Newspapers in Canada
Canada's first newspaper, John Bushell's Halifax Gazette, began publication in 1752. Like most colonial newspapers in North America, it was an adjunct of a commercial printing operation. Moreover, it was dependent on the printing and patronage largesse of the colonial government.
Canada's first newspaper, John Bushell's Halifax Gazette, began publication in 1752. Like most colonial newspapers in North America, it was an adjunct of a commercial printing operation. Moreover, it was dependent on the printing and patronage largesse of the colonial government. This reliance on revenues from sources other than readers - from governments, political parties and ADVERTISING - would remain a characteristic of Canadian newspapers.
The First Newspapers
There were no newspapers in New France, in part because of the opposition of French officialdom to the establishment of printing presses in the colony. The British Conquest, and the termination of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR in 1763, brought a trickle of printers from the American colonies. In 1764, 2 Philadelphia printers, William Brown and Thomas Gilmore, began the bilingual Quebec Gazette at Québec City. In 1785 Fleury Mesplet, a French printer who had been jailed because of his attempts to persuade Québec to join the American Revolution, started publication of the Montreal Gazette (now the oldest continuing newspaper in the country).
In 1793, under the auspices of Upper Canada's first governor, a Québec printer started the Upper Canada Gazette at Newark [Niagara-on-the-Lake], the first newspaper in what is now Ontario. Like the Halifax Gazette, these first papers - operating in colonies where populations were low - remained utterly dependent upon government patronage. In Upper Canada, William Lyon MACKENZIE pressed the Assembly to subsidize the province's first paper mill, in part to ensure a source of newsprint for his journal - a telling example that the close relationship between newspapers and government patronage held even for a democratic firebrand.
The development of legislative assemblies in British North America encouraged political factions. At the same time, particularly in Halifax, Saint John, Montréal, Kingston and York [Toronto], a merchant class, with an interest both in reading commercial intelligence and in advertising, was growing. Weekly newspapers sprouted up, allied with political movements and the various mercantile and agricultural interests.
In Lower Canada, the Québec City Mercury (1805) and the Montréal Herald (1811) became mouthpieces for the province's English-speaking merchants, while Le Canadien (1806) and La Minerve (1826) spoke for the rising French Canadian professional interests.
In Upper Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie used his Colonial Advocate (1824) to argue the cause of Reformers in general and farmers in particular against the dominant professional and mercantile groups. In the Maritimes, newspapers such as Joseph HOWE'SNovascotian (1824) of Halifax also worked to challenge the authority of colonial oligarchies.
Newspapers, Politics and the State
By the early decades of the 19th century, most newspapers were allied with either the Reform (now Liberal) or Conservative Party. These early newspapers were by no means simple tools of the parties they claimed to support but rather were organs of specific leaders or factions within the parties. Thus the Toronto Globe (1844) was a personal organ of its publisher, the Reform politician George BROWN. The Toronto Mail (1872), while set up to act as spokesman for the whole Conservative Party, was quickly captured by the dominant faction led by John A. MACDONALD.
Moreover, it was not unusual for an organ to deviate from the party line. The Mail, for example, broke with the Macdonald Conservatives in the 1880s, forcing the party to set up the Empire in 1887. The relative independence of newspapers from political parties and governments varied from place to place. But in general, newspapers had more potential for independence from parties as their revenues from circulation and advertising grew. While they may not have been tools of the parties, newspapers remained closely tied into political factions well into the 20th century. The TORONTO STAR was reorganized in 1899 by a business consortium anxious to obtain an organ for the new Liberal prime minister, Wilfrid LAURIER. The Ontario Conservatives purchased the Toronto News in 1908 to act as a party organ. During the first decade of the 20th century the Calgary Herald used the organizational apparatus of the Alberta Conservative Party to sell subscriptions. As late as the 1930s, most major Québec newspapers were tied into patronage from the ruling government.
In part, the politicization of newspapers continued because readers demanded partisanship. POLITICS was a serious matter in 19th-century Canada; newspapers were expected to have views. Thus occurred the phenomenon of the 2-newspaper town. By 1870 every town large enough to support one newspaper supported 2 - one Liberal and one Conservative. As well, newspapers have never cut themselves off completely from government patronage. Since 1867 the federal government has subsidized newspaper publishers by granting them special postal rates. Canada's first international wire service, Canadian Associated Press (1903), was subsidized by the federal government, as was the domestic news co-operative, CANADIAN PRESS, during the initial years after its founding in 1917.
