The sky isn’t falling. It’s just threatening to furnish quite the storm. A friend bumped into me the other day and said something to the effect of: “I hear the Canadian news business is about to be killed by Google and Facebook.” Information has a way of seriously distorting as it spreads, so it merits a column with context.
True enough, as if the transition to a digital-first business model and the protracted pandemic weren’t enough to accommodate, along has come federal legislation that aims to help local journalism but stands in its current form to be anything but supportive.
I want to update you on what we know and how we can together mitigate the prospective impact of the Online News Act, Bill C-18, if it proceeds as-is. I’m appealing for your support and attention.
First things first: A primer of the situation, because the situation is still somewhat misunderstood, as per my friend’s comment. The legislation compels Meta, which operates Facebook and Instagram, and Google, which operates Google News and the world’s most successful search engine, to compensate news organizations when they carry a link to our work on their platforms. The platforms note there is no limit on what they would have to pay us in this system and worry about the prospect of unlimited obligations.
This provision is a unique approach worldwide, and when the prime minister said in recent days that he wants Canada to lead the world in standing up to the digital titans and compared the fight to World War Two, I would have preferred conciliation over confrontation.
Google and Facebook already spend significantly to compensate many Canadian news sites (including ours at Glacier Media) and drive a majority of our readership to us freely, whether users are searching for news about topics or events on Google or sharing stories across Facebook or Instagram. The two companies have said they’ll pull that free distribution and quash their agreements, rather than live with this arrangement, if the law takes hold as proposed in six months. In that case, we would lose their compensation and the traffic.
Meta and Google both say they would expand their funding if the tax on links doesn’t proceed. At the moment, the government prefers the made-in-Canada tax. If our business conditions change, the Justin Trudeau government indicates it’ll find new ways to support Canadian journalism if it’s no longer available through Meta or Google. We have spent years building our traffic through these platforms, so we don’t want to lose them or the negotiated arrangements with them.
In the event cooler and calmer heads do not prevail, here is what we would ask you as loyal readers to do:
1. We’d like you to go back to the days you bookmarked sites and do so for us at empireadvance.ca so that you’ll be able to find our news content on your devices whenever you wish.
2. Google isn’t the only search engine, and Facebook and Instagram aren’t the only social media platforms, but Bill C-18 only targets them. You will still find us on Twitter at twitter.com/EmpireAdvance. And search engines like Microsoft Bing, Yahoo! and DuckDuckGo will continue to amass and organize our journalism for your easy discovery.
3. The most significant request of our community is that you consider supporting us by becoming a member at empireadvance.ca/account/support/signup, or supporting us through advertising across our digital and print platforms if you're a business owner or operator.
As I told my underinformed friend: We’re not disappearing; there will just be different ways for us to find each other.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.