Overview of the Outaouais, the province
Rough times for print media in 2018
Daily and weekly Outaouais newspapers have been going through rough times for several years. Throughout the country, the media is describing the situation as “a real crisis”. The year 2018 was no exception. Both La Gatineau and the Gatineau Express closed shop.
La Gatineau ceased publication “because operational costs were constantly increasing for the past years,” said the administration. Add to this a constant decline in advertising revenues.
On September 5, after 59 years, the Gatineau Express, better known as La Revue, published its last edition. To address its own short-term finances, Transcontinental had sold the paper to Lexis Media. Distributed to most Gatineau homes, the weekly was read by over 90,000 families.
Also facing financial difficulties, the English-language weekly, the West Quebec Post, has adopted radical measures. Since last August, the newspaper has ceased offering free copies, and only delivers to its subscribers. And, formerly a weekly, it is now published every second week.
For the past few months, the free-distribution Bulletin d’Aylmer has been involving residents in its financial future. Readers were invited to contribute a “symbolic subscription”, no matter the amount. To this date, the paper has received some twenty symbolic subscriptions, plus outright donations.
The media across the board agree that the internet and social media have greatly affected the print media. With less and less advertising, independently-owned newspapers offering free distribution are especially impacted.
To tackle the crisis, in 2018, the federal government offered financial support to newspapers. As part of its Plan d’action pour les langues officielles 2018-2023, $10 million (over five years) of the Fonds d’appui stratégique will support community media. Furthermore, last fall’s federal economic update announced tax relief measures for Canadian media totalling $595 million over five years, benefitting largely corporate media.
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has announced a parliamentary commission on the print media crisis for spring, 2019. Louis Lemieux, former journalist and Saint-Jean MNA, will chair this commission.
Over recent years, weeklies and dailies have had to lay off many employees. In 2018, a dozen Quebec weekly papers were close down, in many cases, depriving communities of their only local public media. La Presse, Le Soleil and Metro newspapers are a few of the dailies which cut staff and even ended paper editions in 2018.
Newspaper associations worried
Benoit Chartier, chairperson of Hebdos Québec, a non-profit organization promoting 47 local independent French-language weeklies in Quebec, noted, “We are victims of unfair and illegal competition from the internet since they don’t pay GST and QST.” According to Chartier, this amounts to a 15%+ “gift” from the federal and provincial governments to Google and Facebook. Hebdos Québec is also asking for an end to the province’s recycling tax that hammers newspapers – a tax usually associated with printers. “A newspaper represents a local culture: we argue in favour of democracy, in favour of freedoms of press and of expression, so why should this be taxed?” asks Chartier.
Another battle facing Québec’s weeklies is that of municipal public notices. Hebdos Québec argues that cities of 5,000 residents or more should continue be be required to publish public notices in newspapers. A local weekly is often the only public source of information available to everyone, especially in Quebec’s rural areas. But Bill 122, passed by the Liberal government in 2016, does not require municipalities of over 5,000 to publish their public notices in print media.
There is less advertising in print media by large corporate advertisers, such as appliance and auto manufacturers, although this slowed last year when ad agencies first reported a decline in the effectiveness of online advertising.
The director general of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association (QCNA), Sylvie Goneau, confirms there is a real crisis. “Some member newspapers would have died last year had it not been for aid from the federal government’s official languages’ action plan,” she told the Bulletin. The QCNA stresses that print media across Quebec is hardest hit, especially in minority communities. Notes QCNA, one wide problem is the belief of many social media users that they can serve as effectively as trained journalists, and this has resulted in everything from mistaken reports to deliberate fake news.
One of the QCNA missions is to lobby all three levels of government on “the importance and the value” of weekly newspapers, especially in minority and rural communities.
Québec’s media has united into the Coalition pour la pérennité de la presse d’information au Québec with 180 Quebec newspapers.
The journalists’ own union, Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ), says the media is “in the heart of a crisis”. Its president, a journalist for CTV News Montreal, Stéphane Giroux, stated that “The only way to protect journalists’ jobs is through government support.” The FPJQ would like to be consulted on the distribution of funding to protect small media outlets. A recurrent theme is the significant problem of the loss of advertising revenue. “80% of paid ads are now done through Facebook and Google” who do not pay GST and QST, reports Mr Giroux. Both governments are thus encouraging local advertisers to use these American giants, as well as their own public communications and alerts.
The journalists are also alarmed that so many regions in Quebec now have “no local media, whether radio or a local newspaper”. That harms all citizens by reducing civic participation. (Transl: CB)