The just-published book American Manifesto: Saving Democracy from Villains, Vandals, and Ourselves has a list of actions for people to take to tackle the crisis in democracy in the United States.

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This article was published 19/2/2020 (820 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

The just-published book American Manifesto: Saving Democracy from Villains, Vandals, and Ourselves has a list of actions for people to take to tackle the crisis in democracy in the United States.

No. 1 on the list: "Subscribe to your local newspaper."

Author Bob Garfield, a Washington-based commentator on media, says the dwindling resources available for serious news gathering have neutered the ability of media to be watchdogs and inform the public.

"Don’t starve the watchdogs," writes Garfield. "Nourish them."

Democratic processes and institutions in Canada may not be as sickly as those south of the border, but they are showing many of the same symptoms. They also need nourishment. Healthy, trusted news media are more needed than ever, as traditional business models for providing news collapse in the face of digital giants gobbling up advertising dollars.

On Wednesday a coalition of news outlets, including newspapers and the CBC, released a joint declaration calling on the federal Parliament to help nourish sustainable reporting for Canadians, by Canadians, across the county.

The Trudeau government has already shown unprecedented support for news gathering, increasing the budget for the CBC and announcing a number of measures to help written media, including tax credits and direct grants to employ reporters.

However, public subsidies are only a partial solution. More action is needed to strengthen competition laws, impose fair taxation on digital companies and provide copyright protection for original journalism. Other countries are ahead of Canada in investigating and taking action to counter the impact of digital companies on journalism within their borders. Australia has announced world-leading changes to its regulation of tech giants.

Canadian newspapers have been asking for these changes for several years. What is new today is that we have joined the CBC and others, which we have traditionally viewed as competitors.

There still is tremendous competitive spirit in our newsrooms. Every reporter wants to get a story first, and best. But what is at stake now — the quality and quantity of local news — is too important to cling to old ideas about how newsrooms should operate.

At the Free Press, we have developed a number of partnerships to further our public-interest goal of maintaining quality news coverage and reaching a broad local audience.

We are participating in a pilot project with CBC Winnipeg to exchange a small number of stories on Saturdays and Sundays, days when both newsrooms have scarce resources. Free Press stories appear on the CBC website, and CBC stories appear on the Free Press site.

We also partner with not-for-profit radio station CJNU 93.7 to provide content for some newscasts. Our faith coverage is directly supported by local faith groups that have contributed money to help pay for reporting.

The Winnipeg Free Press already has two reporters being paid for by the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally financed program. The paper will also receive refundable tax credits for employing journalists, and our digital subscribers will be eligible for a tax credit when they fill out their tax forms in 2021.

None of this would have been done in the past. For that matter, none of it existed a year ago. But none of us wants to live in a community that is not being served by news outlets that are rigorous in their work and strive for fairness and accuracy in their reporting.

We’ll keep striving and keep asking for your support to do so. As Garfield writes: "In point of fact, journalistic information is not free. It is dear — in every way."

Bob Cox is publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and chair of News Media Canada.

Bob Cox

Bob Cox
Publisher

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.