Cape Breton's newspaper of record for decades, and reportedly one of the most successful newspapers in the country, may have all but sealed its fate recently. I wonder if rushed and unbalanced reporting has permanently damaged the influence and relevance of the Cape Breton Post?
Let me start by saying that, for decades, we have been fortunate to have the Cape Breton Post. Less than 10% of communities in North America have a local newspaper. For the past century, not having a local newspaper was a significant obstacle to the success of a community. Luckily, we had one and it was VERY widely read ... and relevant.
But, for the past number of years, it seems that many of us in the community have had a love-hate relationship with the Cape Breton Post. We love having a local newspaper, but are frequently disappointed with the coverage. This feeling may also mirror the change in news media globally, where admiration for the free press has changed to disappointment in an increasingly biased and partisan media.
The Cape Breton Post has been shrinking for years, both in terms of quantity of news and the people employed in all aspects of the business. So much content now consists of generic stories pulled off the wire, that it's hard to find a dozen new articles a day that have any relevance to Cape Breton Island. And, those that are written seem rushed and superficial.
Years ago, the introduction of the online edition helped spread local news more widely, which was great, but the poorly-managed COMMENTS section became the bane of our community. A source of embarrassment for all Cape Bretoners.
Further, in the 20 years that I've followed the Cape Breton Post, I've rarely seen meaningful investigative journalism. The most memorable instance was Nancy King exposing the Ben Eoin Marina fiasco. Despite Nancy King’s good work, the irony in this is that there were so many other bigger boondoggles that were never written about.
These days, we rarely even see basic questions being asked to verify or validate serious issues. It’s as though they are not even trying … or, perhaps, purposely avoiding other sides of certain issues.
The biggest signal that the end may be near is how unbalanced the newspaper has been in the recent municipal election, and in the months leading up to it. Sensationalistic headlines, over-aggressive editing of Letters to the Editor, one-sided editorials, suspicious timing of articles, and other questionable decisions made this impossible to ignore.
It’s one thing to not love the coverage provided by your local newspaper, but it’s quite another when you start to question the integrity of the reporting. Reporting that has the potential to negatively influence the hearts and minds of the people in our community. I worry that the Cape Breton Post has now crossed that line and there may be no turning back.
I don't blame the workers. There are good people working at the Cape Breton Post, and there are many good people that are now gone. I’m sure they are being asked to increasingly do more with less. Eventually, there comes a breaking point. The best of us would succumb under such circumstances.
Owners and management define the environment for their workers. And, the Cape Breton Post ownership and senior management reside elsewhere, and have their attention spread over multiple newspapers and businesses across the country. Ultimately, our community becomes one of many line items on a corporate balance sheet.
Indications are that parent company Transcontinental continues to move its business more towards printing and flyer delivery, and not the quality of content or community service. It is dangerous when the words on the paper matter less than the paid advertisements. And, when local stories become wrappers to get ads into our homes.
Of course, the challenges of the newspaper business model are not exclusive to the Cape Breton Post. Newspapers are declining and shutting down all over North America. But, when faced with such challenges, a newspaper has three options:
- Bow out gracefully
- Try to hold on to their biggest advertisers by bending to their influence and print advertorials disguised as local news.
It seems to me that the Cape Breton Post may have chosen (or been forced to choose) option #3. That’s too bad, because I suspect that many Cape Bretoners are now going to choose option #2 for their readership.
Any potential job losses at the Cape Breton Post will not be good for our community. But, the continued loss of balanced journalism (happening everywhere) is an even bigger threat, because it erodes our social capital and our democracy. Watch the video below to see why, then let's hope for the best.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m the founder and CEO of goCapeBreton.com. While we don’t see ourselves as competitors to newspapers like the Cape Breton Post, some may suggest that we are. We see our mission differently. We are not in the business of creating and selling news. Our business is helping to build smart communities by facilitating the sharing of local news and information.