When nearly two-dozen community newspapers across the country, some of which were in our general region, traded ownership this week and were swiftly closed, Guelph citizens felt their pain.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost been two years since the Guelph Mercury closed, and now several publications including the St. Marys Journal Argus, the Stratford City Gazette, Brant News, and Our London, are on their way to join it in newspaper heaven. Sign of the times, right? So it goes.
There’s no question that this is a loss for all affected communities, and both TorStar and PostMedia should know better than to assume a newspaper in a different city can pick up the slack regionally and cover a town the same way a local newspaper can. That was the party line from both media companies.
As for the people now losing their hometown paper, I offer this message: don’t learn from the Guelph example. By that I mean don’t be the old man yelling at clouds. Your newspaper is gone and it’s not coming back.
I’m not sure what I expected the media landscape in Guelph to look like two years after the Mercury’s closure, but I did think it would be two years later. Meaning I thought that we wouldn’t still be complaining about it like it happened last month.
I see people online rant and rave about what Metroland did taking away our daily paper, as if we complain loud enough then the czars of the TorStar empire will give us the Mercury back. The events of the last week should be evidence to all those people that even TorStar, last bastion of the so-called “liberal media” is illiberal enough to not keep a paper open just to keep its readers informed.
But this is part of the “can’t someone else do it” mentality of these last 22 months. I’ve lost count of how many times people have said that the City of Guelph needs to step in and create a media source to get information out there, and they’ve said it quite earnestly. Strange how the same people that think city staff can’t run an art contest, or balance the books, now trust them well enough to put out the news.
It seems to me that one of the things we really need is some media literacy, so that people might understand better why a government publishing news about itself is a bad idea.
A little media literacy training might also help in this difficult transition, because I understand why people might not trust a website called “guelphnews.wordpress.com”, and be skeptical of who’s behind it and their bias. In a day when anyone can start a news site with a couple of clicks of a mouse, we should all be as versatile in reading the news and understanding whether or not we can trust what we’re reading at face value.
Of course that might involve actually doing something about the situation and not just reliving our tragedy again and again.
A producer from CBC Radio reached out to me earlier this week because apparently Guelph is now an incubator for what communities do when their daily newspaper goes away. I’ve got a few of these calls, and it feels a bit like I’m a witness to some kind of crime, or disaster incident.
This time, like previous times, the topic of conversation was not about the opportunities to develop new news sources, or whether people have a responsibility to put their money where their eyes are in terms of supporting news outlets. It wasn’t about what people want from their news, or what we think the news can’t give us due to a lack of resources.
For instance, local sports is a big area affected by the growing desertification of news in our area. If you follow “Saxon on Storm” in this publication, or if any Gryphon team gets close to an Ontario University Association championship title, you’ll likely hear about it. But what about Junior B hockey, Inter-county baseball, high school sports? How much coverage do these get?
You’d be hard pressed to notice on your local TV station, CTV Kitchener, which was fairly quick to establish itself as a more intensely Guelph-centric news source after the Mercury closed, that they don’t have a sports news staff anymore. Earlier this year, Bell Media pulled sports journalists from stations in K-W, and London, and by the end of the year, even major centres like Toronto will see their sports-covering reporters out of a job.
Seeing those resources yanked, and the fact that it was never acknowledged on air, made it all the more strange when CTV Kitchener introduced the News at 5 back in September. It’s a whole extra news hour, supposedly, but instead of putting journalistic resources back into local sports coverage, one of the anchors starred in several segments dressed to scrimmage with the Laurier football team.
So, to recap: on our local TV news station, you can’t get regular scores for the university games, but you can see a so-called journalist dress-up and pretend that he’s a 20-year-old student athlete.
I don’t like dumping on colleagues, and Lord knows that they’re trying to do more with less, which is less and less with each passing year, but gimmicks are not news, and role-playing is not journalism, and I worry that people watching at home aren’t able to tell the difference.
And on top of that, the news is getting more and more homogenous. One of the top stories on local – and I emphasize “local” – news this week was the engagement of Prince Harry to actress Meghan Markle. Good for them! But the nuptial future of those two crazy kids has absolutely no bearing on anything important happening in our daily lives, so why is it a top story on news directed to covering the southwestern Ontario region?
If you go to the Guelph Mercury website, which is now, paradoxically, the Guelph Tribune site, there are days you would be hard pressed to find local news prominently posted on the frontpage due to all the crossover from other Metroland papers that just counts as content on the Guelph-centric site. What does this mean? There’s the perception we’re getting news, but how much of it serves this community?
And that’s why this conversation is so infuriating to me. We coast on good enough news, and when current events or a Globe and Mail reporter remind us that we don’t have a daily newspaper anymore then here come the water works. Yes, it’s sad, but what are you going to do about it other than leave a flower at the empty spot on the corner where the Mercury box once sat?
I’m not saying that’s not a difficult question, and I think you know I have my answer, but this town sounds like a broken record. It’s like reading The Lord of the Rings and getting stuck at the Council of Elrond. “Hey everybody, we got this evil indestructible ring that’s going to bring about the end of the world. Remember when we didn’t have to worry about Sauron coming back?”
Yes, the daily newspaper is gone, but this is not just an era of sadness, but an era of tremendous opportunity and innovation. There’s no right answer, there’s no “silver bullet” to our media dilemmas, but I know that step one to finding solutions is to stop walling over the originating problem.
In the Victorian era, a widow was expected to mourn for no less than two years. It’s time to move on…