Because Facebook isn’t News

newspaper-changes2016 will go down in history as a turning point in Canada’s newspaper industry.  In January alone, three completely separate Canadian media companies began cutting – the numbers tell the story.

Torstar, the Toronto Star’s parent company, outsourced it’s printing to TC Media and laid off 300 workers in Ontario.

Post Media, parent company of numerous Canadian newspapers, including the National Post, merged newsrooms in three provinces and laid off 90 editorial staff.

The Guelph Mercury printed its last newspaper and laid off 26 employees.

Staff at the Chronicle Herald, Canada’s largest independent newspaper, are on strike – opposing proposed changes that management has deemed necessary.

We only hear about these examples because they are the major players.  Closures and lay-offs are par for the course among smaller daily and weekly newspapers across Canada – and around the world.

The reason for this decline couldn’t be any simpler – low demand.

Why would anybody pay for news, especially printed news, when they can get it for free on the internet?  News is ubiquitous on the world wide web.  There are millions of websites, blogs, newsfeeds, and Facebook and Twitter pages that deliver news.  Users don’t have to wait until the newspaper is printed.  News is available on demand, around the clock.

But is it really “free”?  And even more importantly, is it really “news”?

Facebook is a perfect example.  People flock to Facebook for instant updates on current events.  They read, they leave comments, they share, and they re-write and re-post their version of events – complete with opinions and bias.  This is not news.

Only a very small fraction of a percentage of the information available on Facebook can be considered as news.  The vast majority is rumour, hearsay, conjecture, opinion, and misinformation.  The only content on Facebook that can be considered as “news” is the content provided by news organizations.

News organizations employ journalists – professionally bound to be truthful, factual, thorough, and unbiased.  We can trust journalists.  Humanity has journalists to thank for keeping the world in check.  The world relies on vetted journalism.  Governments, corporations, and individuals take extraordinary measures to hide their transgressions from the masses.  When they act unscrupulously, it is most often a journalist that exposes the story.  The world would be a very different place if journalism were to disappear.

The problem with journalism is that it’s very expensive.  Journalists themselves don’t earn an excessive income, but the resources needed to do their job can be costly.  To produce and deliver a verifiable news story takes considerable time and involves the efforts of a team of individuals.

Who pays for this?  Not Facebook.  Not Twitter.  Not the consumer of “free” news.

News organizations, like newspapers, employ the journalists that entertain us, inform us, enlighten us, and yes – I will even go out on limb here and say – keep our world safer.

Aside from the cost of solid journalism, news organizations have tremendous production costs.  Publications have to look good, read well, and be delivered on time.  Producing a newspaper, whether in print or on-line, is incredibly expensive – but also incredibly important.

In light of the recent turmoil among Canadian newspapers, countless comments and replies have been made in social media; many of which imply that newspapers are an antiquated, outmoded throwback to the previous century.

It is an undeniable truth that fewer people are reading printed newspapers.  The days of paper are numbered, but the days of news are not.  Vetted journalism and timely delivery of news are more important today than ever before.

The news industry is going through a tumultuous period as it transitions from the daily paper to real-time on-line delivery.  Every so often in the course of human history we encounter a technological shift which ushers in a new social paradigm.  Early on, these shifts were few and far between – the mastery of fire, the first farms, the development of written language, metal tools, Gutenberg’s press, and now, the internet.  News organizations are breaking new ground every day as they come up with new ways to produce and deliver relevant content to a fragmented audience.

The average consumer, who relies on Twitter and Facebook for their news, likely doesn’t care who is paying for the content they consume.

The newspaper, who incurs the expense of producing and delivering vetted content, struggles to find new sources of revenue.

The journalist, who holds themselves to a noble and uncompromising standard, is caught in the middle.

Today, there is no clear path.  This is uncharted territory. We will encounter many changes, trials, and failures, before the transition away from printed paper is complete.

The issue at hand is far bigger than the economics of the news industry.  If news organizations fail to adapt and journalism suffers, the real cost won’t be measured in dollars. The real price will be truth and accountability.