Newspapers in 3 BC Communities Become the Latest Victims of the Online News Act

The devastating impacts of the Online News Act is causing multiple news organizations to go under already. It hit 3 BC communities.

When Bill C-18 received royal assent back in June, it came under the backdrop of critics warning of the dire consequences of the legislation with the government accusing those critics of spreading misinformation. Those warnings included the fact that platforms are just going to block news links, immeasurable harm unleashed onto the Canadian news landscape, closures, and the hamstringing of online innovation within the country.

By all accounts, those warnings all came true. Facebook rolled out news link blocking, the media landscape underwent significant harm thanks in part to the collapse of user engagement on news organizations pages, online innovative news efforts slowed down production and expansion, and closures are certain to follow with audiences drying up on the websites of news organizations who are already on the brink of financial ruin.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait very long before the closures began. A report from the CBC says that newspapers in 3 BC communities (specifically, Fort St. John, Kamloops, and Dawson Creek) were shuttering operations:

The closure of two long-standing news outlets in B.C.’s northeast this week has some in the community mourning — and others hopeful for creative solutions to fill the gaps left behind.

Glacier Media announced the decision to shutter both Fort St. John’s Alaska Highway News and the Dawson Creek Mirror this week, saying in a letter that the papers are no longer sustainable as ad revenue has “shifted heavily to online platforms such as Facebook or Google.”

“It’s been an anxious couple of months,” said Rob Brown, managing editor of the Dawson Creek Mirror — who is hoping to fill the gap left by the Mirror with what he describes as a “homegrown, locally owned” news outlet.

Brown says he had a sense the closure was imminent this past summer. In the past decade, he says, staff have been whittled down from more than 20 to just a small handful.

So, what was the final straw for these closures? The Online News Act. The CBC apparently tried to spin the Act as a good step forward, though the success of that spin looks to be limited:

On Tuesday, Kamloops This Week confirmed it is closing its doors at the end of October after 35 years of operations.

“There’s really just a lot of cost issues that have accumulated,” said Robert Doull, president of Aberdeen Publishing, which owns Kamloops This Week, told CBC News.

“And, Google and Meta have been blocking our links [as a result of Bill C-18] which has reduced our page views by half.”

CBC News reached out to the federal government for comment on the impact of Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, on local media but did not hear back prior to publication.

The closures leave a large gap in the local media landscape of B.C.’s Peace region in the northeast, a vast region that often views itself as underrepresented by media outlets from the rest of the province.

It’s worth pointing out that Google has actually yet to act, but says that their intention is to block news links. This as per our report earlier this month. So, Doull probably misspoke when he included Google in that, but Meta is a different matter in that the company has, in fact, blocked news links. So, it is interesting to hear that Meta dropping news links has resulted in these newspapers traffic being chopped in half, though.

It has been a long known issue that many news organizations have been on the brink for some time. We’ve long suspected that the Online News Act will be the law that finally pushes some newspapers over the edge. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened here. Multiple newspapers were on the brink and Meta pulling the plug meant the teetering on the edge finally came to an end with these newspapers falling into the abyss.

As time goes on, other news organizations serving smaller communities are only destined to follow. This especially considering that Google has yet to follow. Arguably, Google dropping news links is going to be a much bigger hit to these news organizations. Even worse is the fact that the damage at that point would be compounded with the damage already being unleashed with Meta already pulling news links in response to the Act. The fault in all of this, of course, lies at the feet of the Trudeau government and the Online News Act (not to mention all those who supported this legislation in the first place).

All of this is a very sad sight to see, but at the same time, so much about this is so self-inflicted as well. After all, it was large media companies that heavily lobbied the government for this in the first place. As a result, they’re receiving the very consequences they were long warned about. Like it or not, it is happening and the situation is only destined to get worse. This is, after all, only early days of the Online News Act and the consequences of that law coming to fruition.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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