Newspaper veterans dissect their ailing, ‘elitist’ industry

Canadian journalists Peter C. Newman and Linda McQuaig think newspapers are struggling because of the people who own them.

The two spoke recently at the University of Toronto on the issue of why Canadian newspapers, like newspapers worldwide, have been shedding readers and revenue. Both agreed that the owners of these publications are trying to force-feed their ‘corporate’ opinions to readers.

“There’s this huge gap between what ordinary Canadians want from their country and what the rich, or the elite, want,” McQuaig said. “Ordinary people want strong government, they want strong social programs.

“On the other hand the elite want exactly the opposite. They want small government, they want low taxes and financial deregulation,” she said. “The problem is our papers are owned by people who have those elitist views.”

McQuaig said newspaper owners use their position to try to influence public opinion through the content presented. She attributes this as to why newspapers aren’t being read, because the opinions in the paper fail to reflect the point of view of the middle class Canadian.

Newman agreed, saying “we need less media concentration and more diverse news.”

But Gordon Fisher, publisher of the National Post, sings a different tune. He said in an email that the National Post’s print readership is actually larger than it was five years ago.

He thinks that the economy is affecting all forms of media – especially through the decline of advertising – but he said that his own view is that “we have a great future as we evolve from primarily print format to a combination of print and on-line. We will live or die on our one core strength: our ability to create compelling content.”

Other than the issues of ownership, Newman thinks that daily newspapers will be reformatted towards more indepth, feature style of journalism and focus less on ‘breaking’ news: “What’s wrong with newspapers is that they deal with news,” Newman said. “If papers are going to survive, they must get away from the news.

“Successful newspapers have got to get to the emotions of a reader,” he said. “There’s no point in appealing just to the mind.”

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