Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Changes at The Gazette this fall

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

Things are changing at my employer this fall. I can’t spill all the beans, partly because as an employee I’m given some information that’s not meant for public consumption, and partly because there’s a lot of details I just don’t know. But here’s some stuff that has either already been reported publicly or that I’ve gotten permission to share:

Four-platform redesign

The biggest change will be a relaunch of The Gazette on four platforms — print, web, tablet and smartphone. Each will have its own design, content and strategy. No date has been set for the relaunch, but it should happen some time this fall.

For an idea of what it will look like, you can look at the Ottawa Citizen, which went through a similar relaunch and redesign in May. The Gazette’s will be very similar. The Calgary Herald will be the next paper to go through the process, followed by all the other Postmedia papers (except the Vancouver Province and the National Post).

Rather than present the same stories written in the same way on all platforms, the redesigned environment will see stories done differently for the different platforms. Smartphone users will get short stories and breaking news. Tablet users will get a more magazine-like experience (with one edition a day coming out in the afternoon). Print users will get a design-y paper that’s more visually interesting and presents news in context. And website users will … uhh, I’ll throw in some buzz words here later.

Management and staff shuffle

The new four-platform strategy will mean lots of people getting new jobs (including myself). Each platform has been assigned an “executive producer” manager and a “champion” team leader:

  • Tablet: Catherine Wallace (formerly managing editor), with Walter Buchignani
  • Smartphone: Basem Boshra (formerly Arts & Life editor), with Denise Duguay
  • Website: Ross Teague (associate managing editor), with Mick Côté
  • Print: Jeff Blond, with Dave Peters (who will also act as night editor)

In turn, these groups have also recruited teams to support them. I’ve been told I’ve been recruited to the smartphone team. But I don’t know what that means yet.

There are also other staff changes taking place, some of which are related to this and others not:

  • Michelle Richardson is the new managing editor, taking over the role left by Catherine Wallace. Richardson was the copy editor intern the year before I was, and serves as a constant reminder of how my career is stuck in the mud. (I kid. She’s great and I don’t actually envy her responsibilities.)
  • Peggy Curran is the new city editor, after most recently being a city columnist and managing coverage of April’s provincial election.
  • Enza Micheletti, who has been a morning online editor, will take over as Arts & Life editor.
  • Monique Beaudin, who had been covering the environment beat, became the morning city assignment editor in May.
  • Eva Friede expands her fashion beat to cover retail and real estate, which were left empty after Allison Lampert left the company.
  • Brenda Branswell returns to the city department after a year covering sports. She’ll swap with Christopher Curtis, who will stay in sports for a year before someone else gives it a try.

Most of these changes take effect in September.

Employee departures

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but there are fewer people working for The Gazette than there used to be.

On the editorial side, there have been a few departures since the beginning of the year mainly thanks to buyouts. They were staggered rather than all at once, which made it kind of low-key overall.

Those who left the paper are:

  • Hubert Bauch, editorial writer. His beat has been taken up by former assignment editor Allison Hanes.
  • Kevin Dougherty, Quebec Bureau Chief. He stuck around through the election and end of the parliamentary session. A new bureau chief hasn’t been announced yet.
  • Sherry Hattem, desk clerk. That’s the official job title in the union contract, but Sherry kept the newsroom running, doing all the little things that either nobody else thinks to do or nobody else knows how to do. The number of administrative support staff in the department is now a fraction of what it was when I started in 2005. If The Gazette falls apart internally and the building collapses, her departure is probably a big reason why.
  • Allison Lampert, who covered real estate in the Business department. She’s still following the beat, and has written some freelance stories for La Presse.
  • Jan Ravensbergen, breaking-news reporter. Ravensbergen spent most of the end of his career working 6am shifts, on the phone with various police and fire departments teasing out details of crimes, accidents and other events. (When they found out he was leaving, police spokespeople stopped by to say goodbye.) He was a staunch left-winger and union man, and always ready to fight the Man.

  • Michael Shenker, associate managing editor. Shenker, with the New York accent and Tom Selleck moustache, was responsible for the print edition.

Not all the departures are quite so career-ending. Riley Sparks, who started as a reporter intern a year ago and was kept on contract, filling in at the West Island bureau, has accepted a job at the Toronto Star. His last day was Friday.

And Asmaa Malik, deputy managing editor, left last month to accept a job teaching journalism at Ryerson University.

The Gazette will see some physical changes as it moves to a new printer on Monday.

The Gazette will see some physical changes as it moves to a new printer on Monday.

