By Tim Kalinowski on January 12, 2021.
City council will hold a second public hearing during today’s meeting which could have severe repercussions for the long-term viability of The Lethbridge Herald, and potentially disenfranchise local seniors, in particular, from receiving vital information on proposed developments in the community.
Under the Municipal Government Act, the City is required to advertise by designated print media to ensure all citizens in the community have access to important information regardless of their digital literacy or access. The Herald is the only designated media which can meet the requirements of the MGA in Lethbridge.
A proposed bylaw change before city council would greatly reduce the amount of information developers are required to put in the paper, and reduce advertising revenue to The Herald at a time when the media industry in Lethbridge is struggling.
According to StatsCanada, about 40 per cent of adults 45-years-and-older in Canada have no digital access, or simply prefer to get their information from print media as their primary news source in the community.
Council was told by city staff in November the savings to the City would be approximately $99,000; the actual savings would be far less as the total spent was only $79,000 in the past 12 months. On top of this, city staff revealed the only reason there is any cost to the City at all is because staff had been using $400 in taxpayer money to supplement the advertising costs per ad in the newspaper, costs which, under the MGA, are required to be borne by the developer and not the municipality.
When this reduction in print advertising was first proposed to city council in November, Herald publisher Brian Hancock said he was greatly disappointed the matter was even being discussed, considering council’s stated desire to help provide stimulus for local businesses in Lethbridge during this period of economic hardship when other advertising revenues were also in decline.
“This year The Herald will pay in excess of $185,000 in City taxes and utilities (compare that with our sister paper in Medicine Hat paying $137,000),” he said. “We are also forced (yes, no choice) to pay an extra “Downtown Lethbridge” tax to the tune of another $1,742, although this year the downtown tax was waived due to COVID.
“We are one of the longest-serving local businesses in Lethbridge (over 125 years in operation) employing over 60 full-time staff and countless part-time carriers and drivers. We do our share in this city, but I guess “support local” is just a nice slogan that our own City administration is debating not living up to.”
City council voted to hold a second public hearing on the matter back in December after many Herald readers and various community partners spoke out in support of their local newspaper, many decrying the loss of transparency and access this reduction in print media advertising would entail.
The public hearing begins at 4 p.m. Anyone wishing to make a statement of support for The Herald in person to council will have an opportunity to do so then.
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