This Column And This Newspaper — Now You See Us, Now You…

Please, humour me. At this moment you’re holding up your local newspaper about to read this column. Now put the paper down but raise your hands to where they were a moment ago. What do you see? The other side of the room, right? Oh yeah, you’re going to miss us when we’re gone.
In 2008, only one newspaper ceased publication in Ontario. In 2018, 68 daily and community newspapers closed up shop. All told, in the last 12 years more than 245 local newspapers have ceased to exist in this province alone.
As digital media giants like Google and Facebook continue to gut the advertising revenues of newspapers while at the same time ripping off our content with no compensation, COVID-19 may yet be the pallbearer that drops the lid on the coffin of print media. In this unfolding crime — a rape of resources and the theft of intellectual property — Prime Minister Trudeau is eagerly watching to see how long we can last. Not bad enough that Trudeau promised to help Canadian print media ten months ago and has done nothing, this morning’s Toronto Star revealed the feds have spent $15.8 million in advertising with Google and Facebook in 2018-19.
Once a big bundle of news that barely fit into its plastic sleeve, today’s skinny Star totalled 32 pages. It’s much larger on weekends due to ten or more pages of obituaries.
Please note the bylines attached to the stories in the newspaper you’re now holding. These are the journalists, always on call, who do the slogging and the digging of important events happening in your neighbourhood so you and I don’t have to.
How much do you think these enthusiastic messengers of community news earn? The names that are attached to stories about high school sports, city council meetings, curbside library operations, fires, crimes and entrepreneurs — they make about $38,000 a year.
If you’re a local journalist trying to support a family with two kids as taxes and the cost of heat, hydro and groceries consistently rise, your spouse better be making twice as much as you. Why do they do it? I’ve asked a lot of them and the simple honest answer is — they love their job, they love writing about their towns, they never tire of trying to make the neighbourhoods better.
If this paper closes down do you really think the Star or the Globe or the Hamilton Spectator is not going to send reporters and photographers up here to cover your niece’s soccer game or feature that guy who repairs bikes and gives them to needy kids? Special? Not only do you get the latest vital COVID-19 information from this paper, you get to read about how your neighbours are coping and how the local system is holding up.
Who then fills the news vacuum when local papers die? Well, if you have a mouth and a microphone you can be an online media source. Even those with good intentions do not have the resources, the experience or the credibility to cover local crimes, house fires, charities, fundraisers and school boards.
The United States has lost 1,800 newspapers since 2004 creating “new deserts” in which readers have no place to get their print news except from online outlets which are crawling with conspiracy theories.
Some online media sources have entirely evil agendas. Your Ward News in Toronto portrays Jews as pigs, glorifies Hitler and frequently uses the “n-word.’ Now hugely popular in America and spilling over into Canada. QAnon helped fuel and orchestrate last week’s domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol in Washington.
Surveys both in the US and the UK have shown that when the local newspaper goes down, bad things in the community go up… like crime and corruption. In the States, media scholar Clay Shirky calls it “an explosion of endemic corruption as more newspapers die.”
Ten years ago after 11 newspapers in the suburbs surrounding Los Angeles closed down, overnight the politicians of Bell City became pigs gorging at the public trough. Everything went up at once — the salaries of city officials, voter fraud to keep them in office and taxes to pay for their scandalous behaviour. By the time the L.A. Times and the law caught up to the crooks, the town administrator, Robert Rizzo was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay $9 million back to the city while his second-in-command, Angela Spaccia got 11 years and an order to pay back $8 million.
Originally hired at a salary of $70,000, Rizzo lavishly compensated his councillors so they, in turn, would not question his annual compensation package that had swelled to $1.5 million or his million-dollar mansion at Huntington Beach or his stable of thoroughbred race horses which included a gelding named Depenserdel’argent, French for “Spend Money”.
All this incredible nonsense in a small, impoverished town like Bell City would have been ruthlessly opposed by the local newspaper… had there been one. I’m not saying this could happen here but with a healthy local paper… I’m absolutely sure it won’t. Those contemplating breaking the rules or the law fear the tough, independent scrutiny of your band of local reporters.
This newspaper is the best friend a caring and community-minded citizen can have. So please, respect reporters who are keeping your communities honestly informed, buy a subscription for you or a friend and put your advertising dollars where they do the most good, right here in your own home town.
Any of the ten books written by
William Thomas are available at www.williamthomas.ca
Comments: williamjthomas@gmail.com

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