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Hill Life & People

NPR, Politico latest U.S. news outlets expanding northward, shaking up Canadian media environment

By Emily Haws      

Hill reporters say it's not a direct threat to them, but some worry about how a shift in news consumption to U.S. outlets could eat away at Canadian outlets' revenues.

Hill reporters scrum Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. U.S.-based Politico and National Public Radio are just the latest in a string of recent expansions of American outlets into Canada. The Hill Times file photograph
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Politico and National Public Radio’s announcements in the last month that they’re expanding northward are just the latest in an uptick in American media outlets pouring more resources into Canada and hoping for more Canadian revenue in return.

But press gallery journalists say they aren’t concerned the increasing interest in Canada will harm their jobs, though some acknowledge concern about how the influx could affect Canadian outlets’ revenue streams in general. 

The most recent wave of interest began in 2016 when The New York Times announced it was expanding into the country with a Canada-centric newsletter and boosting the number of reporters regularly reporting on Canada from one to three. 

CNN’s Paula Newton said she is in the Parliamentary Press Gallery because CNN doesn’t rely on wires. Most American outlets in Canada do not have correspondents in the gallery. Photograph courtesy of Paula Newton

In 2017, CNN rejoined the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the first time in two decades.

More recently, Politico announced in late June the launch of Politico Pro Canada, which is expected to be up and running in September. Alex Panetta, who previously worked as the Canadian Press’ Washington correspondent, is leading the editorial side of the Virginia-based expansion that will have two reporters working on a daily policy newsletter and other products focused on providing Canadians with Canada-focused news from Washington.

David McGuffin announced on Canada Day that he would be moving home to Ottawa to report on all things Canuck for his employer, National Public Radio, to start up an NPR operation.

Still, there are only a few permanent members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery for U.S.-based news outlets, including CNN’s Paula Newton, who was formerly with CTV News, and the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vieira and Kim Mackrael.

“There’s been a lot more interest in Canada in the last three years in general around the world,” said Ms. Newton, adding she is a permanent member of the gallery because CNN doesn’t rely on wires.

Apart from interest in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), viewers are also interested in specific policy issues, Ms. Newton said, such as the legalization of marijuana.

The American media’s Canadian presence tends to go in cycles, said Carleton University journalism professor Christopher Waddell, a former CBC parliamentary bureau chief. It’s rising at the moment due to interest in economic, social, and cultural issues, he said, such as NAFTA, pipelines, migration, and likely the contrast between the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and Mr. Trudeau.

Canadian news media outlets aren’t really thinking of the market as ripe, with a literate and engaged audience, said Canadaland podcast host Jesse Brown, who reports on the industry. American outlets are capitalizing on that as well as recent global interest in Canada, he said.

That being said, American outlets seem to be trying to figure out the minimal amount of investment they can afford in order to brand a product for Canadians, such as what The New York Times or Politico are doing, he said.

Gallery reporters express openness, some concern

Freelance journalist Stephen Maher, a former Nieman journalism fellow, said it might be hard for Canadian outlets to compete with American ones in the Trump era. The Hill Times file photograph

Several gallery reporters speaking to The Hill Times indicated the American media interest wasn’t threatening to them because the American outlets weren’t trying to do in-depth Canadian coverage.

Global News’ chief political correspondent David Akin said in an emailed statement it was good for everyone and will “likely means more jobs for journalists.”

Freelance journalist Stephen Maher said he didn’t think it was hugely significant when asked if press gallery reporters should be concerned about recent expansions. Mr. Maher is a longtime member of the press gallery and a former Nieman journalism fellow at Harvard University. 

“I think the challenge to Canadian media from American outlets has to do with attention, the attention of Canadians,” he said. People are fascinated by the U.S. president and the internet allows them to get news about him right from American outlets.

Losing news consumers could be an issue given the state of the Canadian news industry, he suggested. On July 10, about 23 positions were cut from Vice Canada, and on June 14 Rogers laid off one-third of its digital and publishing employees. The cuts echo a global shrinkage in journalism in the digital age, with traditional media bleeding ad revenues to internet giants like Facebook and Google. 

The latest federal budget proposed $50-million over five years to help buoy local news, and plans to spend $172-million over five years through the Canadian Media Fund to support more Canadian content, though further details have not been announced. 

The loss of revenue to American outlets could lead to the loss of regional parliamentary correspondents, said Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dylan Robertson, noting others like him include the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s Andrea Gunn and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal’s Adam Huras.

“What I’m more concerned about is that people will look at it and go ‘Oh we don’t need a legislative bureau,’” he said.

American outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vice News have entered and exited the Parliamentary Press Gallery. They had a presence in Ottawa when they were expanding and spending venture capital, said Mr. Maher, and both retreated when it was clear that their model wasn’t as lucrative as expected.

“They…decided that having parliamentary coverage wasn’t worth the money,” he said. “A lot of venture capital went into outlets like BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice, in about 2015-2016…and that was not entirely successful.”

BuzzFeed in 2016 shifted its two Ottawa bureau reporters, Paul McLeod and Emma Loop, to Washington to cover Congress, while Vice reporter Justin Ling last year moved to freelance for other outlets.

In 2017, a reporter with the United States-based The Daily Caller, an online news service founded by a conservative pundit and former Republican staffer, received a six-month temporary pass to the gallery, though it appears also not to have been renewed.

American outlets filling in the gaps

American outlets aren’t trying to replace Canadian news media to be the top choice for Canadian news, several U.S.-based executives generally said, but instead are trying to fill gaps and leverage their other international bureaus.

Jodi Rudoren is the editorial lead for NYT Global. Photograph courtesy of The New York Times

Jodi Rudoren, the editorial lead for NYT Global, said it would make sense for news consumers to digitally subscribe to The New York Times in addition to a Canadian outlet to stay informed, because realistically three reporters can’t provide comprehensive coverage of the country. The industry downturn pre-dates the NYT expansion, she added, which is part of its larger NYT Global initiative.

The company has 3.7 million total paid print and digital subscriptions, and Canada is the largest market outside of the U.S. About 15 per cent of its digital-only news subscriptions are non-U.S., but it wouldn’t divulge the number of Canadian subscribers in more detail.

Ms. Rudoren said the company has no plans to hire more Canadian correspondents, but has recently hired a Canadian audience editor to “take advantage of” the newspaper’s Canadian investment. While three reporters in Canada doesn’t seem like a lot, she said, in comparison there are three correspondents in the continent of Africa.

For Politico, Canada was the natural next step after expanding their coverage of other state capitals, Europe, and China, said Politico Canada executive director Luiza Savage. About 500,000 of Politico’s 25 million unique visitors each month are Canadian.

“We have a lot that we can offer to a Canadian audience that doesn’t really exist right now in a way that would be tailored for their needs,” she said. “We’ve never been in sort of a more high stakes moment in Canada-U.S. relations.”

Politico Pro is a subscriber product that gives real-time coverage of specific policy topics, such as agriculture, energy, or health care. Politico Pro Canada will focus specifically on the Canada-U.S. relationship, including trade, taxation, and migration, she said.

Politico might expand to include a Canadian-based correspondent, she added, but there are currently no plans to do so.

ehaws@hilltimes.com

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