By SUSAN LEGGE
PUBLISHER AND GENERAL MANAGER, BEACH METRO COMMUNITY NEWS
In the ever-shrinking landscape of Canadian news media, small, non-profit community newspapers like ours are sailing in uncharted waters since the passage of the Online News Act (Bill C-18) by the federal government in June.
This new legislation, set to take effect in December, requires Meta and Google to negotiate agreements with Canadian news publishers regarding compensation for the use of news story links on their platforms.
Promoted by major Canadian news media as a way to restore equitable competition for advertising revenue lost to these two tech giants, both Meta or Google want amendments made to the law, or else…
For consumers who follow us, and other media outlets on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms, you know they serve as important conduits for sharing news.
For us, it’s a place to connect with the community and provide links to news items on our website that don’t make our print pages. We were making strides with our digital advertising products and building our Instagram following, too — until we weren’t.
While covering a story in August about a city-wide uptick in off-leash dog incidents, I attempted to livestream a city press event on our Instagram account. It was unresponsive.
Our Canada Summer Jobs-funded reporter, Nafisat Alao, a Centennial College journalism intern, showed me her phone featuring our Instagram account with a stark message: “People in Canada can’t see this content.” Our account was blocked.
Shortly after that, our Facebook account vanished. No explanation, just a blank page. Years of content, including photos, videos, and links to countless news stories, all disappeared. Needless to say, we were devastated.
Meta had fired the anticipated warning shot by blocking news content on their platforms to comply with the legislation in alignment with their warning back in June.
Even more concerning is Google’s threat that Canadian news will vanish from its search results before the end of year, adamantly refusing to pay a “link tax.”
So, what is the Beach Metro Community News doing about what could become a very bleak period for local journalism?
We’ve been putting our efforts into reaching our digital audience a different way.
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I commend the Canadian government’s intention behind this bill as a step to legitimate compensation and revenue sharing and thus a more accountable and diverse media landscape. And I commend the support of Beach Metro Community News by local MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.
However, the larger newspaper conglomerates have held sway at the table with government officials, shaping the legislation to align with their interests.
We, on the other hand, haven’t enjoyed this privilege. And we cannot survive the loss of a circulation presence indefinitely on Meta and Google platforms like big media.
Independent local newspapers play a vital role in communities, providing a platform for grassroots voices, highlighting local issues, and fostering community engagement.
The closure of 70 weekly Metroland community newspapers last month may not be because of Google or Meta’s refusal to compensate publishers, as our editor Alan Shackleton suggested in his column on Sept. 19, but the devastating effects these tech companies have had on our revenue cannot be ignored.
The government must take proactive steps to include small publishers in discussions, address their unique challenges, and ensure that the regulatory framework promotes innovation, diversity and local representation.
While we’re on the topic of ad revenue, I encourage the companies who relied on Metroland newspapers to please consider local newspapers, like ours, for advertising opportunities.
We know our community champions local causes, and we remain steadfast in the pursuit of local news.
Your support is greatly appreciated. To become a Beach Metro Community News Supporter, please go to https://beachmetro.com/donations/support-beach-metro-news