Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Calgary Herald alive and well but for how long?

At a gas station in Bragg Creek, I bought a copy of the Calgary Herald and threw it on the front seat of the car before heading into the Rockies. The first incarnation of that paper came out as a weekly in 1883. Of course, today it is also available in digital format.

Several hours later, when I flopped exhausted on a motel bed in Revelstoke after driving through two high Rocky Mountain passes, I was delighted to note the healthy condition of this historic paper. Along with news, it has lots of comics, crosswords, and book reviews.

The Calgary Herald is a survivor, as traditional newspapers fade into the past in our era of ubiquitous internet access and burgeoning numbers of smart phones. Propping myself on my pillows with the Herald spread out before me felt good. It was part of a long and comfortable tradition.

The Vancouver Sun is the hometown paper, and we still subscribe, even though it has grown thin, and even though as I travel to work, there are people in the train stations trying to give away both the Sun and the Province. Continuing to take the paper by subscription is our vote of support for professional journalists -- a dying breed, we sometimes fear. It's also a continuation of a long-held ritual: the morning paper and coffee.

The newspapers of Canadian cities have long histories, but their lives are increasingly threatened. While visiting Edmonton, I learned that The Edmonton Journal has just gone through another round of layoffs and is down to a tiny staff. In fact, some of their writing is now done in the Philippines. This helps the publication to stay alive as the paper experiences ever smaller profit margins.

What will happen to Canada's historic papers when the baby boomers die out? Will long-established papers like The Montreal Gazette, The Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail and the Regina Leader-Post  continue to publish paper editions?

Will The Telegram (St. John's) still be with us? This paper is very old: it began as the Evening Telegram in 1879 when Canada was only 12 years old and Newfoundland was still 70 years away from joining Confederation.

What will happen to Le Devoir, begun in 1910 by Henri Bourassa in Montreal? And what will be the future of The Winnipeg Free Press, established 1872, now that the meaning of free in its title has taken on a new shade?

Not so very long ago, there were hundreds of small newspapers in Canada, and almost as many owners. Now newspapers are owned by large conglomerates, and share a certain homogeneity. But that's already an old challenge. The current one is even more enormous.

When people no longer pay for papers, and advertisers turn to the internet, what will happen to journalists? Will aspiring writers still train in this field? Who will be the journalists of the future? Will they attempt to report the news in a balanced way? Will they follow a code of journalistic ethics? These are important questions.

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