Print outsourcing and changes

As reported in May, The Gazette has decided to shut down its printing press and outsource the printing of the paper to Transcontinental. The switch happens this weekend. Saturday’s paper was the last printed at the Gazette plant on St-Jacques St. W. Monday’s will be printed from the Transmag facility in Anjou.

The change will result in 54 full-time and about 61 part-time or casual plant employees losing their jobs. The plant itself will be decommissioned and the land sold, Editor-in-Chief Lucinda Chodan explains in a note to readers in Saturday’s paper.

There will also be changes to the print paper that readers will notice. The biggest one is new sectioning. While most weekday papers have two sections, starting Monday they will have three or four, which should help satisfy those who complained that they can’t split the paper easily among members of a family. Some sections will still be combined on some days, but it won’t be as bad as it is now. (The order of sections will also change by the day, which will take some getting used to. Business will come after Sports on most weekdays.)

Another change is colour on every page. No more black-and-white photos (unless the photos themselves are in black and white).

This is the last TVtimes in this format. Next Saturday, it gets a makeover.

This is the last TVtimes in this format. Next Saturday, it gets a makeover.

TVtimes becomes opt-in for a fee

Also coming with the print outsourcing is a major overhaul of the TVtimes insert in the Saturday paper. As advancements in technology have given us set-top box program guides, online schedules and an explosion of channels, the use of a weekly TV guide has greatly diminished for many. (85% of Videotron TV subscribers and 100% of Bell satellite and Bell Fibe subscribers have on-screen program guides now.) For many readers, including myself, the TVtimes is a useless insert that gets thrown in the recycling bin without being read. TV Guide Canada no longer exists.

On the other hand, for some readers, the TVtimes is indispensable. And like the crosswords or comics, you just don’t mess with it.

So The Gazette will be separating it from the paper, in a sense. It’s going to get a “makeover”, which will see it in a new format with more content and highlights. Those who want it will get charged an extra $3.25 a month. Those who don’t won’t have to throw it in the bin every week, unless they buy their Saturday paper at a store, where the TVtimes will be included.

All Gazette readers will be given free samples of the new TVtimes in the Aug. 23, Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 papers before being asked to pay up.

UPDATE: You can get information on the new TVtimes here, and a sample PDF of what it looks like here. It’s more TV-Guide-sized, includes some TV stories and some puzzles, primetime and weekend grids, weekday and overnight listings, and best bets and best movies for each day. The sample is 64 pages long.

And more…

There are probably some things I missed, and definitely other changes still to come. But that’s a rundown of the basics.

It might be a depressing time to work in print media. But it’s also one of the craziest. And I remain grateful for that weekly paycheque.

And before you start filling the comment section with gratuitous insults toward my employer, I would ask that you re-read this post I wrote last year.

Farewell, plant.

Farewell, plant.

23 thoughts on “Changes at The Gazette this fall

  1. SEF

    Hello Steve,

    Great article. I wish you all the very best in your new role at The Gazette.

    Like print media as well as the never ending changes in personnel, broadcast media has also continued to have the their fair share of problems. After almost 30 years in the radio business (almost 25 years working at CJAD), I too had become a victim of cutbacks. I was not alone. There were other people who worked there even longer than I did who fell victim to the lack of job security working in media. I was probably the only one that was not in a “rating dependent” position. All of the big media companies are to blame on the mess that they are in. None of those big companies were losing money however, they just wanted to ensure they would make greater profits and the loyalty of the years of services that employees are expected to perform to their highest standards only to fall victim to layoffs. I feel sorry for all of those people who have lost their jobs and not one company is to blame. The faults and responsiblities are the decision makers who feel the need to put more people on the unemployment line rather than come up with ideas to have their very loyal employees keep their jobs and earn a steady
    paycheque to support themselves and their families. Furthermore there are many people who have worked in media for so many years and because of their age and narrow positional specialities on the jobs they performed with their previous employers, makes it significantly difficult to find a job. For. some, they have to look for other jobs, go back to school, etc. Presently I am going back to school at McGill University after 30 years being out of a classroom, and have registered in Human Resources Management.

    Reply
      1. Steve W

        What will be the additional content in TV Times(that’s what I have always been interested in TV Times & TV Guide magazine etc, & I don’t need it as a programming guide)? Maybe you can write stuff covering the local Montreal tv scene exclusively for TV Times. If the TV Times is not included in ePaper, I want the additional content in TV Times included in ePaper.

        Brenda Branswell returning to City Department, was it planned that she would only be in the Sports Department for a year or so?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          What will be the additional content in TV Times

          You’ll see next Saturday.

