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How the Pass Herald became the plaintiff in a lawsuit

Posted on April 6, 2022 by Taber Times

 I have been in the industry for 22 years. When I started at the Pass Herald we were a large paper with seven employees. We had a Compugraphic computer and hand-pasted photo film type paper onto a page. I remember typing stories, printing them off, gluing them onto an 11 x 17 so that Buddy could shoot the negatives in the darkroom in time to make the Greyhound Bus so that they made it to the Lethbridge Herald for print. It’s hard to believe that was only 22 years ago. Today I create the paper on a computer, PDF the pages and drop the finished paper into the Lethbridge Herald Dropbox for printing.

 I can’t help but fondly remember those days when the paper was full of ads, we were all doing our job to sell ads, layout the papers, distribute and do the accounting. We had a lot of people in the office and boy it was fun. Today there is just Mike, David and I and contract workers. I can’t afford to hire anyone else. We work bare bones to keep this paper alive and often I’m embarrassed to think of how little I make as a wage. In 2018 I was elected to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association as a Director and am now the Vice President, Government Affairs Liaison. Our Association represents 95+ member newspapers throughout Alberta and the Northwest Territories with a combined circulation of 630,000.

 Why are things so difficult for traditional media? Facebook and Google have changed the distribution of advertising dollars in this country, and really the world, and believe me it’s not in favour of traditional media like the Pass Herald. I truly believe there are antitrust issues at play here. More than 50 per cent of total ad dollars are spent on digital advertising, and two companies control that marketplace. This lawsuit will shine a light on that. Perhaps the federal government should ask the Competition Bureau Canada to investigate.

 As a small community newspaper owner, I became concerned that not enough was being done to help the 40+ independent publishers in Alberta, never mind the 400+ across Canada. Current efforts by News Media Canada lobbying the federal government to compel Google and Facebook to pay licensing fees to news content providers seem focused on the bigger players. Players such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and Postmedia. Should this legislation regarding licensing fees come true, my guess is NONE of that money will ever trickle down to weekly independent papers, and like always, we will lose out to the chains, fighting over the profits at the expense of the little guys. Nobody seemed to be looking after the interests of independent newspapers in this country; papers that actually live in communities, covering soccer games, council meetings and keeping the history of towns. As the plaintiff in the lawsuit, it is the independent newspapers that your Pass Herald is giving a voice to.

 I’m interested in sustaining the community newspaper industry. It’s not about the money, it’s about keeping local news in our communities and giving us independents a voice. This lawsuit could be a real game-changer. It has the potential to stem the tide of “news deserts” (communities that have lost their local papers) and keep local news in small centres across Alberta. We are seeing hundred-year-old newspapers shutting down all over the country.

 My call to arms is for all the independent newspapers in this province and across the country. I represent all Alberta weeklies, including the 40 of us that are independently owned and operated and I will fight tooth and nail to protect independent newspapers. Now it’s time for the 400 of us in Canada to step up to the plate and fight for our rights. As the plaintiff in the class action, the Pass Herald is the vehicle for this movement.

 I’m also asking that our National Association and News Media Canada step up to the plate and do their jobs; representing ALL newspapers in this country … not just the chains. It’s really a call to arms for our industry on a local, provincial and national level. Please share this editorial and reproduce it in your papers. Our little weekly may have started the process but it’s up to each and every newspaper in this country to create the movement. We have been used to taking scraps from Google and Facebook and thinking that’s the best we can do. I’m here to tell you to remember what and who you are. Newspapers are the history of this great country; we are the written and photographic diary of our communities. We are not the industry that takes scraps from anyone. We are the power of the press and the check and balance against tyranny. We are the people who write the facts and let the reader come up with their conclusion. Yet when you are struggling to survive on handouts can you really do your job as owners and publishers the way it’s been throughout history? Remember each day you must wake up in the morning and look at your face in the mirror and I hope you like what you see! I have to look my fellow publishers in the eye and say that I’m doing everything I can to help them but now our entire industry must come together to fight for what is right.

 Lisa Sygutek,

 Publisher, Crowsnest Pass Herald

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