An “Existential Event” – Documents Show Panicked Messages from Small Media About Online News Act

Documents are showing small media outlets have been begging for their lives in light of the Online News Act.

Yesterday, we highlighted a report showcasing smaller media outlets opening up about just how devastating the Online News Act has been on their operations (even when some weren’t exactly clued in on why this was all happening). While some small news outlet owners are pretty clueless on how the internet works, many actually do know full well how the internet works.

A recent report out of Politico published excerpts from documents obtained from an Access to Information request (ATIP). The documents show several small media outlets have been sending panicked messages about how the Online News Act could jeopardize their businesses very existence:

As the clock ticks down to Dec. 19, the tripwire deadline that will spring the Liberal government’s Online News Act to life and prompt Google to follow in Meta’s footsteps by ending news sharing in Canada, a fuller picture has emerged of the behind-the-scenes jostling and dire warnings made by smaller players.

During a more recent public consultation, Zoomer warned that “without a defined cap on liability, there’s a looming threat of Google withdrawing from Canadian news, which would be catastrophic for digital-first news entities.”

Back in June, Village Media’s CEO Jeff Elgie warned the prime minister in a letter that losing both Facebook and Google news will “most certainly devastate what has otherwise been a thriving ‘new’ media sector.”

“The impact of an exit from just Facebook alone will likely result in the shutdown of 5 to 6 of our newer community news sites (which rely on audience developed using Facebook to develop to maturity), and the termination of roughly 30 jobs across our company.”

Narcity Media Inc. told Ottawa during public consultations it lost 30 percent of its overall traffic since mid-August and took a 15 percent hit to revenue from branded content and advertising.

“This decline compelled us to lay off over 16 invaluable members of our social and journalist teams, a move that resonated negatively through our corporate structure and the larger community we serve,” it said.

Erin Millar, CEO of Indiegraf, a network of more than 100 small news organizations and startups, warned the PMO in a letter that the legislation could cause an “existential event” for many local newsrooms.

“Removing Canadian news content from these platforms will raise the barrier to entry for start-ups and chill news innovation, development and investment. It will harm small and Indigenous news businesses, and distort the playing field.”

It isn’t just the owners of small media companies seeing their careers flashing before their eyes. Freelancers are also running scared about all of this as well:

Canadian illustrator Chelsea O’Byrne warned the Prime Minister’s Office in mid-July that her career hinges on contract work with such media companies as The Globe and Mail. She said she gains clients when her illustrations are shared through mainstream media over social media.

“Bill C-18 suggests that our government leaders are deeply unaware of the role that social media plays in today’s freelance economy,” she said. “This bill is going to make it virtually impossible for freelancers like me to continue finding new clients while residing in Canada.”

Some of the messages the government received are downright heart wrenching at times:

Gabriel Ramirez, who co-founded The Bridge Canada, a small independent news outlet aimed at immigrants from Latin America, told Ottawa during a public consultation that Meta’s exit from Canadian news is “killing us.”

“Nobody is reaching or watching our videos,” she wrote in a regulatory submission to Ottawa.

Michael Kras, who writes about arts and culture for a small local start-up website in Hamilton, Ont., wrote to then Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez pleading for Ottawa to reach a “reasonable agreement” with Google and Meta.

“If companies like Meta make good on their promise to stop allowing news from Canadian media outlets on their platforms — as they’ve already started to do — this will mean the end of my job, my livelihood, and the same for countless others like me,” he said. “l’m sure you can imagine what a terrifying prospect this is for workers like me. It will simply be catastrophic for our industry.”

The panicked, scared, and desperate pleas really drives home the point that opposition to the legislation is far from exclusively Conservative party supporters. Further, it punctuates our earlier report of News Media Canada – a very well known lobbyist that pushed for this legislation – surrendering their position and realizing they may have made a bit of a mistake with pushing for this law in the first place. In response to this extremely late realization, they, too, called on the government to work out an arrangement with Google. It represented a significant pullback from the previous position that was more or less a “never back down” and “full steam ahead” position that it previously held.

For me in particular, my current view on this whole situation and what it means for Freezenet is that if I somehow survive the next news link apocalypse, I’ll count myself as a very lucky individual and continue on with my work while likely reporting on others who didn’t make it. If, however, Google chooses to treat Freezenet differently from Meta, then I go to my fallback plan of producing video’s for my news content on YouTube and enjoy the last year or two of that before the government tears that up with the Online Streaming Act.

As I’ve always said, I intend on continuing this career right up to the very end. If that means writing right up to the point of the Canadian government silencing me, then so be it. Writing news has always been my passion and I will cherish this privilege right up to the very end. Yes, I do have a backup plan, so I’m not stupid in this situation, but I fully intend on writing right up to the point where it will be impossible to do so in a reasonable manner. One thing is for sure, judging by the messages above, I’m far from the only one out there having these types of thoughts.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the government has shown no signs of pulling back from the brink. They called this existential threat “necessary” last month and show no signs of changing that position. This also brings home the point that the Canadian government is actively ignoring all these pleas for sanity. It isn’t as though the government didn’t know about opposing viewpoints on the matter from media outlets, they chose to simply not care. So, sadly, that’s the situation we are in today: members of the media sector facing their imminent demise and a Canadian government who has actively chosen to ignore those desperate cries for sanity. Unless something changes before December 19th, the outcome of all of this is seemingly a sure thing – and it will be a very dark day in Canada.

(Via @ACoyne)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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