New Canadian Media

By: Beatrice Britneff in Ottawa, ON

Canada’s oldest media union is renewing calls on the federal government to intervene and help the country’s struggling news media outlets, after Postmedia Network Inc. and Torstar Corp. announced today they will collectively shutter more than 30 community and daily newspapers and eliminate 291 jobs.

In response to the closures – which came about through a publication swap between the two companies – CWA Canada is urging the Liberal government to inject more money into local news coverage; to “beef up” the federal Competition Act “to prevent concentration of ownership” in the news industry; and to allow non-profit news organizations to qualify as charities so they can be supported by philanthropic funding.

In a statement, the union – which represents approximately 6,000 media workers cross Canada – called the Postmedia-Torstar deal a “deathblow to local newspaper coverage.”

“It’s a dark day for local journalism and for local democracy,” Martin O’Hanlon, president of CWA Canada, wrote in a statement. “This means fewer journalists reporting on the stories that matter to communities – and leaves almost no one to hold local politicians and powerful interests to account in many places.”

Last year, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly conducted consultations on how to revamp Canada’s cultural policies and strategies. During that time, many groups suggested a variety of lifelines the government could throw to ailing media outlets – particularly newspapers, which are struggling with steep declines in print circulation and advertising revenues.

In a major speech in September outlining Canada’s revamped cultural strategies, Joly said the government does not intend to to provide that level of assistance to the news industry. Joly said the government will not “bail out industry models that are no longer viable” but will instead support “innovation, experimentation and transition to digital.”

The minister said Monday afternoon she is “sorry” to hear about the Postmedia and Torstar closures and that the government “values the importance of journalism.” When asked whether the Postmedia-Torstar deal has caused her to rethink her largely hands-off approach to the news industry’s fate, Joly reiterated that the government is “looking to support local media while they transition to the internet.”

But Pierre Nantel, the NDP’s culture and heritage critic, argued the government is not doing that.

“It’s absolutely terrible… (Minister Joly) has been asked by so many stakeholders, so many interveners… she didn’t pay attention at all, and this is what you get,” Nantel said. “You get job losses and you get a voice diversity situation that’s going to be lacking.”

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, who serves as the Tories’ Canadian heritage critic, called the Postmedia-Torstar deal “disappointing” but contrary to Nantel, argued that the government has no place in giving newspapers a leg up. He said he also does not support philanthropic financing of journalism because he believes “journalism has to be truly independent.”

The closures announced today – many of which are effective immediately – will largely affect communities in eastern and southern Ontario.

Through the deal, Postmedia acquired 22 local newspapers and two Metro dailies from two Torstar subsidiaries. Postmedia said in a press release it plans to close all of those publications, except the Exeter Times-Advocate and the Exeter Weekender, by mid-January. The local papers that Postmedia will fold include Metro Ottawa, Metro Winnipeg, Belleville News, Kingston Heritage, St. Mary’s Journal-Argus as well as a number of Ottawa-area publications.

Meanwhile, Torstar acquired a total of 17 publications from Postmedia: seven daily Ontario newspapers, eight community newspapers and free dailies 24Hours Toronto and 24Hours Vancouver. The two dailies and the eight community papers are being shut down immediately, as well as three of the daily newspapers – the Barrie Examiner, Orillia Packet & Times andNorthumberland Today.

Torstar will continue to operate and publish the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and Peterborough Examiner.

Four free dailies and 32 daily and community papers are being shuttered in total. The Postmedia closures will result in 244 layoffs, while Torstar’s will eliminate 47 full-time and part-time employees.

Postmedia and Torstar both claim the papers they are folding are located in communities that are served by other publications.

“We were not creating any news deserts,” Bob Hepburn, the Toronto Star’s director of community relations and communications, said of Torstar’s 13 closures. “(The communities affected) will continue to be served by Metroland publications.”

In a company statement, Torstar’s President and CEO John Boynton said the deal will allow the company to “operate more efficiently through increased geographic synergies in a number of our primary regions.”

Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey acknowledged in his company’s press release that closures involve letting go of “many dedicated newspaper people.”

“However, the continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models,” Godfrey wrote.

Postmedia and Torstar said their deal is “effectively a non-cash transaction” as the publications exchanged have “approximately similar fair values.” Their statements also noted the exchange is “not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act” and no regulatory clearance from the Competition Bureau was required.

In an email to iPolitics Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau said the Bureau is aware of the Postmedia-Torstar transaction and will be “undertaking a review” of the deal.

