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Politics

Community newspaper coverage of Sunday’s election call lacking

While it is said all politics is local, a quick survey of community newspapers sites in British Columbia, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Ontario and the Atlantic region found an overwhelming majority did not have any breaking news regarding the election call Sunday.

About 10 per cent of the more than 200 newspapers reviewed had some type of election story, mainly focusing on the election call only. One newspaper, Northumberland News, in Central Ontario, had full coverage of the election call, candidate reactions, and profiles of candidates Sunday night.

This demonstrates how community newspapers continue to view the online product as a value-added resource to the main traditional newspaper.  Rather than viewing it as an opportunity to provide breaking news to local audiences, the online products consist mainly of repurposed content placed online within the same publishing schedule.

But, this may also say something about media concentration and the nature of a federal election campaign.

While sites display local content, there is no question many pages are part of a chain of newspapers. The websites are made with templates. And, in the case of some chains, a single website is used for several traditional newspaper products.  For my informal survey, one website was counted once, even though it represented several newspapers.

Another consideration is the way in which national political campaigns are run. Mainly, the focus is on the leaders and not on local campaigns. One political organizer I know on a local level said when someone votes, 90 per cent of their decision is based on the national campaign and 10 per cent on the local race. It will be interesting to see if this plays out on the community newspaper level.

Also, many community newspapers leave national, provincial and regional coverage to the major urban newspapers. Supposedly, community newspapers focus on local issues. It will also be interesting to see to what extent coverage of local campaigns mirrors national ones. Will the issues be the same or will we see different ones emerge?

And, will local papers create a space for debate of the issues? So far, as we have seen already, it would appear the traditional values of community newspapers are merely transferred online. I know I will certainly be tracking who uses online newspapers, and the features of the Internet, to create a democratic commons to facilitate discourse.
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Nobody, so far, has adequately explained why the Green party has not already been included in election debates, even as their popularity rivals that of the Bloc Québécois and in some areas the New Democrats — who are included. In my opinion, media decision-makers have stepped over the line as gate-keepers in election debates. The media fails in its public-interest job as facilitators of public democratic debate that includes new voices and new ideas.

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