Sadly, the Osoyoos Times and Oliver Chronicle both announced Thursday that they are suspending their print editions, though they will continue to publish online.
To my knowledge, next week will be the first time since the Osoyoos Times was started by Stan Stodola in early 1947 that the Times has not published a paper edition.
The decline of community newspapers began long before Covid-19, but no doubt the impact of the pandemic on local businesses has badly hurt the advertising revenue these papers need to survive.
The bigger threat to community newspapers has been the shift over the past couple of decades to people getting their news online. While professional journalism has adapted to the online format, the reality is that their revenue has been vacuumed up by companies like Facebook that do no journalism or fact checking, but just siphon revenue from media outlets that do.
In this time of Covid-19, we need professional journalists more than ever as rumours, hoaxes and misinformation proliferate on social media. Journalists fact check with reliable sources. Inevitably the odd mistake slips through, but when it does, responsible media correct it.
Newspapers play an important role in binding the community together. During my time at the Osoyoos Times, from 2012 to 2018, I am most proud of how the paper was able to work with others in the community to fight the planned closure of Osoyoos Secondary School in 2016.
An incident last week reminds us of the danger of relying on social media for information.
A local individual posted a false story on a Facebook page claiming that a “reverse welcome wagon” program would be canvassing door to door seeking households to take in seasonal workers. The individual claimed the program would be federally funded.
Osoyoos RCMP launched an investigation into this hoax.
The suspect later claimed it was an April Fools joke, even though the hoax was published in late March. It has been taken down.
The individual had previously posted material from Ezra Levant, a right-wing extremist who founded Rebel Media, a vehicle for hatred against people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Even after the RCMP became involved, the individual issued an “apology,” which appeared to be more about blaming readers for not seeing it was a joke.
“I cant apologize for peoples inability to read deeper and take a minute to analyze the post or meme or story in todays media frenzy,” the person wrote on the same Facebook page.
My purpose here isn’t to shame the individual. That’s why I’m not naming him or her.
We’re all stressed by Covid-19 and sometimes gallows humour is a way of coping with stress. But willfully publishing false information during what might be the biggest international crisis since World War II is terrible judgment.
Some of the misinformation making the rounds on social media is well intended, but wrong.
This recent CBC story on myths about Covid-19 circulating on social media tells of a woman producing an instructional video on how to make an N95 mask from a brassiere. She falsely stated: “Natural materials like cotton and wool naturally repel viruses. I had to find that out on the internet!”
Some of the social media misinformation is an attempt to make money by taking advantage of people’s fears to con them. As noted in a previous story on OsoyoosPersists.ca, the RCMP have warned that fraud about the virus is spreading like the virus itself.
Even after a Russian misinformation campaign planted numerous false stories on Facebook to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has kicked and screamed at any attempt to make Facebook responsible for its content.
In times like this, we need professional journalism more than ever. And well-researched, reliable community journalism plays a vital role in informing smaller communities like Osoyoos and Oliver.
I hope the Osoyoos Times and the Oliver Chronicle can continue to publish solid journalism online as the Covid-19 crisis plays out, and that they can resume their newspapers when things return to some degree of normal.
Times Editor Dale Boyd told me that people can still reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and that the Times is publishing an email newsletter that people can subscribe to for free at OsoyoosTimes.com.
And support local journalism.