Crash to Paywall: Canadian Newspapers and the Great Disruption
You’ve probably heard by now that these are tough times for newspapers. The standard story has it that the Internet with its “culture of free” and alternative advertising avenues delivered a perhaps mortal blow to the industry, exacerbated by the economic downturn that struck in 2007-2008. Brian Gorman doesn’t disagree with this, but wants to expand the narrative, casting a wider net of blame while at the same time pointing to some signs of hope. While changes in technology have played a key role, in particular up-ending the traditional model of classifieds and advertising that has long sustained newspapers, the industry has also brought a lot of its pain upon itself by cutting costs and in many cases putting out an inferior product (this has been a particular problem with large chains). That said, there have also been many success stories at both the national and local level, with a lot of first-rate journalism still being practised both in print and online.
The greatest danger moving forward, especially in Canada, is increased concentration of ownership and uniformity of message: the press as a “gated community” with a narrow range of interests, mainly directed toward serving elites. The situation today is so much in flux it’s hard to say how things will ultimately play out, but Gorman provides a great map to the territory we’ve entered and identified the importance of what’s at stake.