In the weeks since the latest, deep, round of Postmedia cuts, some journalists who still have jobs have written thoughtfully about the state of Canadian media. In amongst it all, an interesting idea popped up. In the Globe and Mail, via Lawrence Martin, it went like this: “If traditional print journalism cannot be sustained, what fills the void? Is there a larger role for the public sector? In Nordic countries, subsidies extend not only to journalism but to print as well – and with apparently good results.”
In the Toronto Star: “The federal and subnational governments have a role to play in funding non-profit trusts… should any of the country’s 100-plus daily newspapers hit the wall.”
At iPolitics: “Ottawa could follow Europe’s lead and even-handedly subsidize newspapers. It’s a modern version of the long-standing federal policy of subsidizing of postal rates for Canadian magazines, intended to ensure Canadians have access to diverse media voices.”
The idea had its immediate detractors.
At the National Post, Terence Corcoran provided cautioned against emulating those Nordic countries. The result of this policy in Sweden, Corcoran wrote, “is a warped newspaper market, including an abundance of local newspapers that critics say act as boosters of local politicians and Sweden’s numerous political parties rather than as critical sources of journalism.”
At the Sun, Lorne Gunter suggested that “government committees that would oversee grants to papers aren’t likely to censor newspaper content directly… but once newspapers come to rely on tax funds to keep the doors open, they will become vulnerable to indirect government pressure to avoid uncomfortable opinions.”
So, okay, these are all fine reasons for and against, but there is a much deeper underlying quandary that seems worth getting at here.
Were the government to signal that it would consider subsidies for newspapers, it might first want to know what it’s investing in – specifically, what it is, exactly, that has caused newspapers (and not just Canadian ones) to fail, quite apart from revenue problems. Because the weird thing is that by the time it found the answer to that question, the government might end up wondering whether it, too, could soon fail.Read More