“While I cannot speak to the specifics of a Bureau review for reasons of confidentiality, under the Competition Act transactions of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in any market in Canada,” Jayme Albert, senior communications advisor, wrote in an email – adding that the commissioner has up to one year after a transaction has taken place to challenge it in the Competition Tribunal.

Here is a list of the publications Postmedia acquired from Torstar and has decided to close:

  • Belleville News
  • Brant News
  • Central Hastings News
  • Frontenac Gazette
  • Kanata Kourier-Standard
  • Kingston Heritage
  • Meaford Express
  • Metro Ottawa
  • Metro Winnipeg
  • Nepean/Barrhaven News
  • Norfolk News
  • Orleans News
  • Ottawa East News
  • Ottawa South News
  • Ottawa West News
  • Our London
  • Quinte West News
  • St. Lawrence News
  • St. Mary’s Journal-Argus (and the St. Mary’s Weekender)
  • St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News
  • Stittsville News
  • Stratford City Gazette
  • West Carleton Review

Here is a list of the publications Torstar acquired from Postmedia and has decided to close:

  • 24 Hours Toronto
  • 24 Hours Vancouver
  • Barrie Examiner
  • Bradford Times
  • Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin
  • Fort Erie Times
  • Innisfil Examiner
  • Inport News (Port Colborne)
  • Niagara Advance
  • Northumberland Today
  • Orillia Packet & Times
  • Pelham News
  • Thorold Niagara News

Republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 21 November 2014 14:14

NCM NewsFeed: Weekly Newsletter Nov. 21

In this edition: Citizenship conference in Ottawa + violence against women in the spotlight + visible minorities on corporate boards + why we concentrate so much on local news? + much more


NCM NewsFeed


Here and Now

Headlining our coverage this week was a report by Themrise Khan on critical questions relating to citizenship that set the agenda for a conference organized by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in Ottawa last week.
And, from our friends at the Asian Pacific Post, a former high commissioner to India, Stewart Beck penned a timely piece on his impressions following a recent visit to New Delhi. "Opportunities abound in India and even more so now that there is a newfound optimism and energy," he writes, adding that Canada should pursue openings more aggressively given our headstart with the new government of PM Narendra Modi.
Late in the week came disappointing news that the number of visible minorities represented on corporate boards is falling. While visible minorities make up 19.1% of Canada's population, a study by the Canadian Board Diversity Council reveals that only 2% of board seats are held by visible minorities, a decline from 5.3 per cent in 2010.
In other headlines: 


Violence against Women In the Spotlight

Revelations that former CBC Q host Jian Ghomeshi  allegedly sexually assaulted numerous women came as a shock to many  Canadians, including members of Canada’s Iranian community.

As noted in a Toronto Star piece earlier this month, many Iranian Canadians expressed disappointment that someone who had achieved such public success, could be involved in violence against women.

“He was an icon for so many of us in the Iranian community, particularly those of us who have any interest in media,” said Sima Sahar Zerehi, a journalist, teacher and human rights activist, in the Star piece.

“In a landscape littered with images of Iranian men as being sexist, misogynists, wife beaters, religious fundamentalist goons that throw acid at women’s faces and oppress them with a veil and want to deny them education and legal rights, he was a symbol of a different version of what it meant to be an Iranian man,” Zerehi said.

However, in that same article, Shahrzad Mojab, a professor in women and gender studies at the University of Toronto points out that “his heritage doesn’t mean he is the face of the community.” She says she felt let down more because of the violence against women.

“I don’t have that nationalist sense of belonging. I feel more Canadian when I stand by aboriginal women on issues of violence or racism.”

Government’s New Bill Purportedly Aimed at Protecting Women

The Conservative government introduced a new bill this month that caused ripples in various immigrant communities. The “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” was both hailed and criticized for its stated purpose of ending polygamy and forced marriages in Canada.  Proponents argue that this bill is required to prevent such practices. Critics say that these issues are already criminalized and this type of bill is only meant to target and stereotype vulnerable individuals.  Many also argue that violence against women is not the sole purview of any one community.

“So, while I agree that all those practices that the bill aims to restrict are undesirable and should be eradicated, calling them Barbaric Acts is to elevate us to the status of the civilized preaching to the uncivilized. And it's simply untrue,” wrote Toula Drimonis, a freelance writer and editor in a piece for the Huffington Post. Drimonis goes on to quote general and alarming statistics around violence against women in Canada.

Drimonis was joined by Aruna Papp, a human rights advocate, and Farrah Khan, a counselor at Outburst!, on Al Jazeera’s social media show, The Stream.   Papp was later invited on CBC’s the Current, to debate the issue with Deepa Mattoo, Staff Lawyer and Acting Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario. The clinic’s statistics on the issue of forced marriages in Canada were quoted by Minister Chris Alexander in presenting the bill; however, in the interview, Mattoo maintained the data was used in a “botched up way”.

