Canadian Public Interest Journalism and Democracy

The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.
— Thomas King, novelist


In Canada and around the world, traditional media are in a time of transition and disruption.

The Public Policy Forum’s 2017 Shattered Media Report detailed a media landscape that is in crisis with hundreds of news outlets closing and more reducing service. The crisis continues: from 2008 to June 1st 2019, 278 local news outlets have closed in 199 communities. Additionally, 74 news outlets have cut service in 48 places, as detailed in Ryerson University’s Local News Project.

Yet, there are also opportunities. Over the same period, 111 local news outlets have launched in 83 locations. In “The Rise of Audience Funded Journalism,” The Discourse found a vibrant sub-sector of independent, mostly digital, media with a growing base of paying subscribers. This sub-sector is « innovative, dynamic, fast-growing and positioned to have a disproportionate impact on the renewal of the Canadian news ecosystem”. Similar findings are coming out of NYU and the Membership Puzzle Project. In the United States, new issue-driven collaborative models are emerging such as six Florida newsrooms teaming up and also the International Climate Desk.

These changes in the media landscape are happening at a time when we are arguably most in need of a thriving journalistic ecosystem. The challenges we face are complex, and there is a pressing need to share solutions to these problems, to build trust between individuals and communities, and for communities to see themselves and the issues they care about reflected in local journalism.

As a result of these dynamics, there is growing interest in Canadian philanthropy in exploring support for a healthier media landscape that serves and reflects the aspirations and wellbeing of communities across the country. Over the last year, a Journalism Funders Affinity Group has been convening every couple of months to share best practices and discuss ways forward and changes in the landscape. A report from their initial convening can be found here.

Against this backdrop, the McConnell Foundation and Community Foundations of Canada, brought together a group of stakeholders working at the intersection of public interest journalism and democracy to build relationships, deepen collective understanding of the connections between a healthy democracy and public interest journalism, and to explore potential interventions across sectors.

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