Evidence of meeting #25 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was advertising.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Duff Jamison  Chair, Government Relations Committee, Former President, Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association
Dennis Merrell  Executive Director, Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association
Peter Kvarnstrom  President, Community Media, Glacier Media Group
Hugo Rodrigues  Past President, Canadian Association of Journalists
Nick Taylor-Vaisey  President, Canadian Association of Journalists

12:30 p.m.

President, Community Media, Glacier Media Group

Peter Kvarnstrom

There's no doubt about it, The Western Producer has been a good paper for us. When we bought it, we had over 85,000 subscribers. Today we have under 50,000. Obviously there has been consolidation even in the farming, with fewer farmers and bigger tracts. We used to publish nearly 100 pages of classified ads every week. We're now down to about 20, so there's been a significant change in that operation as well.

We now engage many of our farmers through digital media. As a matter of fact, we recently invested in a weather company. We operate more weather stations in Canada than Environment Canada does. We are trying to broaden our offerings to ensure that our audiences are growing in their reliance on our products and the information we have, certainly on the business press like The Western Producer.

Why our papers aren't in the Library of Parliament, I have no idea. You know, I do remember the day when Parliament actually paid subscriptions to have them mailed to the Library of Parliament. I'm not sure whether that was a cutback at your end or my end; I don't know.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Well, they may be in there. I just quickly looked yesterday.

You talked about innovation. You're going to have to reinvent yourself, and you know that. Those in the farming industry, believe it or not, are well ahead of most urban people. They have GPS systems and they get their grain prices. If you go on a combine today, it's a computer.

How are you connecting with them on that digital aspect of rural Canada? You have The Western Producer. They don't really have time, especially now, during harvest...but they do have time, because they have their digital phone or iPad, and they are connected.

12:35 p.m.

President, Community Media, Glacier Media Group

Peter Kvarnstrom

We do connect with them in that cab. Certainly our products are available there. We do carry all of that—crop information, weather information, and sponsored content from our advertisers—and deliver it into their digital media as well. We recognize that it's not about the newspaper; it's about the function we fill. We report. We collect that information. We disseminate it. We allow our audiences to choose how they would like to consume it, whether that be through their mobile device, on a tablet, the website, or waiting for the printed product to arrive. We need to be platform-agnostic. We need to be able to provide the content, valuable content, to our readers, whether it be in a community newspaper or not.

We do find, however, that particularly.... I'm quite familiar with The Western Producer, but I do look after our community media side of things. In our community media group, we do recognize that even though we publish all of our content as it happens, well ahead of the printed product in most cases, our audiences are not chasing us down on our website. People do come to our website, but we don't deal in urgent news. People wait until they get the printed product and still turn the pages. I know that sounds a little old school. I take my Globe and Mail in my palm, on my mobile phone. With my local community newspaper, I turn the pages.

Getting back to the digital side of things, Facebook and Google are the biggest sources of audience for us in the digital media. Without them, our audiences would be significantly reduced. We get over 80% of our social media traffic through Facebook, directly to our website. So they are helping, but at the same time they are not. They're taking content and sharing it in many other ways.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I have just one other question here.

We're going to talk about journalism here. Often with newspapers, especially the little ones, reporters are there for six months and then they're gone. They don't have any background. They don't have any investigative knowledge of a community. They're there for a year, two years, and then they're gone. They're coming from all over the world now. That is a problem I'm seeing with investigative reporters. They have no knowledge whatsoever of the community.

So you're telling me I have to buy that newspaper, and yet I'm not seeing what I need to see in that newspaper because of the reporting.

12:35 p.m.

Past President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Hugo Rodrigues

I'll let Nick take a stab at this one, just so that he feels involved.

12:35 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:35 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

I would defend the quality of journalism in local papers across Canada. I can't speak to every paper that exists and every single story and every single reporter, but generally speaking, we would defend the work they do.

You're right that reporters do move around. We're somewhat nomadic from time to time.

I would briefly comment on the lack of investigative reporting that you point out. It's certainly true that whether we're talking about small newsrooms or large newsrooms and whether we're talking about print, broadcast, or digital, investigative teams are becoming something of a rarity in newsrooms these days in Canada. Canada is not alone in that regard, but we're talking about Canada and even investigative reporters who work on their own are fairly rare these days. That's a function of the expense and the amount of resources that investigative reporters require. We need to work faster in most cases, or at least we're led to believe that we need to work faster and serve digital audiences—

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, I'm going to ask you to wrap up, because we've gone well over seven minutes.

12:40 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Briefly, it certainly is a problem that investigative reporting is lacking in Canada. We're very concerned about it.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much.

We will go to our third round.

