Local ownership is our best chance of fixing the problems that ail media in Barrie and Simcoe County, according to local media personalities.
Talk Is Free Theatre (TIFT) hosted the last discussion of the fourth season of their Illuminating Conversations series on Monday night, on the topic of the loss of local media.
Panelists Donna Douglas, Nathan Taylor and Dr. Gerald Kaplan, along with moderator Robyn Doolittle, had plenty to share on the topic, including the only solution most of them could agree on.
“None of the media outlets in Barrie have local ownership. When a company owns a local outlet, you get something different. Not bad, but different,” said Douglas.
The discussion was facilitated by Doolittle, an award-winning investigative reporter with the Globe and Mail (2017 National Newspaper Awards journalist of the year for her Unfounded series) and featured a panel made up of Taylor, a reporter at Orillia Matters and former regional editor for Simcoe County newspapers, Douglas, a freelance journalist and active community member, and Kaplan, a political activist and journalist.
The talk started by getting right to the heart of the matter: the closure of the Barrie Examiner, the Orillia Packet & Times, The Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin, the Innisfil Examiner and the Bradford Times on Nov. 27, 2017.
“I heard about the Examiner closing when Rock 95 called me for a quote,” started Douglas.
“It was like a death and the whole community felt it.”
Taylor also shared his first-hand account of that day.
“I found out about the Examiner closure from a text message from a reporter saying the door was locked,” he said.
Doolittle tried to get into the details of what has been lost with the closures.
Kaplan shared his opinion that he doesn’t think much has been lost with the Examiner closure, and although he was a subscriber, most days he didn’t make the walk to the end of his driveway to pick it up. He said he is an avid watcher of CTV News Barrie and the short snippets he gets from there are enough for him.
“Are stories going unnoticed? Are stories just not being covered now?” Doolittle asked the panel.
“To play devil’s advocate… I think most citizens don’t care about local issues or follow them too closely,” Kaplan responded.
When the talk turned to the advent of fake news and what kind of impact that can have on local outlets, Kaplan pivoted to concern about stories not being covered.
“I continue to be astounded and terrified by how much news I don’t hear,” he said.
An audience member yelled, “Maybe you would hear about it if you read a newspaper!” to laughter from the audience and panel.
“Truth, and the way truth plays out, is what we’ve lost,” said Douglas.
Doolittle then turned the conversation toward the consequences of losing local news outlets.
“These small communities have the most potential for corruption,” said Doolittle. “They have big budgets and little oversight.”
The discussion wrapped up with talk of the future of the industry.
Both Douglas and Taylor sang praises of online media going forward.
“Orillia Matters is getting more page views than the Packet & Times ever did,” said Taylor.
“Online is the wave of the future,” concluded Douglas.
When it came to the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, some audience members had a lot of thoughts about the decline of local media, including the role that stressful world news could be having on the average person’s mental health, and the choice they have to just turn it off altogether.
“Could lethargy be playing a role in subscriber downturn?” asked the first audience member.
“I think that issue is tough to solve at the local level,” said Taylor.
The talk concluded with the announcement of the first speakers of the 2018-19 season. On Nov. 26. Craig Busch, the CEO of Busch Systems, will be discussing the entrepreneurial spirit. On Jan. 28, 2019, Martha Deacon will be reflecting on being called on by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to become a senator.
For more information on Talk is Free Theatre, visit tift.ca.