Public Policy Forum’s in-depth report looks at the state of the news industry in Canada
But report tackles issues that are not unique to Canada, and comes up with a series of recommendations which include reviewing the Copyright Act and esstablishing a research institute dedicated to the study of news and democracy
The Public Policy Forum has released a fascinating new study on the state of the news industry in Canada. THE SHATTERED MIRROR: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age comes at a good time as journalists around the globe are trying to get a handle on the state of their industry, and what can be done to both attract and maintain readers, and build profitable businesses.
“The digital revolution has made for a more open and diverse news ecosystem–and a meaner and less trustworthy one. It has also upended the model of journalistic “boots on the ground” backed up by a second platoon in the office upholding such hallowed standards as verification and balance,” the authors write.
The report comes up with a series of recommendations, but rather than going through everything in the report, I think it better that professionals download it themselves by visiting the website set up for the report here. Trying to come up with a summary of the report, or what I find significant in it is silly after only a few minutes reading its contents.
The report has a lot to chew on, is over 100 pages in length (and its free to read, by the way), and does at least briefly look at some of the issues that have cropped up more recently, like ‘fake news.’
“There is no simple answer to the fake news issue, which simmered for years before seizing public
attention during last November’s U.S. presidential election. Separating fact from fiction has historically been the job of electors, not the elected,” the reports says. “Although “proceed with caution” should be the watchwords, there is no reason why Canadians, or anyone else, should be subjected to an Internet filled with polluted rivers of information.”
The report than goes on to look at the issue from the side of news providers and those that read the news.
“…it would be a mistake to confuse fake news symptoms for the disease. The opening for fake news has been created by deeply sociological phenomena related to exclusion and breakdowns in societal trust and cohesion. Certainly, the larger lesson from the U.S. election concerns the significant cohort of alienated, aggrieved and under-educated voters prepared to suspend disbelief and embrace fake news. There is nothing new about this. Writing in Harper’s Magazine in 1936, author Aldous Huxley cautioned: “Propaganda gives force and direction to the successive movements of popular feeling and desire, but it does not do much to create those movements. The propagandist is a man who canalizes an already existing stream. In a land where there is no water, he digs in vain.” In other words, let’s not forget the context.”
The press release for the report is below, and I’ve included a couple of charts of that struck home with me here, plus a video from the report that was posted to YouTube. The video is unlisted, but they did not turn off the share function, so I hope the authors do not mind me including it here – I hoped it would encourage more downloads of the report (and if they want me to remove it I will be happy to comply).
As TNM readers know, I love good research. I’ll be spending the weekend with this report, that’s for sure.
OTTAWA, Ontario – January 26, 2017 – A major study released today by the Public Policy Forum shines a light on the state of the news industry in Canada, revealing it is reaching a crisis point as the decline of traditional media, fragmentation of audiences and the rise of fake news pose a growing threat to the health of our democracy.
THE SHATTERED MIRROR: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age investigates the major shifts and disruptors in news and journalism – the broken business model, under-development of digital-only news providers and consolidation of digital distribution revenues by Google and Facebook.
After six months of study and discussions with close to 300 people, the report proposes a series of bold recommendations aimed at ensuring the news media and journalists continue in their role as the watchdogs over our elected representatives and public institutions and the connective tissue within our communities.
“This report is not about the journalists, with whom I feel great solidarity, but rather the role they play, and what we may be putting at risk if we are inattentive,” writes Edward Greenspon, President and CEO of the PPF and the report’s author. Mr. Greenspon spent more than 30 years as a journalist before joining the PPF.
Among the 12 recommendations are proposals for a new “local mandate” for The Canadian Press, the national wire service, ensuring there are more journalistic “boots on the ground” to supplement coverage of courts, legislatures and city halls; an Indigenous journalism initiative to put more resources into communities and governments that are often overlooked; and the creation of a research institute that would examine news and democracy issues more closely, including the distribution of fake news in Canada.
The report also calls for changes to Section 19 and 19.1 of the Income Tax Act to support civic-function journalism in Canada, whether by incentivizing Canada-centred news organizations to do more reporting or, for those that don’t, creating a revenue stream to support a Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund.
Three recommendations deal with measures to modernize the CBC’s special role in Canadian news – so important now in an era where so much news is tainted. The report calls on the CBC to stop selling digital ads in order to free it from the pressures of having to “attract eyeballs.” This would reinforce the corporation’s civic-function mandate of informing Canadians.
Included in the study is exclusive public opinion research by Allan Gregg of Earnscliffe Strategy Group. He conducted focus groups and surveyed more than 1,500 adult Canadians about their perceptions of the relationship between news and democracy, their trust of journalists and their level of awareness of the disruption of the media business.
The title ‘The Shattered Mirror’ pays homage to the 1970 groundbreaking Senate report on the mass media called The Uncertain Mirror.
“Unfortunately, the state of the news media’s job in reflecting society back to itself is no longer uncertain,” Greenspon said.
However, the findings and recommendations are the PPF’s alone.
Mr. Greenspon concludes Canada has already reached a “crunch point” in terms of the state of the news industry and its ability to fulfill its democratic responsibilities.
“This report is meant to offer insight into the state of news two decades into its existential crisis, as well as ideas for how to respond,” writes Mr. Greenspon. “We hope it will stimulate a necessary debate and necessary action, while understanding no story is ever at its end.”
The report can be downloaded by clicking the link above or by visiting shatteredmirror.ca, where the report is accompanied by videos, FAQs, a statement by PPF President Edward Greenspon, and more.
Download charts and videos: The PPF has made its videos and most of the charts used in the report available for reuse at shatteredmirror.ca/media. They can be downloaded as editable vector files to be adapted to news outlets’ individual styles, or as PNGs to be embedded as images on websites or other documents.