          Brenda Branswell returning to City Department, was it planned that she would only be in the Sports Department for a year or so?

          Yes.

          Reply
  2. Daniel Freedman

    Am I the only one wondering if this is too little, too late?

    Is there an old dog/new tricks issue in trying to get veteran staff members to do new things in new structures…complete with “champions” and “executive producers?”

    Looks like a top down initiative from head office, with local managers then left to assign existing staff in a fill-in-the-blanks way.

    Hmmm…

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Am I the only one wondering if this is too little, too late?

      Not if you mean that in the sense of wondering if this is the right move. There’s no longer a guide to how to run a newspaper, so everyone’s king of making it up as they go along.

      Is there some other course of action you feel would make more sense?

      Is there an old dog/new tricks issue in trying to get veteran staff members to do new things in new structures…complete with “champions” and “executive producers?”

      Sure. Everyone’s trying to adapt. (And despite the cliché, you can actually teach old dogs new tricks.)

      Reply
  3. Dilbert

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. Outsourcing the printing was just the tip of the iceberg, the 4 platform strategy makes it look like print is a quickly diminishing part of the company. It’s still the “core” in the historical sense, but since fewer and fewer people under 50 gets their news from a printed paper, it’s probably a pretty good bet to move on before your remaining reader base literally dies off.

    “before you start filling the comment section with gratuitous insults toward my employer”

    I know you are sensitive, it’s your employer, your passion. Print media however seems to be pretty much doomed, and not paying attention to that simple fact is key. Postmedia (and almost every other print newspaper company) are desperately seeking a way out of the rapidly narrowing dead end alley way they find themselves in. For Lapresse, it’s been moving aggressively to the app/ tablet design which seems to be work out okay for them. For others, it’s flailing around and generally running out of time.

    The biggest issue for Postmedia (or any other company for that matter) is that the internet makes news a now thing, not a next day thing. It breaks the way newsrooms traditionally work. People aren’t going to wait for the morning paper to find out what’s going on. They want to know now. They also want it generally for free, and there are tons of outlets putting the news out there without direct attached costs. In the online world, that is a pretty big hurdle to overcome.

    It will be interesting to see what comes of thing. Outsourcing the printing was a pretty good indication that print newspapers may not be at the core very much longer.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Postmedia (and almost every other print newspaper company) are desperately seeking a way out of the rapidly narrowing dead end alley way they find themselves in.

      Wouldn’t you do the same?

      For Lapresse, it’s been moving aggressively to the app/ tablet design which seems to be work out okay for them.

      We don’t actually know how it’s working out for them since La Presse doesn’t publish its financials. And La Presse still publishes a print edition six days a week, even if some day it plans to change that.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “Wouldn’t you do the same?”

        Of course I would – but I would have done it 10 or more years ago, not today. It’s a knock on the entire print industry and not just on Postmedia (or the predecessor owners of the papers), it’s an industry wide issue that should have taken nobody by surprise. This isn’t a “new this week” problem, this is something a decade or more in the making.

        The real problems are that the initial efforts to address the issue have been “reduce staff costs”, which has been followed up by “reduce physical product costs” and finally now by “reduce physical space costs”. It’s only after the meat has been paired off the bone and the bone itself shaved and polished has anyone seemed to think about maybe addressing the real issues. The internet, the cable TV networks, and just about everyone is eating your lunch.

        So yeah, I don’t blame them for what they are doing now, but as Daniel says above, isn’t this all too little, too late? The cuts seem no longer to be aimed at maintaining and selling a quality product, but more at hanging on by your finger nails and hoping nobody notices the extremely thin content.

        “We don’t actually know how it’s working out for them since La Presse doesn’t publish its financials. ”

        You are correct. But we do have information on the uptake rate on the tablet edition, and we have seen the company dedicating resources to the project (hiring people even, it seems). All of the quotes and comments I have seen (even here) suggest that they are pretty happy with it and are moving forward with it as their way out of the ink stained past.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          This isn’t a “new this week” problem, this is something a decade or more in the making.

          Sure. But the problem isn’t that people didn’t know something should be done. It’s that they didn’t know what should be done. Frankly, they still don’t really know. And it’s hard to devote all your resources to something new while not affecting the product that still brings in almost all of your revenue.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “And it’s hard to devote all your resources to something new while not affecting the product that still brings in almost all of your revenue.”

            It’s unfortunate that it appears that the choice made was to just keep cutting jobs and hope that they shrink to whatever size the print media was going to be after the fallout. What the print media types didn’t see was that it would reach a point where they couldn’t really reduce anymore without harming the content. So they did that too, and kept going.

