I’ll leave the analysis of that career change up to you.
Today was a strange one at the office, and not only because I was sitting at a desk in the Business section. On one hand, some employees were celebrating their induction into the Quarter Century Club (25 years of service). On the other, it was the last day of a colleague on the copy desk who is now enjoying his retirement.
But while we saw those two things coming, we didn’t anticipate an email saying that the paper would be losing its editor-in-chief.
Andrew Phillips, who was named to the top editorial position in October 2004, began his career here 35 years ago as a summer intern before moving on to Macleans magazine and the Victoria Times-Colonist.
The soft-spoken Phillips wouldn’t comment on why he’s leaving or what’s next in store for him, beyond saying that “it’s time to move on.”
It would be irresponsible of me to hypothesize, therefore I’m going to guess his departure is part of a massive government conspiracy and Phillips is sacrificing his career as part of a convoluted plan to help Jack Bauer stop a bionuclear attack on Canadian soil.
But seriously, as a journalist himself, Phillips always fought for the newsroom, pushing for more investigative journalism and finding ways to protect it from the inevitable budget cuts. He may not have always succeeded, but he always tried. For that, the newsroom will surely miss him.
Publisher Alan Allnutt, who was Phillips’s boss at the Times-Colonist and brought him along to the Gazette, had nothing but praise for his colleague today:
I have spent much of the last eight years working in close partnership with Andrew at two newspapers and I have nothing but great admiration for his intelligence, his principles and his journalistic talent.
In an email to staff today (republished here with his permission) Phillips himself wrote:
I’ve been associated with this paper all my adult life; it was 35 years ago that I first stepped foot into the ancient newsroom at 1000 St. Antoine as a summer student. It’s been a tremendous privilege to occupy the editor’s chair for the past few years, and to see how this newsroom has risen to the challenge of dealing with particularly tumultuous times in our industry. We’ve accomplished a lot over the past 4 1/2 years – remaking the paper and making the move to online. I’m proud to have worked with all of you, and grateful for the opportunity to get to know you on a personal level.
Phillips’s last day is May 8. Managing Editor Raymond Brassard takes over in the interim.
The four of you who still read paper newspapers will notice a dramatic shift in Monday’s Gazette. It’s gotten smaller.
The most dramatic change is the consolidation of the news, Your Business and Arts & Life sections into the A section, similar to what happens in the Sunday paper. The Sports section is unchanged (in fact, it’s a larger-than-normal 10 pages this week), as is the ad-generating Driving section. The length of the paper reduces overall by about six pages.
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Phillips is honest in his note to readers today about why this is happening:
The main reason for the change is that the cost of newsprint is rising dramatically. In the past year, it has gone up by about 24 per cent, and it is adding more than $2 million to our annual expenses. Fuel costs, as everyone knows, have also gone up sharply.
The fact is we can’t keep printing the same size newspaper at a time when the competition for advertising revenue (which makes up about three-quarters of our income) is much tougher. The time is long past when newspapers like The Gazette could just absorb extra costs and pass all of them on to advertisers.
Of course, no doubt some readers won’t agree (especially when it’s combined with a slight increase in subscription rates), so Andrew and the rest of the staff are fully ready for an onslaught of complaints. He has a blog post explaining the situation, and readers are encouraged to comment there, or by email to his address or the new firstname.lastname@example.org.
As if in answer to management’s prayers to give them some cover fire, the New York Times also announced that it would be consolidating sections to save on newsprint. One of my colleagues got the idea to run a story about that in the Your Business section today, and Andrew points that out to readers.
(UPDATE Sept. 11: Andrew has a summary of the reaction, which is negative, but not as bad as he feared)
Here’s what’s changed
The new layout of A1 (as seen above) emphasizes the newspaper’s slew of Monday columnists (because, try as they might, little news happens on Sundays), with quotes along the side from marquee names.
Content-wise, the changes are modest:
- Your Business takes the biggest hit, dropping to only three pages (1.5 if you discount the ads). This essentially means there will be one entrepreneurial feature story instead of two. Don Macdonald’s and Paul Delean’s columns are still there. It will also no longer be able to take advantage of the occasional extra page that pops up at the last minute when obituaries are light.
- Editorial and Opinion pages are, for the first time, combined into a single page, with an opinion piece along the bottom, a single editorial and fewer letters. Monday opinion pages tend to be a bit stale sometimes because they’re created on the Friday before (along with Saturday and Sunday pages).