The relationship between Canadian newspapers and the STATE has also had a darker side. Early publishers who were considered overly critical of government actions could and did find themselves in jail. Libel and criminal libel laws were used to silence bothersome editors. In the 20th century, state action was aimed primarily at left-wing newspapers. The COMMUNIST PARTY OF CANADA found itself proscribed and its publications banned at various times. The Québec government of Maurice DUPLESSIS (1936-39 and 1944-59) used its PADLOCK ACT to shut down what it considered to be communist newspapers. Limited CENSORSHIP was imposed by the federal government in 1970, following the kidnapping of 2 men during the OCTOBER CRISIS.
The Rise of Advertising
While partisanship remained, the financial dependence of newspapers on governments and political parties did decline throughout the 19th century. The reason has to do with the economics of newspaper publishing and with overall economic development. Newspapers faced high overhead costs, ie, newspapers were forced to incur the same initial outlays for equipment, typesetting and editorial matter whether they printed one copy or a run of 10 000. In the 1860s, when daily circulations were usually under 5000, these overhead costs were covered by party or government patronage. But as population expanded and literacy increased, publishers were able to spread these overhead costs over more readers. In addition, as a newspaper's circulation increased, merchants became more interested in it as an advertising medium. With productive capacity increasing in all industries, advertising - as a means of persuading people to buy the massive volume of goods being produced - became crucial.
Early advertisers were wholesalers trying to catch the attention of other merchants, but by the 1880s retail advertising, aimed at a mass market, was dominant. By 1900 consumers were flooded with newspaper advertisements calling upon them to purchase such things as soap, patent medicines or electric belts. Big-city dailies were earning between 70% and 80% of their revenues from advertising.
Technological developments in the newspaper industry, and in the economy as a whole, hastened the trend to large-circulation, advertising-based newspapers. The spread of the TELEGRAPH during the 1850s and the laying of the Atlantic cable in 1866 increased the availability of world news to newspapers, but at the same time increased their overhead costs of production. By the 1880s, high-speed web presses and stereotyping allowed newspapers to expand their circulations in order to earn more revenue to cover these costs. In 1876 the combined circulation of daily newspapers in the 9 major urban centres was 113 000. Seven years later, it had more than doubled. Railway building, from the mid-19th century onwards, put more of the population within reach of daily and weekly newspapers. By the 1890s, typecasting machines such as the linotype were allowing daily newspapers to expand their size from the standard 4-, 8- or 12-page format to 32 or 48 pages (seePRINT INDUSTRY). This greatly increased the amount of advertising space available. At the same time, the development of newsprint manufactured from wood pulp provided a cheap source of supply to newspapers. The price of newsprint plummeted from $203/ton in 1873 to $50/ton in 1900.
Early newspapers were weeklies, although a few might be published 2 or 3 times a week. Canada's first daily newspaper, the Montréal Daily Advertiser, began in 1833, only to go bankrupt within a year. Daily publication began in earnest in the 1840s when 2 other Montréal newspapers, the Gazette and Herald, decided to publish each day during the busy commercial season of the summer. Population growth, increased literacy and urbanization hastened the transformation from weekly to daily journalism. In 1873 there were 47 dailies in Canada; by 1900 the country boasted 112 daily newspapers. The major dailies, in turn, used the mails and the railway system to blanket the countryside with their weekly editions and, by the 20th century, with special weekend supplements such as the Toronto STAR WEEKLY or Montréal Family Herald.
Newspapers, first weeklies and later dailies, sprang up in the West as white settlement increased. Victoria's British Colonist began publication in 1858, the Manitoba Free Press (seeWINNIPEG FREE PRESS) in 1872, the Saskatchewan Herald in 1878, and the Edmonton Bulletin in 1880.
The growth of a new working class in the larger cities, particularly Toronto and Montréal, encouraged new kinds of newspapers with more emphasis on local news, mass circulation, classified advertisements and (in some cases) muckraking. These newer papers, which sold for a penny a copy (a half or a third of the price of the older established dailies), included Montréal's La PRESSE (1884) and Star (1869); Toronto's Telegram (1876), News (1881), World (1880) and Star (1892); and the Hamilton Herald (1889). The older established papers also increased circulation to attract the new classes of readers. In Toronto in 1872 each family bought, on average, one newspaper; by 1883 the average Toronto family was purchasing 2 newspapers each day.
