Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Dwindling of Local News

Policy Frog posted an open letter to the Free Press Management suggesting that they consider dropping the Sunday edition because he would "... rather see you reduce the publishing schedule than weaken an already thin-stretched newsroom." I, too, have concerns about the quality and quantity of news in Winnipeg and what the future might hold.

In recent weeks The Sun has dwindled down to less than a handful of reporters. According to N-E-Y-S, CJOB decide(d) to coast for a bit without any reporters. Now the FreeP, the city's paper of record, is bracing for cuts.

Chicago Tribune Building

I realize that this is not just a Winnipeg issue - it's happening worldwide. I think, though, that Winnipeg and cities like it have a couple of additional circumstances that make cuts to local news especially hard.

Being an isolated community, there is no neighbouring city or regional media serving Winnipeg that can pick up some of the slack, as you would find in more populated areas of the world.

Being a small market, we have very little in the way of secondary media whether it be print, radio or online form. The small market will also make the likelihood of growing robust secondary media sources tricky.

I know that the'
blogosphere' is supposed to be the future of news. I don't doubt that it can fill some of the void, but not a great deal of it, and not to the same quality. Some blogs offer good commentary and alternative views / opinions but it's almost always based on something that the MSM has already reported.

The research I do for my history blog gives me a chance to read through a lot of old newspapers. One thing that strikes me is the amount of local news they carried, right down to community committee decisions, news from the larger community clubs / hospitals etc. as well as activities from larger community groups, new building outside of the downtown. You know, the stuff that's been farmed out to the "weeklies" to carry.

Reducing the amount of news local news being covered, I think, just adds to the downward spiral of local news outlets as they become less and less relevant to the local market.

Winnipeg Tribune !

Since the holidays I have made an effort to listen to CJOB for a bit in the mornings. Their news last week had pretty much the same formula: American wire story about Washington; American wire story about the US economy; a CP wire story about storms in B.C. or somewhere; a couple of sentences about something local (i.e. a few seconds on the rallies at the Asper Jewish Centre gleaned from the morning paper); then it's onto the market numbers and that's it. If I were listening to CBC (national radio) or a US station on Sirius I could get 95% of the same information.

Newspapers are heading in the same direction. With more wire stories and less (whether it be in quantity or quality) local news they're losing what makes them relevant. If a big story takes place in the world I am going to seek out an international news source. If a big story hits, an avalanche in B.C. or something big in Parliament, I am going to hit a national news source. If I want information on the markets I likely won't check out the new full page of numbers from the FP printed in the Free Press.

I know that more local news is not going to help the bottom line of local media but I can't help but think that by trimming back on it that they aren't helping to speed their demise.

I don't want less information about what's going on at the Leg or City Hall. I don't want less information about what's going on around me. I don't want to hear less about projects, buildings or community groups. I don't want just the "hot button" issues but to hear about the myriad of things that go on to feed my cutriosity or impact my daily life.

The thought that we are seeing less, and will have less in the future, is bad for Winnipeg.


PolicyFrog said...

Amen. I agree with everything you say, except "more local news is not going to help the bottom line of local media..."

I think bolstering local news coverage is the only way that local media (especially the newspapers) are going to survive (if not thrive).

As I've said before, use the wire services for national and international news, sports and culture coverage that can be found in a million other places anyway. Concentrate human resources on local stories, which will go unreported otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Listen to some of the radio stations in North Dakota. They broadcast high school baseball and basketball games on a regular basis. They epitomize local news. Maybe they know something the Winnipeg big city boys don't.

TB said...

Fully agree with your analysis. I fear that all too soon the only 'local' news we will be seeing in the papers will be Moose scores.

When that happens our decision makers will be given free reign - for a democracy that is death.

mrchristian said...

Thanks for the comments, folks !

@ Frog - true, I should have said the short term need, 'knee jerk' need to make the bottom line look better.

@ anon I sometimes spend time down in Texas and noticed there, too, high school sports, school division news the local health region all have strong beats in their papers. Quite a difference. and, as TB points out, probably for the best.

Anonymous said...

Look at Golden West Radio. They're thriving in rural, western Canadian markets. Working on their fifth straight year of being one of Canada's 50 best managed companies while covering local news, local sports and agriculture. 30 some stations and a number of web portals across the prairies and growing...

mrchristian said...

Thanks for bringing that up - you're quite right. My sister used to live near Steinbach so I had a couple of their stations programmed into my car radio for travel.

Great local coverage - even the news segment on Mix 96, their FM music station, is longer then, say, CJOB's is.

I am glad to hear that they are doing well.

Jamie Isfeld said...

If local means all we get is local high school and university sports scores and local charity events begging for more money from an already generous city, I'm all for the loss of local news.

We need more investigation free from fear of legal problems and slamming doors. We need more dramatic changes in local government and how they communicate with the media. We don't need more schlock.