Guest Column from Jon Pole, President, MY BROADCASTING CORPORATION (In Peterborough, MBC Media owns and operates OLDIES 96.7, FREQ 90.5 & www.PTBOTODAY.ca)
It’s a snowy Canadian morning. The wind is blowing, and the temperature is frigid. At the end of a long laneway is a little girl bundled up waiting for a school bus that’s not coming.
This is the heart of local news. Making sure the community is up to date, informed and safe.
There has been endless chatter about the internet regulation bills C-11 and C-18, but no matter the side of the argument you’re on, the bigger question is the future of local news.
Local news is more than just reporting on “the news.” It is knowing the community, the newsmakers, and the real concerns on the street. To provide context to every story, you have to be an active member of the community. Simply put - you have to care. The leadership has to care. That’s how you build the trust to be “a news authority.” Big tech doesn’t impact your commitment to the community.
Suggesting that both Google and Facebook don’t care about our community or if we’re informed may not be perfectly accurate but it is not a huge stretch either. Have they run a food drive, showed up at the parade or been at a chamber event? No, of course not, and to be fair, that’s not their business model. It is however the job of the Canadian News media (if they want to be trusted by the community they serve).
Google and Facebook have jumped into the Canadian advertising landscape. Some reports show that Google and Facebook are taking half of all ad dollars spent. Last I checked, in Canada we are capitalists. Business landscapes change. Technology changes. How does the phrase go? “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Broadcasters who continue to support their communities with news and information are doing just fine. Radio doesn’t specifically need Facebook or Google to survive. Social platforms and Search are tools to market our brands (no different than any business), but they certainly don’t define us, nor do we have to use them. I know why the government is in this fight, but at the risk of offending some folks in Toronto and getting the Chamber in trouble, I will just say – I don’t feel threatened by Facebook and Google, and our teams have done a fine job using them, and a fine job not having access to them. They don’t impact on our business any more or less than our other competitors.
I believe the news has to be available where people are, which includes Google and Facebook. More importantly, no matter what the platform or delivery channel, the product has to be good and add value to the audience. Trust is not given by the consumer, it is earned.
Times change. Good operators that care about the community adapt and change. It can be hard in business to swing the ship, but change doesn’t mean you throw in the towel. I look at the August quarterly report from Yellow Pages Limited and see revenue of $62 million, their EBITDA for the quarter was 35% of revenue, their cash balance was $65 million and they’re paying dividends. While this may be dramatically different than 1985, that’s still a pretty good business. Heck, I didn’t know they were even still around! The point is, sometimes the world forces you to change the game plan. You either adapt or die.
Radio used to own school bus cancellations. That little girl at the end of the lane was our responsibility. Today, we still do cancellations, but Facebook, email blasts, and texts also provide the information. That’s ok with me, because at the end of the day – we don’t want that little girl out there freezing. While radio may have lost that sole ownership of bus cancellations, did the community suffer? Not at all.
The good news is, there are still endless stories that we can cover, investigate and report that the community cares about as much. It’s our privilege to do it. It’s our job to do the work and reinvent. Google and Facebook won’t impact our results, our drive or our coverage. While the intentions of C-11 and C-18 are to help Canadian media, I’m not sold they address the real problem.
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