing competition and the threat to the freedom of speech. Others denounced the destruction of the social fabric of our local communities and the first step to the loss of our Canadian identity.

Wow, let’s hit the pause button for a moment and take a deep breath; if we do, we will realize that the deal is only a further sign of the approaching end of the print media, both local and national. This is neither a local or Canadian national problem, this change is affecting giants like The New York Times or Time Inc.

The question is if we are able to cope with these changes. From what I see, the answer is not encouraging.

Let’s focus on Torstar-Postmedia announcement.

It is hardly a surprise. It is, or it should be, an evolution towards a paperless media. New generations don’t hold a print paper, any paper, in their hands for almost a decade.

Local papers lately became containers to deliver ad leaflets. With some exceptions, only a decreasing group of people looking for deals to buy cheap cooking oil, milk or, the most sophisticated, some soon to be discontinued discounted electronics are reading them. And even that business is facing out because commercial organizations are resorting to private distributors at a cheaper price.

Locally, journalism was never cared of, never mind promoted. Local talents were looked as the farm team for their main publications; they hardly sought out for hard core journalism to be investigate or report about local activities or development. And this not because of lack of talent. They were submerged with in-house production or press release editing from local politicians, MP or MPP giving away plaques or when reading a statement in the House.

Of course, all important community events, but don’t don’t call them journalism.

Owners never believed in local journalism.

I spoke in the past with journalists working in local news departments and their comments were the same: “We can’t do journalism because there are no resources, and when we have a scoop, we are asked to step aside and let the big boys to handle it.” Local papers were used to feed their main publications and let with the task to deliver advertising, some birthdays celebrations, replacing high school papers and reporting about small car crashes and break-inns through police press releases. Again, important duties, hardly journalism.

While we rightly knew everything about Rob Ford in Toronto, we knew little or nothing about how local municipalities were handling land developments, the future expansion of our satellite cities, caring about transportation or how the local administrations were shaping our social lives.

We left everything in the hands of politicians, developers and entrepreneurs, counting on their good faith, their competence and their honesty. The big absent were media with their necessary checks and balance.

Now that the plaques and awards given by some councilors to seniors group or the news of a cheap milk on sale are not enough to entice the new generations to read, for free, print papers, we complain that local news departments are closed, jobs lost, and we criticize governments because they don’t help.

Help to do what?! Asking taxpayers to pay money for papers that they don’t even read for free? Throwing taxpayers money into a black hole just to help print-media to survive for a few years more? Stop the new technology?

The government can and should give money to help for the transition, but media organizations must provide a plan about the transition, not because we should consider print media a protected race. Just closing down local papers to protect their main dying outlets doesn’t cut.

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