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English news media appear before national assembly on Quebec journalism crisis

Click to play video 'Montreal Gazette’s survival at risk' Montreal Gazette’s survival at risk
WATCH: The Editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette told a National Assembly committing studying the crisis in the news media that her paper needs help in order to survive. Raquel Fletcher attended today’s hearings – Aug 29, 2019

Several English language media appeared Thursday before a national assembly committee studying the journalism crisis in Quebec.

The Montreal Gazette, CBC and Rhonda Massad, who runs the West Island Blog, testified to the challenges facing English news companies in the province.

READ MORE: Media cast in different role as Quebec studies how to help to struggling industry

Montreal Gazette editor-in-chief Lucinda Chodan said the provincial government could help by setting up a temporary fund for media until they can come up with a new business plan. Otherwise, she said, there’s no guarantee her paper or others will survive.

The Montreal Gazette is the oldest English language daily newspapers in Canada, and for centuries it has graced kitchen tables.

WATCH (Aug. 26, 2019): Quebec holds hearings on future of news media

Click to play video 'Quebec holds hearings on future of news media' Quebec holds hearings on future of news media
Quebec holds hearings on future of news media – Aug 26, 2019

“I had trouble reading, but my mom was always reassured that I could read out the box scores that the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins,” said Liberal MNA Greg Kelley. “I grew up reading the Gazette; it’s one of the ways I learned how to read.”

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Kelley is concerned about English news media disappearing in Quebec.

“It’s extremely important for the English-speaking community of Quebec to have content that comes from journalists who understand the reality and needs of the community here in Quebec,” he said.

READ MORE: Hearings underway at National Assembly on future of news media in Quebec

However, just like many other media in Quebec, the paper is in financial turmoil. The Gazette’s parent company, Postmedia, is significantly in debt. Like other papers, it’s steadily losing its subscriber and advertiser base. This year, its ad revenue is down almost 18 per cent compared to last year.

“We need help fast,” Chodan said.

Chodan said there’s an additional demographic challenge: the majority of print readers are over 65.

“It’s not obvious how to solve the issue,” she added.

READ MORE: Quebec newspapers want government help to shift to digital

Besides financial aid from the province, another thing that would help, Chodan said, is the government lowering the rate of the recycling tax, which keeps going up even though they are producing fewer papers, something that “makes no sense,” she added.

In 2018, they were forced to pay $320,000, a sum that would pay the salaries of four journalists, Chodan said.

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“(That was) $150,000 in cash and $170,000 in free advertising. That is a very significant amount in the budget of the Montreal Gazette,” Chodan said.

The CBC also testified, but it is not asking for money from the provincial government.

“We are here because we want to be open to collaboration,” said Meredith Dellandrea, CBC Quebec local services managing director.

One example was the first-ever leaders debate in English during last year’s provincial election.

“That was done in collaboration with Global, with CTV, with the Gazette and CBC,” she said.

Other partnerships like that, she said, could help news organizations, but also the English community as a whole.

READ MORE: An anglophone chez the PQ? Christopher Curtis affectionately known as ‘darling’ of the party’s campaign bus

Rhonda Massad also spoke in front of the committee about her community news blog.

“What you are doing looks a little bit like the future,” Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, told her. “I have a concern though.”

He went on to ask Massad how she ensures journalistic qualities and standards.

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“I don’t believe you would survive if your ethics were out of line… I can tell you if I mess up my facts too much, I won’t have any listeners,” Massad replied.

She admitted that her blog is not yet economically viable to provide a salary that could support a family of four. She says that she should qualify for future grants and that the government should consider advertising with her.