The fact that print media is facing an existential crisis might be the worst kept secret in the world. Thousands of articles – tens of thousands even – have been drafted, written, and published on this topic, but there has yet to be any hint of meaningful solution.

Journalism schools across the country, Trent included, have now weighed in with their own ideas on print media’s future, giving rise to new industry jargon such as “New Media” and “Digital Journalists” as they try to sell their degrees and diplomas to aspiring storytellers.

Now I am certainly not naive enough to think that I have the answer to any of the immensely complex economic, social, and even anthropological issues tangled beneath the turbulent surface of today’s print media landscape. However, what I think have been forgotten in the many state-of-the-industry discussions that pop up across the interweb are the more fundamental philosophical and practical questions about the role journalism within public society and public discourse.

In this respect what actually needs to be discussed, immediately and rigorously within the public sphere, is the troubling phenomenon of deprofessionalization and how it is affecting not just the profession of journalism but also the public discourse that journalism informs.

The stark reality is that never before have Canadians been surrounded by so many forms of news media and yet, conversely, it has never been harder for news-reporters to make a living off of their work.

Similarly, there have never been more stories communicated between people than there are now, but it has never been more difficult for professional storytellers to make ends meet.

This paradoxical reality has not only poured cold water on the career prospects of thousands of would-be-journalists, it has also had a profoundly debilitating impact upon the quality and content of public debate within local communities.

Across the country (and indeed around the world), independent community newspapers are being closed down, cut-back, and consolidated en-masse by the national and international media empires that can no longer afford to pay for peripheral enterprises.

Local communities, especially those outside large metropolitan centres, are increasingly without the services of reliable, dedicated, and investigative news coverage.
Here at Arthur, we are able to maintain a paid staff of student reporters thanks in large part to our annual levy, which provides us with stable and predictable funding year over year.

However, we fully acknowledge that ours is a privileged position as most outlets can’t lean on this crutch in times of financial hardship; when faced with the realities of the digital news revolution these outlets have been forced to cannibalize themselves by cutting both staff and content. Ultimately, this vicious cycle has meant that it is the public discourse that suffers most of all.

Community news is a essential service in any democracy, and it is time that our governments and the public treated it like one.