Within Canada’s Digital Divides (a Poynter Institute report written by Ken Goldstein) lies an ominous statement: “In 2025, it is likely that there will be few, if any, printed daily newspapers in Canada.”
The report also says, “A small number of traditional media might be able to make the transition to becoming national or international online news ‘brands’. ”
But just like Goldstein, we are left wondering: what will happen to local journalism? More specifically, what will happen to print journalism?
“The state of print media is probably on every editor’s mind at this point in history,” says Ross Vernon Dias, editor-in-chief at The Underground, the student-run monthly magazine at UTSC.
The topic was also raised at The Medium’s journalism panel last week, entitled “The Medium Talks”. Karlene Nation, a media specialist at OneNation Media Group who was a panelist at the event, says, “The news and journalism industry is changing—it’s shrinking somewhat.” Nation explained that a large part of it is due to the decline in advertising and the increasing number of news organizations.
Similarly, H. G. Watson, also present at the panel, illustrated the breadth of these news sources by referring to a study on media concentration in Canada, saying, “Facebook, right now, is the fourth largest media company in Canada.” She explained this phenomenon, saying, “Humans like to hear stories—what is Facebook if not people sharing stories with each other?”
While describing traditional forms of media such as newspapers and television, Watson says, “I don’t want to say that they will be obsolete, but we have new forms of media that are moving in that have very little competition.” An example mentioned by Watson was that Google is now hiring more editors and reporters.
Similarly, many writers question how far arguments about “the good old days”, or the “permanence in print”, can keep the tide of constantly-updated digital media at bay.
“Employers are looking to reach an audience, and you get that through the Internet,” says Jasmine Anthony. She was the managing editor of The Sheridan Sun at the time of its last print publication, before transitioning to an online-only format.
“We did already have an online publication, so we were well prepared for the transition,” says Anthony, who is in her last year of the print journalism program at Sheridan.
She mentions that this is the last year the program will run, after which it will be merged with the broadcast journalism program, which contributes largely to why the faculty decided to concentrate the curriculum on online-only content.
“The Sheridan Sun is like our baby,” says Anthony, and while she describes the move to online-only as bittersweet, she says, “We all agree with the decision and understand the reasons for it.”
The Sheridan Sun is run by students from the print journalism program and Anthony mentions how almost all their stories have been student oriented. The paper has been around since 1971 and has featured stories from Mississauga, Oakville, and Toronto.
Anthony describes how student involvement in the paper was further encouraged by including their pictures and comments and maintaining live blogs. However, she mentions how the online version has always received several hits, and “the money being paid, instead of going to a print publication, can now be directed to something more useful”.
The significantly shorter delay between an incident occurring and an online update appearing, as Anthony describes, is another factor when considering the divide between online and print. “I’ve always loved the paper in my hand, but I do believe I check my phone more,” she says.
Although Anthony feels that print will never truly die, she mentions how the shift towards digital media is rapid, and for students in the print journalism program to be competitive candidates in the job market, these skills are essential to develop.
The Underground also shifted to a monthly publication from a bi-weekly one, albeit for different reasons.
“The recent format change was a little selfish; we knew we needed more space to be as creative as we possibly could. We felt a little inhibited by the 24-page bi-weekly issue both temporally and spatially,” says Dias. He mentions how the paper has evolved towards the monthly format over the years since its inception in 1982.
Dias also describes how each article has increased from 600 words to 800–1,000 words, “which is a significant increase in what the writers are able to say within the articles”.
The print edition, however, is not the only thing changing at The Underground. Dias mentions that earlier, the entire magazine used to be posted to the website as it was. The website transition began this year with an online editor to curate website-specific content and a better social media presence.
“Digital lets us be up-to-date, fast, and brief. Print lets us be expressive, dynamic, and distinctive. Why not use both to a publication’s advantage?” says Dias.
The new Underground website has introduced podcasts, videos, and a newsletter. Dias mentions how next year, The Underground will introduce a website editor-in-chief and a creative team to really push for digital content.
“Since we are a student publication, advertising really isn’t of much concern,” says Dias, also noting how a social media presence, while not only generating direct revenue, builds a connection with the reader.
In terms of financing, Dias mentions that The Underground is doing well by a student-paid levy, but their main problem remains pushing for increased space. Dias explains that the office is small for their team of 15 and restricts their creative growth. “These goals [for increased space] cannot be met on our current budget, so The Underground is planning for an increased levy in the 2017/18 academic year,” he says.
Investments toward online content development may be made for a variety of reasons, but writers seem to agree upon the dwindling, but permanent, presence of print media.
“[Print media] definitely will always have an audience,” says Dias.
While both mediums offer different experiences, Dias mentions that the entire digital publication industry is built on the format of print, which, as much as they try, can’t be shaken off.
Dias suggests the possibility of a reduction in issues printed, or a recalibration of audiences, but, as he summarizes, “Print won’t die—it’s impossible.”