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The Review

The future of Journalism: Tech and news collide


How the industry can survive the digital revolution

Layoffs have become fairly common in the Canadian journalism industry.

Last month approximately 290 journalism jobs were eliminated and more than two dozen community papers across the province shuttered. That’s in addition to the dozens of other layoffs that took place at prominent outlets — Maclean’s magazine, BNN,  Ottawa CitizenMontreal Gazette and more —  this year.

Since 2010, the news industry has seen a steady decline in print newspapers and local journalism. A 2017 Public Policy Forum report found that last year fewer than one in five Canadian households purchased a newspaper and television news revenue has dropped about 10 percent every year. Meanwhile, in the last seven years, approximately one-third of all Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared. 

As news organizations continue to fight for survival, many are looking outside of the industry for new opportunities. Some of the industry’s biggest brands are betting on journalism-tech hybrids and media entrepreneurs to help it adjust to the changing marketplace.

Death by 1,000 papercuts

Today’s downsizing, even at some of the country’s largest publications, isn’t unusual. Legacy news organizations are grappling with falling ad content, increased online competition and an unsustainable revenue model.

In order to reverse the industry’s failing economics a new business model is needed. Some of journalism’s top influencers agree. They’re working hard to instil the same type of Silicon Valley spirit that transformed the tech industry within journalism. For example, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship program encourages its students to develop new “digital media products.” City University of New York‘s Entrepreneurial Journalism certificate program gives students hands-on journalism and tech training they need to start a successful media business.

“Front-end media entrepreneurs are creating news content — from comics-journalism apps and digital voter guides to state watchdog initiatives. Back-end entrepreneurs are building mobile apps, scraping data, and automating tasks.” @janjlab of J-Lab.

In Canada, tech and news stakeholders are doing the same. This week, the DMZ — the number one university-based incubator in the North America — launched the Digital News Challenge Innovation ChallengeThe initiative is a joint partnership with the Ryerson  School of Journalism at FCAD and the Facebook Journalism Project. It will provide early-stage tech companies with the tools they need to push their startup to new levels. It’s hopefully a telling sign of more positive changes to come in an industry still trying to find its footing.

Can (Canadian) journalism survive?

The financial troubles facing Canada’s journalism landscape aren’t unique. Journalism outlets around the world are encountering the same difficulties. Even longstanding institutions, like the New York Times, have seen a decline if not outright collapse over the years.

For instance, this year the NYT added 308,000 new digital subscribers in its first quarter, likely buoyed by the Trump presidency. It also saw its digital revenue rise by a whopping 18.9 per cent. Despite these bright spots, its print revenue advertising — the company’s biggest money-making metric — fell by 17.9 percent.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. If newspapers can support emerging media startups, media companies in Canada can flourish and avoid a similar fate. A 2017 journalism report found Canada’s  ingenuity and adaptability in face of strong U.S. competition is its secret strength.  

So, what does this mean for the future? Mediapreneurs that create a product that gives readers access to more online opportunities are set up to win. Thankfully, it’s never been easier for small firms to enter the media space. Digital startups that have found multimillion-dollar success, like Canadaland and Buzzfeed, prove that journalism startups can win if given the chance.