Home Blogs Paul Lansbergen Newspapers, the media and democracy

Newspapers, the media and democracy

Earlier this month Martin Fairbank wrote an interesting piece about the Tale of Two Cities and their Newspapers. Those are two examples of a much broader and systemic,... even seismic, shift taking place in our news and media sectors. I sometimes worry about all the jobs being threatened and the impact on our democracy.

The paper industry is obviously concerned about the use of paper. I am old enough to have engrained preferences for paper but like the broader use of paper, even my use is in decline and will likely continue to decline. Paper companies need to innovate and transform otherwise jobs will be lost.

On the broader issue of news, media and democracy there are some interesting studies and initiatives from which I would like to share some highlights and perspectives.

In January 2017, the Public Policy Forum issued a report, The Shattered Mirror, which addressed some fundamental questions about the future of news media and our democracy. One of the interesting takeaways for me is the "filter bubbles" that people have inadvertently created around themselves. Sure, this is not unlike news clipping services that have existed for decades. But relying on the filters as a sole source of news is short-sighted. I enjoy receiving news outside my primary interests. It broadens my knowledge and awareness. Please don't limit your entire news consumption to filtered outputs. Take the time to be more aware of the world around you. Another other takeaway from this report is an acknowledgement that individual self-publication and news aggregators are threatening professional journalism and the quality of information disseminated. That is not good for consumers and how we consequently participate in democracy.

In June 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued a report, Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada's Media Landscape, which builds on two earlier Parliamentary studies in 2003 and 2006. Some of the Public Policy Forum recommendations were echoed by the House Committee in its recommendations to the Government. An interesting factoid from the report, "According to a 2015 survey, 36.2% of Canadians got their local news from television, 23.3% from newspapers, 20.7% from radio and 18% from the Internet." The Pew Research Center survey in August 2017 indicates a much more stark situation among Americans. It found that the gap between TV news and online news consumption has shrunk from 19 points in 2016 to just 7 in 2017 (radio and newspapers were distant 3rd and 4th, respectively).

On October 16, 2017 the Government of Canada responded to the House Committee. The Government agreed with the Committee that a free and independent media is a pillar of a free and democratic society. The Government appears to be focusing on what role it can play to maintain a diversity of voices in Canadian media. This does not appear to include saving dying business models. The industry will have to adapt and evolve with technology and societal shifts.

I just hope, regardless of how news media evolve, we maintain robust civic-function journalism to support a healthy democracy.

Paul Lansbergen has over 20 years' experience in public policy, advocacy and association leadership.
For the last 15 years, Paul was an integral part of the senior management team at the Forest Products Association of Canada. He is recognized for his strategic and operational corporate knowledge, as a consensus builder, and as a progressive leader.
Paul is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and has two degrees in Economics. Paul is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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