Another sad day at Postmedia

I don’t have much to say about the announcement Tuesday that Postmedia is cutting more than 90 jobs, particularly in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, the three markets where it owns both subscription daily newspapers.

Not because it’s not important. But because (a) Postmedia is my employer, which puts me in a conflict of interest, (b) I don’t have anything really to add that hasn’t been written by the Globe and Mail and others, and (c) aside from the details, it’s the same story that has been written about double-digit and triple-digit layoffs at large media companies over the past decade.

The basics are this: Postmedia is cutting 90 jobs as part of cost-cutting that they need to do to cut $80 million in annual spending by 2017. (A math genius would note that, unless these 90 people are being paid $1 million a year each, this won’t even come close to meeting this goal on its own.) In Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, the broadsheet and Sun tabloid papers will share a newsroom, with stories rewritten to fit each paper’s audience. They will also work under a common editor. Sports reporters across the country will also be working under a national sports desk.

That’s about all we know, even inside the organization. I don’t have more details to give you.

It goes without saying that this is sad news, as it is when any journalistic enterprise cuts jobs. Unions are predictably upset, suggesting that Postmedia is going back on its word about keeping newspapers separate, but the Competition Bureau won’t be using this as a reason to revise its decision not to intervene on the Postmedia/Sun acquisition.

Twitter’s Steve Ladurantaye compiled a list of I’ve-been-fired tweets from Postmedia employees. There’s also a list of those let go at the Edmonton Sun and Journal.

The cuts won’t stop there. While the news staff in Edmonton and Calgary aren’t unionized, those in Vancouver and Ottawa are, so they’ll be offered buyout packages to entice more experienced staff to leave. (The Globe breaks down how each paper is affected.)

Because Postmedia doesn’t own any other papers in Montreal, the Gazette isn’t affected by the cuts announced so far.

Who’s to blame?

News like this inevitably leads to opinionators who think they know everything assigning blame from on high. They point to things like executive salaries, or experiments that failed (paywalls, tablet editions, etc.), or Postmedia’s debt-heavy structure, which they directly blame for the situation we’re in. I’m neither defending nor condemning those things, but the reality is that every print media company is suffering through advertising revenue losses in the double digits year-over-year.

We live in a world where The Onion is worth twice as much as the Washington Post. And you can’t blame that on Paul Godfrey or Bell Media.

The truth is there may be no hope. Despite vague rallying cries to find a new business model already.

I don’t want to see Postmedia go down, but it’s hard not to see the similarities with the slow downfall of Canwest before it.

I still have a job. I’m grateful for that, and I’ll keep working hard while I do, despite disagreements I have with management and ownership over their business decisions. I still believe that even despite these cuts, newspaper newsrooms do more original local journalism than any other type of media. And I believe that deserves to be supported.

I hope one day Canadians will realize that good quality news is worth paying for. Once that economic demand materializes, the supply will get better.

Further reading

15 thoughts on “Another sad day at Postmedia

  1. Bill

    I had this thought and maybe you can address it. It deals with trying to expand business locally for The Gazette.

    My understanding is that, The Gazette, serves mostly the Anglophone market and that market is shrinking over time. I imagine they serve some Allophone and some Francophones who want news in English but Anglos are the bread and butter. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

    Has The Gazette ever though of trying to break into the Franco market, strictly online, by translating, or having reporters write Anglo/Franco copies of the same story? My thinking on this is that it could be fruitful for The Gazette to try to tap into the much larger Franco market with versions of their own stories/news and that’s it done in strictly an online format, we’re not talking about running multiple printing presses. Seems to me there would be economies of scale in this, and may be profitable.

    I also don’t think you’d see the Franco papers retaliate by going after Anglos with a similar product because we’re a much smaller demographic, so not as profitable.

    Just wondered what you thought of this.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Has The Gazette ever though of trying to break into the Franco market, strictly online, by translating, or having reporters write Anglo/Franco copies of the same story?

      That’s an interesting question. I’m not privy to management discussions, so I don’t know if this was considered. But there are a few issues with it:
      – The Gazette doesn’t have experience writing and editing in French, so people would need to be hired or contracted out to do this
      – Most major news stories of the day are covered by both French and English media, so the demand for a French translation of a Gazette story would not be that high in most cases
      – Major scoops are often matched, either by competing media or by wire services, pretty quickly
      – Most Montrealers are bilingual and can read a story in either language
      – How do you monetize this? Online advertising is an extremely poor money maker

      Maybe there’s a business model out there in certain cases, but it’s not a simple question of just translating the stories and raking in the dough.

