When I first read yesterday’s announcement that Postmedia and Torstar are closing nearly 40 Canadian newspapers, I felt sick. We are losing hundreds of community-based reporters who cover local issues, leaving a vacuum of information and accountability. In one region of Ontario alone, more than 250,000 people will see their only remaining community newspaper wiped out. Deep breath.
Our newspapers unite us — or at least, they used to. With every closure we’re not just losing a source of news or a source of journalism jobs, we are losing a source of community.
That’s not hyperbole. When communities lose local newspapers, their members are less likely to volunteer, less likely to vote and less trusting of their neighbours. Add to this, a lack of accountability: who is providing a watchful eye over politicians and local leaders in smaller communities when local press evaporates? No one.
Our current media is threatened by forces beyond our control — forces such as Facebook and Google continue to cannibalize media ad revenue and the U.S. hedge fund behind Postmedia is more concerned with profits than public interest. But we don’t have to be passive observers of this destruction. We can’t wait for the government to fix this. We have the economic power to develop a media industry in Canada that reports on issues that matter to Canadians — if we work collaboratively and think boldly.
That’s enough lamenting. Let’s get to work.
There are many ways that you can take action today: buy a subscription to a news source, or contribute to a Canadian podcast such as Canadaland or Media Indigena. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where Village Media operates, buy an ad that will support local news. You could also place your trust in the next generation of Canadian journalism and invest in Discourse.
Four years ago, I and two other journalists decided we couldn’t wait for someone else to figure out how to fund the sort of in-depth, public service journalism that was being slashed at the media outlets we worked for. So we pooled the economic power we had and founded Discourse Media. Discourse now includes a team of 14 full-time staff producing award-winning investigative journalism.
In the past three years, Discourse has reported on stories that are not getting covered elsewhere — because there was no one there to report them. Some examples? We broke the story about how former B.C. Premier Christy Clark lied about community meetings about a proposed LNG plant in northern B.C. In a three-part investigative series, we examined the hidden impacts of Canada’s mobile workforce and how no one is keeping track of this shadow population. In Williams Lake, we reported on severe court delays in child protection cases and learned about how these delays harm families.
But local news poverty won’t be solved by Discourse flying in urban-based reporters to cover a few stories now and again. That’s why we are currently experimenting in three communities with how to adapt the Discourse model to sustainably support local investigative journalism.
We want to develop this model to bring it to hundreds of communities across Canada. But, first, we need to prove that our model works by expanding from our current five investigative units to 20 reporting beats across the country in the next 18 months.
Discourse can only do this if our own community — our most loyal audience members, our colleagues in the media, our network of individuals and organizations that care about the state of public discourse in Canada — back us with their economic power. That’s why I am asking everyone, whether they can contribute $250 or $25,000, to invest in the future of media by investing in Discourse.
I am not asking you for a donation, for a handout. I am asking you for an investment to help build a profitable business that will reward you with a return on your investment down the line. That’s because the scale of the problem with Canadian media is larger than what can be solved through donations. If, together, we can develop a profitable model based on providing value and service to communities, a model that is scalable and replicable by other media players, it would be a huge contribution to Canada and beyond. I truly believe that developing the business model is the best way Discourse can pursue the system-level impact on media — and therefore our society — Canada so desperately needs.
In short: we’re not trying to save an old tree. We want to seed a new forest.
Become an owner in the next generation of Canadian journalism. Shake up the model. Be part of something new. Be part of the future of journalism in Canada.
Erin Millar, Founder and CEO