However, in the province of Québec as a whole, newspaper growth was initially hampered by a low literacy rate. In 1871 only 50% of Québec's French-speaking adults could read and write, compared to 90% for all Ontario adults. Unique to Québec though were daily newspapers devoted to religious ends, such as the ultramontane Roman Catholic Le Nouveau Monde (1867) and the Protestant Daily Witness (1860). In Québec, newspapers allied to the church, to nationalism and to the cause of French Canada flourished well into the 20th century. In 1910 nationalist Henri Bourassa founded LE DEVOIR to promote Québec interests. Papers such as Le Devoir, though small in terms of circulation, remained influential among the Québec intelligentsia (seeFRENCH CANADIAN NATIONALISM).
Labour daily newspapers have been uncommon in Canada. The Toronto Star was started by striking printers in 1892, with the backing of the local trade union movement; but within a year it had gone bankrupt and passed out of labour hands. In 1948 the Winnipeg Citizen began publication with labour backing; starved for capital, it too went out of business in a year.
The number of daily newspapers peaked at 138 in 1913. By then, the pressures to curb competition and concentrate ownership had already begun. Within each town and city, newspapers vied with each other to expand circulation and thus capture advertising. The competition was costly. Losers merged with stronger papers or went out of business. In Toronto, for instance, the Mail and the Empire merged in 1895; the resultant Mail and Empire merged with the Globe in 1936 (seeGLOBE AND MAIL). By 1949, 2 formerly independent Halifax newspapers each with 2 daily editions - The Chronicle (morning) and The Star (afternoon); and The Herald (morning) and The Mail (afternoon) - had merged into one operation with 2 daily editions - The Chronicle-Herald (morning) and The Mail-Star (afternoon).
The growth of radio in the 1930s and television in the 1950s broke the print monopoly over advertising. By 1953 there were only 89 daily newspapers in the country. By 1986 that number had climbed to 110. However, by the late 1980s, only 8 Canadian cities were served by 2 or more separately owned daily newspapers. With political partisanship becoming less important to readers, the system of the 2-newspaper town had broken down (seeLAW AND THE PRESS; MEDIA OWNERSHIP).
By the late 1980s daily newspapers were a diminished but still major part of the Canadian mass-media industry. Most newspapers belonged, individually or through chains, to conglomerate enterprises with large holdings in other media or nonmedia businesses. Some leading publishers were again diversifying, this time into the new electronic print medium: either online services for access on office or home computers, or videotex services for access on adapted television terminals with key pads. The Toronto Globe and Mail, for example, had established the Info Globe online service with a database of the newspaper's contents over a number of years and in the 1990s went into partnership with the Chapters bookstore chain. SOUTHAM INC, owners of the Southam chain of newspapers, and TORSTAR CORP, owners of the Toronto Star, had formed Infomart, a videotex marketing organization prominent in the development of the Canadian TELIDON system; the Star later dropped out. Le SOLEIL of Québec City and La Presse of Montréal were early participants in videotex trials. The London Free Press was a pioneer in the use of videotex for informational advertising in shopping centres.
Electronic print was expected to start cutting into the newspapers' advertising revenue, and possibly their readership base, as the technology developed to provide flat, portable terminals and higher definition print and graphics. However, the convenience of the daily newspaper as a comprehensive source of news, general information and entertainment, with readability, portability and flexibility, appeared likely to sustain it for a long period. Many of the early electronic print services were big losers; improvements in the technology were introduced more slowly than many firms had expected.
Newspapers were studied by the 1969-70 Senate Special Committee on Mass Media, under the chairmanship of Senator Keith DAVEY, and by the 1980-81 Royal Commission on Newspapers, whose members were chairman Tom KENT, Laurent Picard and Borden Spears. Both studies dwelt on the extent of concentration of newspaper ownership and the diminution of newspaper competition, the Kent commission stressing the conglomeration of newspapers with other types of business. Both studies maintained that freedom of the press embodied the principle of widespread dissemination of information and opinion from a diversity of sources, and that this could be injured by excessive concentration of the press. The Davey recommendation that the federal government establish a Press Ownership Review Board to curb newspaper mergers was unheeded.
