Au revoir aux lecteurs du dimanche

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 PressRadio-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).

Romenesko also linked to the announcement, and J-Source has republished it.

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.

18 thoughts on “Au revoir aux lecteurs du dimanche

  1. wkh

    Steve, I come from a place where Saturday papers have been axed in favour of a plump Sunday edition. What’s up with the Canuck thing for Saturdays? To me Sunday makes more sense for a weekend edition. Please discuss.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It’s a good question, and probably a good subject for a graduate thesis (unless there’s some simplistic explanation I’ve overlooked). It’s really a chicken-and-the-egg thing: Sunday papers are big in the U.S. because they have a lot of advertising, they have a lot of advertising because a lot of people read them, a lot of people read them because they’re big.

      Reply
      1. exExpat

        Saturday is better than Sundays for readers because you can read it over two days, and better for advertisers because people have two days instead of one to shop for whatever you are selling (or one day rather than none for things like cars that you can’t buy on Sunday in Montreal). When I lived in the US, I would pick up the early edition of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday morning, so really there isn’t much difference between the way it works there and here, except that if you wait until Sunday you can get a Sunday paper with bit of fresh news and sports coverage.

        Reply
      2. Ephraim

        It might have more to do with our blue laws than anything else. Businesses were closed on Sundays… where would you buy a Sunday newspaper? And then the stores were closed on Sunday anyway, so where would you go to buy something advertised, in any case.

        To be honest, I much prefer getting the newspaper on Saturday, it gives you the whole weekend to read it at your leisure. Besides, the weekends are slow news days. Even the TV news is curtailed on the weekend.

        Reply
    2. Jean Naimard

      Sunday paper?

      What is better to start the week-end than to wadling through a thick sheaf of papers to find out what’s going on? You certainly don’t want to do that in the middle of the week-end, especially that the juicy nuggets happen on Saturday night…

      Reply
  2. Bill_the_Bear

    I seem to remember having read, a long time ago, that Canada once had a law on the books banning the publication of newspapers on Sundays…one of those “keep the Sabbath holy” sorts of blue laws. That, of course, would explain the big Saturday editions…a habit left over from those days.

    Reply
  3. Paul

    I also come from a small island where the most important edition of the week is the Sunday edition, with extra sections, magazine inserts etc. The idea being that one has a nice relaxing day to sit and plough through all sorts of interesting stories in the paper. This idea is great, but relies on quality content in the first place, something, unfortunately, that’s somewhat lacking in all Canadian papers. The only paper that really compares to those small-island Sunday editions in the New York Times.

    Reply
  4. Becks

    This was so obvious in coming and the solution so simple

    Becks says:
    October 20, 2009 at 11:29 pm
    Quite frankly i didn’t like the change this morning…no specific reason…it just felt wrong to me.
    I guess I’m just an old crank but I feel the Gazette,especially the Sunday to Friday editions have gone down-hill over the past couple of years. In my opinion, if the Gazette continues on the path it’s been on for the past couple of years, it’ll be gone by within another five years.

    and

    Becks says:
    October 21, 2009 at 8:40 pm
    The reason the Sunday paper is the least read edition is because it pretty well sucks, has no worthwhile content and so is a waste of paper. Do as Gazoo says…move some of the Saturday features into Sunday and more people will read it….jeez..the Naples News, which is a pretty small,cheesy paper can manage a nice thick Sunday edition so can the Philly Enquirer.

    Reply
  5. Marc

    In Canada the Saturday paper has always been the big one. For me, it makes sense. I (will) get two days to go through it. Whereas having the big paper on Sunday leaves you less time to go through it because then the work week starts. But I guess it’s just what you get used to. For quite some time I thought they should axe the Sunday edition in favor of a big Saturday one.

    Reply
  6. Jean Naimard

    Do we have to prolong the agony?

    I haven’t bought a paper in years. The business model of a newspaper is quite agonizing; although I don’t really care, doubtlessly many people are miffled at the reams of trees sacrificed in the process.

    Advance in technology have made the paper delivery obsolete. Only the news remains as viable, and as long as newspaper companies won’t be able to unwrap their heads from the saint holy printing press, they will be unable to capitalize on the web.

    Dinosaurs must adapt or perish. So says Saint Darwin!

    Reply
  7. Jim P.

    My 2 favorite features in the Sunday Gazoo are Mark Abley and Island of Trees. What will happen to them

    Reply
  8. Scottie

    Steve, could you comment on the link between this change and the new owners? Dropping Sunday has obviously been under consideration for months, but it was announced the day after the sale.

    Reply
  9. Stan

    I’m hoping that the Gazette will be keeping John Kalbfleisch’s “Second Draft” column. I’ll miss reading it Sunday mornings (while eating some peanut butter toast).

    Reply
  10. Bobby

    When the gazoo started the sunday paper I no longer had a ll the sports news and scores to digest on Monday Morning (at the office) so that was the end of enjoying sports. I wanted all the weekend results in one place, so now…. the bad news is good news in a way. Except I now believe sports to be nothing more than an advertising vehicle for our corporate overlords to encourage overconsumption, american style. But now I can see how my university teams did all on one page.

    I actually like newspapers a lot, and the wednesday gazette with Julian Armstrong in the food section is really my one reason to keep being a gazette subscriber.

    Reply
  11. John Bower

    My guess is that most people are reading papers on-line. Here in the Outaouais, I never touch the Ottawa Citizen but faithfully read Le Droit which doesn’t publish on Sundays, but I know that I can always go to its website to get breaking information over the weekend. And I tend to buy the big brick on Saturdays, casually leaf through it that day and keep it until Sunday morning when I take the time to read it from cover to cover.

    The thing is that where they’re going to save money is on the actual production – meaning the people working in the print-shops, the transportation to market and the newsprint. The stories are still going to have to be covered, edited, laid-out and posted to websites over the weekend as well as on Sunday evening for the Monday paper. I don’t think that there’s going to be a lot of cut backs in the newsroom itself. At least, I’m hope not.

    Reply
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