Mr. Nantel, you have seven minutes. I'm going to ask everyone to be tight, because we do have to go into discussing Ms. Dabrusin's terms of reference.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, I agree with your point about investigative journalism. The situation is certainly a problem. The more complex the topics, the harder it is to require journalists to conduct research. The journalists are not the ones asked to make an effort. A journalist would be happy to conduct research and work on a file for the long term. However, the news desk editor must be asked to provide resources for in-depth work on important files, and the editor has fewer and fewer resources. Above all, there's no more money. Therein lies the problem. That's what we're facing.

Our system is based on free or inexpensive distribution, because there is advertising. When the advertising disappears, there will be no more grist for the mill.

I skimmed through the documents prepared by the committees's research staff. They were correct to raise the fact that La Presse+ has introduced its model and that it has certainly dramatically changed the method of consumption, as you said, Mr. Kvarnstrom. I don't know whether you've had the chance to see how things are. You read your Globe and Mail on your application. I am a bit old and I read Saturday's La Presse in print format. However, I sometimes miss the mobility and flexibility of the digital platform, even in terms of advertising. For example, if there's an advertisement for a new Acura and I want more details, I have them in the digital version but not in the print format. This results in an audience migration to new technologies and new methods that need to be monitored.

Mr. Kvarnstrom, you told us that your journalistic visibility will, among other things, be popularized by Google. Could the situation be resolved by creating applications for our media? Earlier, a witness said that we could review the idea of a hub or a regional exchange centre application. For example, if I live in Kamloops and use an application from there—let's say Kamloops Media—, I would click on it and skip Google. Going directly to the application would generate advertising revenue. Isn't that method a big band aid that would solve several problems at once?

My question is for the three of you.

12:40 p.m.

President, Community Media, Glacier Media Group

Peter Kvarnstrom

We do provide virtually all our content online promptly even in our smallest markets through responsive design websites that show up very well on your mobile device or your tablet. The experience is very much like an app but it gives us the flexibility of quicker turnaround, making sure that content gets out to our readers efficiently. There is no doubt if you go to any community newspaper website you will find the vast majority of content is available online and for free.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Sorry to cut you off, but if you need to go through Google to access the site—I don't know many people, to tell the truth, who write the http address in their browser. My impression is everybody goes through Google, and that's where the money goes.

Mr. Rodrigues, you wanted to comment on this.

September 22nd, 2016 / 12:40 p.m.

Past President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Hugo Rodrigues

We're in the digital space so be it apps, be it website scalability, etc., as Peter spoke to, we can be found.

Google any Canadian place name and media and you'll find the local media, and then click through and go to that site. The challenge you might face in terms of immediacy and such is that the revenues available in a smaller community may not support that instant update and may not support having that digital space being equal to the experience you would get with print or that you would get with broadcast over the air or on TV.

Again, if we had more revenue, then we'd have more money to invest in that digital space and more money to increase the presence in that digital space. I think your example of La Presse was particularly compelling, because as a company, Gesca said, “We're in this space so we are going to completely reorganize our operations to be a digital operation.” They've been successful because they dove in with two feet, and you know, soon the Saturday La Presse will also be digital. Everything we hear from them says that it has been a positive experience and that they're able to raise the revenues to cover those expenses.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, would you like to comment on this question?

12:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

I think the two gentlemen largely covered the comments that I would make. I would simply say that journalists are by and large keen to be in the digital space. Not only are we there but we're happy to be there. Apps are developed by newspapers and by media companies across Canada. At the national level at which I tend to work, but I think at the local level as well, we file for the app; we file for our website; we file for several platforms including, of course, print or broadcast, and our audience finds us. They find us everywhere. So it's not a problem. I think the committee has heard quite a few times that it's not a problem of readers finding us.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

I agree with you.

I am also pleased to know that Le Devoir is one of the newspapers whose representatives will be invited to complete the study. Le Devoir, a quality newspaper, is under tremendous pressure. We may not share its editorial point of view, but the writing is always exemplary. I believe its directors feel a great deal of pressure because La Presse moved to a digital platform. People are aware of this reality. I feel like I'm handling a parish sheet or something a bit vintage.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees mentioned that a tax credit for advertising purchases on traditional Canadian media platforms such as radio, newspapers and television would make a huge difference. You spoke a bit about this, Mr. Kvarnstrom. Do you think it could solve your problems? Could it be quickly implemented?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

We've finished, Mr. Nantel. We've reached our seven minutes.

Ms. Dabrusin, go ahead for seven minutes.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

First, I just wanted to offer some help to Mr. Waugh, because it turns out the Library of Parliament does have The Western Producer. It's a digital subscription, so you can actually access it if you're looking for it.

