Are Canadian newspapers dying?

by Ruth Griffiths

Canadian newspaper history dates back more than 250 years. Like most industries, newspapers have waxed and waned, but now they seem to be in serious decline. Could it be that newspapers will disappear?

On March 23, 1752, Canada’s first regular newspaper, the Halifax Gazette, began publication. According to Wikipedia, the two-sided paper contained public notices, ads from booksellers and wholesalers, notices about slave auctions, poems and elegies, and excerpts from notable publications.

The Gazette was succeeded in 1874 by the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the oldest existing newspaper in North America. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald is owned by Sarah Dennis of Halifax. It is the largest independently-owned newspaper in Canada.

But the newspaper’s newsroom staff have been locked out of work since January 2016. The newspaper continues to publish but has lost ground to online competitors as well as the free daily Metro Halifax, which is now the most-read newspaper in Halifax.

A month ago, CBC reported that the union that represents 55 striking newsroom staff at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald says contract talks have broken off.

Union president Ingrid Bulmer says union members have already agreed to a longer work week, a five per cent wage cut, fewer vacation days, a freeze to their pension plan, lower salaries for new hires and other concessions.

The newspaper’s management has said big changes are required to meet business challenges.

At one time, owning a newspaper was “a license to print money.”  Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch once described the profits flowing from his newspapers as “rivers of gold”, but several years later said, “sometimes rivers dry up.”

According to the same Wikipedia article, Warren Buffett commented: “If cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the Internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.”

Newspapers have consolidated with electronic media and cut staff so that today there are fewer reporters. In 2016, for the third year in a row, the CareerCast survey of the best and worst jobs in the U.S. reports that a newspaper reporter is the worst career. It pointed to fewer job prospects because of publications closing down, and declining ad revenue providing less money for salaries. Being an over the air broadcaster was the third worst, and advertising sales is in the bottom 10.

My career with the Prince Albert Daily Herald began in 1981 when the newspaper was owned by Thompson. I have personally witnessed the computerization of the newsroom and production. A new owner, Transcontinental, removed the printing press in 2001 and had the paper printed in Saskatoon. I lost my job when most production and editorial functions were consolidated in Moose Jaw in 2009.

Will we always be willing to have our news delivered to us on paper? Are newspapers dead?