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The Northwest Territories’ Cabin Radio: A part of Canada’s North

News

The news media in Canada is in crisis. Policy responses to date are failing to solve for the information that citizens need to make informed decisions about important issues and debates. The Future of News series brings together leading practitioners, scholars, and thinkers to imagine new business models, policy responses, and journalistic content that can support a dynamic future for news in Canada.

As fires raged near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in the summer of 2023, prompting an evacuation of the city on August 16, journalists at Cabin Radio kept Northwesterners informed—even as the reporters themselves were fleeing their homes. 

Minute-by-minute online real-time updates, alongside an array of daily stories, informed the public about the path of the fire, evacuation efforts, return orders, and more. “There wasn’t anywhere else to go [to] that was doing that in quite the same way,” says its news editor and co-founder Ollie Williams. Cabin Radio’s on-the-ground coverage reinforced the unique value of the internet radio station and written news service, which exclusively covers the Northwest Territories. “It’s hard to explain how much that means to me as an editor: to see how everybody worked to a degree that, frankly, I hope they never have to again. But their work made a difference, and our audience appreciated it.” 

Founded in 2017, Cabin Radio’s staff has grown from just Williams to seven full-time employees. In their first full year in operation,  they reached three million page views. Last year, they hit 13 million. “Over time, we’ve seen the engagement of that audience grow,” explains Williams. The site, primarily funded by advertisers, is free to access and Cabin Radio receives $6,000 a month from its 551 Patreon supporters. It also receives federal funding for two “Local Journalism Initiative” (LJI) reporters, one who covers the Dehcho region, predominantly the home to First Nations, and another who covers Indigenous governance. Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario helps fund its climate science reporting. 

Cabin Radio has built a reputation in the community for fast and efficient coverage of local events, Williams says. “If it happens, you report on that immediately. You are very frank with your audience about what you know and what you don’t know at any one moment in time,” he explains. Coverage can range from typical community news— profiles of local teachers winning education awards or art gallery exhibits— to news stories you could only find in the north: winter road openings or massive diesel spills at a diamond mine.  The outlet also goes deep on the Northwest Territories’ biggest files with regularity. Coverage of the wildfires continues — from the personal aftermath to the policy reviews at the territory’s legislative assembly.

Its success continues amid major industry turbulence. Earlier this month, Bell Media laid off nearly 500 staff cutting both local news broadcasts and national programming. In 2023 alone, at least 36 local news outlets shut down across Canada, with seven being privately owned radio stations. In total, 516 local radio, print, TV, and online news outlets have closed since 2008. These cuts come as advertising revenues for news outlets continue to dip and a broader rift in trust grows between news organizations and their audiences. In 2018, 58 percent of Canadians said they “trust the news most of the time.” Today, that number is 40 percent. An 18-point drop in five years.

Speaking about the journalism industry at large, “there 100 percent is a crisis of trust,” Williams says. One factor is the relationship news organizations and their reporters have with their audiences. “With larger news organizations, how much of a connection do those reporters really have with their audience? [As a reader], when you see a byline on a large news organization’s website, do you know that person? Does that mean anything to you?” asks Williams. “I do think that your audience being able to recognize who is doing the reporting, and to have some faith in that individual— as well as the institution—is a really important thing.”

Dave Tait, who recently retired as a professor at Carleton University’s journalism school, says, as a reporter in the North in the 80s and 90s, first at the Whitehorse Star in the Yukon and later with CBC North, the relationship between media and their audiences was far more tangible. “You feel as though you’re actually communicating and contributing to the community,” Tait says.

Sometimes, the feedback is immediate and direct, requiring reporters to carry themselves with greater accountability and empathy. “You’d go to the grocery store that afternoon, and people are talking about it. Or they come to you and say, ‘That was good, but there’s this other aspect to it,’” says Tait about Northern reporting.

“But you’re also giving them legitimacy,” he adds, by reflecting their stories, interests and identities back to them. . [Community members] become people who they hear on the radio.” 

