Paying for News

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In the wake of yesterday's brouhaha over the Postmedia/Torstar swap, Ryerson journalism professor Mark Bulgutch has today penned a tough-minded op-ed imploring Canadians to ante up. When it comes to the shuttering of local news outlets, the bad guys aren't the heartless "suits" running Canada's media corporations, he insists. "The real villains are those who aren’t willing to pay for news."

In making his case, Bulgutch makes three appeals. The first is to target parasitical social-media platforms, which are now attracting much of the advertising revenue that once underwrote legacy media. The second is to invoke journalists' special role as interpreters of reality for their presumably benighted readerships. "When a government puts out a news release, or a premier delivers a speech, or a candidate for office makes a promise, we don’t need Google or Facebook to just pass on their words," says Bulgutch. "We need journalists to add context, explain motives, and yes, separate fact from wishful thinking (or worse)." The third is to "shame" readers—he actually uses the term—into paying for media whose existence shields them from encroaching totalitarianism. "Imagine what people would pay for independent news in North Korea, or Cuba, or Syria. Don’t wait until it’s gone here to miss it."

Professor Bulgutch is identified as a "former senior executive producer of CBC News," yet he does not mention the CBC in today's piece. This is a major omission. As Andrew Potter, former managing editor of the Ottawa Citizen, noted in his trenchant analysis of the crisis afflicting Canadian journalism, "We already have a massive, national, publicly-funded journalism operation in this country, it’s called the CBC." Quite right. According to the CBC's most recent financials, federal funding of our public broadcaster came in at $1,099,085,000 for 2017 (the allocation for CBC News is not broken out).

Why don't Canadians want to pay for news?  They're already paying.