Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, and thank you all for having me.
Before I jump in too far, I think it's probably worth my explaining how I moved from an ink-stained wretch to a digital publisher. I started my career in the late 1980s, following my father and grandfather into journalism, initially in radio but soon moving to newspapers and magazines. I was born in 1964, the very last year of the baby boom.
As much as publishers would like you to believe that they've been blindsided by the disruptive effects of the Internet, this downward spiral has been going on my entire career. As a journalist, my job security and that of my entire cohort have been governed by LIFO, last in first out. Journalism was never stable employment for anyone under the age of 50.
Over the decades we have moved from one advertising recession to another, never quite recovering from one before the next one hits. Publishers have known all that time that their model was fundamentally flawed. Very few publishers appear to have taken these warning signs seriously, and then came the digital revolution. For those of us in the news media, this is nothing short of an ice age, a catastrophic change in our ecosystem.
I had the privilege and luxury of spending a year at Harvard in 2007-2008 as a Nieman fellow. At that time, the economic situation was deteriorating in the media industry, particularly in the news media industry.
Of 30 fellows, 15 American and 15 from around the world, some of the very best journalists in the world, eight of us had been laid off in the previous year.
I use this imagery of an ice age. Why? Because I believe everything that is big and slow-moving will inevitably perish, and that only once the existing media civilization is allowed to perish can renewal truly begin.
I'm not here asking for a handout. I'm here with my hand up, asking you to stop. Fundamentally, I believe that preserving the old media is not an option. I want to suggest that you save your money by asking you not to bail out my competitors.
I also ask that the government stop funding the CBC's massive expansion into digital-only news in markets where there is already brisk competition or the potential for such. The CBC was created with two purposes: to provide a bulwark against American cultural imperialism, and to fill a void in rural areas where commercial news was not viable.
While the CBC has done many wonderful things, it is important to know that from my vantage point it is not some wonderful benevolent entity. It is an uber-predator. Because of the nature of its web content, the CBC is not out there competing with The Huffington Post and CNN. It is competing directly with The Globe and Mail, Postmedia, and yes, iPolitics.
Funding the CBC has a profoundly chilling effect on would-be entrepreneurs in this country, particularly when there are no undertakings on how and where that money is going to be spent. Investors are justifiably reticent to put their money into a market, even when there is a clear void in that market, because of the likelihood that once they prove the viability, the CBC will begin shifting funds there to compete against them. That is the biggest single obstacle to there being a vibrant and innovative marketplace of ideas in the media space.
I am eager to get to your questions, so I'll jump to a lightning round.
I don't believe the advertising market will revive in any meaningful way to be what it was before. Would tax incentives help? Perhaps, but it's a blunt hammer. Subscriptions are the only viable way forward, and that demands that publishers invest in quality. But it requires other things too.
Please, toughen copyright protections—I know you've heard that from the previous group—that come with severe penalties and potentially even community service for serial offenders.
Ban for-profit aggregators, which draw from a very limited advertising pool without generating any original content, and instead encourage competing media to work together.
Require CBC/Radio-Canada to refrain from posting digital-only content. Their content should first be created for TV or radio. This is done by other public broadcasters in the world, including the BBC, and would go a long way towards levelling the playing field.
I am on the record as suggesting as well that any CBC content, because it's publicly funded—video, audio, and digital—be available in real time in the public domain for any other approved new sites to use, as long as certain key branding requirements are met. ProPublica in the United States works this way and ensures their stories are extremely widely disseminated.
I would also suggest that the CBC do joint ventures with for-profit companies to ensure investigative journalism and other comprehensive coverage are sustained and that the CBC's wealth of experience is shared.
For the purposes of news, I would say to focus your attention on public interest journalism. I realize there's no real definition of “public interest”, but as Justice Potter Stewart is known for saying, “I know it when I see it.” It is the kind of journalism that is community building, that convenes and alerts the population, that is democracy preserving, and that holds those in power to account.
Create a way for charitable foundations to support the creation and dissemination of news and opinion in the public interest. This needs to be done at arm's length and should be limited to only broadly based news and opinion, not to supporting specific causes, as that runs the risk of lobbying.
If you really, really want to spend money, I will admit, as you heard earlier, that the most useful program we've ever encountered was the ill-fated Ontario digital media tax credit, although, as designed, it was far too slow to be useful for anyone who is really an entrepreneur. It was great for the Toronto Star and Postmedia, which could wait for the payout for 18 months or for two or three years later, but for an entrepreneur who was bootstrapping, it was not a useful tool. That said, we're not turning away the money. Also, it was very poorly designed, allowing anyone who had a website, whether it was a funeral home or Walmart, to claim against it, and that also made it unworkable.
I'm certain that other ideas will pop up over the course of our discussion. I look forward to exploring them with you.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.