We also want to tell stories that count to us and our industry. Below is a selection of articles written Shirley Muir, our company president and former journalist.
Like you, I’ve been following the slow change in the once vibrant Selkirk Journal over the last couple of years as I spread it and the Selkirk Record out on my kitchen table and flip through them side-by-side over a cup of tea.
With every passing issue it was becoming more and more apparent that the Selkirk Journal’s owner Postmedia, a Canadian conglomerate that owns over 130 media brands across Canada and some of our nation’s biggest newspapers, had the mistaken idea that rural newspapers were cash cows.
Postmedia filled the Selkirk Journal with national ads – contracts it had secured because it could effortlessly promise their national advertisers that it could place ads in dozens and dozens of media platforms, all at once, for a deep discount.
Simultaneously Postmedia started to fire reporters, editors and photographers and slowly, ever so slowly, the content in it's Selkirk Journal was indistinguishable from the content in its papers in Stonewall or Winkler– as it filled the pages with poor syndicated columns and that had nothing to do with life in Selkirk. And forcing it’s skeleton staff to work even harder to keep up.
What Postmedia seemed to have forgotten is that functioning and healthy newspapers are a delicate balance between advertising and locally generated editorial. And in most communities local news rules.
So when it closed its Manitoba papers this week it actually let go of about 30 people – very few were still journalists. So this was not a bad week for journalism – as some would have you believe.
Actually, entire generations of journalists working in major newsrooms across Canada today who owe their careers to a start in weekly newspapers, that as recently as 10 years ago were hiring journalists and doing a good job. So what happened?
In the 1990s owners of TV stations thought it would be a grand idea to also own newspapers.
Newspaper owners thought it would be smart to own TV stations.
And in a short time Hollinger, Southam, Sun Media, Quebecor, TorStar, CanWest, BellMedia and others were buying and selling, slicing and dicing their media properties until media outlets in Canada today are owned by a very few media giants – Postmedia being one of them.
All of this was made possible by toothless federal government anti-competition and weak foreign ownership laws.
The 1990s media convergence was not only going to take advantage of technology convergence, but economic efficiency. The promise was that bigger was better, at least for the owners who were going to make more money. But ask Postmedia – which dances around bankruptcy every year – how national convergence worked out.
What some owners may not realize is that the news business is more of a social enterprise than a for-profit business. Owning and operating a newspaper to make high profits is like opening a day care, nursing home or a women’s shelter to cash in. It ain’t happening.
The smart newspaper owners are part social entrepreneurs. They recognize that good journalism – whether it’s about our town’s sports team or big-city corporate fraud – is about keeping us connected and accountable. When done right, good newspapers keep us on the right track.
Postmedia would have you believe that closing its Manitoba papers this week is Google’s fault or COVID-19’s fault, but really it’s a failure to understand that local content and good journalism continues to be the foundation of newspapers big and small. When you own a media outlet you’re not making widgets, you’re making a difference.
So journalism didn’t suffer a blow this week, rather a misplaced faith that bigger is better caught up with a media conglomerate.
Shirley Muir is a former print and broadcast journalist, current president of The PRHouse, a volunteer and proud champion of Selkirk and the district.