Editorial: Community news closures indicate consumer-driven business model is long overdue for Ottawa

Savannah Awde, Editor

On the morning of Monday Nov. 27, Postmedia announced an acquisition of 22 Torstar community newspapers and two free commuter dailies, and the closure of nine in Ottawa.

This change means the exit of well-known community papers in Ottawa, such as Metro Ottawa, the Kanata Kourier-Standard, Nepean/Barrhaven News, Orleans News, Ottawa East News, and more.

According to Paul Godfrey, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, “This transaction allows Postmedia to focus on strategic areas and core products, and allows us to continue with a suite of community-based products, in a deeply disrupted industry.”

There’s no debating that this industry is undergoing a massive overhaul. What’s worth debating is whether the answer to this transformational period is to shut down news outlets that are investigating and reporting at a local level.

After all, with every industry pivot comes an opportunity to capitalize. While the old business model may not be relevant to readers anymore, it’s the job of businesses who operate in the news media market to develop better models that suit the needs of modern consumers.

If the old business model isn’t working, why not reevaluate the coverage done? The channels through which it is delivered? The paper’s involvement within the community? In the age of convenience and instant information, consumer views must be placed at a premium.

This doesn’t mean papers stop publishing unpopular opinions, or news that paints leaders in a bad light. It means looking to community organizing to see what drives the interests and lives of these citizens, getting out in the community and listening to the issues that matter to active citizens, and having reporters take cues from voices in the community that might not be reflected by the mainstream national, provincial, or city-wide media.

There are local news outlets outside of these massive corporations like Postmedia that innovate to make local business their priority. In a recent Canadaland podcast, founder Jesse Brown interviewed several local news outlets that use community voices to drive content. Funny enough, the ventures featured in the report, and Canadaland itself, are largely funded by the community—because the content matters to them.

Even if the local news entrepreneurs that Brown interviewed fall flat on their faces in the next year, you can bet they won’t go down without a fight. Where is this entrepreneurial spirit in corporations like Postmedia? Where is that commitment to informing every citizen no matter their location, that commitment we require for an optimally functioning democracy?

What businesses like Postmedia need to understand is that this industry is not leaning towards obsolescence because no one cares about local news anymore—it’s because consumers aren’t at the forefront of the decision making about coverage, and the channels by which the coverage is relayed.

Local journalism isn’t the most glamorous sounding career in the world, but with major corporations failing to understand the needs of this market it has become a segment that is just waiting for a business to identify consumer needs and deliver.

This conversation isn’t new, but with more and more news of closures in recent headlines, it’s imperative that we harness this entrepreneurial spirit for the local news market.

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