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Are We Suffering from Information Poverty in Rural Canada?

Information is so readily accessible in today’s society. I age myself by saying that when I was doing a school project, I’d have to go to our small-town library because most of the reference books I needed couldn’t be checked out with my library card, they were part of the ‘permanent collection’. I also became a student library volunteer and learned the Dewey Decimal System by heart. Later, our family had the privilege of a set of Encyclopedia Britanicas because my uncle got a job selling them door to door.

Now, information is at our fingertips. I call it ‘consulting the Oracle’ when we can literally Google anything from our phones. Libraries are still community hubs and even more so now. Our libraries have become a source of not just educating kids but filling a hole that local news organizations left when so many shuttered through the years. Indigenous Reads programs, Drag Storytime, our libraries are trying to drag us into modern times and educate us.

It’s because a slow decline in investment by the large news agencies in local reporting, especially outside of our larger cities has led to information desserts, or information poverty in our small towns and cities.

So where do we get our local news in rural Canada? Where do you find facts and information needed for critical thinking to make decisions about what’s going in in the world?

This article in the Hill Times reviews a number of studies to conclude that the decline in local news agencies has led to political polarization. It explains that while newspapers used to combine national wire news with local news, reported by local reporters, now there is much more of a national lens, and an effect of that trickles down into our local politics.

I believe that much of the support for the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and eventual ‘Freedom Protest’ came from small town Canada. That’s not to say there wasn’t support from folks in bigger cities but many of the folks who drove long distances, came from towns and hamlets across the country.

The convoy and what happened in Ottawa will be reviewed and scrutinized for years to come but it pulled back the curtain on news reporting. Mainstream media journalists covering the protests were treated poorly, some spat on, many verbally abused. The sentiment was, that what they were reporting wasn’t factual and wasn’t an unbiased view. But those mainstream journalists typically report on big city news. Rural folks have felt ignored by mainstream media. It’s rare to find a story about a rural entrepreneur in a big city evening news report.

Where are rural folks represented?

That angst was amplified with the pandemic lockdowns, people exhausted from setback after setback.

Would having a local news outlet have changed that? Would bringing back local news, independent news agencies, only this time solely dependent on reader revenue make a difference? Can it reduce the divisive polarization we see now?

Maybe it’s worth a try.

In the meantime, look at what's happening in the Ukraine and tell me you want to complain about the lack of freedom we have here in Canada.

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