It was a year ago this month that, in a drastic cost-cutting effort, La Presse stopped printing a Sunday edition. The Gazette tried to take advantage, putting banners on Page 1 for two successive Sundays welcoming francophone readers whose only other option was to read the (locked-out) Journal de Montréal.
Similar cost-cutting moves have been made at other Canadian newspapers. The National Post, already a six-day paper, stopped printing Mondays last summer. The Victoria Times-Colonist, one of the few with a strong Sunday paper, also stopped printing Mondays. The Winnipeg Free Press stopped its Sunday paper and replaced it with a newsstand-only tabloid.
Next month, it’s The Gazette’s turn to make a drastic cut of an entire day of publication.
In case you haven’t heard the news, The Gazette announced on Wednesday that they would stop printing a Sunday edition in August. The last Sunday paper will appear Aug. 1, and starting Aug. 7, Sunday features will appear in the Saturday paper.
Re-reporting of the announcement has spread to other media: Globe and Mail, Rue Frontenac, CTV, Canadian Press, Radio-Canada (with anti-Gazette comments from the peanut gallery below), Agence QMI (who are a bit slow to update their story), CJAD (with their usual three-sentence story), CBC (which originally misspelled the publisher’s name – but to its credit has since corrected it) and Cyberpresse, which illustrated its story by stealing a photo of the old Gazette building that I took in 2002 and posted on this blog last year (and to its not-credit has offered no explanation, correction or apology for this).
As the stories say, the Sunday paper was born in 1988 thanks to competitive pressure from the Montreal Daily News, a short-lived attempt by Quebecor to crack the anglo Montreal market. The Daily News had a Sunday edition, forcing The Gazette to create one. The Daily News folded less than two years after it launched, but the Sunday Gazette continued for 22 years.
A surprise, but not
The announcement was made mere minutes before I entered the office. Everyone was buzzing, gossiping about what this would mean – particularly for their jobs. Though a meeting is scheduled for Thursday to answer questions, the company has already said that this move isn’t coming with any layoffs.
That comes as some relief to permanent employees. What it means for contract workers like me is another story, not to mention the subcontractors who handle distribution and others whose living is directly or indirectly linked to the newspaper.
I’d like to say I saw this coming, that the writing was on the wall when La Presse stopped its Sunday edition, but while it’s not the most shocking move in the world, I didn’t expect it. The Gazette is profitable, I’m told, and hardly on the path to insolvency. In fact, it had just been purchased the day before.
But the paper was already incredibly thin, and even then there was a noticeable dearth of advertising. Last Sunday’s paper had only three full-page ads, and another two in the sports tabloid section. Add a half-page ad on A3, and a handful of smaller ads spread across four pages of a 24-page A section, and that’s it for paid ads.
Editorial content on Sundays has diminished slowly over the past few years. Insight, which was its own eight-page section when I started five years ago, giving a huge canvas to large feature stories from news wires, has since become two pages incorporated into the A section, one of which has to make room for two weekly columnists and a bi-weekly columnist.
Because news tends not to happen over the weekend (at least, very few stories about governments, businesses, or anything else that operates during business hours), much of the news that goes into Sunday and Monday papers is prewritten features which can be moved to another day. Breaking news can still go online.
The real victim here will be the sports section, the only one that stands alone on Sundays. Some features like editor Stu Cowan’s column can easily be moved to another day, but coverage of Saturday night Canadiens games will now have to wait more than a day for those who prefer to get their news on paper instead of online.
But even though it sucks, even though I never really minded working Saturdays (it’s the worst day for TV) and even though it’s really bad for my future employment prospects, I can’t really denounce the decision. It just doesn’t make sense for a newspaper to publish an edition that advertisers won’t support.
Here’s to hoping that this moves ensures a strong financial future for The Gazette – or at least slows down the march to oblivion.