Barrett: Support local movement should include news outlets, too

The Lacombe Globe office at 5019-50 St. in Lacombe, Alta. will officially close its doors on March 27, 2019. The newspaper, however, will continue to print. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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Support local.

These two words are heard being said by business owners in downtown Lacombe. They are heard on radio ads explaining how buying from a local coffee shop can impact the community more than buying from a larger chain. They are said by the local business owners I talk to and interview, and they’re in numerous social media posts that are shared, reblogged, retweeted and reposted.

They are used to speak condescendingly to people who dare think about shopping at big box stores or online. In many cases, this isn’t a bad thing – if a product or service is provided locally, why send dollars out of the community when you can spend them locally and support those who will also spend their dollars locally?

One would think that way of thinking would also apply to supporting local news.

It became apparent last week, however, that there are many people in our own community who believe news should be an exception to supporting local and both the newspapers here should just “hurry up and die already” because they’re a “waste of paper.”

Obviously, people who make those comments don’t understand the value of community news. They likely won’t read this column, but for those who might chance across it, I’m going to take a shot at explaining it, starting with why this attitude is problematic.

Imagine being someone who doesn’t drink alcohol and walking into Blindman Brewing, Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery or local restaurants such as Cilantro and Chive and telling them they were wasting space because you don’t drink alcohol. Imagine telling everyone around you not to go to those places or support them because they didn’t cater to everyone in the community, or going on Facebook once every month or two to trash the business as a whole over one innocent mistake, one bad customer service experience, or something completely out of their control.

It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? You’d get backlash from other customers – explanations of how those businesses support the community, how they affect the local economy, and provide services and products people here desire, how they attract people to Lacombe, how everyone is human and deserving of a second chance.

It’s just as ridiculous to treat a local news outlet with such an attitude, saying we should just fold already because you don’t like to read print news, local news, or newspapers at all – because like with being a non-alcohol drinker, you’d be in the minority.

According to News Media Canada, the national news industry association the Lacombe Globe is part of, 88 per cent of Canadians – and 85 per cent of millennials – read newspapers in some form. Among all age categories, print is still the most trusted form for both editorial and advertising, which is why we still print over 9,500 copies weekly so no group in Lacombe is cut off from staying informed regardless of how they choose to consume news.

The problem newspapers have is a revenue problem. Why? At least in part, it’s a lack of supporting local – local news outlets.

Many businesses – including local ones – have chosen to spend advertising dollars on the non-local Google, and the non-local social media giant Facebook or other non-local outlets. Even our government is doing the same – the Trudeau Liberals spent  46 per cent of their $39.2 million advertising budget on digital ads, $7.8 million went to social media ads, and 73 per cent of that went to Facebook. Meanwhile, just $570,000 went to newspapers and $392,000 went to radio.

Imagine how much more from companies across the country went to Facebook rather than local news outlets. Imagine how much better off those outlets might be if they were invested in rather than a company like Facebook, which does not invest directly back into communities like Lacombe.

At the same time, 63 per cent of Canadians admit they can’t tell the difference between real and fake news, the latter of which is often shared using those non-local mediums where advertising dollars are now being spent.

Getting your local news from non-local sources is problematic, too.

Did you know that if you’ve read a single story about a council decision made in a non-Lacombe based outlet (and there’s only three) in the past three years you were reading a story written by someone who didn’t darken the door of council chambers, sit through the meeting and hear the debate that went on? Only your local outlets did that.

Did you know that Blackfalds RCMP incidents reported by non-local outlets make it sound like every last incident happens in the Town of Blackfalds, because they have no idea the Blackfalds RCMP have a large coverage area that extends well south of the Red Deer city limits?

Are you going to trust an article written by someone who lives and works in the community, talks with people here to find out what’s important to them, and invests in the community, or someone who doesn’t know where Lacombe is, doesn’t care enough to make the 20-minute drive north to sit through a council meeting and get the details people in the community deserve to know about?

That is what separates community news outlets from the rest and why they are important.

For 118 years, the Lacombe Globe has been one of those local outlets. Hopefully that will continue for many more years, but it won’t happen if the community not only exempts its local news outlets from the “support local” movement, but starts to advocate against supporting them in favour of those non-local outlets.

abarrett@postmedia.com
Twitter: @Ashli_28

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