HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec are down. It should come as warning knell for a slow decline in Canadian journalism. In mid February 2021, HuffPost, an American web-based news company, was acquired by BuzzFeed. Though the purchase has been public knowledge since November, the news of the Canadian shutdown came as a surprise to even the employees. Buzzfeed has stated that the move was to stem financial losses that have plagued HuffPost for years. This comes as media companies across Canada and the western world struggle to replace traditional revenue streams. Just in the past year alone PostMedia (National Post), Rogers Media (City TV), the Globe and Mail, among many other have taken action to reduce their staff expenditure. This has affected not just web media, but print, radio and television. Despite people’s all-time engagement, the news industry is in contraction, not expansion.
That morning of March the 9th, the website of HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec shut down and announced the termination of the branches. This was a shock for many, including the employees, who had not yet been noticed of their termination. They were soon invited to a surprise Zoom meeting, where they received the unfortunate news that they had all lost their jobs.
This came mere weeks after staff at HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec filed to unionize. Though BuzzFeed claims that the layoffs were completely unrelated, you can imagine that unionization did not engender support from corporate headquarters. Unionization rates in the media sector, along with the unionization rate across the private sector have fallen. However, there are renewed pushes in the industry for unionization as journalistic works becomes more precarious and gig-based.
After all, media industry is in a dangerously novel time. Social media and the internet allow people access to more information in five minutes than their ancestors could have hoped for in a lifetime. However, this deluge of knowledge has become increasingly difficult to filter; advertisements, news, plagiarism and propaganda, all come in one giant blast. All kinds of activist pages and micro blogs and sprouting up offering hot takes. These are an important of course, but these established media brands offer something these little players can’t replicate: brand.
You know that if something is published in the National Post, or aired on Global TV, then it is true. It might be framed in a way that fits into a certain narrative, but these news sources are never going to feed you lies. If a politician is being untrue, they go and find the facts; if the public can’t tell what going on behind the doors of power, they go in and ask. These little online pages don’t have the money or resources to mount investigations: the best they can do is explain and distill what’s already public knowledge.
This decline has not been completely ignored. The federal government has tried to introduce new funding models that allows media companies to turn into non-profits, which some newspapers like La Press have taken. However the program has been decried as insufficient. Bold moves, like the Australian government’s laws forcing social media companies to pay for local journalism, have had rocky starts, and the results are still unclear. It remains to be seen whether this is something the government alone can solve. Until the public values and financially supports quality journalism, we may all be left to darkness.