What media market can you think of with a population of almost 2 million people that has no dedicated local radio or television station or daily newspaper producing local news? We refer of course to Halton and Peel regions whose media landscape consists of a handful of weekly newspapers and a few radio stations, many of them low power ethnic stations, or stations like Zoomer radio in Oakville that aims for a broad audience defined by demographic (age) rather than location. Aside from the weekly newspapers, the only hyper-local content is provided by Cogeco Cable’s community broadcasting service.
The region depends almost entirely on out of town media to swoop in and cover the big stories of the day; which means in most cases it will be murders, catastrophic car crashes and fatal fires that will dominate coverage. Occasionally papers like the Toronto Star will get interested in local politics in the outlying areas, but even then it is more likely to result in coverage of the scandalous side of things—corruption in Bramption, weird behaviour by a Mayor in Stouffville, not the day to day stuff that affects the average person’s life. As a result we get a distorted view of life in these communities.
When TV went digital it was thought that the technology would allow a broadcaster to simultaneously transmit more than one signal. So in theory at least a station in say Toronto or Hamilton could produce one newscast aimed at the local market and another directly to the cable systems in places like Halton and Peel. Some of the Buffalo TV outlets are doing this, but so far it hasn’t happened in the GTAH. That is probably because the biggest cost in producing news is still the people required to gather the news, not the technology to deliver it.
News is expensive and needs to be paid for. The federal government recently announced it would throw $50 Million at news outlets in a vaguely worded announcement that frankly didn”t sound like it would bring much relief to legacy news outlets who produce most of the original content that you see on the web. The government might as well hang onto their money because $50 million spread over hundreds of outlets is such a pittance, it will not do anything to solve the root problem. The government would get more value for money if they simply resumed advertising the way they did in the past. They might actually reach the generation of readers and viewers who care about their government, rather than pursuing a feckless social media strategy targeting an audience that largely doesn’t care about government and is grossly under represented when it comes to voting.
Tina Brown, who has been a success in both print and digital media says sites like Google and Facebook need to stop ripping off legitimate media news sources. “One of the great big scams of digital platforms is that they’re able to kind of pretend that they care about the human good, while at the same time taking all the profits and all the revenue from people who are actually doing the work,” said Brown, who is also the former editor of publications like Vanity Fair, The Daily Beast and The New Yorker. “They use all that great work on their platforms and don’t give anything back,” she said. “It’s been a great scam. I’m glad they made out like bandits, but I think it’s time they’re viewed in the manner they should be.”
Speaking of Tina Brown, her recent book, the Vanity Fair Diaries is a fascinating look back at the New York media scene in the 1980s when she was brought over from London to edit the Conde Nast publication that had been languishing for years. Brown completely revitalized the magazine, focusing on eye catching art and saucy writing. It was Brown who published the Annie Leibovitz photo of the nude and very pregnant Demi Moore on the cover. Hell, imagine being able to afford Leibovitz on a regular basis. News budgets meant nothing in those days as Brown dispatched reporters and photographers to every corner of the world on a whim. When Brown went on a sales meeting to pitch, say, the Ralph Lauren advertising account—it involved having lunch with Ralph Lauren himself!
In New York in the 1980’s Donald Trump was becoming a household word and Tina who then identified him as a “bullshitter,” watched his metamorphosis. “When I first met Trump in the mid-’80s he was refreshingly vulgar but fun – in some ways, a classic New Yorker. But as the years went by, he became more and more unappealing. He was a bankrupt, had a very public divorce, and could be a bully and a liar. He became very aggressive when we published anything he didn’t like, and in the pre-Twitter era would write letter after letter and call me up, yelling down the phone.” Not much has changed.