Edmonton’s free paper follows Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa weeklies into the grave

Editorial | by Stephen Whitworth

Canada lost another newspaper last month when Vue Weekly published its last issue. The Edmonton alternative’s final edition hit streets and coffee shops on Thursday, Nov. 29, marking the end of a lively, 20-year run.

“It’s sad to see Edmonton go from two of the best alt weeklies in the country to none,” said Edmonton expatriate and Prairie Dog writer Paul Dechene. “I loved Vue.”

Vue ultimately succumbed to the usual problem: massive poaching of advertising by social media titans. Vue’s editors said Edmonton businesses just didn’t want to work with it anymore.

“It comes down to ads — it always does,” the editors wrote in a column titled “Um, Bye”. “Businesses in Edmonton didn’t think we had the reach anymore, and didn’t want to give our paper money.”

Despite this, Vue’s readership was strong to the end. Unfortunately, readership doesn’t matter when businesses can pretend they’re meeting their marketing needs with Facebook ads.

After all, social media ads are so much less expensive than print, and so what if algorithms artificially restrict their reach across an essentially infinite Internet? The important thing is they’re cheap.

It baffles me when local shops put all their marketing in the online basket. Don’t they have enough competition from Internet mega-retailers? Sure, a local clothing store’s Instagram ad could remind someone it exists, but it’s just as likely to inspire them to go shopping on Amazon — which has a bigger selection and maybe better prices. It’s always a click away!

Anyway, this whining doesn’t help anything.

In the big picture, Vue was important to Edmonton. As a free newspaper distributed all over the city, it was there for everyone: rich, poor, left-wing, right-wing, no-wing, whatever. If you could read English, you could read Vue. And by reading Vue’s professionally written and edited stories, Edmontonians got a thoughtful, lively and unique perspective. Vue had a more consistently progressive take on news and politics than daily papers, a more anarchistic view on culture and society than the CBC, and a willingness to be weird and silly just for the sake of it. That’s really, really important in these tense times.

“[L]osing Vue’s alt-weekly street-box model and comforting presence in coffee shops, bars and transit centres removes a sort of Grand Central Station of connections to local and incoming music, theatre, art, literature, film and — frankly — ways of being,” wrote Edmonton Journal columnist and one-time alt-weekly mainstay Fish Griwkowsky. “It adds to a further cultural shattering and tribal isolationism, when what we really need is the opposite: more cross-pollination, less fear of the supposedly unknowable.”

Fish is right — from New York’s Village Voice to FFWD, See and Vue in Alberta, an entire category of media is going extinct. It’s a capitalism problem, not a product problem: there’s nothing stopping alts, both in print and online, from staying at least as relevant as ever, but money and resources to pay journalists, columnists, cartoonists, videographers, authors, poets, podcasters and illustrators.

Lack of money is a stupid reason for something good to die. But once again, so it is in today’s media.

Hopefully that $600 million the Liberals are putting into the industry will be available to Canada’s remaining alt papers. If not? Readers will move on, sinking deeper into inbred social media bubbles.

That’s working out great, isn’t it?

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