- Arts & Life is reduced in size (and fewer pages are in colour), but no regular features are cut (the HealthWatch column moves to Tuesdays). Green Life, Showbiz Chez Nous, Dating Girl, Susan Schwartz (though she’s off this week), Hugh Anderson’s Seniors column, Applause, This Week’s Child, Fine Tuning (with the TV grid) are all still there.
- Squeaky Wheels moves off of A2 to make way for the Bluffer’s Guide and the new Monday calendar.
It’s not all bad
On the plus side (and so people can get excited about something), two new features are being introduced on Mondays. A2 features a weekly look-ahead calendar, with information on events to look forward to. There’s also a Monday Closeup, which features an interview with someone who will be relevant to something happening that week. (The first week features an author talking about winning book awards, as the Man Booker shortlist is being announced)
But let’s get back to talking about me
Now here’s where I fit in: I’m the one putting together that look-ahead calendar. So if you know of any interesting newsworthy events coming up, let me know and I’ll see if I can get it in. Take a look at what’s already in the calendar to see what kind of stuff I’m talking about.
Note that the following are not things that will make it into the calendar:
- Your birthday party
- Your awesome rock/blues/polka band playing at Sala Rossa.
- Your garage/bake/charity sale
- Your book reading
- Your support group meetup
- Your $500 basket-weaving training course
- Your company’s new advertising campaign launch
- Any of the above replacing “your” with “your friend’s”
I mean, unless it’s really exceptional. Like you’re pulling a plane or something.
Andrew Phillips posts a graph showing that traffic to The Gazette’s blogs has more than quadrupled over the past year. I’ll go ahead and assume it’s because I keep linking to them.
Stephanie Myles’s frequently updated Open Court tennis blog is by far the most popular in terms of page views. It’s also by far the most updated (about as much as all the other ones combined).
Gazette editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips explains the paper’s decision to cut the size of its weekly TV Times insert almost in half, from 36 to 20 pages, on his blog. (This, by the way, is a perfect example of what editors should be doing on their blogs: explaining situations that affect readers honestly and opening a dialogue with them.)
The post is long, with plenty of points about how people on digital cable or satellite use on-screen guides instead of paper ones (this also led to the demise of the paper TV Guide), and the increasing price of paper forced management to make a decision. The newer format eliminates listings between midnight and 9am and cuts most of its “editorial” content (which I’m pretty sure nobody read anyway).
The post even includes the necessary dig at the competition, which doesn’t have nearly as comprehensive TV listings (both weekly and daily schedules).
As the number of channels grows, and the number of people using basic cable or over-the-air reception shrinks, it’s inevitable that some day these TV listings will be eliminated entirely, and demand for a searchable online version grows (much like TV Guide’s online offering, which has unfortunately been assimilated into the Sympatico empire).
The Gazette’s Andrew Phillips asks on his blog about whether errors — factual, style, grammatical, spelling — are more prevalent in the paper now than they used to be. He points to a blog post at The Guardian, which argues that spelling particularly was much worse back in the days before spellcheck and desktop publishing.
I can’t really offer an opinion on whether the quality has gone up or down over the long term, since (a) I’m only in my 20s and (b) I work as a copy editor and my opinion is necessarily biased.
But as a copy editor, I’ll note that, unfortunately, proofreading is the least important of our functions. Pages must be laid out, headlines, decks, cutlines and other “display type” must be written, and photos must be inserted. But if the page is mostly wire copy (which has been thoroughly edited by the wire service), sometimes it might get typeset (at least for the first edition) without getting properly proofread. An editor might ask another to just look at headlines and large type because there’s no time for a full readthrough (this is especially true in sports, where a game will finish at 10pm, the article has to be written by 10:20pm and the page must be typeset by 10:40pm, a seemingly impossible task that’s done on a near-daily basis).
With the recent round of buyouts cutting staff in every section, one of the copy editing positions eliminated was specifically responsible for checking pages for obvious mistakes before they were typeset. Now that job falls on the editor who laid out the page, or the managing night editor. And it works, most of the time.
Was that a mistake? Should a dedicated proofreader be hired? Should there be more copy editors to double-check each other’s work? And if so, what positions should be cut to make room in the budget for new staff?
Or, put another way, would you be willing to pay a dollar or two more a month for your subscription if it meant half the number of typos you see now?
