Don’t Subsidize Newspapers

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Canada’s newspaper industry wants the federal government to create a $350-million fund to reimburse approved outlets for 35 per cent of a journalist’s salary. No.

The Bulldog started with nothing five years ago and now has about 61,000 page views a week. Were the newspaper industry healthy, The Bulldog would never have been started. Innovation comes from necessity and possibilities, not government handouts.

Government funding to industry only perpetuates inefficiency and selling unworkable products. It also props up institutions unnaturally making innovation difficult for people who want to create something new. Such support stifles creativity.

Today The Bulldog is a part of the information mix in this community while two other websites, Bulldog Canadian and Bulldog Fetch, and their newsletters draw readers from Parliament Hill, across the country and the world.

The Bulldog’s balance sheet is healthy after five years … probably healthier than almost all media outlets in the country. That said if you have a dollar in your pocket, you have more money than most media outlets.

Why? Because it is small. Small in costs … small in revenue.

The Bulldog is not burdened with hideous debts like many other media operations. It has very few costs unlike its competitors who are paying huge property taxes, benefits, salaries, heating costs, air conditioning, repairs, distribution … they are two-tonne pencils whose revenue doesn’t support expenses.

Traditional media have done little successful innovation but have laid off and bought-out reporters, damaging their products and therefore hastening their inevitable fall.

Worse than that, the future looks bleak for traditional media. Its revenue comes mostly from its antiquated print products which have a limited survival horizon. Newspapers thought their salvation was the Internet. But with giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook swallowing traditional advertising at very low prices but enormous volume, newspaper infrastructure cannot be supported by the web. Newspapers can’t compete with lean, innovation web operations. The future isn’t bleak … it’s non-existent.

When the Internet rose to popularity, traditional media had the resources to dominate the Web. Instead they just dumped their product onto their websites forgetting that the most important part of new technology is interactivity. Reading just isn’t enough.

One of the most popular features of The Bulldog is commenting. Hardly new but newspapers have blown it off. They don’t moderate their Internet comments so all kinds of horrible statements in bad taste appear on what were family products.

Comments are vital. Comments are interactivity, something newspapers should have known from their letters to the editor sections. Commenters put sweat equity into those comments and even a little operation such as The Bulldog finds time to moderate those comments and react to them. A relationship only works if there is sweat equity on both sides. Newspapers have forgotten that to the point where commenting is unmoderated. This little operation last year did 4,200 comments … something we’re very proud of and The Bulldog has become a leading forum on local municipal affairs. That came from a mutual buy-in from the public and The Bulldog that Ottawa needs a civilized forum for municipal opinion. And this publication is very humbled by the effort made by our commenters to make this forum a success.

So in summary, the Liberal government should not create a fund to subsidize the newspaper industry. It is only creating an anchor for taxpayers that will temporarily lengthen the life of dying institutions or create a situation where the government must prop the industry up into perpetuity.

But worse, the fund makes it hard for little startups to survive so that one of them will turn into an interactive, innovative operation that will revolutionize information gathering and distribution.

Someone will do it and turn it into the Facebook or Twitter or Google of information.

Funding media dinosaurs with never-ending tax money will only hold the evolution of journalism back.

If the government feels it must subsidize the media, help out the little guys. That’s where the future of journalism is.

That said, The Bulldog doesn’t want government money. We’ll rise or fall on our merit or lack of it.

 


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