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Real news is in a state of crisis

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A federal report is raising alarm bells about the role of journalism in Canada and the future of our democracy in the 21st century. Creative Commons photo.

What’s a community without news?

That was the blunt and sobering question offered in an extensive report published last week about the role of journalism in Canada and the future of our democracy in the 21st century.

In an era of fake news and alternative facts, the 110-page report outlined in detail the challenges facing traditional media sources, such as newspapers and TV broadcasters, and offered some bold solutions for how independent, trustworthy news can survive in the digital age.

Commissioned by the federal government and released by the Public Policy Forum the report entitled The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age offered a stark outlook about the future of news and the impact on our democracy.

The most glaring conclusion offered by the report was that through the rise of digital news and social media, the traditional business model to support community journalism is failing as revenues flow to U.S-based tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, that have little interest in upholding journalistic responsibility.

The result is that we’re getting more clickbait, fake news and recycled stories rather than original journalism that informs us. The consequence is that real news is in crisis and without it our democracy itself is also at risk.

“The digital revolution has made for a more open and diverse news ecosystem–and a meaner and less trustworthy one,” the report stated. “Established news organizations have been left gasping, while native digital alternatives have failed to develop journalistic mass, especially in local news. The financial degradation has been insidiously incremental, but one whose accumulation and now acceleration has brought to the fore the issue of sustainability of newsgathering in our democracy.”

Backing up its claims, the report found community newspapers’ ad revenue has been dropping by about 10 per cent a year since 2012, falling to $881 million in 2015. A drop of $218 million since 2006.

The news is even worse for daily newspapers. In 2006 print advertising accounted for $2.75 billion in revenue, by 2015 that figure had dropped to $1.42 billion.

The drop in revenue can be blamed on a number of factors, including the proliferation of online classified ad sites, such as Kijiji, and the drop in circulation of physical newspapers.

The result is dozens of newspapers have already disappeared and those that are left have been slashing costs, most noticeably through staff level reductions. The Fitzhugh, which is currently restructuring, is not immune.

We are seeking to hire a full-time account manager to oversee the advertising side of the newspaper, while the publisher, who is a bona fide journalist with years of experience, will shift his focus to covering the news that matters to this community when our reporter moves on to a new opportunity later this month.

At a time when the truth matters more than ever, this report should be awake up call for all Canadians because as it rightfully states: “news is as vital to democracy as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public health.”

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