We all know traditional media has fallen on hard times, but I didn't realize how big the difference is, until I thought about what used to be.
The Way We Were
In preparation for that opening keynote I'll be doing, I thought about how people consumed media 30-years ago and I was surprised at how much things have changed.
I'll use Edmonton as an example, because I was born and raised here, but the same story can be told in every larger city in the country.
In 1993, people on the morning commute in Edmonton could listen to the news on around eight AM stations and six FM stations. Virtually all had news at the top and bottom of the hour during the morning and afternoon drive periods. All of them had fully staffed newsrooms with reporters to cover local developments.
When people got to work, many had two newspapers waiting for them to read during coffee and lunch breaks. The Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun were filled with local stories, supported by a ton of advertising.
When people got home and had dinner, they had a choice of three or four TV stations, packed with anchors and reporters to cover local developments.
It was a competitive media market. There were dozens of journalists, supported by advertising dollars at each media outlet.
Rip 'n Read Journalism
Fast forward to today and that same drive to work in the morning. There are now half as many AM radio stations doing news. Few have dedicated reporters to cover local news. CHED does get some content from Global TV, because the two are part of CORUS. For others, it’s rip 'n read journalism, with no local reporting done.
There are no local beat reporters left on commercial radio. 30-years ago there were around 20. The difference can be heard every time you listen to news on the radio.
News disappeared on all FM stations years ago, which is especially sad because some used to compete with the strong AM news operations of the day like CHQT and CJCA. Now they’re gone and there’s no news on FM.
The people driving to work today likely listen more to podcasts, satellite radio and music than they do to the radio. They only have few local options when it comes to news.
People also consume local TV news differently. It’s still there, but there are fewer reporters and less local content. Local TV newscast viewership numbers are nowhere close to where they used to be. Local sports coverage hardly exists anymore, which doesn’t help.
We know what has happened to local newspapers. The Sun is now little more than a large pamphlet. The Edmonton Journal has seen better days too.
I totally respect the job reporters do for the Journal and the Sun, but there just aren’t enough of them.
I also notice errors in the papers that wouldn’t have happened a generation ago. Some stories just aren’t there. In other cases, stories can be found in two places in the paper. Then there’s social media. Here’s a recent example on the Journal’s X feed. Check out this headline.
The Bottom Line
The question becomes, are people less knowledgeable about news and developments in their community because of the downward editorial spiral of traditional media?
To me, there’s little question they are.
The average person today listens to, reads and watches far less news than they did 30-years ago. The big difference is the role the internet and social media play in delivering news to them.
People consume news differently today than they did many years ago. For many people, social media sites are their biggest source for news. That has to be concerning.
One positive is, due to the fact so many people consume news on computers and phones, they likely hear about major stories quicker than they did 30-years ago.
What they aren’t getting is the quality of journalism that used to exist. Every night I watch local TV newscasts, filled with newsmakers reading from prepared statements and not having to answer questions from journalists, likely because so many events now only get cameras at them. It’s frustrating to watch politicians reading from those prepared statements and not being asked tough questions. Simply running a clip from a prepared statement isn’t journalism.
I see far fewer stories in the newspaper and even the ones that are there rarely have both sides of an issue covered. The depth is missing.
Not only are there fewer newscasts on radio these days, the quality is nowhere close to what it used to be because of a lack of reporters and local content.
Perhaps the most troubling thought is, traditional media is only going to get worse. The relentless cutbacks in personnel will continue because the revenue model for traditional media is broken and there’s no solution. Just last week, CORUS announced it was getting rid of ET Canada after 18-years.
While there are so many things in the world far better than 30-years ago, traditional media isn’t one of them. I was proud to work in it when I did, but doubtful many of the people in traditional media now can honestly say the same thing. It's not their fault. It's just the way it is.