News media fund could be good for journalism, local news people say

Messy Office, Clear Mind: Brad Clark, associate professor and chair of journalism and broadcast media studies at Mount Royal University, in his office in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Clark believes the media grant will have a positive effect on community news. (Photo by Emilie Charette/The Press)

The announcement of almost $600 million in federal funding for news media is being met with caution and questions by some in the profession.

I think there are some potentially good aspects to it and some potentially really troublesome aspects,” said Darren Krause, editor and founder of Live Wire Calgary.

“The devil is in the details,” said Krause.

He expressed concerns that the proposed independent panel, which would be responsible for deciding which news organizations qualify for the funding, would be skewed in favour of bigger companies such as Postmedia, Glacier Media and the Toronto Star, while neglecting smaller start-ups.

“If it’s just limited to those bigger players, I think that’s a problem.”

One of the stated goals of the grant is to provide help to news organizations whose traditional business models have been disrupted by the rise of digital information transmission.

However, Krause questioned the wisdom of rewarding organizations that he says are following a “broken business model.”

“This does not give them any sort of incentive to fix that,” he said.

“That’s where this could be flawed, in rewarding those companies that have basically led the decline in the news media industry.”

Brad Clark, associate professor and chair of journalism and broadcast media studies at Mount Royal University (MRU), had a more optimistic outlook.

“It’s an interesting approach. I expect that a lot of people will take advantage of it,” he said.

“On the whole, it’s likely really positive for journalism, local journalism, particularly.”

Frank McTighe, publisher and editor of The Fort Macleod Gazette, was hopeful that the independent panel deciding on the money’s allocation would take into consideration how a small-town weekly newspaper functions and how it differs from large corporations.

“We’re a country weekly, so I do everything from reporting on all the stories, doing the majority of the writing that gets in our paper, and doing the layout and photography.

“We’re pretty hands-on here. My weeks can run 70 hours.”

If the money is allocated based on the number of journalists at a news organization, McTighe’s staff of three, with him as the sole reporter, might mean The Fort Macleod Gazette gets passed over.

“We’re smaller. We have to do more,” said McTighe.

“I believe that the work we do here is important to the community.”

Clark also said that some of the proposed changes are overdue, but that similar grant models, with tax breaks and the ability to accept donations, have been proven successful in the U.S.

However, he was unsure if “legacy media,” the big-city daily newspapers, would be able to use the funding effectively and increase their digital reach.

“My perspective on the way Postmedia has operated is that it has very much gutted its newsgathering operations. The newsrooms are shadows of their former selves at newspapers across the country.

“I don’t know if they’re in a position to come back from this.”

Clark also acknowledged organizations that have been more successful in finding their way in the digital realm, and wondered which direction the industry might have gone without government intervention.

“I would like the case to be made for society to be more willing to pay for journalism,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen more of that before this kind of measure.”

Clark expressed interest in seeing whether student newspapers, such as SAITSA’s Weal and The Reflector, which is published by the MRU students’ association, could be eligible to receive funding.

However, he was also concerned by the apparent lack of reaction from colleagues and journalists.

“It didn’t really appear on a lot of people’s radar,” he said.

“I find that very bizarre.”

Despite Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey praising the funding decision, Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of The Calgary Herald, declined to comment on it, saying that he had been out of the country and was not very informed about the grant.

Although Krause was unsure if Live Wire Calgary would be qualified to benefit from the program and expressed wariness about accepting “government handouts,” he said that if his organization does receive funding, the money would go directly to hiring new reporters and bringing in freelancers.

“Our specific commitment is to make sure that we produce quality local news content,” he said.

“The money would go directly to putting more resources on the ground to tell more stories about what’s going on in our city.

“That’s the essence of the type of impact this should have.”

I think there are some potentially good aspects to it, and some potentially really troublesome aspects. – Darren Krause

Clark, McTighe and Krause were hopeful about what this grant might mean for prospective journalists, with Krause saying that “we are in a golden age for journalism.”

“For journalism students who are really keen to practice journalism in its purest sense, I think this is really good news,” said Clark.

“News organizations will have more money for wages. Graduating journalism students will have an opportunity to do deeper work than we see today.”

About Emilie Charette 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Emilie Charette is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.