EDITORIAL: Loss of local news means loss of community

Feb 7, 2024 | Editorial, OP-ED

The decline of local newspapers across Canada is not just a problem for journalism but for Canadians looking to build a sense of community.

Local newspaper closures have rapidly increased in Canada, with 516 operations shutting down since 2008, according to a 2023 report by the Local News Research Project.

In 2023 alone, 36 operations were closed due to mergers or lack of revenue, yet only one new outlet was launched, according to the report.

The days of opening a newspaper and seeing the outcome of the local Little League baseball game are behind us.

Dave Bidini said he started the West End Phoenix (WEP), a Toronto-based local newspaper, because of all the shutdowns and mergers killing local news.

“I just think a lot of big news organizations have just betrayed local news,” Bidini said. “Like in the past, all of the [four] legacy newspapers that we read in this city did a beautiful job covering local news and community news in the past.”

In an open letter to employees on Feb. 8, 2024, Bell Canada announced it is selling 45 local radio stations and cutting 4,800 jobs including journalists and employees across all levels of Bell Media.

Yet again, a major corporation has let down communities by putting their access to local news in jeopardy.

WEP was launched in 2017 as an exclusively print paper, yet it managed to stay alive and grow despite a dying market and operating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Focusing on the west end of Toronto, WEP has found its niche by delivering a printed newspaper filled with community-related content to its readers every six weeks, Bidini said.

“There’s a lot of people who subscribe to the paper that have never had a newspaper delivered in all of their lives. So that’s kind of cool,” he said.

Although there’s still interest in community newspapers, many organizations must resort to closing or partnering with a big company to stay afloat.

Companies such as Metroland Media Group and Village Media give local news an online format, but the websites look more like an advertising portal than a community paper.

These media organizations house multiple local news platforms and use the same format for each website, leaving no variation among localities.

Aside from the colour scheme, telling the difference between these ad-riddled cookie-cutter websites is impossible.

In comparison, the West End Phoenix website has few ads, a unique design, and pictures of local artists or community members front and centre. The printed paper looks the same.

Bringing back the neighbourhood connection and focusing on local stories is just as important as every other battle we face today, Bidini said.

“Without local journalism, the stories of the people who live where we do just aren’t going to get told beyond the conversations we have between porches with each other,” he said.

Continuing to push for news for the community, from the community is something Canadians need to support, or soon there will be nothing left.

“There is a path forward, but that path is still being dug,” Bidini said. “We have the shovels, so we just got to keep digging.”