On March 20th, a Town hall meeting was held at Victoria Hall on the subject of “what to do about the loss of a daily newspaper?” The Town was supportive by waiving the Hall rental so organizer Rob Washburn reported back on Monday on what came out of it. Rob said that there were about 150 attendees and that it “was an unqualified success”. People were passionate about the subject and showed that they were interested in a wide range of topics: not just politics but also community organizations, cultural groups, and events. Since then news providers have expanded: Northumberland News has expanded, 89.7 FM is producing more news, Today’s Northumberland was recently created, the Burd report has started up again and Grahame Woods is now contributing commentary on Cobourg News blog.
But Rob said that there remain many unanswered concerns such as the request for a single place where people can go to get all the local news.
In conjunction with the meeting, Rob conducted an online survey and the 50 participants provided useful information – here are highlights:
- The demographic mostly interested in local news is older – 74% of survey respondents were over 50
- Most respondents were from Port Hope (42%) and Cobourg (46%)
- A third of respondents follow Northumberland News
- Twenty per cent said they get local news from social media. The rest get news from other online sources or radio
- Only 36 per cent say they are willing to pay for online news.
Only one person at the meeting was under 20 (Grahame Beer) so this aspect needs to be addressed. Rob has now met with students from 3 grade 12 classes (CCI and St Mary’s) and plans to talk with more.
Councillors were interested and asked what were the next steps. Rob talked about the “Local News Northumberland” group which was founded by John Miller and will be working with interested people to see what can be done. On May 3rd, World News day, John addressed the annual convention of the Ontario Small Urban Municipalities. One hundred and eighty municipal councilors, including Cobourg’s Forrest Rowden, attended in Niagara Falls.
John spoke about how local governments are concerned about “local news deserts” caused by the shuttering of legacy media by corporations like Torstar and Postmedia. He said that some are hiring communications staff but recognize the limitations of this approach. He showed research about how bad things are (244 local news outlets closed in 181 communities since 2008; only 75 new start-ups) and why things might get worse. He talked about the project in Cobourg and said that, based on the group’s experience, what is likely to replace local newspapers is going to be digital, it’s going to be exclusively relentlessly local, it may not be found in one place, and it won’t be free.
He suggested what Councils can do about it:
- Develop a new, non-confrontational relationship with news start-ups;
- Lobby for changes in the Planning Act to recognize that notifications via print newspapers are not enough;
- Continue to push for high-speed internet;
- Publicize library training on computers;
- Publicize availability of new media on municipal websites and through mail-outs;
- Partner with local journalism schools to draw attention to local news needs.
When Brian Darling asked Rob “Is it true that people now have to look for news?”. Rob said “yes but there are places to find news.” As well as this site, I have compiled a list of web sites that provide local news – go here. So far they are all free although some are heavily supported by advertising.