The nuanced difference between news outlets as businesses, and journalism as the act of producing news is an important distinction. News businesses strive to monetize their offerings, while journalism, driven by ideals of objectivity and the seeking of truth, is integral to democratic discourse.
The two are separate, but they traditionally require each other to function. The producer and the product. Supply and demand.
With the rise of digital platforms like social media, originally created to connect people, there was a shift in revenue. People can be found on these digital platforms, so where there are people, there is revenue. Thus, over time, the tech companies behind them seamlessly evolved into economic juggernauts.
Amid this transformation, traditional media outlets have grappled to compete. As businesses, they've long relied on advertising as a primary stream of revenue. However, with the advent of digital platforms, there was also a shift in the advertising paradigm, with tech companies like Meta and Google ascending to the throne. Their business model was a perfect match to modern society’s needs and demand for connection and communication – creating a digital society replete with its own economy.
While media outlets worked to harness digital advertising strategies, success has been elusive.
It is almost taboo to look at news as a paid product. Understandably so, because information, after all, should ideally be available to everybody. Social media, despite the downsides like misinformation, did provide that.
But without money, news outlets cannot function. Who would pay the journalists?
I dream of the day when accurate and unbiased news is free for everybody. A dream that is not so far-fetched as society continues to evolve and achieve greater heights.
Bill C-18 is a legislative response to this quandary. It is an attempt to level the playing field. At its core, the bill mandates that tech companies pay for hosting links to Canadian news content. Understandably, companies like Meta or Google have opted to block Canadian news content rather than pay for it. A decision rooted in economic rationale.
Ottawa's motive is to preserve news access as a vital pillar of Canadian democracy. While this intent is admirable, it conflates journalism with the news business.
The federal government asserts that this move will infuse more revenue into the Canadian media landscape. However, the bill's implications extend far beyond the balance sheet. A paradox intersecting with constitutional rights, specifically the freedom of expression encompassing the seeking, receiving, and imparting of information.
However, the reality persists – news outlets are businesses, and their product is information. Like any other enterprise, they are driven by demand, and demand hinges on willingness to pay.
For news businesses, this translates into independence. If the public is willing to pay for news, the industry retains its independence, untethered from government influence. However, where demand dwindles, so does financial support, jeopardizing the industry.
While Bill C-18 remains debatable, it raises important questions like preserving the integrity of news in the digital age, while ensuring the vitality of journalism. However, the ultimate arbiter is citizens themselves.