Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Staying informed in a small city that has no daily newspaper

On Jan. 29, 2016, the Guelph Mercury ceased publishing, ending a run of almost 150 years. The city of 132,000 it used to serve is now a case study into what happens when communities lose their newspapers, reports Simon Houpt.

From the Globe and Mail (“Guelph’s post-Mercury blues: How an Ontario city is coping without its local newspaper“):

The Mercury’s death was not the end of local news in Guelph. Over the past 18 months, outlets sniffing opportunity have opened new operations or expanded coverage: Metroland’s own Tribune, a twice-weekly tabloid published since 1986 and distributed free to most homes in the city, has bulked up its reporting ranks. (It also rechristened itself the Mercury Tribune and took possession of the Mercury’s website.) But in conversations with dozens of Guelphites over the past month, The Globe and Mail has found high anxiety at the overall drop in news, despair over a growing sense that city politics are becoming nastier and more polarized without the moderating influence of a daily, and a creeping dread that fact-free U.S.-style politics – enhanced by the canny use of social media by those in power – could be spreading north. …

Before we continue, an acknowledgment: Odds are you don’t think this is a big deal. In a survey conducted last month by Abacus Data Inc., 32 per cent of respondents said they already live in communities with no daily newspaper, 44 per cent have one daily and 24 per cent have more than one. But a whopping 86 per cent of respondents across the country said that if their local daily (or dailies) went out of business, they would still be able to get the news they feel they need. …

In the 2015 book Local Journalism: The Decline of Newspapers and the Rise of Digital Media, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the director of research at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, argued that local dailies serve the vital if little understood role of “keystone media.” Even in straitened circumstances, that is, they operate the largest newsrooms in their local markets, digging for and grinding out original stories that are then picked up by radio and TV stations and other media. Chris Clark, who retired as editor of the Guelph Tribune two years ago, said that he used to wake up to the local oldies radio station CJOY. “The only reason I listened to it was for the news,” he says with a chuckle, “because I wanted to know what was in the Mercury that day.”

Local media hold governments and leaders accountable, provide a forum for people to learn about and chew over issues and help them stay plugged in to the life of their communities.

They also serve as an early-warning system, unearthing problems brewing under the surface that might later sweep across the country. When Donald Trump squeaked out his win last November, U.S. media were ridiculed for having failed to grasp the disenchantment among certain voting blocs, especially in the Midwest. But with local media lacking resources to dig deeply into stories, national outlets may have been slower to pick up on the social and economic convulsions in the heartland. All politics may be local, but if the only place for local voices to be heard is at the ballot box, politicians – and national media – are going to find themselves surprised a lot more often.

Make sure you read the whole thing.


Sat, July 22 2017 » Main Page, Media