Nationally, print media has been in decline over the past decade. According to MarketingCharts, newspaper circulation in North America is down by 13 per cent since 2008; advertising revenues have decreased by more than 42 per cent over five years.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Canadian publications have, on average, followed this downslide. Postmedia, Canada's largest chain of English-language daily newspapers, says it lost $112 million in the third quarter. This lead to a downgrade by credit-rating authority Moody's. Is it a sign of non-confidence?
Although there are a few bright spots for the industry, on the whole, it is a troublesome picture.
After all, the press plays a crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy. Some consider the free press as the backbone of a democracy. In principle, the media makes the public aware of various social, political and economic undertakings around the country. When it meets its highest potential, media is like a mirror which reflects the ebbs and flows of Canada's progress and evolution. As revenues dwindle, cracks appear in said mirror. And, perhaps, a distorted reflection emerges.
Naturally, media outlets, including the Globe and Mail, scramble to increase readership and online revenue to make up for lost print advertising dollars. To that end, G&M head Phillip Crawley recently revealed part of his strategy. Speaking at the World Publishing Expo, G&M's publisher and CEO described to the crowd of industry insiders what demographic the newspaper is after:
"We are really only interested in readers who earn more than $100,000," he said, according to Journalism.co.uk.
THE SIX FIGURES CLUB?
This tell-tale disclosure begs the question: who is part of Canada's exclusive six-figures club? According to StatsCan, there are 1.6M persons who earn over $100,000, out of 17.5M working people. That makes for a target market of 10 per cent of the working population. Can you think of a national, people-oriented business which wilfully snubs 90 per cent of potential customers?
According to the Globe and Mail's own readership stats, half of their readers are over 50 years old. Only 22 per cent of readers are in mass marketing's fetish age bracket of 18 to 34. Those numbers have to be worrisome in a business built on long-term subscriptions. If Canada's youth and budding professional class are getting their news elsewhere right now, who's to say they are going to abandon their habits to convert to their (grand-)parents' news source in the future?
This recent viral video entitled "The Globe and Mail hates young people" exemplifies how "lazy and coddled" millennials feel about the way they are portrayed in the "grown-up" media. There is a palpable disdain for tone which traditional news outlets employ in relating young people's experiences. One might deduce that these potential readers are turned off by a news source that doesn't adequately speak to them, about them, or for them.
One of their columnists, Margaret Wente, asserts, "North American native peoples had a neolithic culture [sic] based on subsistence living and small kinship groups ... They had not developed broader laws or institutions ... evidence based science ... or advanced technologies ... until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was 'savagery.'"
The proportion of First Nations is growing, yet this is a segment of the Canadian population which is unlikely to gravitate to news sources which openly and repeatedly insult them and their indigenous endowments.
Visible minorities make up approximately 20% per cent of the Canadian population, but they make up a minuscule fraction of the newsroom, according to Diversity Watch, Ryerson University's journalism watchdog.
This diverse demographic is projected to grow to a third of the Canadian population by 2030. Is traditional Canadian media doing anything to include, reflect or address their experiences in the multicultural mosaic, building on the wave of the present and future?
The examples are few and far between: rosters of pundits only acknowledge discrimination or bigotry when it concerns their pet demographics, preferring to defend the monochromatic status quo at every opportunity.
SAMPLE SUCCESS STORIES
The Washington Post (WaPo) is generally regarded as one of the leading daily American newspaper. Located in the USA's capital, WaPo has a particular emphasis on national American politics, and generally offers a right-of-centre perspective. To widen its reading audience, WaPo launched The Root, an online magazine which offers perspectives of national issues from the African-American lens.
The New York Times (NYT) serves as the media lodestar: since it introduced a porous paywall in 2011, almost 600,000 subscribers have signed up digitally.
The digital subscription revenue -- alongside a price hike on print copies -- will make 2012 the first year the NY Times has earned more from circulation than from advertising, which is expected to pull in about $715-million.
The NYT was able to attract a wide range of subscribers because the publication prides itself in offering a plethora of perspectives on issues which affect all walks of life. In any given week, the NYT will give as much credence to the poverty in a small, conservative Texas town as they do covering Wall Street chic.
The NYT regularly gives a voice to Hispanic-American and African-American victims of "stop and frisk," even if they are not part of the fetish target demographic. The NY Times publishes writers from an array of ethnic and social backgrounds, offering a variety of interpretations on everyday topics.
They celebrate role models in low-income communities from the Bronx as much as they highlight achievement from elite intellectuals from the Upper West Side. Everyone can see their perspectives, their narratives and themselves reflected in the NYT. It is a reflection readers are happy to buy into.
REALIGNING CANADIAN CONTENT
The key to reversing the downward trend in Canadian newspapers' readership does not lay in narrowing the target audience to pre-retirement "one percenters." Betting on a demographic dead-end is a losing game.
The road to readership recovery is paved with diverse narratives, underrepresented perspectives, and a willingness to assimilate Canada's full spectrum. Most of our national Canadian newspapers are littered with predictable and outdated diatribes, selective umbrage and striking silences which serve to reinforce the values of yesteryear. Our media is so depleted that a number of pivotal revelations about our nation come from foreign news sources and unaccredited bloggers.
For the sake of Canada's long-standing publishing institutions and for the sake of Canada's democratic heath, print-based papers must broaden their horizons. Averting extinction would serve the public and publishers' bottom line alike.