Montreal hopes to keep local newspapers above the fold with $2M investment

The city of Montreal is hoping to give local printed newspapers a breath of fresh air through a one-time injection of $85,000 before its ban on Publi-sacs — plastic bags of flyers often used as the primary means of distributing community papers.

About 25 publications will receive $85K lump sums but eligibility rules leave some out in the cold

A bag of flyers hangs from a mailbox.
The city of Montreal is hoping a $2 million subsidy will support local newspapers as they prepare for the ban on Publi-sacs, their primary means of distribution. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

The city of Montreal is hoping to give local printed newspapers a boost through a one-time injection of $85,000.

The $2-million bail out will help about 25 newspapers in the agglomeration. The move comes one year before a Montreal bylaw effectively bans unsolicited Publi-sacs — plastic bags of flyers often used as the primary means of distributing community papers.

Some newspapers say the ban has already affected their revenue as some advertisers lost confidence in distribution and pulled out.

Though a single payment won't be enough to make up for the losses felt by community papers across the island, some say they are pleased with the program and welcome the investment.

"I think they clearly understood the urgency of the situation and ultimately the program they created today was … to give us the ability to look forward to the future," said Andrew Mulé, the president of Métro Média, which owns 15 eligible papers.

"As you can imagine, not only are we faced with cost increases with a change in distribution, we're also being slammed with a revenue decrease," he said.

Mulé called the $85,000 a lifeline.

Luc Rabouin, who is in charge of Montreal's commercial and economic development, said he believes local newspapers are essential to democracy and must be protected.

"We know it won't solve all their problems, but it will help them accelerate their transitions to new modes better adapted to the current reality."

He pointed out that many papers are moving toward digital formats, though printed copies are still important to the communities they serve. The city will also encourage boroughs to buy space in local papers to publish announcements.

"Our long-term investment in local papers will be becoming their clients," said Rabouin.

Eligibility criteria straining some newspapers

Not every community paper will benefit from the subsidy program, which has strict eligibility criteria.

As of Dec.1, owners will be able to apply for grants for each local newspaper they produce if their building is in the agglomeration of Montreal, if they distribute their paper door-to-door and they publish at least 3,000 copies per edition.

The papers must also feature journalistic writing, inform a specific audience in the Montreal area, publish at least six times a year and have been incorporated at least one year before the program goes into effect.

Montreal Community Contact, which predominantly serves Montreal's Black community, will not benefit from the municipal subsidies because it doesn't distribute its paper door-to-door.

Egbert Gaye, the founder and manager of the paper, says not extending the grants to papers like his is "short-sighted" and the city is missing out on an opportunity to help many papers facing financial shortcomings.

"If we're going to reach out to community papers, let's reach out in such a way that more newspapers are eligible for this particular grant and help them move forward in securing a secure distribution," he said.

The city's investment is under the Réflexe Montréal $150-million agreement with the provincial government.

Rabouin called on the provincial and federal governments to continue investing in community papers across the country, saying the financial problems they face aren't restricted to the Montreal area.

With files from Lauren Mccallum