Faced with rising costs and falling income, Canadian news media are restructuring and experimenting with new content and business models. The state’s role is becoming more central, from proposals to force Google, Facebook, and others to compensate publishers, to the future of the national broadcaster.
It has been a tough year for Canadian news media. The combined effect of inflation and declining revenues led to hundreds of layoffs at the National Post publisher Postmedia, the largest newspaper group, as well as at television networks Groupe TVA (Québecor) and Global. Print editions were reduced or eliminated at several companies including Postmedia; Québecor’s dailies in Montreal and Quebec City; the Atlantic Canadian company SaltWire Network; and SingTao Daily, Canada’s largest Chinese-language newspaper.
But some publishers backed print: the Winnipeg Free Press invested $10m in new presses, and the Georgia Straight, recently acquired by Overstory, returned to free weekly distribution in Vancouver after a three-month hiatus.
Podcast initiatives were developed and promoted through media partnerships, such as a true crime series by Postmedia with Antica Productions; a Toronto Star entrepreneurship podcast made available on Air Canada flights; and podcasts jointly commissioned by the BBC and CBC/Radio-Canada. Le Devoir launched a daily news podcast with support from the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications.
Postmedia and Canadian-based online betting and casino platform BET99 created a sports betting hub as an affiliate channel to the media’s online offerings. Torstar’s collaboration with academic partners offers evidence-based content on issues related to ageing.
There were changes in local news groups, including cuts at Overstory, an innovative British Columbia-based start-up which acquired The Coast in Halifax in 2022. But Village Media, cited as a model for digital-first advertising-funded community news sites, expanded in Ontario. Hebdos Québec, a group of 75 independent publications, acquired Réseau Sélect, an advertising network serving French-language weeklies.
The Eastern Door newspaper in Kahnawake, a First Nations community in Quebec, launched a project to help preserve the Mohawk language Kanyen'kéha. The Pipestone Flyer, a local newspaper and news site in Central Alberta owned by Black Press, created a digital subscription programme. In New Brunswick, a former newspaper court reporter introduced the Fredericton Independent, a subscription-based newsletter.
The digital French-language daily La Presse created a new luxury publication, Édition Limitée, and merged its advertising, branded content, and data science operations into a single brand, Atelier La Presse. It reported a 9% increase in ad revenue.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government proposed that Meta, Alphabet, and others should compensate publishers for linking to news stories, going further than the equivalent Australian News Bargaining Code which has reportedly led to US$134m per annum being paid to publishers by platforms.1 The Canadian model would include broadcasters and smaller publishers, and would also impose tougher penalties for non-compliance. In response Meta has said that being compelled to pay for content that it has not itself posted is not sustainable, especially when news is not the main reason for people using its platforms. It says it will stop making news content available on any of its platforms in Canada if the act passes in its current form. Google has tested limiting the visibility of Canadian and international news to its users.
More publishers are trying to engage younger audiences, including on TikTok, even though many public bodies are banning the application due to security concerns. At the time of writing, however, the bans have not stopped the federal government from advertising on the platform.
The dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme, the flagship anchor for Bell Media’s CTV, the leading TV network, was widely criticised. It was apparently in a disagreement about budgets, but was hedged with debate about workplace culture, managerial interference, and digitalisation.
The future of public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada became more polarised following the election of a new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Pierre Poilievre. He has referred to the broadcaster as ‘Trudeau’s $1.2bn propaganda arm’ and promises to defund it if he wins the next general election, to be held before October 2025. Well over half the broadcaster’s income comes from federal funding, with most of the rest coming from advertising, subscriptions, and branded content. The broadcaster is defending its position. It plans to become 100% digital, but only when there is ‘broadband ubiquity’ – a challenge in such a large country.
Colette Brin and Sébastien Charlton
Director, Centre d’études sur les médias, Université Laval / Coordinator, Centre d’études sur les médias
Pay for online news
English speaking 11%
French speaking 11%
Listen to podcast in the last month
English speaking 36%
French speaking 26%
Trust in news overall
English speaking 37%
French speaking 49%
Trust in news I use
English speaking 45%
French speaking 55%
Trust in news overall is falling among English-speaking Canadians, placing them in the lower end of surveyed markets. Attitudes towards publicly funded news services are also more negative than in past studies, especially in the West. However, Francophones maintain more positive views, with a slight bump this year for trust in news generally.