The Kent recommendation that newspaper owners should not also be permitted to hold radio and TV broadcasting licences in the same market was accepted in principle by the Trudeau government; it was given only limited application by the CRTC and was dropped by the Mulroney government. Ottawa also put pressure on newspapers to belong to press councils. By the late 1980s press councils were functioning in all provinces except Saskatchewan. The Kent recommendations to reduce the worst cases of concentration and to offset the effects of conglomeration by measures to provide for journalistic independence and public accountability were not accepted. They were strongly opposed by the proprietors as an alleged interference with press freedom.
Mergers and closings of big-city dailies in the 20th century contrasted with the emergence of new dailies, as small towns grew into cities. An important new development since 1960 has been the appearance of tabloid newspapers in the larger metropolitan areas. Until their arrival, nearly all big-city dailies were newspapers, or mergers of newspapers, already established by the turn of the century. The tabloids repeated the strategy of Canada's first mass-circulation dailies in the late 19th century (La Presse in Montréal and the Star in Toronto) of appealing to the "lowbrow" audience. The pioneer of tabloids in Canada was Pierre PÉLADEAU, with the extraordinarily successful Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec in the 1960s. The Toronto Sun, rising out of the ashes of the Toronto Telegram in 1971, repeated this success in English Canada - adding right-wing populism to the tabloid formula of sex, sin and sport - and expanded into a chain including sister "Suns" in Edmonton, Ottawa and Calgary. The other main innovation in newspaper marketing occurred at the up-scale end of the market in 1980 and succeeding years when the Toronto Globe and Mail, at this point owned by the THOMSON GROUP as part of its takeover of FP Publications, made use of the new technology of telematics to publish a national edition. This edition was transmitted via satellite for printing at plants in Atlantic, central and Western Canada (seeSATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS).
These various developments provided Canadians, depending on where they lived, with roughly 4 types of daily newspaper: (1) the upscale, national daily, represented by the Toronto Globe and Mail and National Post in English and Le Devoir of Montréal in French; (2) the down-scale tabloids; (3) small-city dailies, such as the Thomson papers and the smaller Desmarais papers in French; and (4) middle-market omnibus dailies, the largest circulation group, existing as monopolies in most larger cities, competing with tabloids in others. Those dailies were typified by Southam newspapers such as the Calgary Herald or Montréal Gazette in English, and UNIMÉDIA'SLe Soleil of Québec City in French. A fifth category consists of Chinese-language dailies, the Toronto Chinese Express and Shing Wah Daily News and the Vancouver Chinese Voice and Chinese Times.
According to Statistics Canada, by the late 80s, 80% of the adult population reported reading at least 3 or 4 issues of a daily newspaper each week. Regular newspaper reading came close to matching the proportion of the population that could get prompt newspaper delivery, with readership a little lower in French Canada than in English.
The French-language market accounted for 18% of national circulation, spread among 11 newspapers: 9 published in Québec, one in Ottawa and one in Moncton. Ninety percent of French circulation was accounted for by 3 chains: Pierre Karl Péladeau's QUEBECOR INC (with about half of the chain circulation), Paul DESMARAIS's Gesca (seePOWER CORPORATION OF CANADA) and Jacques Francoeur's UniMédia.
Taking both French and English markets together, only a quarter of the number of newspapers and less than a quarter of circulation was in the hands of independents, and several of these - eg, Toronto Star, London Free Press - belonged to multimedia conglomerates. Concentration was reflected regionally by the fact that in all but 3 provinces (Ontario, Québec and NS), single chains controlled two-thirds or more of provincial circulation. Figures prepared by Statistics Canada showed the following percentages of national circulation controlled by the 4 largest owners in Canada: in 1950, 37.2%; 1955, 34.3%; 1960, 35.7%; 1965, 43.6%; 1970, 52.9%; 1975, 62.7%; 1980, 65.1% and 1986, 67%. A further concentrative factor contributing to homogeneity in Canadian JOURNALISM was the common ownership by the daily newspaper proprietors of the dominant news agency, the Canadian Press, which was also a major supplier of news to radio and TV stations.
