Montreal Gazette adds NP section, makes Basem Boshra columnist

A little over a year after it “reimagined” itself with redesigns on four platforms, the Montreal Gazette — my employer — made some minor changes last week, particularly in print.

The daily “Context” section, which included national and world news stories as well as the editorial and opinion pages, has been eliminated, replaced by “NP in the Montreal Gazette”, a section of content from the National Post.

National Post section in the Montreal Gazette

National Post section in the Montreal Gazette

The NP section, which will be six to 12 pages long, is National Post content presented using the National Post stylesheet. It includes national and world news, opinions and columnists like Andrew Coyne, Michael Den Tandt and Christie Blatchford. Similar sections exist in the Edmonton Journal and Windsor Star, and should follow for other papers.

Doing national and international news this way saves resources because the layouts are identical and can be copy-pasted between the local papers. And it makes it look like you get a free National Post in your Gazette.

The change comes with some challenges though. The A section, which is now just local news plus one page of local editorial, letters and opinion, gets more of the ad stacks that leave oddly-shaped holes for news copy. (Insert joke about ads disappearing from newspapers here.) And since national and international news is in another section, it might be a challenge finding local news copy to fill those spaces, especially around the holidays when there are a lot more ads.

The Saturday paper is changing a bit. In addition to Context being gone, the Saturday Extra section is being retired, and its contents scattered into other sections:

  • The main feature story will occupy clear pages in the A section (and still get that big splash on A1)
  • The weekly Viewfinder photo will go to a page in Weekend Life with Dr. Joe Schwarcz’s chemistry column and Mark Abley’s Watchwords.
  • The Instagram challenge is moving to (usually) Page A2 with Josh Freed’s column
  • Montreal Diary is being discontinued
  • Local editorial, opinion and letters move to the A section
  • Andrew Coyne and other national Postmedia columnists go to the NP section

Saturday Extra has been in the Gazette since Feb. 25, 2006. And I admit to a bit of mourning for the demise of Montreal Diary, a section with short stories about the city. My first freelance story for the Gazette was a Diary story, and many other freelance writers got their start there. But after a decade, these things get old and I can’t honestly say it would necessarily be a bad idea to move on to other things.

Another change: Letters to the editor are no longer being posted online.

People who have comments or complaints are being asked to send them to feedback@montrealgazette.com.

Meanwhile, the Gazette has also added a city columnist, which it has been missing for a while. Basem Boshra, who has had many hats but was most recently the city editor, is now writing almost daily with his take on the news of the day. His first column, re-introducing himself, is here.

The Gazette has also launched its Christmas Fund campaign, including the daily anonymous profiles about needy families written by slightly less needy freelancers.

Oh, and since a bunch of people keep asking:

  • Don Macpherson is on leave, but is expected to return. Dan Delmar is filling in as a columnist in the meantime.
  • Stone Soup isn’t in the daily comics pages anymore because it’s no longer a daily comic. And the Gazette does not have the power to force Jan Eliot to work against her will.

Gazette 2.5 app

UPDATE (Nov. 30): Today the paper updated its smartphone app, combining the pull-full-stories-from-the-web functionality of the older app and the stories-written-specifically-for-smartphone aspect of the 2.0 version. This comes after many users complained that the 2.0 app didn’t let them read all the stories the Gazette published. Like with the NP section, the new functionality of the smartphone app started with the Edmonton Journal.

Confusingly, the app actually updates the 1.0 version in the App Store and Google Play. People who have the 2.0 app installed are being asked to delete that in favour of the other one.

Among the features of the new app, which is being referred to unofficially as “version 2.5”:

  • Live weather, with current condition visible on all pages and a full page of details provided by The Weather Network
  • Ability to turn notifications on and off from within the app
  • Continuous scrolling on stories instead of being broken up into pages
  • Font size preference (3 sizes)
  • A running count of the number of stories (X of YY) on each story
  • Better functionality for photos and videos (tap a photo to read the caption, ability to watch videos from within the app)
  • No more following stories to be updated when they change

