Federal plan for Canadian media funding not all it's cracked up to be

Photo: Liz/Flickr

There are two main things you need to know about the federal government's recently announced $600 million in Canadian media funding. First, the folks who will figure out how to divvy up the pork pie will be an "independent panel drawn from the news industry." Second, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey thinks it's a great idea.

Oh, great. This is the Paul Godfrey who is auguring Postmedia into the financial dirt as it stumbles and crumbles under the debt load of American hedge funds. This is the Paul Godfrey who, along with four other Postmedia executives, got over $2 million in retention bonuses while they shuttered local newspapers across Canada and kicked dozens of Canadian journalists to the curb. The same group of execs that gave themselves a 33-per-cent pay raise while their company owes its creditors, including the U.S. hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, $281 million.

"I tip my hat to the prime minister and the finance minister. They deserve a lot of credit," Godfrey told the National Post. "Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now."

Well, I'm not lacing up my Nikes just yet.

The fund is meant to help the Canadian news industry adapt to new media consumption habits and to the flow of ad revenue to digital.

Yes, you're reading the words "new" and "digital" in the same sentence in 2018.

The idea that Canadians are just now clueing into getting their news online, via podcasts and on social media platforms like Facebook, is so cute it might as well be a freshly shampooed kitten.

And, let's be clear here: the reason Google is eating the newspapers' ad lunch is because newspapers let it by wilful neglect of online for decades -- even when it saw Amazon, craigslist, Google and others putting on big bibs and bellying up to the lunchroom counter.

And Facebook? Don't get me started. Canadian news outlets couldn't wait to let the social network steal their traffic. They tugged their forelocks when Facebook lied to them about everything being "video." They watched their numbers tank when Facebook unilaterally pulled the algorithm rug from under their feet.

So, why wouldn't we expect the same outlets to fecklessly, frivolously toss this new federal money at the next bright and shiny start-up that promises the world and delivers the pink slip when it suits them.

John Honderich, the head of Torstar Corp., said the proposals "should significantly help the media sector as it transforms to a sustainable digital future."

This is the same Torstar that frittered away tens of millions on the ill-fated Star Touch tablet edition of the Toronto Star. So, yeah, I'm all for the media giant getting another opportunity to put the "chump" in "chump change."

Because, really, it's not much that's being offered, no matter who gets it.

In the past 10 years, about 16,000 Canadian journalists lost their jobs, more than two dozen daily and 220 weekly newspapers have merged or been shuttered and, really Postmedia papers are all in iron lungs with American bankers kicking at the plug. Any of the funds Postmedia got would be mostly siphoned off to service debt, not local communities.

Now, $600 million might help real independent local publications and folks like rabble.ca, The Tyee and Canadaland. But if people like Godfrey, Honderich and Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley all think the fund's a dandy idea, you can guess how much they expect to flow to independent sources.

As Canadaland's Jesse Brown recently said on Twitter: "The papers have never been worse. They won't improve on gov't life support. We'll just preserve a shitty status quo and lock out new players indefinitely."

Just so. Look, all the details haven't been sorted out. But, in this case the devil may not be in the details, it may well be the devils who sort the details out. So, no victory laps just yet, Mr. Godfrey. And, by the way, not all of us have buildings to do those victory laps around.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the internet.

Photo: Flickr/kingstongal

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