Blog by John Miller

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Readers grow here

Research done recently in Vancouver may provide clues to Toronto news media on how to reach what is often called "the other 50 percent" – those Canadians in the GTA who were born in another country and tend to be increasingly non-white.

As their overall readerships and viewerships stagnate or decline, mainstream daily newspapers and TV news stations might assume that the trend is common across all demographics: Minority news consumers behave more or less like anyone else, and age rather than ethnicity is the significant factor. But new research in Vancouver’s large Chinese community indicates that may not be true. Those consumers may not be there at all, and there is need for new strategies to target multicultural communities.

A telephone survey of 555 Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking Vancouver residents conducted by INNOVATIVE Research Group last fall found that the readership of Chinese newspapers outnumbered English newspapers by three to one. The reality in Vancouver’s Chinese community today is that far more Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking residents read Chinese newspapers than English newspapers. Even those who say they have no problems reading and writing in English report that they are more likely to read Chinese newspapers. And the percentage of all ages reading Chinese papers is not a newcomer issue; it actually increases as time of residency reaches 6 to 10 years.

The research was a joint project between INNOVATIVE Research and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a social service agency in Vancouver that works to engage new immigrants in Canadian society. The agency says the research proves that social, cultural, political, governmental and business entities must learn to use the Chinese language media to get their message across to Chinese-Canadian communities in Vancouver. Also, English language print media need to take special measures if they want to expand their readership to Chinese Canadians.

The Vancouver research confirms other findings that social cohesion, political engagement and media consumption are intrinsically linked, and there are opportunities for mainstream media organizations to capitalize on that as businesses.

If diversity media are increasingly important in Vancouver, they are even more so in Toronto, which has a much broader demographic mix. The only similar research found in the GTA was commissioned from Ipsos Reid in 2007 by Sing Tao, Toronto's most-read Chinese daily newspaper. It showed that 52 percent of Chinese Canadians read Chinese newspapers and magazines exclusively. Only 18 percent read English publications exclusively, and 30 percent read both English and Chinese publications.

If similar trends are occurring in other multicultural groups, there is a huge cohort in the GTA that is not reading or viewing mainstream news outlets. They are getting their news in their own languages, and these media are robust, trusted and numerous. A recent survey by Diversity Media Services, a division of Multimedia Nova Corporation, identified 243 newspapers published in the GTA, in 47 languages other than English, and that did not include other papers that are national in scope and mailed to readers in Toronto (DMS identified 480 titles nationally). Publishers in the GTA actually produce 10 daily newspapers in languages other than English and French (Corriere Canadese, Korea Times Daily, Korea Central Daily, Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao Daily, Chinese World Journal, Today Daily News, Daily South Asian Free Press, Punjabi Post, Punjabi Daily).

On TV, Toronto viewers have a choice of daily news programs carried on OMNI-1 and OMNI-2 directed at the diverse South Asian community and separate news programs broadcast daily in Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Portuguese. Fairchild TV News is a Cantonese cable channel which competes with OMNI-2 and provides an hour-long news program seven days a week, including international, national and local news, weather, sports and business. Clearly, multicultural communities do not need to rely on the mainstream media; but, given the rapidly changing demographics of the GTA, the reverse may not be true.

The problem with these communities relying solely on diversity media are threefold: The industry is volatile, it is extremely fragmented, and its resources for news gathering are limited. As an example of volatility, DMS discovered 70 dead titles when it tried to contact newspapers that appeared on a list compiled 18 months earlier, which mainly relied on a federal Ministry of Public Works master list. Ryerson School of Journalism researchers encountered similar problems when trying in 2007 to update a 2006 listing of diversity newspapers they compiled for Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Publications Assistance Program. Part of the reason is size. Even the more established newspapers serving multicultural communities in the GTA tend to have small circulations when compared to their mainstream counterparts. Example: Share, a weekly containing news of interest to the Black community, prints 51,000 copies, about the same number as Ming Pao, and they are two of the larger diversity publications in the GTA. The result is that 25 or more newspapers serve each of the larger distinct communities, and there is an explosion of small media serving recent newcomer groups such as Russians. Many are limited in reach to local areas by the high cost of distribution. This compounds the problem that social, cultural, political, governmental or business entities have in spreading their messages widely to those communities.

News content is also limited by resources. A 2006 poll of 111 diversity publishers by researchers at Ryerson University found that 39 percent listed their top challenge as finding writers and 33 percent said it was adding local content. While it was common for these newspapers to have home-country news (usually ripped off the Internet), it was rarer for them to have the resources to give comprehensive coverage of events and issues in the community here. And there is no multicultural wire service providing common news to these communities, so there is much duplication of effort in providing basic settlement news for newcomers.

Within those restraints, the diversity media are robust, and virtually recession-proof because of their reader loyalty and cultural connection. Circulation at some of the larger titles is rising rather than falling, which is the case at many mainstream dailies. The healthier ones are expanding rather than downsizing. One example is Multimedia Nova, which publishes Corriere Canadese, Correo Canadiense (in Spanish), O Correio Canadiano (in Portuguese) and also the Town Crier chain of English-language community papers serving upscale Toronto neighbourhoods like Leaside, Forest Hill and the Annex. Its DMS division is set up as a marketing partnership with the 480 national newspapers it has identified and partnered with. It has already attracted business from some big advertisers like General Motors and Ontario Place. Recognizing the potential, Torstar Corp. (parent company of the Toronto Star) recently bought a 20 percent share of Multimedia Nova. In 2001, it bought control of the Canadian editions of Sing Tao newspapers, providing the Chinese daily with Canadian editorial content. Other strategies by mainstream media to tap into a growing readership might be fruitful in the near future.

Meanwhile, the diversity newspapers are trying to adapt on their own to the changing needs of news consumers. In the 2006 survey by Ryerson's School of Journalism, 57 percent of diversity publishers said they have online versions and half the others planned to do so. Half planned to publish more content in English (72 percent said they already did). What is even more important, very few saw themselves as an alternative to mainstream dailies. In an apparent contradiction of the findings of the INNOVATIVE Research findings in Vancouver, 87 percent of publishers/editors of diversity newspapers expected their readers to also use mainstream dailies.

There seems to be an opportunity here for mainstream media to form partnerships, or to cater more deliberately to diverse readers themselves. There is business waiting.