Jeff Elgie is pioneering a way forward as the journalism industry collapses under the loss of advertising revenue. His company, Village Media, a hyper-local digital-only news platform, was established about five years ago. Village Media then became the parent of SooToday.com, an internet news site based in in Sault. Ste. Marie, ON, which emerged over 15 years ago.
Today, Village Media owns 11 online publications across Ontario, ranging in communities of 10,000 people to those of 150,000 people. They are exclusive digital partners with 11 other digital publications. His experience has convinced him that local, digital journalism is both sustainable and profitable.
“If you look at our markets, every one of them, we cover council,” Elgie says, “There’s endless stories that come out of the importance of that especially if council were to be left uncovered by any form of media.”
Once the sites in the several markets Village Media is in mature, they will do what traditional newspapers once did in small and mid-size markets; really bring together a community.
Simply put, Village Media doesn’t believe in print — the business model of it that is. “We think that the more people we can reach then the more impact we can make on a local community … The more localized audience we can reach in the most effective way, then the more value we can bring to local businesses as advertisers.”
When asked about those who can’t get online, Elgie says access to the internet is a “non-issue.” “What we statistically know is that we reach more people in our markets than will ever subscribe to a local daily newspaper,” Elgie says. “I’m a big believer that digital reaches way more people than print can.”
Despite being at the height of the digital age and with access to information supposedly at our fingertips, a 2016 Statistics Canada report shows the number of Canadians who follow the news on a daily basis has dropped from 68% in 2003 to 60% in 2013.
The industry is quickly changing and becoming more precarious. Layoffs and buyouts are taking place at unprecedented rates. With a changing industry comes changing business models, and the future relies on innovation.
The Changing Business of Journalism and its Implications for Democracy, a report by Reuters Institute, finds the future of journalism in this digital age is smaller organizations. “They will have to take more entrepreneurial approaches to creating the financial resources available for their operations and be more innovative in terms of the news products and services they provide,” reads the report.
David Skok caught onto that trend when he founded The Logic in 2018; a startup attempting to tackle the industry’s problems in the face of technological disruption. The Logic is seeking to cover stories about institutions and people creating “transformational change.” Existing behind a paywall, the publication believes in a subscription-model, and is an online platform.
Elgie and Skok are two of many Canadian business pioneers seeking to find the solution to journalism’s problems. Others include The Tyee, The Discourse, and more. Last year, The Shattered Mirror report found that 1,000 journalism jobs were lost in Canada. Online publications are considered more profitable because they, “allow people to converse, collaborate and clash with one another, they profit from these activities.” Publications have caught on, and in an effort to save their company, they either let go of jobs, print, or most commonly, both.
According to the Local News Research Project, since 2008, 262 local news outlets have closed in Canada, with 190 communities affected by an outlet closing. Village Media seeks to fill these gaps.