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Opinion Local newspapers deserve better than Joly’s culture plan

Peggy Hasein is an independent newspaper publisher in Biggar, Sask.

I watched with interest as Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly announced her vision for culture in Canada.

It's disappointing she did not see fit to include some vision for preserving the print industry. She alluded to the fact that she thought the business model was broken and that there was a role for Google and Facebook in the discussions.

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I am publisher and owner of The Independent, a weekly newspaper in Biggar, Sask., with a population of approximately 2,200. I am also a small-business owner (yes, one of those who, according to the federal finance minister, has been cheating on my taxes all these years). Twenty-eight years of successfully operating a business, and now it seems my business model is broken. I have always believed the customer comes first and my customers, my readers, have told me very emphatically they want their local news delivered via print.

Added to that, the best advice the Minister of Canadian Heritage can give me to increase revenue is that I should partner with two American conglomerates – Facebook and Google.

It's a bit of an insult.

Ironically, if the government would actually place advertising campaigns in my newspapers I would not be asking for support. The Liberal government spent $13.7-million on advertising with social media. Protecting the Canadian domestic market was another priority in the speech. Ad campaigns in local markets would be a great way to lead by example.

The Minister talked a lot about finding a Canadian way. And she mentioned many large centres by name but the smaller communities were visibly absent from her speech. According to a media usage study conducted by AdCanada Media, "As far as regular weekly media use is concerned, traditional media was still dominant amongst respondents in communities under 5,000 population." One of the great strengths of community newspapers is the ability to disseminate information to a targeted audience.

As for newspapers being dead, consider this stat: According to a study conducted by News Media Canada, newspapers reach 9 out of 10 adults. That doesn't sound like we are dying any time soon.

Biggar may not have a large population, but its residents pay taxes and vote. We may be a small drop. But if you add up all the communities in rural Canada, together we make one great big bucket.

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School events, minor sports, theatre performances, council news can all be found on the pages of The Independent, 100-per-cent Canadian content. Let's face it: Nobody else in the country cares about what happens at Biggar Town Council – but the residents of Biggar do. I publish the stories that reflect my community; stories that need to be heard.

I note with interest that, while Thursday's speech was broadcast live on Facebook, Ms. Joly chose traditional media such as newsprint to announce that she would be making an announcement.

But a community newspaper is so much more. It is an archiver of history. It chronicles the happenings in the area. Community newspapers are highly regarded as valuable tools for historians and genealogists. One has to wonder why the Minister of Canadian Heritage would not recognize my paper for its valuable contributions. My newspaper is just as important to preserving the historic landscape of this country as is the CBC.

I live and work in my community. I employ local people. I support local projects. I volunteer in my community.

Those big American companies do not. They do not support businesses on our Main Streets. They do not send news gatherers to cover events. They do not contribute to the local or the Canadian economy. They do not care about my community. They do not share my values – Canadian values.

No, my business model is not broken.

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