15 thoughts on “Montreal Gazette adds NP section, makes Basem Boshra columnist

  1. Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

    Finally…The Gazette had the courage to come out of the closet as a Conservative paper, not that we did not know, it was a clear glass closet. They had no choice, I suspect, after the metaphorical open-hand slap they got on their face in the federal election. The inclusion of the drivel churned out by the NP means that we, the readers, won´t get balanced information about the federal government because many the articles will have the CPC spin and negative tone brought in by people like Michael Den Tandt and James Mennie, who will never write anything positive or acknowledge anything positive about the Liberal government. The opinion page with local columnist has been reduced and so has the number of letters from the readers. The Gazette keeps going downhill, sliding into irrelevance, the only reason we keep it is that my husband likes to read the paper on Saturday morning and we use the newsprint in his studio.

    Reply
  2. Dilbert

    This is step 2 in the process. Step 1 was getting all the papers to look the same, it’s much easier to distribute content pre-made when you don’t have to change formats all the time.

    Step 3 is the big one, which is where everything except the front page of the sports and the first few pages of the front section are made nationally. That will turn the local paper into a wrapper for the NP, but still allow them to sell both and claim they are different products. That will be the most reduced the local papers can get before they disappear entirely.

    As Margaret Sjoholm-Franks mentions, one problem for sure is that the editorial voice of the papers on a local level is lost, and what we get instead is an ultra conservative leaning single voice for all of the papers. The choice of stories, the lean of those stories, and the editorial content will all no longer be in keeping with the Gazette and Montreal, but rather that of the conservative ownership and leadership in the west.

    It’s likely the last few steps before folding. Postmedia cannot continue to lose money endlessly and turn out papers.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Step 3 is the big one, which is where everything except the front page of the sports and the first few pages of the front section are made nationally. That will turn the local paper into a wrapper for the NP, but still allow them to sell both and claim they are different products. That will be the most reduced the local papers can get before they disappear entirely.

      That’s possible, but unlikely. For one thing, entertainment is also primarily a local thing. But more importantly, ads are local, which means you can’t have the exact same paper across the chain. Even if it’s the same content, it needs to be laid out differently for each paper.

      Of course, this is all a question of semantics. Postmedia does central page production for all its papers, with local content being local and non-local content placed nationally.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        I think what you will find is that there will be a move towards standardized ad spaces and availability over time. That is to say that the page layout would be the same in all papers, with the ads having to fit within the constraints given. Now, that could be a certain number of column inches that could be used for one or more ads, but the basic idea would be there. If there isn’t enough advertising, perhaps extra local stories would be injected, or self-promotion.

        Entertainment actually is a two part deal. There is the local (band played last night sort of thing) and more national (new movie, interview with star, latest Kardashian crap). Allowing the local a certain amount of space each day might be what is needed to make something like that work out.

        What I could picture is a generic “all markets” layout for almost every section and every page, with large white spaces that are filled by local content and local ads.

        Then again, it could just be the front page of each section being local and the rest being national… you never know. But it’s clear that Postmedia can’t keep losing money forever, and they are running out of physical property to sell to pay for it all.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I think what you will find is that there will be a move towards standardized ad spaces and availability over time. That is to say that the page layout would be the same in all papers, with the ads having to fit within the constraints given.

          I don’t see how this is practical. If an ad doesn’t fit the availability, is it declined? And if you add flexibility, you defeat the entire purpose.

          Reply
  3. ClearChannel

    One other thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that they have eliminated Reader’s Letters on line. They want you to buy their paper to see the reader’s letters section. I stopped weekday home delivery more than a year ago and only receive it on Saturday. I have sent in many letters over the years and I would say that only 10% were printed. Of course “any” letters I sent in about broadcast television also known as over-the-air or OTA were never printed. It appears that Broadcast television or “Free” TV and television antennas is a banned subject. They prefer not to inform the public about this subject and you can speculate as to the reasons why. This newspaper has lost much of it’s value in my opinion and we were better off when there was “The Montreal Star” to offer competition.

    Reply
  4. Dorothy

    Prediction: Local dailies will become “bureaus” staffed by three or four local news reporters, perhaps anchored by a correspondent in the Ontario, Quebec and B.C. Legislatures, with Canadian Press copy doing duty for the rest .
    NP becomes the de facto ‘paper’ for subscribers, with local content plugged in to suit regional markets.
    This is more practical online than in print. But as the older generation of readers dwindles away (many of whom grew up with more than one hometown daily), print will cease altogether.
    Why anyone would consider journalism a future career is beyond me.

