by Hilary Thomson
Much has been said about the imminent death of print media since the rise of social media as a source of information. Much of this speculation has taken place on-line, of course, but the sharp cutbacks in staffing and funding of newspaper chains around the country seems to give credence to the idea.
However, the results of the municipality’s recent pre-budget survey reveals a different story here. According to the survey, when asked where people were “most likely to get information on what is happening in the Municipality of North Grenville”, 56% said their information came from printed newspapers. Another 19% got their information from the municipal web site, and only 8% from social media. On-line newspapers and local radio are used by very few, according to the survey. In fact, more get their news by “word of mouth”than by on-line papers and local radio combined.
It should be noted that the survey used a relatively small sample of NG residents, about 10%, but that is still significant in terms of public survey samples. The responses came through mailed-in and on-line forms. Nevertheless, it does agree with nationwide results in surveys, which indicate that, while the corporate newspaper chains, such as Sunmedia and Metroland, are shedding readers and staff, Canadians are turning more and more to truly local newspapers for news and information.
April Lindgren, associate professor in Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, said in an article on CBC.ca that truly local media are essential to the wellbeing of a community: “The very presence of local media watching, research seems to suggest, acts as a check on political shenanigans. If a community doesn’t have a local newspaper or station, it usually means little to no coverage of things such as council meetings. Even if you don’t agree with how a debate is covered, there’s great value in the mere fact it is covered. Just the fact that there’s somebody at the city council writing a story about what happened informs citizens and at least lets them know what’s on the agenda in their community.”
In an era of increasing globalisation, a falling Loonie and economic uncertainty, people are more aware of the importance of their community as an anchor, a source of identity and a place to belong. The very word “local” is appearing more and more frequently in our society: local food initiatives, the idea of shopping locally. We want to know where our food comes from, we need to feel that we still have some control over our lives, especially when it seems that even national governments are losing control in the face of international economic twists and turns.
At a time when our own community is experiencing what seems like uncontrolled growth, with new housing developments and more and more traffic on our roads, and where the population is expected to double within the next twenty years, people are reaching out for something they can relate to. We have had a wonderful tradition of the Local, a watering-hole where we feel at ease, where, as the theme song went, “everybody knows your name”. We used to have the local General Store, a different kind of community centre, where people could hang around and chat and catch up on news and gossip. Most of those stores are now gone, and WalMart just doesn’t have the same vibe.
Our lives are busier than ever. The world around us moves faster every day. For many, especially seniors and those living in relative isolation in rural areas, the world seems a lonelier place, it’s hard to know where we fit in any more. That, I believe, is why local print media will continue to play an important role in our community. We need a place where we can “talk”to each other, hear the latest news from around the neighbourhood, and where we can have our say and swop ideas. The Times was started with that in mind: the Voice of North Grenville, a place where we can hear and speak to each other about the things that may only matter to us.
In those General Store discussions around the wood stove, or in the columns of the old newspapers of the past, people enjoyed the chat, the debates, even (or especially) the rows and disagreements.
In the face of inevitable change, of time passing and hard challenges, we don’t need to turn our backs on the world outside; but we do need to maintain that anchor, the identity we have as a community, as neighbours who share this space in which we live together. We need to feel that we have some say in our own future, in the way our neighbourhood changes. That is why we need locally-owned sources of information and discussion. April Lindgren has something to say about that: “Access to local news is important to the democratic vibrancy and health of a community because people who have access to news are then equipped to participate in decisions that affect them”. So, have your say, free and clear. This is your newspaper: you are the voice of North Grenville.