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Opinion: How is local news doing?

'While temporary help during the pandemic is critical and much appreciated, the underlying issues remain. The big online platforms (you know who they are), continue to sell advertising to national and local businesses without investing in local markets. They employ no one in our area, they don’t spend with our local companies, don’t pay taxes locally or in Canada, and don’t have any reporters.'
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Readers ask me every day, “How are you doing?”

After a moment of deliberation on my personal situation and the endless protocols and compromises that our family and friends have had to endure, I realize quickly, our readers’ interest is really, “How is our local news organization doing?”

Nearly 18 months ago (pre-co), our local newspaper and its associated online platform struggled to find the balance between our audience’s voracious appetite for local news and our declining advertising support from national and local businesses.

So really, not much has changed?

Oh, to the contrary. While we continue to see strong growth in our audience’s engagement with our content, both in print and online, we continue to see the dominance of the online platforms in the advertising market. Simply put, we don’t have an audience problem, but our advertisers have many more choices today.

We see stronger pick-up of our paper from our doorsteps, boxes and retailers. Today, as always, we provide a substantial opportunity for local businesses and organizations to connect with their customers, potential customers and constituents through our paper, but also very much through our online audience. The demographics of that online audience are similar to the one that the paper delivers. You just visit more often and find our offering updated daily with vital local and regional news, views, sports and — hopefully again one day — entertainment.

If you are not signed up for our newsletter program, you really are missing out. The Squamish Chief’s regular newsletter is “Not to Miss!”

Delivered directly to your inbox, The Chief takes you through the day’s stories, highlighting the most important and most interesting local news, stories and people. We look forward to adding a weekend edition of our newsletter program over the months and years ahead. It is a very effective way for us to remain connected directly with all of you, our readers, and to stay connected to everything Sea to Sky.

I know that many of you still love the tactile nature of the paper. We appreciate that and hope to keep that going for a long time, but we are not really in the news “paper” business. We are in the business of collecting and disseminating essential local information. It is the work that Jennifer Thuncher, Steven Chua and our other journalists do that we value. The method of delivery is simply a distribution tactic. Our online newsletter boasts a very high open rate, reinforcing the value our “subscribers” find in our offerings.

Find out what you are missing.

As a subscriber to our “free” newsletter program, we will ask you to join us as a member. It is not required, but if you value the work done by Jennifer, Steven and our other journalists, we ask you to consider a monthly membership. That will go directly to ensuring the future of local journalism in Squamish. If “we” want a local news organization in our community, we must all do our bit to ensure its ongoing viability.

You may have heard about several big promises from our federal government that would help “save local news.”

While temporary help during the pandemic is critical and much appreciated, the underlying issues remain. The big online platforms (you know who they are), continue to sell advertising to national and local businesses without investing in local markets. They employ no one in our area, they don’t spend with our local companies, don’t pay taxes locally or in Canada, and don’t have any reporters.

While our corporate owners have negotiated a strong and fundamental arrangement with Google and Facebook to support local journalism, it simply is not enough on its own. Their direct financial contributions and training help are much appreciated but won’t save local reporting.

All the major political parties have recognized the dire situation for local news and are promising to help.

However, promises are just that. We need strong legislation and a Code of Conduct to regulate the online platforms and to “level the playing field.”

We hope the new government will quickly move to introduce such legislation in the new Parliament’s first session.

In the meantime, we are left on our own to uphold our tradition of vital local news. That “we” is all of us.

Consider the significant importance of supporting local businesses. Those businesses make our Sea to Sky community the wonderfully charming place that we call home. They provide jobs, pay taxes and often choose their local news organization, The Squamish Chief, for their marketing investments. In turn, we employ local residents, pay rent and taxes here and spend our paycheques right here in Squamish.

Support local!

Simply put, we are in this together. Much has changed, but much stays the same. Support local is a theme to stay, and it includes all businesses and organizations here in Squamish and throughout the Sea to Sky. Money spent here stays here! We are simply stronger together.

So, as we look ahead at a time when the pandemic has waned in its intensity (po-co), take time now to connect with your neighbours and community at large in ways you can.

Let us be that connection that helps, in a small way, to build the future that we all want for our wonderful community. Even if you read us in print, make sure you bookmark our website and visit often.

And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, right on the top right corner of our homepage. This is the future of local news. When we provide compelling reasons to become a member, “Just Do It!”

The small monthly investment will help us remain your source for local news for years to come.

Feel free to reach out with your questions or comments. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Peter Kvarnstrom is the president of Glacier Media Group’s community media division. Reach him at pk@glaciermedia.com.