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The Death of Local Newspapers: The Concerning Gap Between Quebecers and Accessible News

Sabina Bellisario-Giglio

Science & Environment Editor 

Via Le Devoir

As more and more local newspapers and news sources are shutting their doors due to financial problems, the number of readily available, local newspapers is rapidly dwindling. Digitization has helped spread content at an international level at an exceptional rate, but has left local news in the dust, unable to compete with such growing demands. Should Quebecers be concerned with these decreasing numbers, and how does this crisis impact our consumption of media and news?

The morning newspaper has long been a staple in homes, but there is a particular type of newspaper, consumed primarily by the middle class, that revolutionized news: the penny press. Benjamin Day founded The Sun newspaper in New York City in 1833, which became “the most successful and influential papers of the nineteenth century,” according to the University of Illinois Press. While they were by no means unbiased, these one-cent papers paved the way for accessible news that often ranged from local police reports to financial and political news intended for the working class. 

The journalistic approach and reporting of these non-politically funded papers differed from popularized newspapers. Reporters focused on issues and ideas pertaining to the working class rather than the upper class. With thousands of copies printed daily, the working class began developing a more positive view of journalism, appreciating its importance as the news catered to their collective needs and ideals. 

Recently, the population has seemingly lost its affinity for printed journalism. La Presse, a staple of French-language news in Montreal, suspended printing their weekday papers in December 2015, after publishing for 131 years. The digital push of the Canadian press in 2015 simply foreshadowed the events that preceded the coming years. The pandemic only encouraged the trend of digitization, causing many publications to lay off workers and even temporarily close their doors. As of March 2023, Six newspapers under the Coopérative nationale de l’information indépendante (CN2i) transitioned from daily and weekly to strictly digital formats. Even the Montreal Gazette, the oldest newspaper in Quebec, stopped printing its Monday edition of the paper in October 2022. Many of these cuts and losses come from a severe lack of funding, increasing costs of distribution and printing, as well as a lack of advertisers. 

However, Montrealers likely noticed the absence of Journal Métro, the newspaper distributed in various metro stations. The paper holder that once held copies of the free daily newspaper now sits empty outside of the Dawson metro-level entrance. While many factors led to the newspaper’s eventual closure and bankruptcy in August 2023, Andrew Mule, president of Métro Média, mentioned the suspension of Publisac distribution as one of the leading causes. La Presse reported that Transcontinental’s (TC) decision to stop the distribution of these plastic bags containing flyers and local papers, left nearly 115 weekly papers without a network of distribution. Patrick White, professor at UQAM, expressed sadness about this decision in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It’s very, very bad news for local democracy [in Montreal and Quebec City]. It’s the end of the hyperlocal news model.” Citizens of the province will continue to suffer as crucial reporting on local events will disappear alongside these papers. 

Despite leaving many readers behind, the shift to digital platforms has become the dominant source for news outlets. The Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) addresses concerns of the spread of misinformation and disinformation. They cited a study conducted in 2018 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which discovered that “falsity traveled six times faster than the truth online” and that accurate reporting often reached under 1,000 people while news containing false information often attracted 100 times that amount of people. Local media that attempts to transition to digital platforms will likely never compete with the rapid spread of clicks and likes from platforms like Facebook and X. 

Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, also poses a significant threat to local news sources. Even The Plant was affected by this issue, as covered in an article featured in our September issue. While Canadian news outlets were warned and given months to draft new strategies to supply their content, it remains difficult for consumers and smaller news companies to keep up with these constant changes. An article in Arthur discussed these issues as the author, Mikaela Lewis, notes how everyone they spoke to “mentioned the fear of consolidation of small local publications and larger legacy media taking over.” Moreover, “local journalism is most at risk and least likely to be able to enter into direct deals with the corporations controlling social media and search engines,” showing the lack of attention and preservation of these important outlets. 

As technology continues to evolve, the fateful day printed newspapers become extinct may be closer than we think. Thus, it is imperative to support local newspapers in your borough and, in this digital era, to be mindful of the news you consume online. 


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