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How regulations and shrinking newsrooms are impacting local journalism

|January 25, 2024
How regulations and shrinking newsrooms are impacting local journalism

The rise of social media in the early to mid 2000s transformed Canadian newsrooms. Most have been forced to navigate significant reductions in size and resources as advertising dollars have drifted away from traditional media towards online tactics, such as native ads, and social media platforms. Virtually all media groups and outlets have had to make difficult decisions, resulting in waves of layoffs and unprecedented buyouts and acquisitions. Seasoned reporters and fresh talent alike have felt the sting of an industry in financial distress, as shrinking newsrooms struggle to maintain the breadth and depth of their coverage. This leaner landscape has not only affected the quantity of journalism but also the quality, as remaining journalists often find themselves stretched thin, covering multiple beats and stories.

For communication professionals, this makes it increasingly difficult to recommend earned media campaigns as the most effective route to share our client’s stories, inform key audiences, and work to build public awareness and trust. As we discuss the factors contributing to the state of Canadian media as it is today, we must also consider our role as media relations experts in supporting our local media and producing impactful results for our clients.

Funding cuts and a legislative evolution

Unfortunately, 2023 saw the closure of many community papers across Canada. These outlets often reflect the unique identity and character of the communities they serve. As they continue to diminish from lack of resources and funding, we lose important voices across the country. Beyond the impact to the communities, these closures also greatly affect our work as media relations advisors. As more outlets close-up shop and other newsrooms continue to shrink, opportunities to secure meaningful local coverage can dwindle.

More recently, the Canadian government stepped in with legislative measures aimed at supporting the media industry as it faces these challenges. Most notably, in December 2023, Bill C-18 (Online News Act) was enacted by the Canadian government to compel tech giants like Google and Meta to negotiate fair compensation with news outlets for the Canadian content that is shared on or accessed through their platforms. However, it’s possible that the bill may lead to increased government involvement in the news media sector, potentially influencing editorial independence and press freedom and that such a framework could lead to content being valued more for its revenue potential than for its public interest.

As this situation evolves, it will be increasingly important to understand how these legislative changes impact Canadian media in the long-term and how we, as advisors, can continue to secure coverage for our clients.

Finding balance between paid and earned media

Canada has a distinctive approach to regulating its news media, shaped by the need to protect its cultural identity, promote diversity, and support the industry’s sustainability. While the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) does not regulate newspapers and most online news media, proposed legislation like Bill C-10 (which aims to update the Broadcasting Act) and the Online News Act indicate potential for greater regulatory involvement in digital media, which could include aspects of online news content. Although the intent of the legislation is to support a struggling industry, the nuances of its implementation and the responses from both media entities and tech companies will significantly influence the future of Canadian journalism.

As these major shifts continue to impact Canadian journalism, we’ve seen the introduction and increased prominence of sponsored content and paid placements. This, too, has created debate. There is concern with how sponsored content is often displayed, creating potential confusion to readers on whether the coverage is objective “news.” However, this type of partnership provides excellent storytelling opportunities and a valuable revenue stream for media organizations, especially local journalism outlets that have been hit hard by the decline in advertising revenues and lack of government funding. By advising our clients to consider sponsored content to reach important audiences, not only can we ensure local coverage and clear messaging, but we also position our clients to support local media in funding their operations that might not otherwise be financially viable.

As such, we must continue to monitor the evolving Canadian media landscape. The outcomes of Bill C-18 have yet to be seen as tech giants continue to look for an amicable resolution with the Federal Government. Communications professionals, too, have a pivotal role to play. We can support our journalism colleagues in surviving newsrooms by bringing them timely, quality content to work with in an efficient manner and do everything we can to make their jobs as easy as possible. We can also provide clients with strategic guidance to leverage sponsored content opportunities and implement robust digital strategies to ensure important messages are effectively communicated and that their stories reach the relevant audiences. We must work together to ensure that, as the media landscape in Canada continues to evolve and shift, we are able to identify ways we can support our Canadian newsrooms and our clients’ best interests.

——— Leah Thomson is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations