Canada’s ethnic newspapers reflect demographic shift
As some older, more established community press fold, others try to reinvent themselves to survive in the niche but competitive ethnic market.
RON BULL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Corriere Canadese, the Italian-language newspaper publised in Toronto for almost six decades, has suspended operations.
Immigration from Italy to Canada was at its peak in 1954 when the late Dan Iannuzzi founded Corriere Canadese, an Italian-language newspaper, in Toronto.
Almost all of the Italian migrants — more than 60,000 a year — then arrived in Canada as labourers, with little English or education. The community paper was their link to their new and old homes in the pre-Internet world.
“They had no voice. They were viewed as people who acted funny and talked funny with their hands,” said Lori Abittan, president and CEO of Multimedia Nova Corporation, the public company that now owns the paper.
“Corriere Canadese helped them integrate into the Canadian society and created the links for them with the rest of Canada.”
While Canada has been experiencing an explosion of multicultural and multilingual media outlets — with about 3,000 alone by one estimate — their booms and glooms go in cycles with the fluctuating immigration inflows from their respective communities.
These days, things are not good for the long-time publications among the older, established immigrant communities from Europe, as immigration flow from the old world on the continent has slowed to a trickle.
The latest government statistics from 2011 showed immigration from Poland hit a new low at 657; Italy, 572; Portugal, 506; Netherlands, 629; and Greece, 163. They were outnumbered by the 35,000 coming from the Philippines, 28,700 from China and 25,000 from India — communities currently with the most robust ethnic media industry.
On May 4, Corriere Canadese published its last print edition and suspended its operations after 59 years in business, which followed an earlier announcement by theCanadian Jewish News to stop printing in June after 53 years.
Thomas Saras, president of the National Ethnic Press and Media council of Canada, said ethnic publications face the same challenges mainstream newspapers do: declining print readership, dwindling advertising revenues and competition from online social media.
Since its inception in 1987, the council has seen its membership grow from 6 publications to 650, but the sector’s exponential growth belies a highly fragmented and competitive market with a high turnover rate.
“For some of the older established immigrant papers, the older generations are dying and the younger ones can’t read the language or they just don’t give a damn,” said Saras, publisher of the Patrides North American Review, a monthly Greek community publication. “The readership doesn’t really exist anymore.”
Ryerson University journalism professor April Lindgren, who specializes in local news coverage and ethnic media, said most community press covers both Canadian community news and contents from their country of origin, while others don’t do their own reporting but rather aggregate content from other websites, incurring little overhead costs.
With the convenience of the Internet, many immigrants do not have to just rely on Canada’s ethnic press for information to find out what’s happening back home, said Lindgren. In the meantime, ethnic newspapers can’t compete with mainstream media for coverage of Canadian local news.
“Homeland news cannot be a staple anymore and local content is expensive and difficult to generate,” Lindgren explained. “I think the real strength for these community media to survive is their role in explaining GTA and Canada to the people newly arrived here through localized stories.”
Stories, for example, that feature their own community members about, say, the importance of cleaning the snow on the sidewalks are not just relaying practical information — they help readers more easily learn about their new culture.
Canada’s immigration system has changed dramatically since the earlier waves of Europeans arriving here in the middle of the last century. Today, Canadian immigration policy is geared toward attracting highly educated, skilled immigrants with a good command of Canada’s official languages.
Yet, Corriere Canadese’s Abittan said recent newcomers are still drawn to the multicultural press because they do not see their stories truly reflected in Canada’s mainstream.
“We all tend to gravitate to things familiar to us. It is an emotional thing. It is a gap that the mainstream media cannot fill,” said Abittan, who has been with her paper for 25 years.
Corriere Canadese was expanding fast in the mid-1990s after the Italian government began funding Italian-language publications in countries where there’s a strong presence of people of Italian descent. Italians abroad are eligible to vote in Italy and the government wants them to stay connected.
However, hurt by both the international and domestic economic turmoil in the last few years, the Italian government has reduced and delayed the $3 million Corriere Canadese has been getting annually, thrusting the paper into its current financial crisis.
(Multimedia Nova Corp., which owned Corriere Canadese, has reduced its staff from more than a 100 down to 25. Before it stopped printing on May 4, the 48-page paper had lost a quarter of its readers in the last year alone after it reduced its publication to five days a week.)
Many multicultural publications, including Corriere Canadese, have moved online but, like their mainstream counterparts, still haven’t been able to figure out a way to generate revenues through their Internet editions.
Others such as the Gazeta, an established Polish Canadian weekly, have begun to include an English section to cultivate a following among second-generation immigrant readers, who cannot read their ancestors’ mother language.
Over the last decade, Shahrvand, one of about 10 Iranian newspapers in Canada, has benefitted from the steady intake of about 6,500 Iranian immigrants to Canada a year.
With 20,000 print copies distributed a week, Shahrvand carries contents in both Farsi and English to capture both Iranian and non-Iranian readers.
Its website now attracts more than 10,000 views each day from around the world and has been extending its reach through its own Facebook page and Twitter and by carrying more local and multimedia content.
“We are growing, but every few months, we also see a new Iranian publication in the market. It drives down advertising prices,” said Sima Zerehi, whose parents, Hassan and Nasrin, started the paper in Toronto 22 years ago.
The challenge for all newspapers, mainstream or not, she said, is figuring out how to reinvent themselves to draw in the changing readership, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations.
But like others, Zerehi believes ethnic press is here to stay as long as Canada continues to be an immigrant country.
“We love to see our community covered in the Star or on CBC. It’s nice to be seen, heard and acknowledged,” said Zerehi. “But we also need the space for dialogues within our own community.”