            The 4 platform move is”about time” but also “maybe too late”. There are plenty of studies out there that show for many people under 30, a newspaper is how their grandfather gets news, and not something relevant to them. That means that the brands are equally unimportant to them, the equity created over more than a century basically pissed away. When they did go online, it’s designs and layouts like the old Canada.com site, which was out of date the day it went online. Many years later, it really looks like a flashback to another era, and not a modern design (although the new Canada.com site is better).

            So now the Gazette (and many other papers) are forced to play catch up in a crowded field, handicapped greatly by the pay to read subscription model that discourages people from linking to stories on the site and driving readership.

            I wish the Gazette and others good luck with this approach. I can tell you that for me, the Gazoo website isn’t a place to visit because I refuse to pay a subscription fee to read one or two stories a day, there are plenty of other sources (including reading the Google cache of the story, subscription not required for that!).

            Reply
  4. Dick Lefrancais

    Is the Gazette going to use a paywall or hope that banner ads that nobody clicks will fuel its entire payroll?

    The Gazette does offer much more than other various other free sources such as the local TV news websites and various French sites if you’re bilingual.

    The Gazette might do an occasional feature worth looking at, or business stuff, but most readers can live without that.

    Seems that counting on banner ads from content widely available elsewhere to pay a whole big staff is not a winning strategy.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Is the Gazette going to use a paywall or hope that banner ads that nobody clicks will fuel its entire payroll?

      The Gazette has a paywall now, and that’s not changing.

      Reply
  5. Andrew

    I think the one key thing to understand is “content is king”. In these days of online news aggregation services (Zite, Flipboard, etc) and specialty blogs fulfilling every niche you can possibly imagine, local-focused content will keep readers coming back. I for one subscribe (paid) to numerous online papers specifically providing focused content expertly written (Haaretz in Israel for one).

    My advice, stay away from providing the same content everyone else is… If you’re publishing anything outside of Quebec, chances are I’ve read it multiple times already (by higher-profile writers and better funded investigative teams). Good luck, and long live the local media!

    Reply
  6. Marc

    Re. color on every page. I was hoping to see the comics in all their glory, but they’re just black & white. I guess that only applied to photographs?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Colour on every page means that colour is available on every page. It doesn’t necessarily mean the content of every page will be in colour. Though this will open up possibilities as far as comics and puzzles are concerned.

      Reply
  7. ATSC

    Picked up today’s (Monday, August 18) edition of the Gazette.
    It’s certainly an improvement in look and in paper quality.
    Awful news for the people who lost their jobs at the old printing plant.

    The TV listings are still screwed up. Wrong channel numbers for OTA stations, and no sub-channels listed.
    Hope they get this right with their upcoming TV Times changes this Saturday. Else, it’ll certainly not be worth the extra charge they want to add on for it.

    Reply
  8. Lubin Bisson

    Hi Steve,
    My comments here come from posts on LinkedIn and FB (in case you already read them).
    Thanks,
    Lubin

    Every digital content strategy includes planning for the mechanics of how content can be re-distributed and/or re-purposed in a multi-screen/cross-platform world. Think of how you view and use FB or Youtube or any number of Web properties today on different devices. This is part of creating audience-tailored experiences for content consumed online. It is amazing to see how late-in-the-game this development is with this daily newspaper company. It proves once again that in the legacy media industry, historic players never developed a sense of urgency. This announcement illustrates the deep-rooted complacency responsible for the current state of legacy media that made too few changes, too late.

    The gap between the managers of pure digital players and those who still lead legacy media has never been greater. This “relaunch” of The Gazette on four platforms — each with its own content (???) — is the ultimate example of the flawed digital execution we have seen replicated over and over again by those who still lead legacy media. Seriously, someone at The Gazette really thinks a successful digital content strategy consists of attempting to apply the outdated “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” formula of abridged (or “condensed”) content specifically to each device/platform? Insane.

    Finally, this announcement is really, really sad. Take a look at the “new jobs” associated with the “new four-platform strategy.” Just try to imagine 15 years ago how idiotic it would have seemed to hear that The Gazette was going to to have a “new black & white ink executive producer who will work alongside the new four-colour process ink editor, as they hash out things with the new executive producer for newsprint and the deputy responsible for double-sided glossy stock.” Criminally insane.

    Digital has these folks completely flummoxed. (Now there is an adjective more appropriate to their mindset ).

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Montreal Gazette redesigns paper, launches new website and iPad and smartphone apps | Fagstein

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