Thank you very much, honourable members, my colleagues who presented before me, and my colleagues at the table around me. Thank you for inviting the Quebec Community Newspapers Association to these very important proceedings.
Quickly, our English and bilingual publications—we have 30—are independent of any corporate influence and are distributed to 770,000 citizens across the province of Quebec. Our numbers also tell us that eight out of 10 residents read their community newspaper—that's not too bad. We exist to serve this community. We are funded by Canadian Heritage for one-third of our revenue. The rest comes from our classified advertising, display advertising, and sponsorships for annual galas.
Let me get right to the point. The popular mantra among newspaper publishers in the last 20 years has been that a perfect storm has occurred. Unforeseen consequences have led readers to abandon newspapers for quicker news online, thus dragging our legacy advertisers away from a so-called dying media. This was in the chase for customers, and they moved, presumably, to find these customers online.
In reality, in the last 30 years, corporations disguising themselves as newspaper chains scooped up our once independent newspapers. This is referred to as media consolidation or media convergence. These corporations owe allegiance to shareholders and less and less to readers, all the while steadily cutting back on journalists' resources, column width, and line rates and shutting down their newspapers. Then, in an attempt to generate profit, they turned over and devalued their most valuable resource asset, content, by providing journalism and everything else free online. They simply gave it away. I would know. I was a journalist in that time. I had a bird's-eye view. I believe these were called unintended consequences.
By consolidating, the corporate hope was to attract advertisers to online news platforms, but as it turns out, the method of click per thousand across the Internet generated a few cents of revenue. In the end, it was an insurmountable disaster, with no turning back for them.
Did you know that for every dollar generated in online revenue, seven dollars were lost in print? That's a big gap. How do you pay the bills? Well, you have a hard time doing that, as a lot of my colleagues have suggested.
Let's just look back a little bit. I put it before the committee. The Royal Commission on Newspapers in 1981 included in its recommendations: one, prohibitions on further concentration of media ownership; two, tax incentives for wider media ownership; and three, tax breaks to newspapers that devoted more space to local news coverage. For whatever reason, the committee recommendations were not put in place or were ignored, so as a result, the 150-year-old The Gleaner, serving an English minority in Huntingdon, Quebec, closed. The Chronicle, an English newspaper, where I published in my career, closed in December, along with The Westmount Examiner. They were all minority newspapers, all QCNA newspapers, all whittled down to a skeleton of their former pride, all shut down by their corporate owners, one corporation, TC Media, last year, in 2015. This consequence of media concentration, less control by owners, repeats itself on a monthly basis across this country—newspapers that are irreplaceable.
This paradigm change that we're undergoing today has killed interest in many metro dailies, but not so in our local weeklies. Although there's very little in a daily that a reader has not already seen or heard on their phone, tablet, computer, television, or radio, this is not so with community weeklies. Dailies write about breaking news, which has already broken: the stock market, which followers now have instantaneously; sports, where results are pinged as they happen; or even obituaries, where funeral websites are in everyone's bookmarks. What is left for them to report?
On the other hand, community weeklies cover local and often isolated communities that are too small to be covered elsewhere, such as what happens in Hampstead, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Aylmer, Mont Saint-Sauveur, Whitehorse, or St. Boniface, Manitoba, where local city councils are not reported on or followed elsewhere. It is the same for amateur and high school sports. People care more about things that happen in their local community.
Then there are the opinions of editors, local politicians, and citizens. Local community papers have a unique understanding, perspective, and sense of community, which a daily or large corporation can never have. For example, we know Mrs. Wilson, who's been teaching at the school for 25 years and just retired, or Mr. Grant, who served his country with distinction in two wars. We know who is on his way to the NHL, even though he is nine years old. The hyper-local content and community reflection offered in community weeklies are not replicated anywhere else.
Honourable members of this committee, this is a treasure to be protected, yes?
Isolation is the problem our weeklies address. We reach minority citizens and break isolation in a way no other media can, so I urge federal agencies to use community papers to communicate with minority citizens, because, as I stated, we are here to serve our English-speaking communities.
Since we've lost classifieds to the Internet and we have lost many other ads to Facebook and Google, the government should at least have an interest in maintaining a fraction of their commitment to community weeklies. The QCNA—as with most newspaper associations—has seen a decline of 98% in federal advertising since 2010, yet in 2015 Elections Canada used QCNA papers to reach its minority population in Quebec, as well as across the country.
In 2010 during the H1N1 crisis, we delivered, as did my colleagues. The talk among some of my colleagues is whether we need to have a crisis to get your attention. We didn't deliver on Canada's economic action plan because we didn't have the opportunity. However, reaching citizens, for the most part, failed after it was reported in 2003 that adult Canadians were not going to the economic action plan website. I have to say, there's a difference between honouring government commitment and actually reaching the citizens it serves.
I have a few words about the CBC to follow up on some of my colleagues from this morning. There's quite a bit of money heading in that direction, and I think a fraction, 1%, for minority community newspapers would be great. We have often talked with our colleagues, the Association de la presse francophone, about collaborating and developing something. If it is going to be web advertising—and no one's saying we cannot try—we have to have some sort of other formula and some sort of forward funding and support to get there.
We have proven citizenship, readership, and engagement of the community. Any plan that comes our way will be money well spent. We believe that television and social media is one way to go, and newspapers are a way to go. Why can't we collaborate with all three? We call it bundling, and it makes sense.
I have one last note. Our national association, Newspapers Canada, is embarking on a new centralized sale model of representation, one that actually excludes associations representing Canada's official languages. Who then represents our language newspapers and their citizens, or is the question moving towards when we fade away? Well, that seems to be the choice.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present to members today. I do look forward to all of your questions.