Canadian journalism industry continues to evolve

Over the years, the business of reporting news has undergone some remarkable changes. And arguably nowhere have those changes been more pronounced than in Canada.

The nation has contributed numerous heavy-hitters to the practice of journalism, from such major legacy figures as Peter Jennings and Robert MacNeil to many of today’s media stars including Ashleigh Banfield, John Roberts and Catherine Herridge.

Many Canadians of a certain age will tell you how they used to gather around the television at the same time each week to watch Eric Malling’s hard-hitting reports on CBC’s The Fifth Estate, and, later, on CTV’s W5 with Eric Malling.

He covered news, politics, business, sports, and other topics, leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to tell a complete story. His work defined investigative journalism for a generation of viewers, setting the standard for those who would follow.

Today’s journalists still gather the facts, verify details, grab video, interview notable figures, and meet tight deadlines as they always have. But today, thanks to a 24/7 news cycle and the technology that has helped make it possible, newsgathering and reporting is constantly underway.

In Canada, for example, although traditional news organizations have been on the wane—a trend that much of North America has experienced—there’s been an increase in the number of smaller media outlets during the last several years.

“As traditional newsrooms face cutbacks, buyouts, and layoffs, more and more small news startups are popping up across Canada, vying for the attention of niche audiences and valuable subscriber dollars,” writes Audrey Carleton.

“Sixty news startups have launched in Canada in the last two decades, two-thirds of which were started after 2010—with 2018 seeing the launch of ten individual media startups, the greatest number of launches of any single year in the last 20––according to new research out of the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.”

The news business has experienced a huge paradigm shift since the days of Eric Malling, as much reporting has moved online. “Traditional media habits such as television and print have fallen significantly over the last five years while online and social media use has remained broadly flat,” writes Colette Brin, journalist and professor at Université Laval, adding that “Smartphone use continues to grow, reaching over half of our national sample.”

Alfred Hemida and Mary-Lynn Young, both professors at UBC, have been collaborating with a number of universities and newsrooms to track the growth of digital media startups across the country. Their objective is to learn how digital journalism can impact civic engagement and policy uptake.

“In their research, which is ongoing, the pair have identified patterns and trends among startups, which have the power to determine an outlet’s success in Canada today,” writes Carleton.

Despite the changes that have altered the media landscape, Canada has a long and proud broadcasting history that long pre-dates television legends like Eric Malling. CBC, for example, was established by the government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1936. Radio and television were new at the time, and the government wanted to ensure that Canadians would be able to access Canadian content.

Time will tell how people will get their news and investigative journalism in the years ahead. Whether through the written word, moving images, microblogging, or another form of media, stories will still need to be told.

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