The decline of local news and the case for protecting it

Over the past decade, Canada has lost almost 250 news publications. 

Since the pandemic started, more than 2000 journalists have lost their jobs. Beyond the loss of great places for advertising, this means a great deal to the social fabric of our country including civic engagement, local politics and social connections.

What has happened to news is really pinned in many occurrences over the course of the last decade, including:

Social became the news destination

At first, 30% of Canadians were getting their news from Facebook, and then this figure climbed to 50%. Google and Facebook became the intermediary of news reading in Canada and the advertising dollars followed.

Digital was not taken seriously

Local news sites failed to pivot to digital because of cost and because they only knew print. It had historically been thought that a website, including CMS and ad delivery, was expensive. And instead of local indie papers merging together to solve the challenges that digital adoption presented, they tried to take the investments on themselves.

The industry consolidated

Mergers and acquisitions consolidated local news outlets and then parent companies dissolved newsrooms that were not profitable. Newsrooms became deserts across Canada. “Ghost news” started to appear; in other words, any news story, regardless of local relevance, could end up in a community outlet.

Measurement didn’t scale

Media measurement on a local level showed how it didn’t scale for the effort and resources. We stopped looking to our communities and focused on the big four urban centres of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary.

Media dollars flowed in a new direction

Media dollars flowed to Facebook and Google as they represented where audiences were going. The two large digital players of Google and Facebook receive almost 80% of the digital spend and that leaves very little for local community news publishers. And, while both Google and Facebook have created local news support initiatives, it is crucial to ensure that the great context of community journalism doesn’t disappear from Canada.

Brand safety went too far

Exclusion lists started as a means of ensuring brands were never placed against anything offensive. And then, offensive as a definition expanded to mean benign content that couldn’t offend anyone. This eliminated the path for dollars to support community and investigative journalism across Canada.

Journalism became a much harder business

Fake news made journalism a scary industry to be in, and as a result, journalism hasn’t held the same level of esteem despite the vital public service it serves to all our Canadian communities. Without local news, we are going to have a hard time holding politicians accountable, ensuring people vote, and keeping the community fabric together across Canada. What researchers show is that without local news we create populism, poor voter turnout and more polarizing in society. Local news is vital.

Bottom line: Now is the time to spend in local news

If your brand values community engagement, local news is a great place to support our smaller towns across Canada. We need to understand context of a brand in the mind of the audience, not as advertisers.  Research from Newsworks  showed that context needs to be considered in the following ways – how involved people are in the content, how emotionally connected they are to what they are reading or watching, and whether it is content that is more memorable. The result of their study was that brands perform better in premium environments that provide all three levels of involvement.  

In fact, studies of context of ads show that editorial media improves long-term brand health and improves business results. When you see an ad next to credible news, you are more likely to remember it, notice it and care about it.  The best place for context for an ad is next to a credible news story that is valuable to the audience. And, in Canada, as in other countries around the world, this is local news.

The challenge is that we will soon not have this great context for advertising. The context of your brand is more than just a consideration of suitability and safety, it is also important to look at how well the audience will receive your message. With premium quality local news, the experience isn’t transient or passive, but active with a longer dwell time. If you are look for a trusted place to build a brand in digital, the context of local news is powerful. It does wonders for your brand and for our Canadian communities.


Author: Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson is the CSO of Mindshare Canada and Co-Chair of the CMA Media Council.

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Tags: media, news, journalism, news publications, advertising, brand safety