Facing the storm

It’s hard to get the sense of just how big something is when you’re right in the middle of it.

In the summer of 1987, a massive tornado passed right through Edmonton, Alta., killing dozens of people on its way through. My family lived on the other side of town, far from the main tornado. But a second funnel cloud started to form near us. When we saw the entire sky turn green and start to circle itself, we ran for the basement.

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It sounded like the end of the world was going on above us as we huddled there. But as the wind subsided and we emerged a half-hour later, all that was left was a lawn covered in golf-ball sized chunks of hail – not a sign in the sky of what we thought would be total disaster.

Sometimes, when I look at my chosen trade of community media, I think about that.

There’s no doubt we are in the midst of a storm. Will it sweep us aside or pass us by?

This week, as we celebrate National Newspaper Week, it’s a good time to contemplate that storm, and our place in it.

When people ask me how the newspaper business is doing – and when they do, they often use that same tone of voice you hear when you’re asked about an aging relative who’s been in the hospital – I usually answer with one word: “Exciting!”

Yes, sometimes I may add “And terrifying!” to that, depending on the day.

But even on those days, it’s an amazing time to be in our line of work.

We’ve got more readers than ever – nearly 9 out of 10 Canadians read community media between print and digital every week, according to the latest research from News Media Canada. And we have more ways than ever to reach them. When breaking news happens in our community, we can write a story, post it to our website and link to it on social media, add some video and maybe even make a podcast about it, while at the same time printing thousands of copies of it on recycled trees and put it at thousands of doorsteps the next morning.

The problem is how it all gets paid for. The local advertising dollars which support that local journalism, are being sucked up by two massive foreign corporations – Facebook and Google. Between them, they take 75 per cent of the online advertising revenue in Canada.

There’s no doubt the power of Facebook and Google have to reach local people in the community. But you won’t see a reporter from Google in your city council chambers. And Facebook won’t sponsor your community’s campaign to build that new arts centre.

And it’s not just our business model that’s been disrupted. The local businesses who support us with their advertising also face disruption from that same media. Ask any retailer who’s seen someone come into their store to look at a product, then pull out their phone and order that product from Amazon right in front of them.

The definition of community has changed dramatically. It used to be defined simply by geography. Now the internet and the rise of social media has redefined community to be anyone, connected anywhere by shared interest.

But geographic community – where we choose to live – still matters. And it needs support. Reading local, and making deliberate choices to shop local, is how to do it. That’s our shelter from the storm.

So on this National Newspaper Week, please go to our new website, newspapersmatter.ca, to sign a pledge of support and send a message—to Canadian businesses, advertisers, to all levels of government, to newspaper journalists and all Canadians—that what we do matters, now more than ever.

Thanks for your support, and for the privilege of supporting our community by telling its stories.

Tim Shoults is Vice-President, Content and Audience Development for Glacier Media, which publishes more than 45 community newspapers and websites across Western Canada.

© Copyright Thompson Citizen

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