Will Indigenous voices be lost in battle with Big Tech over online news?

The digital era made it easy for IndigiNews to connect with Indigenous communities. The Online News Act threatens that Continue Reading Will Indigenous voices be lost in battle with Big Tech over online news?
Eden Fineday
“We found our people on Facebook. In fact, over 43 per cent of website traffic to www.indiginews.com comes directly from Facebook,” writes Indiginews publisher Eden Fineday. Indiginews.com

Most Indigenous reserves are isolated. This was done on purpose, by colonists who wanted to remove Indians from our land so that they could populate it with white people – and so that we would not be able to cause trouble for the incoming white civilization. As a result, folks growing up on reserves in Canada have been isolated from the rest of the country, as Canada’s reserve system is an apartheid (and was the inspiration for the South African system). 

The digital era heralded a new way for people in far-flung places to connect with friends and family in cities. The internet allowed Indigenous folks to interact with the world in a new way. Facebook, for whatever reason, became the central digital meeting space of many Indigenous communities across so-called Canada. It’s where all the aunties and uncles were. It’s where I went when I wanted to find out what was happening in my home community.

It’s not surprising, then, that Facebook has become such an important delivery method for IndigiNews. IndigiNews is a decolonized take on journalism. Based out of British Columbia, we are a news outlet led by Indigenous women, writing for and about Indigenous people. We love our communities and we are proud to be who we are. We uplift our people by focusing on celebrating the joy, beauty and strength in our cultures. We also hold to account institutions who harm our communities.

We found our people on Facebook. In fact, over 43 per cent of website traffic to www.indiginews.com comes directly from Facebook.

We’ve posted hundreds of stories on our Facebook page since launching in May of 2020. Stories like this one by Anna McKenzie that got over 7,500 shares on Facebook and became our most viral story ever. 

Last month, Bill C-18, the Online News Act, was given royal assent in the house. It’s a piece of legislation designed to address a decades-long industry crisis that has seen thousands of journalism jobs disappear. The law is designed to force big tech, including Meta and Google, to pay news providers for links to content that appear on their platforms.

The problem, as it almost always is, is money. 

Journalism is expensive to produce. It takes a team of people to create a news article. Reporters sometimes travel to see a situation firsthand. People may need to be interviewed. The story must be written coherently by someone who is good at explaining things and understands journalistic ethics.

Then come the edits. At IndigiNews, we generally do three rounds of edits. The first is focused on the narrative and basic fact-checking. The second round is a cultural one – do we have permission to tell this story? Is our framing of the issue correct? Did we get the names of nations and territories right? The third and final edit is a copy edit,where we make sure periods and spaces are where they should be. Then, and only then, do we hit “Publish.”

It’s a lot of work. And it requires a lot of person-hours. And journalists, like everyone, need places to live and food for their families. We can’t make news for free. Someone has to pay for it. 

But who? Passive consumers of news don’t want to pay for it. It’s a scary time for the industry and for IndigiNews. I don’t know what happens next. If IndigiNews loses Facebook, do we lose almost half of the audience we’ve grown?

If so, it seems that, as usual, when times get tough, the people on the bottom are kicked the hardest.

What is Meta and Google’s obligation to Indigenous Peoples in so-called Canada? Do they have one? What is a fair price to pay for quality journalism and who should pay it? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I just hope IndigiNews survives the showdown happening in Ottawa right now. 

This column was originally published by the Toronto Star and appears here with permission.

Eden Fineday is publisher of IndigiNews.