Listening to this conversation, I've had a chance to think a bit about how I first joined Twitter. The only reason I joined Twitter, in fact, was that in 2012, I was part of a group that was fighting to keep some local pools open in my community. There were some budget cuts being proposed by the City of Toronto, and the only way to find out what was happening in city council, in these small individual meetings, was to follow the journalists who were sitting in those council meetings, because my weekly community paper wasn't going to cover that kind of minutiae. My larger city of Toronto paper wasn't going to cover that, so if I wanted to get a sense of what was happening on those particular issues in the budget, Twitter was really the only place to find it, and that's how I joined.

That gets me thinking—and I'm directing my question to the journalists here—how is digitization, moving to Twitter and things like that, changing the journalism industry? You're talking about investigative journalism, but these are people who are sitting there and, I'm assuming for free, putting out this Twitter feed, and that's what we're following.

I'll leave it to either one of you to comment.

12:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

I will start by saying that Twitter and various social media have obviously changed our workdays top to bottom. We spend our time in council meetings tweeting things, for free, to our followers. We hope they follow those things, and we hope they are better informed as a result.

From a practical point of view, for reporters, particularly those who are at meetings, Twitter is about more than informing the public. That is obviously a key part of it, but it is also about collecting their thoughts; it is sort of a digital notebook for a lot of people. They would leave the meeting, and that is when they interview councillors, the mayor, or stakeholders in the community and put together their full story. They would tweet bits of those interviews as they go, but of course you don't get the full package and the full story until the process concludes, and that is when you find it digitally, in print, or over the air.

Using social media has this twin purpose now: you can instantly inform communities, but it also serves your logistical needs. All you have to do is survey your own Twitter feed and the Twitter feeds of others who are at that meeting, following hashtags and that sort of thing. It improves our ability to do our jobs, even if it makes us go a little crazy with everything happening at once.

12:50 p.m.

Past President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Hugo Rodrigues

Twitter is a platform. It is just another platform where journalists have done journalism, but in 140 characters. It is certainly a whole other debate, perhaps for another committee at another time, whether a tweet is journalism. It is just a platform that journalists and other people who are interested in civic matters can use to spread information about something they are witnessing, at the time they are witnessing it, in an immediate moment.

The value-add for media is what you do with those tweets. How do you write them? Do you put more context in, or is it simply recording? As Nick mentioned, a lot of journalists, as part of their workflow, will use what they have tweeted as their notebook and go back to it to use it for their context, their quotes, etc.

It has revolutionized the industry, for sure, but it is just another platform on which we continue to try to do the work we have always done on the other platforms.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

That brings me to an interesting point, coming a bit from what Mr. Taylor-Vaisey was saying. I am looking here at a Samara report I received. I think their research comes from 2014. It is pretty interesting, because they talk about how “political chatter doesn’t seem to be growing—39% of Canadians did not discuss politics either online or offline in the last year.” This is from their report.

Then they talk about different ways we can engage. They kind of give some tip sheets of what they would like to see from some MPs. They talk about Canadians reaching out to MPs, and MPs explaining themselves to Canadians. It also falls in a bit with what Mr. Nantel was saying. If you want to find out more about the Acura ad, you want to follow along.

I am wondering if part of what we are seeing is that people are getting more used to a different type of engagement when they are reaching out to different stories, and that is part of the shift as well. I am saying it only because we are talking about paper and digital media, and what the impact is. I am wondering what the journalists might be able to add about that idea, that there is an interactivity we are now expecting when we reach out to news.

12:50 p.m.

Past President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Hugo Rodrigues

I will kick it off briefly. I completely agree. That is part of the fun of being in that space as a journalist. It allows us to interact with our audiences with a speed, immediacy, and depth we have never had before. You would have to wait for the phone call to come in, the letter to the editor to come into the office, or a person to stop you at the grocery store, depending on how large your community is, to get that feedback. I think this is just a user experience with the platform; it asks and demands that interactivity. We don't want just to hear what you are saying; we want the ability to ask you a question and get an answer.

I will toss it to Nick for any additional thoughts. He is in this space in terms of the role he has professionally, reporting on many of you.

12:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Journalists

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Over the last few years, as we have immersed ourselves in digital journalism, both Hugo and I have communicated with audiences in just the ways we are talking about, in more and more intricate ways. I think you are right that, to a certain extent, there is an expectation from certain community members, and particularly vocal community members, both in large and small cities, that we will be available and responsive. It adds yet another element to our workflow, because if there is that expectation, that does take time away from something else we could be doing, but we typically find it important. This committee could spend a lot of time talking about how we engage with our audience.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you, Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, but we have gone over the seven minutes now, so I would like to cut you short. I'm sorry about it, but we have some other work to do.

I want to thank the witnesses for appearing. I want to thank members for asking questions to help us understand some of these issues.

I'm going to take about a minute to go into our discussion of the terms of reference, so we will have to go in camera for this. That will take us a minute.

Thank you very much.

[Proceedings continue in camera]