Alberta’s news coverage shrinks
Alberta is the forefront of some of the most important decisions in the country, but we don't have the journalists to cover it
by Michael Ganley
Even in light of the last two tough economic years, Alberta is easily the fastest-growing province in the country. In early February, Statistics Canada came out with the first tranche of data from the 2016 census, and it shows that this province’s population grew by 11.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016 and that it’s now home to 4.1 million people. Alberta was followed in growth rate by Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C., meaning Western Canada is now home to nearly one in three Canadians, the highest share ever recorded. The five fastest-growing cities are Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Lethbridge.
This is good news for the West, which sees its influence on the national stage gradually growing (although three in five Canadians still live in Quebec and Ontario). It also bodes well for future economic opportunities.
My wife, our three kids are I are counted among the new economic migrants, having moved to Alberta in 2011 so I could take this job. It was a wonderful move for my family, and for me professionally. There’s no better place to be a journalist. Alberta is at the forefront of so many of the most important discussions taking place in this country, from the construction of pipelines to the development of hydrocarbon resources to Canada’s relationship with the U.S. And then there’s the endless political drama – there have been five premiers since I landed here, an NDP government was elected and the ongoing unite-the-right movement has more twists than a cheap garden hose.
Unfortunately, while the subjects are plentiful, the business of journalism is a tough one. Layoffs are now the norm in the industry (except at the CBC, which has seen renewed funding under the Trudeau government). The Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal have been particularly hard hit, losing many good journalists. People now go to the Internet for news – and for fake news, and for alternative facts – and nobody wants to pay for it. I’m as guilty as anyone. Now, when I read a story at calgaryherald.com or theguardian.com or washingtonpost.com, the page is interrupted with a request for a donation or to buy a subscription. I have yet to do so for any of those three.
I don’t have the answers. A recent report on the state of Canada’s media, ominously called The Shattered Mirror, called, among other things, for a $400- million fund to create a Journalism and Democracy Fund, which would invest in local news, investigative journalism and indigenous news operations. Media commentators, for the most part, eviscerated the report, wondering how a panel would decide who are journalists and which outlets ought to be supported. The goals are laudable, the solutions less so.
You may have noticed the tough business climate reflected in the pages of this magazine – it’s thinner than it used to be, and we operate with a smaller staff and fewer freelancers. I can’t say where it will end, for journalism writ large or for this publication. I remain a firm believer in the value of good journalism and the importance of this profession to the effective functioning of a democracy. All I can say is that we’ll continue to do what we can to tell the stories of this province and its growing population for many years to come.