Journalism vets and student figure out what's becoming of journalism

From left, Anita Murray, Patrick Langston, Gabrielle Van Looyen, Russell Mills and Joe Banks

Veteran journalists in Ottawa Saturday looked for ways to fix the urgent ‘news desert’ where readers are stranded. Last fall Postmedia Network Canada Corp. and Torstar Corp. swapped 37 community newspapers and four free commuter papers – and then shut most of them. Low advertising income has killed others, and the government won’t help. They can’t go back to an old business model and the advertising industry has troubles, too. Absentee chain-store owners, not the shop keepers on Main Street now make the buying decisions.

Revenue, Content and Awareness
“Some start-ups succeed,” Algonquin College journalism professor Joe Banks told the panel of four and audience of 20 hosted by the Media Club. Assuming you have no external sources of revenue, here’s his formula for “How to Make a Print- & Online-Newspaper without Breaking the Bank‘:
1. A staff of you, at least to start, or volunteers
2. Understanding of your readership
3. No office overhead (just your cell phone, your home and your car)
4. Locally provided content, freelancers (paid for at fair market rate of 25 cents a word or more depending on experience), or contributors (members of charitable organizations)
5. Revenues strictly from subscriptions, local advertising, Google AdSense. Display advertising service requires sales staff, unless web-based
6. Design templates found for free online
7. Adobe Creative Suite (includes In Design, Photoshop) and a Content Management System as tools
Ryerson University in Toronto is mapping the ‘desert.’ Although Post and Torstar said they would close only those papers competing with existing papers, the wide area of West Carleton, for example, has none.

Veteran journalists discuss how to fix 'news deserts' in Canadian communities with no newspapers

From left, Miss Gower; panelists Glen Glower, Patrick Langston and Theresa Fritz

Panelist Glen Gower is owner/editor of (pop. 26,807), an independent news and information source that attracts 20,000 visitors monthly. Its mission is to focus on the people who care about the community. He started it as a blog running two or three articles a week Unlike a print newspaper, it never runs out of space. FaceBook posts his good visual material and content prominently. But he says, “You have to be in their face” around town so I put up posters, particularly in the ‘hub,’ a local coffee shop.” He put $1,000 into the site and buys sponsored keywords on Google to get advertising.

2018 Predictions: More Social Media, Audio & Uncertainty

“You can’t ignore FaceBook,” said panelist Anita Murray, a career journalist at the Ottawa Citizen for 25 years. She and Patrick Langston, a freelancer at the Citizen and for a number of magazines, invested $50,000 in building and designing an Online website, All Things Home, a process that took a year. “We post daily to our FB page and find their ads cheap ($10.)” But they also rent a booth at the Home Show and are trusted members of their community. “We wouldn’t get big construction company advertisements without a sophisticated website but we also get in the door to talk to builders and suppliers who know us and where we live,” panelist Langston said.

“If you’re too lazy to read the paper, we will read it for you” is the FB etc. promo for Carleton University’s one-hour radio show and pod casts that have started coming out at the same time as the campus newspaper The Charlatan. The show has hosts, a narrative, guests, music and background analysis, senior student and Media Club award winner Gabrielle Van Looyen told the group.

Banks said FB no longer runs news and social media can be dangerous. Journalists must be careful not to libel anyone; the insurance is expensive. In his village, a man posted an accusation about a neighbour with whom he’d been feuding. Banks told him to take it down but it was too late. People worried they were no longer safe. Banks looked up statistics proving Osgoode was the safest place anywhere and posted them with the message that there was no danger.

Tossed out of her position as managing editor of 11 Metroland community newspapers in Almonte, Arnprior, Vanier, etc., with a staff of 21, Theresa Fritz is surviving by freelancing but still is passionate about community newspapers. She thinks you can survive if you have a local connection with a local business (in contrast to distributing flyers.) She thinks a proposed venture for a chain of four papers to be brought out twice a month has dim prospects. “People have an expectation of what they’ll get. What is their long-term viability? How do you ask people to pay for something you’ve been giving away?”

New Models as the Way out of Media Mistrust. Who’s going to save society?

Why not have a community radio station? Create a community hub. Libraries are starting to lose their way but could play a new role. In Weare, New Hampshire, the people approached the librarian after its newspaper closed. Mike Sullivan responded to the people who came, all of them interested in the community. He became a podcaster so they could stay connected with it.

Whom can you trust?
Seventy-three per cent of Canadians trust their media, in contrast to only 47% of Americans. 78% of Flippinos and 77% of Cambodians are also very trusting of their newspapers. Align yourself with the community association. They have infrastructures you can build on.

What builds trust?

“At a community newspaper you get involved in a whole bunch of stuff, all the things that don’t involve you personally but are going on. If you are seen at them, it builds trust in people, said Fritz. They know where you live and will call you at home. You become their best friend and a hand to hold. You can go out, walk the streets and see pictures of people you know in the newspaper. If you see 200 people, they see you too. One man who went to the strawberry social and got his picture in the paper told me, “I mailed it home and now I feel like part of this

Lay-offs hurt journalism itself. The Ottawa Citizen used to employ 200 newsmen and is now down to 50. That’s that many fewer journalists out being seen with their families in the community.

Murray: Does the buzz you get from seeing someone you know’s picture in the paper build trust? Does it transfer to the Web?

What is the ideal sized community for a newspaper?
Banks: I suspect trust in the media is more rural than urban. Urban people have much more media to consume. Rural people go more for tradition and urbanites more for what’s new.

Student: I think you’re saying people have less trust in bigger media.

Banks: I think a population of 400 – 150,000 has the right mix for the distribution of the product.

Prospects for Unemployed Journalists

Banks: Young journalists are in huge demand from corporations to work as social media co-ordinators and analysts. They are offered twice as much as they would get as journalists.

Regrets (in Jest) but Resolve

Banks, looking at Russell Mills, his former boss and publisher of the Ottawa Citizen when the Internet was formed: “You should have grabbed the Internet. You could have but the journalists were too afraid of change to do it at the time. Then we would still be in control of the news. Right now we are losing young graduates to corporate non-journalist jobs and veteran journalists to abrupt unemployment.”

Murray: But don’t forget, websites will always need news-gatherers too.


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