When the world stood still two years ago, they lay unread on dusty newsstands in empty restaurants and grocery stores.
Chinese-language newspapers, which are vital to the community, have become largely inaccessible during the pandemic as people have been prevented from visiting the places where they were distributed.
It’s one of the reasons Canada’s largest Chinese-language daily, Sing Tao Daily, has halted printing across the country. After 44 years in circulation in Canada, the last release date is Saturday.
“The Chinese newspaper is very, very important to many of my members, seniors,” said Liza Chan, executive director of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association. “It’s a great achievement for Calgary.”
It’s a trend across Canada’s Chinese media landscape.
In Calgary, a number of other Chinese-language newspapers ceased printing due to the impact of the pandemic, leaving only one locally printed newspaper to inform the Chinese community — particularly seniors, who don’t typically get their news online.
The pandemic has changed reader behavior
Originally from Hong Kong, Sing Tao Daily has been distributed throughout Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The daily newspaper shut down in Calgary in 2016, but its weekly publications – Canadian City Post and Sing Tao Cosmopolitan – are also ending physical editions on Saturday.
While some Sing Tao readers returned after restrictions were lifted, Wong said they did not return to pre-pandemic levels, which were already declining.
“We are noticing the change in the public’s consumption of their daily information and news,” Wong said. “We think it’s the right time to change and move into a new phase.”
The same situation applies to Trend Media, formerly known as Trend Weekly. It used to be a free weekly magazine before ending print and fully transitioning to an online platform in August.
“With the pandemic, more people are currently relying on information on the internet in some way. As a result, fewer and fewer people are really paying much attention to the printed copies,” said publisher Danny Chan.
According to Chan, the high cost of printing was also a major factor, especially as readership declined. He says all proceeds from the publication will go to the printing.
“I think the newspaper printing business is going downhill right now because we can barely make enough money to cover the printing costs,” he said.
He also saw a drop in willing advertisers — the publication’s main source of income. Most advertisers target readers under 50 and are now spending their money on online advertising, says Chan.
“Most readers of the paper publication are older people. They don’t have that kind of purchasing power.”
Both Trend Media and Sing Tao will continue to publish e-books online.
Other local Calgary newspapers, such as Oriental Weekly, mention on their websites that they have suspended printing indefinitely during the pandemic.
Chinese seniors left behind
As much of the world has shifted online during the pandemic, Wong says seniors have become more technologically savvy and can learn how to find the news online.
But Liza Chan says that’s not the case with the seniors she works with at the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association.
“There are still a lot of seniors [who are] cannot or are unable to access a computer,” she said.
She says routine is important for seniors and that reading the Chinese newspaper weekly is a big part of their routine — namely the weekly publications of Sing Tao and Trend Weekly. But now these are no longer an option.
A few other international newspapers are still distributed in Calgary, including Vision Times and Enoch Times, but there is now only one locally printed Chinese newspaper in Calgary that seniors can rely on.
It’s limiting for seniors, Chan says, because that one option is more in demand.
“If you have three different types, you might still be able to get one of the three. But now you might not get any more,” she said.
Last locally printed Chinese newspaper
The Canadian Chinese Times was the first Chinese-language local newspaper, established in Calgary in 1981. Now she is the last one still in existence.
“It’s actually sad,” said Jake Louie, editor of the Canadian Chinese Times. “We don’t mind competition at all because it gives the readers and the community more choices.”
“Now we’re the only ones left. So it’s kind of a feeling of loneliness, you know, in a way.”
The Thursday weekly is aimed at Chinese seniors and new immigrants who want to learn more about the Canadian way of life and what’s happening in Calgary.
Approximately 12,000 copies are printed each week and distributed to more than 60 locations across the city. As the last remaining Chinese newspaper, Louie says demand has increased.
“Our paper is selling like hotcakes,” Louie said.
He says they once considered moving to an online-only platform because printing costs had skyrocketed and ads were down. But when they asked readers for their opinions, the feedback was almost unanimous.
“‘No, I don’t know how to get online and I don’t have a computer. We really need physical printing papers so we can get the information there.’”
According to Tony Wong, President of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Center, Chinese newspapers play an important role in the daily life of the community.
Reading the newspaper with his family every Thursday and Friday has become a ritual, he says. Not only does it help him keep up to date with community events, but his wife also searches advertisements for the best deals and deals to share with her sisters.
That has not changed during the pandemic. Instead, his wife initially made sure he wore gloves to pick up the newspaper. She would also spray his hands and the paper with disinfectant.
“I only pray that the Canadian Chinese Times stays in print for many years to come. Otherwise, many of our lives will be at risk,” he said.
Chan says she hopes the Canadian Chinese Times will consider printing more copies as demand increases so Calgar Chinese don’t lose touch with the community.