Watching Canadian Journalism Drown

Nearly 3,500. This is the estimated number of journalists that Canada lost in 10 years, between 2010 and 2020. A decline of more than 23%, according to data from the long questionnaire from the 2016 and 2021 censuses. If a quarter staff in the Canadian justice system had evaporated in 10 years, would we remain indifferent? Would we be here proposing at best half-measures which barely provide enough air for the environment to keep its head above water, and even then?

Yet this is how we are witnessing the not-so-slow drowning of Canadian information, an essential pillar of a healthy democracy, with the legislative and executive as well as judicial powers.

Can fewer than 11,500 journalists — yes, that’s what remained of people declaring they do this job in 2020 — provide sufficient, quality information to more than 40 million Canadians spread over a huge territory? Will rural, indigenous, immigrant or vulnerable communities be adequately covered, or even at all? My one-word answer: no.

Your media is struggling with what they have. Convincing young people to embark on this stressful career with atypical hours is increasingly difficult, with the promise of earning on average $55,400 per year (this too, Statistics Canada says). The media is imperfect. They have not all made good business decisions or initiated the digital shift on time or successfully, even if many have done so with creativity and few resources. That doesn’t justify watching them die out. I call on them to be given the space to do better.

The statistics are worse in the audiovisual world: we observed a drop in the number of people practicing the profession of announcer of 32% in 10 years, which represents almost 2,500 fewer workers, for a total of 5,400 people in 2020. The announcement made by TVA on Thursday will only darken the picture further. Announcers and other communicators in this category are the ones who read news, weather or advertising bulletins on television and radio, and who host entertainment and information programs. They often deliver information prepared by journalists to the public, but also sometimes participate in journalistic collection, depending on the station that employs them.

In light of the hundreds of job cuts announced since 2020, we can believe that in the next census, journalists will form a contingent of less than 10,000 people. With advertisers: less than 15,000 workers, if we are a little optimistic. Canadians will then be right to complain about the quality of the information they receive, especially in the regions, where the ax invariably falls first.

I am providing you with estimates, since only a quarter of households complete the long census questionnaire. I also remind you that the Harper government lifted the obligation to respond to the long form in 2011, which returned in 2016. But the trends are too serious to be ignored. They are confirmed with each new publication of census data. Anyone can access this data, with a little patience navigating through the variables. They confirm the headlines that follow one another.

If our governments care about democracy and fighting disinformation as they say, the time to act is now.

Obviously, the remedy proposed by Ottawa is failing, and the aid to the press offered by the provinces, notably Quebec, is far from sufficient. Since Ottawa tabled Bill C-18, supposed to “save” journalism, there have been cuts and closures: TVA, CN2i, Métro Média au Québec, City News, NordStar, Metroland Media Group, media division of BCE, not to mention all the regional media which pay a high price, whether they are independent or part of a large conglomerate. It’s starting to look more like a drowning aid than a buoy.

I repeat: how many journalists will there be left at the next census? And what access to quality information will remain?

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