In 2016, there were 98 daily newspapers in Canada, including 84 paid publications and 14 free publications, accounting for a total weekly (print and online) circulation of 31.6 million and an average daily circulation of 5.2 million. Of those newspapers, 85 per cent are written in English, 13 per cent in French and 2 per cent in Chinese.
Coverage and Content
Newspapers are often seen as the “first rough draft of history” (a phrase used to describe journalism) because they offer a public record of current events and opinions. Because they relay the news of the day and investigate issues that matter to the public, newspapers occupy a crucial role in society (see journalism).
Canadian newspapers cover a broad range of subjects, from politics and business to sports and entertainment. Some newspapers cover all of these, while others focus on individual subjects, such as financial or sports newspapers. Each subject area is covered in a section of the newspaper — usually business, entertainment, lifestyle, sports, etc. — where news of that subject is presented in articles. Special sections (e.g., real estate or automobiles) might appear on specific days of the week, or at particular times of the year, depending on the publication. The most relevant or important stories of the day, as decided by a newspaper’s editorial staff, are covered in articles published in the front section of the newspaper. Front sections also typically contain opinion editorials, letters to the editor, political cartoons, international news, and weather reports.
Newspapers also often include feature articles (long explorations of a subject), puzzles and brain teasers, comic strips, advice columns, profiles and reviews, obituaries and birth notices, and more.
History of Canadian Newspapers
The history of the newspaper industry in Canada stretches back to the 18th century, when the first printing presses were brought to Halifax, Québec City and Montréal. That history is the subject of three survey entries: First Newspapers in Canada; Newspapers in Canada: 1800s–1900s; and Newspapers in Canada: 1900–1990s.
Select Canadian Newspapers, Past and Present
Types of Newspapers
The two main types of newspapers are broadsheets and tabloids. Broadsheets are folded twice and organized into bundled sections that fold into one another. Most local and national daily newspapers are published in broadsheet, such as the National Post and Globe and Mail (national dailies) and the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun (local dailies). Tabloids are folded (and sometimes bound, or stapled) like books. They are traditionally half the size of broadsheets and are the preferred form of publication for weekly and local daily newspapers across Canada. About 64 per cent of Canadian daily newspapers are broadsheets and 36 per cent are tabloids.
The term tabloid (or tabloid journalism) typically refers to publications that are populist in perspective and publish more sensational journalism. Canadian tabloids include the French-language Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec and the English-language Sun newspaper chain in Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Calgary (see Sun Media Corporation).
Many alternative, left-leaning weekly newspapers are published in tabloid format, such as the Georgia Straight (Vancouver), NOW (Toronto) and The Coast (Halifax). LGBTQ publishers Pink Triangle Press published local Xtra! tabloid publications in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, but ceased print operations in 2015, when they bolstered their online presence. Alternative weeklies are typically circulated to readers for free and earn revenue from advertisements and extensive classifieds sections.
Multicultural newspapers (or ethnic newspapers as they are sometimes called) reflect the needs, interests, politics, and languages of specific communities across Canada. They include the Chinese-language papers World Journal Daily, Sing Tao Daily and Ming Pao, as well as The Canadian Jewish News, Asian Vision (written in Punjabi, Hindi and English), Share and many more.
Student newspapers are published independently of their respective universities and are funded by advertisements and student fees. Major examples include The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia), The Varsity (University of Toronto), and The McGill Daily (McGill University).
The business model behind newspaper publishing has shifted many times throughout the industry’s history. At first, newspapers were largely funded and controlled by colonial governments. These early newspapers also received additional funding by publishing advertisements for local products and services (see First Newspapers in Canada).
As printing presses became cheaper to purchase and operate and the price of paper decreased, independent printer-editors began to establish newspapers. These papers were not fully independent, as they were often funded or controlled by political parties (see Party System). Newspaper circulation increased as literacy increased, expanding a stream of revenue: paid subscriptions and individual sales. As well, newspapers began to earn more revenue from advertisers because they could place their messages before large captive audiences (see Newspapers in Canada: 1800s–1900s).
About the turn of the twentieth century, newspapers began to shed their partisan affiliations and rely solely on advertising, subscriptions and individual sales for revenue. Newspapers derived about 80 per cent of their revenue from selling 50 to 60 per cent of their space to advertisers, and only about 20 per cent of their revenue from selling newspapers to readers.Competition between papers increased, with each vying for subscription sales and ad dollars. Many newspapers either folded, merged with others or were purchased by growing newspaper chains in this environment (see Southam Inc. and Quebecor Inc). Such consolidations led to a decline in the number of daily newspapers in Canada (from a peak of 143 in 1911 to 110 in 1986), with remaining publications earning vast profits through the 1980s.
Industry Contraction and Consolidation
After the turn of the twenty-first century, the traditional newspaper business model began another major shift, when paid circulation dropped by nearly half. This change was due in part to the rise of online publishing, where content was offered for free; however other online platforms offered similar services that newspapers charged for, such as classified advertising, for free. In this way, sites such as Craigslist and Kijiji removed another major source of ad revenue from newspapers. As well, the recession of 2008–09 resulted in a significant drop in ad revenue, as advertisers reduced the amount they spent on print ads. Reduced print advertising was also a result of readers turning to online platforms for news. In turn, newspapers began to cut their operating budgets, reduce newsroom staffs, drop print weekday or weekend editions, and, in some cases, cease print operations and move entirely online.
Consolidation of the newspaper industry continued, reaching new heights in the 2010s. In 1994, three of the largest newspaper chains owned over 58 per cent of papers in the country. Ten years later, the five largest chains owned 72 per cent of papers. By 2017, the four largest chains owned 68 per cent of newspapers in Canada, with Postmedia Network Inc. owning nearly 45 per cent of newspapers. The two chains with the second-highest number of newspapers, Torstar and SaltWire Network, owned 9 and 8 papers, respectively. The average chain owned three or four papers.
Online Publishing and Paywalls
Newspapers first began to publish their content on electronic platforms in the 1980s, beginning with videotex services such as Telidon and the Internet in the 1990s. From early on, readers could access newspaper content online for free, which continued through the 1990s and well into the twenty-first century. Some papers monetized their online content by placing it behind a “paywall,” which requires readers to subscribe to the publication online before accessing content. The Toronto Star, for example added a paywall in 2013, before removing it in 2015 due to lack of subscriptions. Other publications, such as the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Sun, established “metered paywalls,” which allow readers free access to a specified number of articles per month, after which readers must pay for access. Some newspapers launched mobile versions of their publications, including tablet apps developed by La Presse in 2013 and the Toronto Star in 2015.
See also: Magazines; Alternative Media; and Journalism.