When outside media outlets, be they national or otherwise, cover local stories of major interest, “They’re talking about them [people], and not talking to them,” Tait says. “One of the dangers, especially if media in the North loses its position,” he continues, “is that people in those outlying areas lose the feeling that they’re worthy of portrayal, worthy of being understood, or worthy of having stories to tell.”

Cabin Radio editor Ollie Williams in Fort Simpson, where a field newsroom was established during the evacuation of Yellowknife. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

Williams hears this message loud and clear. Being both editorial staff and co-owners who are Northwest Territories locals, he says Cabin Radio has been able to preserve its advertising revenues while ensuring a personal stake in the quality of its product. “There is a real passion to make this succeed and to have it be responsible and reflect the community around it,” he insists. “We’re just a small business in town, at the end of the day. We are just like the coffee shop across the street, just like the local bookstore. We are a small business trying to provide a service for the communities around us.”

But despite its growth, Cabin Radio still faces roadblocks. The outlet’s original plan was to broadcast on FM radio, but the CRTC rejected their application for an FM license last year, citing declining radio revenues as evidence “that the market of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, cannot support an additional commercial radio station at this time.”

“We think that’s the preservation of a monopoly,” says Williams. Cabin Radio’s main competitor when it came to the airwaves is the CBC. “In no other industry would that happen. For example, the newspaper here in Yellowknife, who protects them?”

Tait views the CRTC situation differently. Creating opportunities for outlets like Cabin Radio is important, he says, but “ensuring commercial or financial viability of organizations so they can operate”, without compromising on their mandate for local news is also important. Balancing these competing interests with the CRTC’s mandate, he says, is “a nightmare.” 

“Everybody’s gonna have a reason to fault the decision and be disappointed and think you got it wrong. But these things are fragile,” says Tait. 

Even though its licence battle with the CRTC has stretched into a fifth year, Williams wants to stay focused on what they’ve been doing right.

“We have been able to find a business model and a way of doing things that have allowed us to connect with an audience and grow as a company,” he says. 

The success of Cabin Radio is rooted in its ability to reflect the needs and interests of its diverse, distinctive audience. 

“[The Northwest Territories] has this incredible identity: a mix of the Yellowknife Dene First Nations, the Dehcho [First Nations], the Metis, the mining heritage of Yellowknife,” Williams says. “All these things mix together. What we do is try and reflect all of that back to communities. That is what gives us not only a very clear audience but a very clear bond with them.”

The Future of News series is supported by The Hub’s foundation donors and Meta.

Canadians need space regulation, government report suggests

News

Late last year, the federal government released a “what we heard” report that compiled the opinions of Canadians on a modern regulatory framework for space. Written submissions were received from Canadian stakeholders, including industry, academia, associations, think tanks, and the general public.

The feedback in the report will inform the now underway review of Canada’s new regulatory framework for space-related activities as set out in a document titled “Exploration, Imagination, Innovation: A New Space Strategy for Canada (EII).” The initial EII document outlines how a whole-of-government effort will be enacted to set a new vision for Canadian space exploration. It also calls for establishing a modern regulatory framework. The feedback in the report will assist in its creation.

François-Philippe Champagne, the minister of innovation, science, and industry, said upon announcing the report: “Through reviewing the framework, we are ensuring that Canada’s space-related regulations are keeping pace with the rapidly evolving and highly innovative global space sector so that the Canadian industry is equipped to compete in this global market.”

The consensus among the participating stakeholders was that Canada ought to make significant changes to its space regulatory framework to keep up with the rapidly growing global space industry. The need for Canada to adopt a modernized approach to space regulation was paramount.

Nearly all stakeholders agreed that a modern regulatory framework for space is necessary for Canada to benefit from current and future opportunities in space. Stakeholders advocated for a national space policy and national space governance body. Some of them suggested that such a policy should prioritize responsible Canadian behaviour in space and international cooperation in hopes of maximizing Canadian celestial involvement.

