Closing of another weekly in West Quebec
The French weekly, Gatineau Express, is closing for good, September 5. This weekly has a circulation of about 90,000. That’s 90,000 households losing local information; it is distributed free throughout Gatineau.
Newspapers in Quebec face a particular challenge. Quebec’s Ministry of Environment charges recycling fees that have gone up well over 1,000% in the last six years (166% hike every year). Recycling fees are to cover the cost of recycling newsprint, but publishers have studied the numbers and the fees are exaggerated compared to the real cost and volume of newsprint actually recycled. These fees and the program’s inept management are crippling newspapers. Local MNAs, aware of the challenge, merely repeat the message: “go digital”.
Quebec City has decided the province needs to “go digital” in most industries. They back this with grants, including one for newspapers. There’s a catch: the funding program requires newspapers prove they are stopping their use of paper (a significant Quebec product itself). Quebec newspaper publishers are outraged by this arrogant requirement for provincial help.
Print remains the method most readers prefer. Local businesses uniformly get the most response from their print ads, not digital ones. Digital ads are hard to even give away! Where’s the government’s logic?
It is easy for folks outside the industry to sit back and comment that newspapers are dying because the general population would prefer to scroll through Bookface. That is partially true, but the experience inside newspaper organizations is that readers value professional journalism and pay attention to what is published, especially, but not exclusively, in print.
Newspapers offer curated news by professionals, avoiding the algorithmic bubble created by social media. Social media bubbles confuse people who only get their information there, by delivering basically what they wish to read, not what is actually happening. For example, in the last municipal election, Gatineau’s political party organizers focused on social media and got trumped by this bubble effect; it told them they would win the election easily throughout the city. A true picture was reported in real media: voter intentions were moving away from what social media was still showing campaign organizers.
The result: Gatineau residents get less news. The government in Quebec wants this?
It is not true that the death of newspapers is inevitable. Pressures from governments to financially push newspapers in directions that are simply not viable, has a further impact. Neither federal nor provincial governments are placing paid advertisements in newspapers; this hurts the newspapers’ bottom lines; it hurts readers who lose access to verified information.
Following recent cuts at the Bulletin’s sister newspaper, the West Quebec Post, the phone rang off the hook with new subscriptions. New advertisers have put their confidence in the newspaper (see the Fortin Lebel publicity on the back page of the last edition). This positive support buoys our staff and renews our determination to produce the best newspapers we can. Clearly, people want print journalism, even if they also enjoy social media, television and radio. Why our governments are so bent on getting rid of us is a mystery.