How to Stop Violence Against Women?

Researchers for the Lancet, a prestigious London-based medical journal, have just published a summary of various global efforts to stem and prevent violence against women and girls.

Among the programs highlighted, grassroots interventions in countries like India which have received national and international condemnation regarding several high-profile and deeply disturbing assaults on women and girls. The program there is called Yaari Dosti, and researchers note that it is modelled on a similar program in Brazil. Scientists say the intervention program has been proven to reduce male-perpetrated violence against women and girls by conducting group training and social communication sessions.

The Lancet report highlights programs in various regions. The success stories may prove useful for those dedicated to this important societal issue which ripples across racial, cultural, and socio-economic lines.

Harmony Jazz

The annual pre-Christmas celebrations in Holland, accompanied by the protests against the portrayal of Black Pete given the stereotyping and racism involved in Black Pete centre of Dutch controversy at Saint Nick celebrations – World – CBC News. And a reminder that Racism still an uncomfortable truth in Canada and from the U.S., When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4, discussing the ongoing impact of previous advantage. 
In the aftermath of the killings of two Canadian soldiers, the Government is rethinking counter-terrorism plan, with a particular focus on prevention. 
Good and bad news on the refugee front. The Minister knew Canada wouldn’t meet Syrian refugee commitment, misleading the public, but More refugee claimants get 2nd chance with new appeal process, demonstrating that court proceedings don't necessarily lead to improved outcomes for refugees. 
Ongoing controversy over the fate of the memorial to Jewish refugees refused entry to Canada in Holocaust survivors: ‘Shameful’ that Pier 21 not displaying memorial to victims of ‘voyage of the damned’ and commentary by Bernie Farber and Andrew Griffith on why Holocaust memorial should be returned to its rightful home.
Lastly, Aruna Papp: A welcome new law to help prevent forced marriages outlines why she supports the Government's bill against forced and under-aged marriages and the need for education and training for police and others. 

Back Pocket

It was heartening to read a piece titled, "Why we concentrate so much on local news," in the Jewish Post and News from Winnipeg, because it seemed to fly in the face of academic research that suggests that too much of the focus is on "international" news and events. The publisher Bernie Bellan explains why it makes sense to give his readers more content that relates to their lives in Canada.
It is unfortunate that our media landscape picks its own winners and losers. A new book, Journalism and Political Exclusion (McGill-Queen's University Press) by Prof. Debra M. Clarke, deals with this very issue. While her work does not focus a lot on immigrants, she offered us this comment: "Unfortunately, my research observations confirmed the findings of other researchers that new immigrants to Canada are frequently frustrated by the limited quality and quantity of international news available here, by the limitations of specialty channels targeted at ethnic minorities, and, above all, by their fundamental exclusion from the processes of news production and political communication."
Hopefully, our modest endeavour is correcting some of this exclusion. 

With that, have a great weekend and don’t forget to look up the next edition of NCM NewsFeed every Friday! If you’d like to subscribe to our to-be-launched e-mail version of this newsletter, please click here.

Publisher’s Note: This NewsFeed was compiled with input from our Newsroom Editors and regular columnist, Andrew Griffith. We welcome your feedback.

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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 30 January 2014 22:32

Ethnic media fill in the blanks for newcomers

New Canadian Media’s Maria Assaf speaks to April Lindgren, Ryerson University professor and local news researcher. Prof. Lindgren discusses her latest research on Toronto’s ethnic media and their role in the city’s immigrant communities.  

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about your background in journalism?

A: I came to Ryerson in 2007, but before that I worked for 25 years as a political and economics reporter on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park here in Toronto. I was working for what is now Postmedia News service.

Q: How did you become interested in ethnic media?

A: I run the Local News Research Project, which focuses on local news and their role in cities. Ethnic media are one of the local news providers. In a city like Toronto, which is so diverse, and given the reliance of many people and different ethno-cultural communities on news sources -- particularly in their own language or news sources that are tailored to their interests -- it was a natural place for me to look as well.

I’ve done research on mainstream news media coverage of cities as well, but ethnic media was one of the things I found particularly fascinating.

Q: What fascinates you about the ethnic media?

A: I just think that there’s such an important element of helping people who have newly arrived in Canada, for instance, to understand the values of the place they have come to, to understand the rules, how it works, what’s important, who is important, how the politics function. I think that the ethnic media is an important touchstone.