According to the report, the stakeholders suggested that a modern regulatory framework should work to support the growing Canadian space industry, encourage innovation, align with international partners, prioritize sustainability, mitigate risks, strike the right balance on security, and streamline involved administrative processes. Though, seemingly the core aim of this modern regulatory framework would be to encourage growth in the Canadian space economy, which currently relies on the country’s expanding space mining, technology development, and aerospace travel companies.

The international framework

Our neighbours to the south are leaps and bounds ahead of us when it comes to space regulation. In the United States, Vice President Kamala Harris chaired a meeting of the National Space Council (NSC) in December. The council’s role is to consult the president on national space policy and strategy and guarantee that the U.S. capitalizes on the opportunities presented by the country’s space activities.

At the December NSC meeting, Harris and NASA executives discussed the importance of international partnerships and the societal benefits of space exploration.

Additionally, Harris announced the United States Novel Space Activities Authorization and Supervision Framework, a new policy to complement the council’s legislative proposal, the Authorization and Supervision of Novel Private Sector Space Activities Act, which was transmitted to Congress in November.

The framework was developed to provide clear and predictable authorization and supervision of commercial novel space activities, which are defined as those that are not directly regulated under the current U.S. regulatory system for private sector space activities.

While the current American commercial space regulatory framework is underpinned by the U.S. obligation in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, much of the U.S. regulatory licensing system was updated within the past five years.

The treaty was opened for signature by three governments: the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. To this day, the treaty is a primary regulatory document for international space exploration, with 114 countries (including Canada) party to the agreement, as well as another 22 signatories. This includes all major spacefaring nations.

The treaty covers regulations on free, fair, and equal exploitation of celestial bodies for all signatories, the restriction of national appropriation through sovereignty claims or any other means of planets, stars, and moons. It also includes a clause calling for the upholding of international law and the UN Charter while in space.

The Artemis Accords of 2020 reaffirmed the core tenets of the treaty, providing a modernized framework of shared principles, guidelines, and best practices for the safe exploration of the moon and beyond. The goal of the Artemis Accords is to establish a unified international treaty for space exploration, building on the foundation laid out in the original 1967 treaty. Spearheaded by NASA’s Artemis program, the Accords have been signed by 33 countries.

Notably, two countries that did not sign the Artemis Accords are China and Russia, despite China having ratified the Outer Space Treaty in 1983 and Russia being among that treaty’s first signatories. Neither state has taken part in any recent international regulatory developments.

China has been unable to collaborate with NASA since the U.S. Congress banned them from doing so in 2011. Russia has refrained from signing any recent NASA-sponsored treaties or other agreements for being “too U.S.-centric,” as former Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin has put it.

The crew of Artemis II are applauded by Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell, PM Justin Trudeau, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a presentation in Ottawa, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.
Next steps for Canada

Many of the federal government’s “what we heard” report’s participants advocated for a Canadian National Space Council, using the NSC in the United States as a model.

If Canada adopts something like the NSC, it would not be the first country to do so. Some Artemis Accords signatories, like the U.K., India, Australia, and Japan, have taken after the NSC, creating their own space-related governance systems that connect private and public sector decision-makers. 

These systems seem to be working. Currently, each of those countries, with the exception of Australia, has tens, hundreds, and even thousands more objects in space than Canada does. If Canada were to adopt the report’s recommendations, it would give the Canadian Space Agency and private companies alike the proper footing to connect, innovate, and develop a genuinely innovative space industry of its own.

To date, the recommendations put forth in the report have been affirmed by Space Canada, a group that represents and connects Canada’s space innovators and allied industries, through its CEO, former New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant. Gallant proposed that:

“The government of Canada create a National Space Council chaired by the prime minister to enhance space policies, investments, and initiatives, and to facilitate the level of collaboration required for Canada to be a global leader in space.”

Gallant has said in a prior interview with the CBC that as the federal framework is developed, it will create an end-to-end economy for space here in Canada. The “what we heard” report is an important step towards that regulation and the establishment of what could potentially be a prosperous Canadian space economy.