Newspapers snubbed in Liberal government’s cultural policy

Stop the presses? Newspapers absent from culture strategy.

The Canadian government’s new cultural strategy all but snubs so-called legacy media, industry experts say, and left out some key measures that could have given a boost to struggling newspapers expected in the lead-up to the long-awaited announcement.

“I’m disappointed that the minister didn’t spell out more specifically her support for news media in Canada,” said Bob Cox, chair of News Media Canada, a group representing more than 800 print and digital media titles in the country.

He was one of several voices lobbying the government to grow the Canadian Periodical Fund, which supports magazines, periodicals and local newspapers, from $75 million a year to $350 million.

But Heritage Minister Melanie Joly left little doubt Thursday that the Liberal government finds little favour with traditional print news models.

“Our approach will not be to bail out industry models that are no longer viable,” she said. Instead, the government will focus on supporting innovation, experimentation and the transition to digital platforms.

The new framework doesn’t increase the amount of money in the fund, but will expand who is eligible to receive money, such as digital-only periodicals.

All that means, says Cox, is that more organizations will be fighting over an already limited amount of money.

“We didn’t get anything we were asking for,” he said.

The group will make recommendations to the department about how to restructure the fund and how to support innovation and transition going forward, Cox said.

Ottawa is ignoring an ongoing crisis in Canadian newsrooms, he said, and the onus remains on newspapers to create solutions and reinvent themselves as newsrooms are racked with layoffs and dwindling ad revenues.

“The idea that there should be public support for our newsrooms is really off the table now and that’s disappointing,” he said.

The government’s commitment to news media through changes to the periodical fund is quite vague, said April Lindgren, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto.

“I think that they’re taking a very much hands off let the market sort it out approach,” she said, adding that public opinion is divided on government subsidies to news media.

She thought the federal government might embrace some tax changes to make it easier for news organizations to operate as non-profit organizations and receive funding from foundations.

Removing obstacles to philanthropic financing was one of several recommendations that came out of a report from the Public Policy Forum in January. The minister ordered the study as part of a broader review of Canada’s media landscape.

Lindgren said she’s surprised the government didn’t make such changes.

While the policies relating to news media are vague at this point, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey gleaned some positive elements.

“Some of the things I’m pleased with is some consideration being given to innovation and experimentation,” he said.

The government said it “will give consideration to ways to better support innovation, business development, start-ups and export,” which it will present next year.

Postmedia is actively involved in innovation, Godfrey said, pointing to the organization’s launch of a digital development lab at Communitech Hub in Waterloo, Ont., in 2016. A development team there focuses on developing products for the company’s digital portfolio, among other things.

While it’s unclear whether any funding will be made available or what the guidelines for it would be, Godfrey said he hopes Postmedia would qualify for any funding available.

Follow @AleksSagan on Twitter

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

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