The Kent Commission found that the economics of the newspaper industry are conducive both to reduction of competition in local markets and to concentration of ownership. Newspapers derive about 80% of their revenue from selling 50% to 60% of their space to advertisers, and only about 20% of their revenue from selling newspapers to readers. Advertisers in most markets can reach readers more cheaply through one newspaper than through 2 or more. Thus, head-to-head competition between the same type of newspapers has disappeared from most cities, and a limited variety of newspapers is only possible where the market is large enough to be segmented into distinct audiences.
At the same time, the high capital cost of starting or re-equipping a newspaper, combined with the economies to be realized through skilled central management, have favoured chains over independents. Once a newspaper's monopoly is established in a market, or a segment of a market, a paper has proved to be more profitable than the average business. Such newspapers serve as cash sources to develop other enterprises in a conglomerate.
The hometown nature of the daily newspaper remains its strongest characteristic. Even with the relatively recent development in Canada of market segmentation and a metropolitan pattern of journalism, the national or regional paper must retain a firm base in the metropolis where it is published. Opinion surveys show that although audiences prefer TV for national and world news, and generally find TV the most believable medium, they still read the daily newspaper for local and regional coverage. On the average, two-thirds or more of a newspaper's editorial budget is spent in-house, rather than for outside news services and features. Newspapers try to develop a sense of common interest and common cause with their readers.
By the 90s, national coverage in Canadian newspapers had improved in depth and scope since the 1960s, owing largely to the efforts of the Canadian Press, Southam News, the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star to provide stronger Ottawa and interregional coverage. International news coverage by Canadian journalists has gradually been extended, urged on by criticism in both the Davey and Kent reports. In public-affairs coverage, which continues to be the newspaper's primary social responsibility, the press has felt increasingly bound to follow the scenarios of TV, the preferred medium of the politicians, particularly at the national level and in the larger provinces. Most studies of newspaper content have concluded that newspaper journalism continues to play a strong role in setting the agenda for public debate by establishing news priorities.
As the number of big-city dailies declined and the remaining newspapers tended to drop unprofitable out-of-town circulation, community newspapers enjoyed a boom. From 1971 to 1980 aggregate weekly circulation of community newspapers increased from 3.8 million to 8.8 million, or from about one-eighth to more than one-quarter of aggregate weekly circulation of the daily newspapers.
During this period there was a steady trend toward concentration of ownership of community newspapers into chains, and of ownership by the proprietors of dailies. Statistics Canada reported that by 1985 total circulation of community papers stood at 9.5 million. This figure includes both French and English papers, as well as bilingual papers, mainly in Québec, with a total circulation of 2.8 million and ethnic weeklies with a total circulation of 954 000. Many community newspapers are distributed free and rely entirely on advertising for revenue.
In the 1980s, daily newspapers in the larger cities moved from afternoon to morning (or all-day) publication, and to publishing Sunday editions. The dailies consolidated a place for themselves alongside the other media, helped somewhat by the fragmentation of radio and TV audiences owing to the multiplication of stations and channels.
The growth of newspapers in the 1980s came to an end following the advent of widespread use of the Internet in the 1990s. Since the 1990s, print journalism and the newspaper business have seen dramatic changes in profit, market and advertisers. The number of newspapers that have gone into bankruptcy has risen severely in North America; competition from Internet media has continued to grow, competing for limited advertising dollars. Although the newspaper industry has always been cyclical, the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s has increased the number of available news outlets to the point of dramatically cutting into the historical hegemony of the newspaper industry as a purveyor of news. Television and Internet are capable of instant news updates; breaking stories are aired immediately and do not have to wait for printing and distribution.
Although newspapers might be in trouble, an appetite for news remains strong - even as big papers have become increasingly less profitable, they are still widely read. As the demand for news has exploded, online news sources have become increasingly popular and every major newspaper in North America has an online presence. Consumers are now reading newspapers online for free. Although online purveyors of online news have experimented with charging for access, for the most part revenue is still derived from advertising.
Speculation regarding the future of newspapers focuses on visions of part-network, part-print publications or online-only newspapers. New technologies like electronic e-readers and Internet-capable smart phones mean more and more individuals are finding and reading news from Internet sources than from traditional print editions. But as new media replaces print, the demand for timely and comprehensive news remains. See alsoMAGAZINES.
TIM CREERY Revised: JESSICA POTTER
Authors contributing to this article:
TIM CREERY, THOMAS WALKOM, JESSICA POTTER
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