    Reply
    1. Michael Black

      “Why would someone choose journalism”?

      Because people take jobs for reasons other than money.

      They do it because they think they can have an impact, they have imagerie of crusading journalists, they like to meet people and write their story. They see it as a way to change things, or give voice to those who don’t otherwise have a voice. They think they can write stories that aren’t being told.

      Think of old John Sancton when the Westmount Examiner was big. He believed in the notion that the press was a necessary part of democracy. That if he didn’t report on what was going on at city hall, things would just get rubber stamped, and the citizenry wouldn’t get involved. He told people to go to the city council meetings, not sit at home and read about them, and the letter column was almost an extension of the council meetings.

      Think of Pat Donnelly, looking healthy and happy in retirement, who was the Gazette’s theatre critic for a long time. Anyone can review a play, but not many stick with it to get good, and to provide a greater overview. Instead, we have kids issuing themselves badges, but who can’t tell whether the press release they’ve been given is hype or not because they weren’t doing this a year go.

      Think of James Ross, who was an early minority to the University of Toronto, who was both a journalist and a lawyer in the Red River Settlement, said to be one of the few people who could stand up to Louis Riel, and who had big impact on how Manitoba came into Confederation.

      People think we don’t need journalists because they don’t understand what a newspaper is. They think it’s just filler, which can be had from anywhere. They forget that someone still has to go after those stories, and write them. Cutting and pasting obscures that, but if journalists go away, the stories will dry up.

      I am a much better observer than most, but I couldn’t write most of the stories in the newspaper.

      And tv news may seem like fluff, but someone has to go out and cover the story, even if what’s put on the news is simple. That just shows the need for newspapers, to fill in the details.

      The death of newspapers “is not inevitable “, because the need has never gone away.

      Michael

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “The death of newspapers “is not inevitable “, because the need has never gone away.”

        I think Michael that you need to separate out the different pieces to understand the answer. Journalism is not the delivery method, it’s not a format, and it’s not a style sheet. Journalism is getting the story. That the story is printed on paper or distributed digitally (or on TV, radio, etc) is the question here.

        Dead tree editions (paper printed newspapers) are the rotary dial telephone delivery method. It works for your grand parents, and technically it still works today. Realistically, we know of much better ways to distribute the news. The whole concept of cutting down trees to print a daily newspaper is really just not in keeping with the way the world is going. Digital delivery is the future, in some form or another.

        That said, the basic journalism remains. The true question for Postmedia (and other papers) is that of income – is there enough money in going digital? The answer isn’t so obvious!

        Reply
  5. David Pinto

    Couple of points:
    First off, I am absolutely certain that this decision was entirely a National Post decision. Gazette management had no say whatsoever in the matter.
    Secondly, it has just occurred to me that the Words Matter ad campaign … remember that one, yes, the campaign where The Gazette used entire full pages … well, wasted them, it has always seemed to me … to publicize itself … has totally disappeared.
    http://blog.fagstein.com/2010/10/20/words-matter-the/

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I am absolutely certain that this decision was entirely a National Post decision. Gazette management had no say whatsoever in the matter.

      It’s a Postmedia decision.

      the Words Matter ad campaign … remember that one, yes, the campaign where The Gazette used entire full pages … well, wasted them, it has always seemed to me … to publicize itself … has totally disappeared.

      That campaign is almost a decade old, so that’s not surprising. Postmedia is using an “at your fingertips” campaign now.

      Reply
      1. David Pinto

        Must be quite difficult. though, for Lucinda if someone says to her at a gathering: I hate the NP, why did you start running it? What does Lucy say? She, after all, did not have a say in the matter. “Well, er, ah, it was a Postmedia decision … they did not consult with me.” “But you’re the editor, aren’t you?” “Well, yes, but you see …”

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Must be quite difficult. though, for Lucinda if someone says to her at a gathering: I hate the NP, why did you start running it?

          You don’t think she gets stuff like that every day?

          Reply

Leave a Reply