Q: Over the course of your seven-year research, what have you found out and how do you think the ethnic media is performing in Toronto?

A: I have looked at things like what sense of the place does a newspaper like the Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao portray to newcomers, to its readers about the greater Toronto area? That is one of the studies I have done. At their best, ethnic media fill in the blanks for newcomers who don’t really understand the place. They become this painter who fills in that blank canvas.

One of the other studies I’ve done was look at how ethno-cultural newspapers in the Greater Toronto Area covered the 2011 federal election. One of the things I found there was that they actually provided more coverage of ridings where they had a candidate from their own community running. They also had some extra stuff that’s particular to their community. So they had some stories on how to go about voting; a practical how-to story for readers. It also had heavy coverage of issues like immigration, which is obviously of interest to their readership. They are fulfilling a need that is not being done by the mainstream media.

Q: Do you see Toronto’s mainstream media becoming more diverse as more immigrants arrive in Toronto or do you see ethnic media becoming more mainstream?

I think the so-called mainstream media is certainly making greater efforts to increase diversity in its coverage. If you look at something like the CBC’s “Metro Morning,” which is the number one rated morning show in terms of Toronto ratings, it goes to great effort to cover a diverse range of communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). I think it does it very successfully. I think the Toronto Star is also working hard at increasing its coverage of diverse communities, in part because it’s just good journalism. I mean it is interesting journalism: there are great stories and it’s about the reality of the city which is one of the most diverse in the world.

Now, I don’t think ethnic media is becoming more mainstream. I don’t think it’s in their interest to be mainstream. What I think is in their interest, is to tell stories that may be in the mainstream through the prism of their community.

Q: One of the criticisms of ethnic media is its strong focus on news from "back home" and that they doesn’t provide enough local coverage. Has this changed since you began your research?

A: I am trying to change that. I’ve been campaigning for a while by talking to different groups about the need for local news in their coverage. I mean, obviously news from home has a place and I think it should be there, but I make a case for covering more local news, because I think it has an advantage in a few ways. First of all, I think it serves your readers, because right now, you know, we live in the internet age and people who want to find out news from the Philippines or China or the Middle East, can easily live-stream the news from those countries in real time. So it’s pretty hard if you are running a weekly newspaper to stay ahead of that. You are always going to be publishing old news.

Q: In this world of competitiveness between media outlets do you feel that ethnic media has a future?

A: It’s definitely challenging, and there have been some surveys where producers of ethnic media have talked about facing the challenge of the internet, just like the mainstream newspapers are. I think so far the ravages of that haven’t been quite as intense for them as it has been for the mainstream media, but I think most people in the industry think that that’s coming. So, I would say again, make yourself indispensable and the way to do that is to provide quality local news coverage that nobody else is doing.

Q: Ethnic media has also been criticized for lacking professionalism, has this changed in the last seven years?

A: I think, as with anything, there are variations. There’s a range of professionalism amongst the news outlets. Some practices are really problematic. On the other hand, there are some very professional, serious news organizations. The other thing to remember is journalists who work for ethno-cultural media often have to spend some time thinking about how they see their role. Because they are often in a sense cast in two roles. The first is the role of the professional journalist with its responsibilities of being objective and having ethical standards. But they are also in many instances cast as community advocates.

Q: How do you see this advocacy aspect influencing ethnic media’s news coverage?

A: I think it influences people’s coverage. I don’t have a problem with it as long as there is transparency. News outlets must let their readers and viewers know what they are doing.

Q: Do you think a government or a regulating body would be useful for strengthening professionalism and making sure news agencies are being honest when doing advocacy?

A: I don’t think there is a role for government in that. I don’t like to have government engaged in anything to do with media, because governments have their own agendas. I do think, though, that some ethnic news outlets could think about perhaps becoming members of the Ontario Press Council. I think individual news organizations can have ethical standards and that’s pretty typical. There are some ethical standards that have been established by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), standards of conduct. But a government regulation, I think, people are still pretty uncomfortable with that.

Q: What are the opportunities for people who work in ethnic media to be trained in Canadian reporting standards if they don’t speak English well enough to pursue journalistic studies?

A: Resources are always an issue. But there are quite a number of basic resources that people can use. For instance, if people spend some time looking at J-source … J-Source has a whole section on ethics and it deals with professional issues and journalism issues that arise on a daily basis. So, just as a starting point, it is good for understanding some of the issues of media and then applying them to your own news organization and it is available at no cost. Some of the ethnic media organizations are starting to do professional training seminars and I think that’s a great thing.

(This interview has been condensed and edited.)

The full interview with Ms. Lindgren here:

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