Over the years, LondonFuse has managed to carve out something of a niche for ourselves, with www.londonfuse.ca and Short Fuse, as a place that celebrates all things London. We aren’t the only people to do so, but we are proud of what we do.
The reason we’ve succeeded thus far is because of the passion of our contributors. We work with volunteers so they can accomplish their own goals – not goals or quotas set out by LondonFuse.
The content you read reflects the London each of those individuals experience, in their own words and through their own eyes. In doing so, they are filling a local void in an increasingly centralized media landscape. It gives me hope.
And yet, media jobs are often not the end goal of our contributors. Rather, volunteerism itself and learning about London – its people, its past and its present – seem to be the main drawing points to LondonFuse.
You can see how genuine that sentiment is when reading their stories and seeing their photos and videos.
Even though national media coverage now comes at us flashier, faster and in several formats at once, it has sacrificed relevance for expediency. This puts local media at an unfair disadvantage, and an unnecessary one.
We need only look as far back as one year ago to see why.
In November, 2017, Torstar and Postmedia made a deal to swap several community newspapers, eliminating three dozen publications altogether, including Our London. It was a good paper, with good people producing it – though far fewer than you’d imagine for a publication of its size and reach.
We lost something when Our London closed, but we had radio, television and other publications to fill the gaps. Nearby communities lost even more, as some of those 36 papers that closed were their sole source of local news. Was it a good move? It depends on how you define the bottom line.
On a spreadsheet, it’s a great move. On broadsheet, it means communities become more isolated and their people more apathetic.
National conglomerates cut local jobs, and moved them across oceans. Language barriers resulting from cheap, outsourced labour literally half a world away, had created a massive communications gap between the people who created the local papers and the production of the paper itself.
Here’s a not-so-funny anecdote from my time at a nearby newspaper that illustrates my point perfectly:
By the early 2010s, all of our ad composition was outsourced to India. Our salesperson (who also did reception and office admin), sent off the classified ads with a small note attached.
“Put a little something here,” she wrote – or some similar phrase – so the person composing the advertisement would know to fill out some of the white space. Lo and behold, when the paper was printed, the ad contained the words:
“A little something.”
Losing our voice
The fate of Our London and others like it wasn’t from out of nowhere. It was the end result of decades of smaller media outlets being bought out by larger ones – the guppy swallowed by the salmon, swallowed by the shark, swallowed by the whale.
Mergers, while fantastic at rewarding shareholders, almost always result in layoffs at the local level first. We’ve seen it here. Reporters, photographers, editors – gone. Publishers reduced to sales managers. Segments cut, time slots reduced.
However, the expectation to be everywhere at once remained the same. Throughout my own time in news I saw many friends and competitors lose their jobs, and those who remained forced to take on their workload, in addition to their own.
Mistakes became rampant. Corners were cut and details missed. Events of local significance – good and bad – went unreported.
Each time that happened, the tether of local media to its community became looser and looser. People lost faith. So did local businesses, who began to see diminishing returns on their advertisements as viewers, readers, and subscribers dropped.
Last year, CTV’s sports desk ceased to be after parent company, Bell Media, slashed local sports in London, Kitchener and Windsor in favour of consolidated national coverage. It was under the auspices of staying competitive, even though they literally gave up a monopoly on regional sports and replaced it with nothing.
This city was the epicentre of thousands of square kilometres of news and sports. Between London proper, Middlesex, Huron, Bruce and Perth counties, our local television news and sports covered an area greater than many European countries.
People took pride in that fact.
You won’t find coverage of the WOSSAA field hockey championships, or OFSAA track and field results – or anything else that is exclusively made for London and region – in a national news reel.
Even Rogers – the most community-centric station of all – has had its world turned on end. Staff laid off, quality and quantity of local material sacrificed. The station may lack the glitz and glam of larger networks, but the people who do the reporting are passionate about the community and it shows in their finished product. Their election coverage, for example, was second to none.
The big question
The value of local media cannot be measured in dollars and cents, though it all too often is.
What I don’t understand – what I’ll never understand – is this:
When people are losing faith in traditional media outlets, why is the first thing their parent companies cut always – ALWAYS – local news?
I am 100 per cent biased in saying this, but I believe local reporting is the only thing that can actually save traditional media from itself.
Which brings me back to LondonFuse.
We’re not going to shatter the foundations of society with stories about local bands, or play reviews, or articles on the city’s best food and drink. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it is incredibly important for two reasons:
1 – It eliminates the barriers that exist between people and the city they call home, and helps them discover tiny little bits of London they may otherwise never know existed.
2 – It gives volunteers a chance to dig deeper into the world around them, make new friends, and pursue their goals, whatever they may be.
Our limitations as a not-for-profit mean we don’t have the reach or the budget to do much more than look at the world immediately around us, though even if we could, our focus would remain the same.
We’re happy where we are.
This is our city, and we appreciate the hell out of it, just as we appreciate the dedication of our volunteers, the support of the community, readers, and the little things in life that make London worth exploring.
We are fiercely local.
And we are fiercely proud of that.