The provincial government is set to introduce new Extended Producer Responsibility regulations on businesses across Alberta at the end of this month. While the move comes with undeniable environmental benefits, it deals a hefty blow to community journalism – which has been struggling to keep its head above water long before the term COVID-19 came into our lives.
The goal of EPR regulations is twofold, pass the cost of recycling onto the producer as opposed to the municipality, while encouraging producers to cut down on packaging material for their products.
But therein lies the problem facing local, community journalism. The newspaper is the product, not the packaging.
Nevertheless, the incoming EPR regulations will saddle print media organizations across the province with the cost of recycling their product – but not book publishers.
While newspapers have no way to cut down on their already-thinned products, both in terms of page count and paper thickness, publishers of books can opt to print hardcover or paperback, both without any penalty from EPR regulations.
Simply put, EPR regulations cannot and will not result in a reduction of recycled newspaper product. But it will encumber the ability for newspapers to function in an optimal fashion, or in some cases, even at all.
This added roll of red tape could cost an organization like Alberta Newspaper Group, which operates the Medicine Hat News, Lethbridge Herald and many weekly publications, as estimated $125,000 to $150,000 per year. While perhaps not insurmountable, it’s a penalty that would come with consequences, ones felt just as much by news consumers.
That additional expense would hamper the ability for small-town newspapers to provide a robust staff of journalists – something papers in Canada have been struggling with for years – or, ultimately, shift costs onto subscribers and advertisers.
Contrary to what some may believe, Alberta Newspaper Group does not receive government funding outside of the Local Journalism Initiative, and was not part of the Liberal government’s $600-million subsidy package. But without an exemption for newspapers, something other provinces like Ontario have implemented, this provincial legislation becomes a direct added expense to the print media industry and its readers.
Considering the UCP’s consistent message that businesses face too many costs/taxes/red tape, passing this bill as it currently stands flies directly in the face of what the province supposedly stands for – creating an environment for businesses and jobs to thrive.
While the notion of advertising in kind with local municipalities has been discussed, this still results in a significant loss of revenue, which results in smaller papers and under-populated newsrooms.
Newspapers have been shifting and evolving to meet the demands of a changing technological landscape since the inception of the internet, and never has the importance of community journalism been more crucial.
Having a Collin Gallant or Al Beeber attend each city council meeting serves as a benefit not just to the local newspaper and its readers, but the community in which it serves.
Just the presence of a trained local reporter, serving as society’s permanent record, promotes a level of professionalism and diplomacy in our community and political leaders that would otherwise simply vanish.
The spread of information might persist in the form of press releases or blogs, but newspapers offer reputation, a relationship of trust forged through more than a century’s worth of printed word.
The dedication to content offered by newspapers allows for the creation of an informed electorate, and inhibits the ability for bias to sway belief.
The Alberta Newspaper Group editorial board consists of group publisher Ryan McAdams, MHN publisher Jeff Sarich, LH general manager Ryan Turner, MHN city editor Ryan McCracken, LH city editor Trevor Busch, MHN layout editor Scott Schmidt, Prairie Post/Cypress Courier editor Ryan Dahlman, Taber Times editor Cole Parkinson and LH city reporter Al Beeber