As the world came to a halt two years ago, they sat unread in dusty newsstands in empty restaurants and grocery stores.
Chinese-language newspapers, vital to the community, became largely inaccessible during the pandemic, as people were not allowed to visit the places where they were distributed.
This is partly why Canada’s largest Chinese-language daily, Sing Tao Daily, has ceased printing across the country. After 44 years of circulation in Canada, its last release date is Saturday.
“The Chinese newspaper is really, really important to a lot of my members, seniors,” said Liza Chan, executive director of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association. “It’s a big success for Calgary.”
This is a trend in the Canadian Chinese media landscape.
In Calgary, a number of other Chinese-language newspapers have gone out of print due to the effects of the pandemic, leaving only one locally printed newspaper to inform the Chinese community, especially seniors who do not receive generally not their information online.
The pandemic has changed readership patterns
Hailing from Hong Kong, Sing Tao Daily was distributed in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The daily ceased circulation in Calgary in 2016, but its weekly publications — Canadian City Post and Sing Tao Cosmopolitan — also cease physical editions on Saturday.
While some Sing Tao readers returned after restrictions were lifted, Wong says it hasn’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, which were already falling.
“We’re seeing the shift in audience consumption of their daily news and information,” Wong said. “We think it’s the right time to change and move into a new phase.”
It’s the same situation for Trend Media, formerly known as Trend Weekly. It was a free weekly magazine before going out of print and moving completely to an online platform in August.
“With the pandemic, more and more people are relying on online information in some way right now. So fewer and fewer people are really paying much attention to printed copies,” the publisher said. Danny Chan.
Chan says high printing costs have also been a major factor, especially with a reduction in readership. He says all revenue from the publication would go to printing.
“I think the newspaper printing business is going downhill right now because we can barely make enough money to cover printing costs,” he said.
He also saw a decline in the number of volunteer advertisers, the publication’s main source of income. Most advertisers target readers under 50 and now spend their money on online promotions, Chan says.
“Most readers of the print publication are older people. They don’t have that kind of buying power.”
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 ceased printing indefinitely during the pandemic.
Chinese seniors left behind
As much of the world has moved online during the pandemic, Wong says older people have become more technologically savvy and can learn to find the news online.
But Liza Chan says that’s not the case for the seniors she works with at the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association.
“There are still a lot of seniors [who are] unable to access a computer or do not have the capacity to do so,” she said.
She says routine is important for older people, and reading the Chinese newspaper each week is a big part of their routines — 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 Epoch Times, but there is now only one locally printed Chinese newspaper in Calgary that seniors can rely on.
It’s limiting for older people, Chan says, because that option is more in demand.
“When you have three different types, you can always get one out of three. But now you might not get any more,” she said.
Last locally printed Chinese newspaper
The Canadian Chinese Times was the first local Chinese-language newspaper established in Calgary in 1981. Today, it is the last in existence.
“It’s sad, actually,” said Jake Louie, publisher of the Canadian Chinese Times. “We don’t mind the competition at all, as it will give readers and the community more choice.”
“Now we’re the only ones left. So it’s kind of a lonely feeling, you know, in a way.”
The weekly, published on Thursdays, is aimed at Chinese seniors and new immigrants who want to learn more about the Canadian way of life and keep up to date with what’s going on in Calgary.
Approximately 12,000 copies are printed each week and distributed to over 60 locations across the city. As the last Chinese newspaper standing, Louie says demand has skyrocketed.
“Our diary is going like hotcakes,” Louie said.
He says they have already considered switching to an online-only platform due to soaring printing costs and a decrease in advertisements. But when they asked readers what they think, the comments were almost unanimous.
“‘No, I don’t know how to go online and I don’t have a computer. We really need physical print papers so we can get the information there.'”
Tony Wong, president of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, says 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 this help him stay informed about community happenings, but his wife searches ads for the best promotions and sales to share with her sisters.
This has not changed during the pandemic. Instead, at first, his wife made sure he wore gloves to pick up the newspaper. She would also spray her hands and the paper with disinfectant.
“I just pray that the Canadian Chinese Times will remain in print for many years. Otherwise, many of our lives will be in danger,” he said.
Chan says she hopes the Canadian Chinese Times will consider printing more copies as demand increases so that no Chinese Calgarians lose touch with the community.