      1. Bill

        Fair enough, didn’t mean to imply that it was as simple as translating a story, but still surprised it has never been looked at.

      2. alan hustak

        The Gazette actually did an experiment with LaPresse in 2000,in which we exchanged reporters and wrote for each others papers in each others languages. I won’t get into it here, but the mentalities of the two newsrooms was such that it really proved to be impossible…Michael Goldbloom was the publisher at the time. When the Gazette still had publishers who cared.

  2. William Bockstael

    Good news is good paying for, and that is exactly what happened with many publications within the Postmedia, they became mere Harper cheerleaders and readers got tired. Now that Harper is gone they hve morphed into Trudeau inquisitors and will burn him at the stake at the drop of a hat

  3. not a greater Montreal

    “I still believe that even despite these cuts, newspaper newsrooms do more original local journalism than any other type of media.”

    I totally agree with you.

    What I’m surprised about these cuts is that they still want to put out two daily editions of the same news. I figured they would have merged the two editions into one edition, and used the saving towards keeping a few more journalists to add more stories. Much better to offer a stronger daily paper than two weaker versions of the same thing.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I figured they would have merged the two editions into one edition, and used the saving towards keeping a few more journalists to add more stories.

      Merging papers would de facto mean shutting one down, and probably losing the audience and advertising that goes with it. Postmedia has determined that having the two brands is better for the bottom line than shutting one down.

  4. Dilbert

    Postmedia continues down the path of trying to shrink into profitability, but so far there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of success. None of this is particularly a surprise, just more of the same, sort of like a semi-annual sale at your favorite store.

    I feel like Postmedia’s real problem here is flailing about, rather than having a specific direction for the future. When it came time for a new direction, they tried to do four things at the same time with four teams, and didn’t put the focus on any one of them. The net result is that the tablet edition is already dead, which is really too bad. It’s especially disappointing considering the relative success of LaPresse+ in the same time frame.

    Print media is pretty much heading to it’s end. It might take another 20 years for it all to disappear, but it’s entirely unlikely that we will be seeing printed newspapers in the western world in the future. Like some other out of date technologies, it might drag on around the world for another couple of decades, but the whole cut down trees, make newsprint, print the paper, distribute the papers, collect the paper, recycle the paper (or fill landfills with paper) is no longer a valid option when put against digital delivery in it’s various forms.

    Steve you said “Online advertising is an extremely poor money maker”, and it is – for the very reasons why advertisers are leaving the print editions. Technology gives us the ability to measure the effects of online advertising, in views, time visible, clicks, actions, and so on. The ability to accurately measure the effects of advertising online make it much more in favor of the advertiser, and not the publisher. Newspapers and television have made their money on the hard to track, hard to verify, hard to quantify world of impression marketing. Online, you can find out exactly how many people saw your ad, how many people interacted with it, how many people clicked it or otherwise did something about it. With most models being pay per action or pay per click, most online sites tend to fail because they are not optimized for advertisers benefit, and often fail at retaining readers for more than a page or two.

    Printed newspapers can pretty much claim every paper sold is a “view”, even if the reader only check outs the front page, the sports section, and the comics. Online, we know he never saw the ad on the bottom of page A5 – we know he never even saw the page, so advertisers won’t pay for it.

    Online pays very well – for results.

    As a side note, I have to wonder: The online version of the Gazette seems to have mostly Google ads on it. Is that because I am not living right in the market place, or is that because the Gazette doesn’t sell very much local advertising on the site?

  5. Marc

    Has The Gazette ever though of trying to break into the Franco market, strictly online, by translating, or having reporters write Anglo/Franco copies of the same story?

    It wasn’t online, but in the mid 90s The Gazette ran some stories in French in the Saturday paper. It lasted a couple years. I guess they decided it wasn’t worthwhile.

  6. Michael Black

    Every morning I read the Gazette in the paper version, which I’ve done every day since I was ten in 1970. Before that, I read selected bits, the comics at the least and likely selected other things.

    I read The Star too, before it expired. There was a time when I was often buying Toronto or Ottawa papers a well.

    That Ryerson piece is right, the end game can’t be the end of journalism.


  7. Greg

    Remember your own attitude regarding the treatment of other Alberta workers in years gone by. The “Media” then stood behind other “Management” while layoffs and cutbacks were forced onto other Alberta workers. I believe their statement was, “Shouldn’t management be permitted to manage?” Sorry kids, but now that situation is squarely in your court. How does it feel knowing you are the current peons, that no one can nor cares to do anything for you? Continuation of a sad decline regarding the lack of respect for the common worker. Profits first, respect last.


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