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How Local Media is Dealing With Bill C-18: The Online News Act

Written by
Mikaela Lewis
and
and
October 20, 2023
How Local Media is Dealing With Bill C-18: The Online News Act
A screenshot of Arthur's Instagram

During one of the breaks in my three hour lecture last week, a discussion about social media was brought up. This led to someone in the class admitting they use TikTok as the main place to get their news. As a newly minted Arthur journalist, this was an interesting first hand look into how people get their news. TikTok is one of the few social media sites where Canadian news content can still be freely shared. For those not as engaged with news, let me introduce or refresh your memory about Canada’s new Online News Act, or Bill C-18.

On June 22, 2023, Bill C-18 received royal assent, with December 2023 being the deadline for enforcement. Put simply, the bill makes platforms that host Canadian news pay the news outlets for the news they were posting. It is no secret that news media is somewhat of a dying industry in Canada, and the government’s rationale for the bill confirms this, arguing that it would help pay news outlets for the content they produce. 

However, the platforms hosting the news took it a different way. Both Google and Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) have decided to remove news content from their platform for users in Canada rather than pay for it. 

On August 1st, Meta began blocking Instagram and Facebook accounts of Canadian news outlets and by the end of the month, everyone in Canada was no longer able to see news on Facebook or Instagram. If you were following Arthur on Instagram this summer, you may have noticed the radio silence from the account since then. The account now displays a message stating “People in Canada can’t see this content,” and a link to Instagram’s website and their explanation in response to Bill C-18.

As someone working for a local media outlet, Trent Radio, at the time, I was immediately aware of the effects of the bill, but that is not the case for all Trent students. I spoke to several students who had little to no knowledge about Bill C-18 and learned that social media is still an important part of the news ecosystem for them. Despite not actively following any news outlets, they still listed social media as a place they absorb news from. While the students acknowledged that social media isn’t the best place to find their news, it is still a place they use, at least passively, to learn about current events. 

Social media is the way students connect to each other and the things happening in their community and the loss of news affects them. The students I spoke to also did not like how the bill and in particular the corporate response to it took away their power to find reputable news on social media. One student called it “censorship” while another said “With everything going on and the false information that is so prevalent on the sites it’s a little ridiculous to get rid of the actual news sources.” 

The passing of Bill C-18, while a non-event to the student population, left local news organizations scrambling to pivot away from social media. Small, independent newspapers such as Peterborough Currents are not slated to benefit from any hypothetical funding from the bill, as they are not attached to any larger legacy media companies that have the power to bargain with Google or Meta or the government. They were still left without social media, and needed to find new ways to connect to their readers. 

Local news media organizations have had several months now to implement new strategies in the non social media world they find themselves in, and the overwhelming sentiment seems to be hopeful. In my interviews with Will Pearson, Publisher and Editor of Peterborough Currents and Arthur’s own Editor-in-Chief Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay both discussed how the bill pushed people to be more engaged in how they get their news. 

“It’s driving people to us, instead of people just waiting on social media for us to come to them,” Pearson said. 

Both stressed how the newsletters in particular are a driving force to get people to their respective websites. As Johnston-Lindsay stated “[The newsletter] has actually driven a lot more people to the website than Instagram ever did.” 

All my interviews with local media outlets discussed how there is still an appetite for local news that does not seem to be going away any time soon.

It’s worth noting that this bill affects more than just newspapers as it also includes community and campus radio due to lobbying efforts by the National Campus/Community Radio Association (NCRA). In speaking to Rob Hailman, Director of Operations at Trent Radio he discussed “going back to the basics.” 

“[Trent Radio] reached people before social media, before it existed,” Hailman said. Things such as word of mouth, poster, and print campaigns, and newsletters seem to be the favoured strategies of the media organizations I spoke to that are working best.

Trent Radio and Arthur are both in the privileged position of being mostly levy-funded organizations that do not rely on social media or advertising to keep operating, something that was stressed by both organizations in interviews with them. 

Peterborough Currents is unfortunately not as lucky. Pearson says they have been running ads on Facebook directing people to their website. This works because, as he put it, “[Ads] are still allowed, because Facebook is never going to stop taking our money.” 

The local news organizations, while all stable at the moment, are scared of what this bill means for the future of news in Canada. All the local news organizations I talked to mentioned the fear of consolidation of small local publications and larger legacy media taking over. Small, local, independent journalism is most at risk and least likely to be able to enter into direct deals with the corporations controlling social media and search engines. 

While it might be biased for me to say, as someone employed by a local independent newspaper, I quite like my job, and believe that independent journalism is important to a properly functioning society.

It is not all bad news, though. You can still reach your local news outlets through non-social media means. The new favoured way of reaching an audience by news outlets seems to be newsletters. All the local news organizations I talked to have newsletters they send out on a weekly-monthly basis that brings their content directly to your inbox. So, as I’m sure my editors would appreciate, I would like to encourage anyone reading this to subscribe to Arthur’s newsletter The Courier as well as Peterborough Currentsweekly newsletter. 

Going directly to the source for your news is the best way to stay informed.

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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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