A very sincere thank you for your invitation and the opportunity to share insights and thoughts about the state of the Canadian media landscape. Specifically, I'm pleased to be here on behalf of The Chronicle Herald to bring perspective to the challenges facing daily newspapers, like ours, across the country.
The Chronicle Herald was incorporated in 1875, but our roots can be traced back to 1824. We are the last remaining independent daily newspaper in the country. We've been telling the news of the day and shaping the narrative of the province of Nova Scotia since before Confederation. In our nearly two-century history, we have borne witness to the birth of this nation and told the stories of the world wars of the 20th century in their tragedy and in their jubilation. We are the one cultural institution whose history is so entwined with the province's that the two could hardly be separated.
Sadly, the fight today is for our own survival, with changes in media consumption habits, coupled with the introduction of disruptive competitors without adjacent legacy costs. Here I will name the obvious new media entrants like Facebook and Google, but I would also add Canadian disrupters like the government funded CBC. They have all substantially fragmented audiences and stripped advertising revenues.
The proliferation of media today hasn't changed the basic journalistic mandate, which is to report on those in power to provide citizens with the information they need to make their own judgment, to report on the needs of our communities, and to provide support to us all by shedding light on critical events.
Joseph Howe, a founding father of Canada's free press and the publisher of the Novascotian, a direct precursor to The Chronicle Herald, famously commented about the role of the journalist:
...when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?
The sentiment is clear. Journalism's role in our democracy remains pivotal. It is fundamental. We are a rich and vibrant country made up of thousands upon thousands of communities. It is journalism at the grassroots that binds us together and helps to weave a coherent story of our nation.
Herein lies the rub. Without the storytellers weaving together communities throughout this nation, we become either atomized individuals or nameless and faceless masses without coherent connection.
Social media platforms aren't focused on the kind of content that is important to a free and democratic society. They're concerned about volume of content and filling data feeds with entertainment, clickbait, and low-quality commentary. Just yesterday, Oxford Dictionaries announced its word of the year: post-truth. They define it as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
The Brexit and Trump votes are two events in the past year driven by this phenomenon that has rocked the world. Newspapers, with reporters in communities throughout Canada, are the food supply of our democracy, but this food supply is in serious risk of running out. The media business model is changing.
Worldwide, only about 9% of people pay for content. The subscription model, while still critically important to support the work of journalists, has never been relied on to shoulder the entirety of the burden. Advertising, once the revenue lifeblood of newspapers, historically accounting for two-thirds of total revenue, has been reduced to programmatic purchases of audience segments and affinity groups.
Furthermore, we have experienced dramatic changes in spends from our government partners, at a rate greater than industry. Our provincial and federal governments have reduced their ad spends in our products, presumably with an increased emphasis on advertising with foreign corporations such as Google and Facebook, with neither ties to our communities nor any investment in producing the journalism we rely upon.
I'm disheartened to tell you that my newspaper has experienced a 54% drop in the combined provincial and federal government ad spend over the past three years, from $600,000 in 2013 to just $280,000 this year. Just like every other newspaper in Canada, The Chronicle Herald is grappling with changes in consumption trends and advertising changes.
People are often surprised to learn that, despite years of decline in paid circulation, our reach is larger today than it has ever been. People are consuming more content, and the need for local, fact-based journalism is so vitally important.
It's not that Canada has stopped supporting journalism. The CBC receives nearly $700 million a year in federal funding. As always, the heavy lifting of journalism has fallen to those in the trenches and those in the communities, and that means to newspapers.
It's staggering to note that according to the global analytics company comScore, more than 88% of all Canadian digital advertising revenues are now stripped away by large foreign-owned and controlled social media sites.
Journalism is vital to our democracy. It is the foundation of rational public discourse, and it begins in each and every community in our country. CBC is a tremendous public institution and one in which every Canadian should take justifiable pride. But the CBC alone is no more capable of weaving together the stories of our nation from Cape Spear to Vancouver Island to Ellesmere Island than Facebook is capable of reporting on the needs of Canadians or breaking the news to provide citizens with the information they need to exercise their franchise.
For Canadian stories to continue to be told from coast to coast to coast, we'll have to look toward other models. Government partners can and must play a role in this transition.
I thank you for your time and attention. I will be happy to take any questions.