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Why Magazines Matter

David Yager.

Obviously, you agree. You’re reading a magazine. But print media continues to contract. Newspapers shrink. Some magazines disappear. Three newspapers that once competed – Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald and National Post – have common ownership and publish many of the same articles. More content comes from fewer sources like Reuters, Bloomberg and Canadian Press. This is bad for consumers looking for facts and analysis.

Newspapers became the news in June when publishers asked Ottawa for $350 million in annual funding to subsidize journalist salaries to keep more on the payroll. This followed a proposed five per cent levy on broadband Internet to “level the playing field” among digital and print news services. This came from a parliamentary committee studying the modern media but was immediately dismissed by the prime minister.

When Paul Godfrey took over Postmedia in 2009 it had about 5,400 employees and gained another 2,500 when it purchased Sun Media. Today the combined operations employ only 3,200, meaning 4,700 people lost their jobs, many reporters and columnists. The diversity of coverage and opinions has been devastated; content shrinks continuously.

While newspaper readership has declined, the magazine business has fared much better and still has a strong presence in today’s marketplace. Looking at North American statistics, numerous magazine titles have disappeared over the past few years but just as many have launched bringing new content and ideas.

Magazines are a critical element of a balanced media, particularly for local content. Weekly or monthly magazines have the time, space and commitment to research and publish in-depth articles; the story behind the story. Most reputable magazines have fact checkers; independent staff to verify every quote and fact. The best investigative articles have been exhaustively researched then published in magazines.

For the many turning to digital media as a news source, the content may be diverse but it is short on depth, analysis and, too often, the truth. When Google was fined $3.6 billion by the EU for antitrust violations, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. issued a statement saying, “Google has profited from commodifying content and enabling the proliferation of flawed and fake news, to the detriment of journalism and of an informed society.” Google’s search engine will find and display anything. Rogue writers know this and exploit it regularly. It used to be difficult to put rubbish in front of eyeballs, but no longer.

Meanwhile, essential “deep dive” research into complex subjects is contracting. The trend is multiple highly-competitive digital news sources, too many of which will transit almost anything. Experienced journalists who can smell a rat are unemployed because they were paid more. Fact checkers and researchers, a key element of a legitimate print news outlet, are a dying breed.

Newspapers and online publications have short news cycles. Newspapers need fresh material every day; digital media every hour. No wonder fake news can flourish. Some outlets are so desperate for content and so short of staff they publish first, verify second. It is amazing how much news nowadays is simply false.

This is not to say digital media is bad, because it is not. Many legitimate and viable sources help people stay better informed at a lower cost. Very convenient when everyone has a computer in their pocket.

But when you educate yourself on how the world turns, remember magazines remain a key element of the mix.