May 30th, 2024

City council changes print media bylaw


By Lethbridge Herald on January 26, 2021.

Herald filephoto by Ian Martens Mayor Chris Spearman is disappointed the Alberta legislature has noted not to reverse the EMS dispatch decision. @IMartensHerald

Lethbridge Herald
tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

City council voted to change its print media bylaw to reduce the size of ads which will appear in the Lethbridge Herald, and provide less information to Herald readers, many of them seniors with no digital access, on important public notices and developments in the city.

Despite two public hearings held on the issue, and many concerns registered by community members over the potential loss of transparency such a move would have, and the consequences of the decision to the ongoing viability of the newspaper, council still opted to go ahead with changes to the bylaw.

Coun. Jeffrey Coffman, who sponsored the motion, attempted to put a better gloss on the decision as he spoke to it. Despite City staff’s arguments presented in November that this was a cost saving measure for the City, Coffman said he didn’t really see it that way.

“This is about bringing the organization into the 21st century in terms of creating alternative methods of reaching the community, codifying it so everybody understands the process,” he said. “This is not about cutting out the Lethbridge Herald now. The bylaw has been amended two public hearings ago, and presented and approved today, really strengthens the opportunities for us to be reaching the community, and more importantly for the community to be reaching us.”
Coun. Coffman did not address how reducing the amount of public information appearing in the newspaper, and potentially disenfranchising some individuals with no digital access from additional online information, was going to strengthen the ability of the community to engage in the civic process.

Coffman acknowledged the original justification, that this would save the City a lot of money, presented by staff at the public hearing back in November was a different justification for the change presented to council at the last public hearing back on Jan. 12. Coffman did introduce an amendment, adopted by council, to ensure some basic information on proposed developments and other public notices still appeared in the newspaper. He acknowledged though this would still have serious financial implications for The Herald as a full 74 per cent of the City’s advertising budget in 2020 with the newspaper was spent on public notifications.

“The way the bylaw was brought forward is the City was proposing we could just do all of this online, but what council intervened, our amendment was, ’We are actually not going to change that (print media notification) process,’” he stated. “Will there be a change in spending? There will probably be a change (to reduce) spending, but not to the extent as to what was originally proposed.”

However, the implications of the decision were clear: a serious loss of advertising revenue to The Herald, and for those with no digital access, or for those who prefer to get their information in local print media, less information on important local developments in the newspaper with no other acceptable local print media available under the Municipal Government Act.

Herald publisher Brian Hancock said council’s decision on Tuesday was “very disappointing,” to say the least.

“I don’t think all the facts were laid on the table,” Hancock stated, “and through discovery and discussing the issue to find out taxpayers have been subsidizing these ads for a long period of time now is completely wrong. From day one, this was presented as a cost cutting measure, and now it turns out, they are saying now, it was not that at all.”

Mayor Chris Spearman, who also voted in favour of the motion, said he hoped City staff would now engage in “constructive conversations” with The Herald about other ways the City could potentially advertise with the newspaper.

“I think the Lethbridge Herald is a great paper,” he said, “and I think there are things we can do in order to continue to support The Herald … I think there needs to be ongoing conversation with The Herald about what the City is doing, and how we can continue to support The Herald in terms of advertising dollars that are maybe not in the public notice format that we have been using. It’s really the public notice format that has really been under discussion, and how we advertise going forward.”

Hancock also hoped that might occur now that a majority of council has voted not to support its local newspaper in this way.

“We are going to sit down and have a conversation about some the other options we have in terms of advertising,” he stated. “People may not be aware that we are also one of the biggest digital companies in town that does digital advertising for clients. We hope to have that conversation, but right now the initial sting of this decision is very disappointing, and readers of The Herald have lost a service.”

The Councillors who voted in favour of the motion were Belinda Crowson, Jeffrey Carlson, Jeffrey Coffman, Mark Campbell, Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro and Mayor Chris Spearman.

Councillors who voted against the motion were Ryan Parker and Blaine Hyggen. Coun. Joe Mauro was absent for the vote.

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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bluegrass

Useless bylaw and a waste of time. More money is wasted within the bureaucracy of city hall on a daily basis. Many older people are not computer literate, and hard copy is still a viable method of communication. Cut out one duplicated and overpaid city employee and the savings will be immediate.

gs172

Bad decision, they are denying information to residents. Just as ridiculous as businesses having Facebook pages and not websites, you’re leaving people out.