I don’t envy Andrew Phillips’s job. As editor-in-chief of the Gazette, his involves lots of paperwork, employee management and dealing with various crises. More importantly, though, he’s a public face of the paper, which means he has to respond to everyone’s complaints. And those complaints can get very heated.
On Friday, Andrew (yeah, we call him by his first name, he’s cool like that) stepped into the ultimate torture chamber for a Gazette editor: Tommy Shnurm… Schumra… Tommy’s morning show on CJAD. If you’ve never listened to that station, just imagine all the grumpy old people you know. They’ve all lived here for decades, read the Gazette every day, want those kids off their lawn and think everything was better before. And Andrew Phillips took their questions.
Here’s a quick summary of what was said:
- Andrew talks about the new Viewpoints page which launched on Monday
- Susan says she’s frustrated that The Gazette is “forcing” its readers to go online (extended stock pages are no longer printed on Saturdays but only available online). Andrew responds that it’s the people, not the media, who are demanding these changes and moving online to get their news. Andrew also says the paper gets most of its revenue from the print edition, and there are no plans to cancel that as Susan fears might happen.
- Arlene says the font should be bigger and the print is too light. Andrew responds that the print quality is on par with that of other papers and the body type hasn’t been reduced in years.
- Tommy asks what the Gazette is doing to attract younger readers, and Andrew mentions the paper’s music coverage on Thursdays, its Tuesday Youth Zone page aimed at high school students, and its focus on online.
- Seymour says ads have increased so much there’s little editorial content left, and he only spends 45 minutes reading the paper cover to cover instead of hours he spent before. Andrew says 45 minutes is a long time to spend with the paper and he doesn’t think there’s enough advertising (in absolute terms).
- Tommy asks what percentage of the paper is local coverage, and Andrew says according to his calculations about 80-85 per cent of the paper is written locally.
- Chris says he disagrees, says it seems he’s reading a “Canwest” paper and not a “Gazette” paper, especially in movie reviews for example. Andrew says he doesn’t think that it’s crucial for a local reviewer to review every movie, because the review won’t be that different whether it’s Canwest or the Gazette.
- Stan says the Gazette is a tabloid masquerading as a broadsheet and declining in quality. There’s no hard news on the front page on Saturdays, and he’s fed up with those annoying wrap-around ads. Andrew says newspapers who sell for 55 cents a copy must make hard decisions about coverage, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with a serious newspaper having a splashy cover page on Saturdays.
- Andrew talks about westislandgazette.com
- Christopher asks why he should stay with the Gazette instead of the Globe and Mail (which doesn’t use as much wire copy to supplement its coverage) and La Presse (which has more local reporters). Andrew says The Gazette is the way to go if you want Montreal news in English.
- Oliver says The Gazette is fantastic, especially in arts and lifestyle sections.
- Tommy asks what comic strip is the most popular, but Andrew says none particularly stands out in the surveys they’ve done.
- Tommy asks what sections of the paper are most popular. Andrew says in terms of the type of information people want, their surveys always show a high priority for local news.
- George says he’s frustrated at why obits are always in a different section every day. Andrew says it’s all about putting the jigsaw puzzle together and you can check the index at the bottom of A1 to find out where the obits are each day. (It’s really complicated juggling ads, comics, puzzles, obits, weekly special pages and doing so in a way that ensures every section has an even number of pages (and usually a number divisible by four as well. That means the obits will move depending on the day — but Monday to Saturday it’s usually at the back of the business section)
- John says quality of writing and reporting has gone downhill since mid-90s, and he objects to the firing of Bill Johnson (even though that was over a decade ago). Andrew says he doesn’t know how to answer that.
- Charles says there’s not enough coverage of amateur sport, at least compared to the Journal de Montréal. Andrew says the paper can’t do everything, and can’t cover all amateur sports (especially when readers want pro sports, especially hockey), but online ventures like WestIslandGazette.com provide an opportunity for people to spread the world about amateur sport. (I should also add that Dave Yates has a weekly column on Fridays about amateur sport, but there is so much going on it would be impossible to cover it all)
- Jerry says newsprint comes onto his hands from the paper. Andrew says it’s the nature of newsprint and his hands get even dirtier because he reads six papers a day.
- Heather says the quality is still superb even if the paper is condensed
- Tommy asks why there are fewer columnists than there used to be. Andrew says he doesn’t think there are fewer columnists and the paper has dozens of people writing for it.
- Carol says she’s sad to see the nutritional information in recipes being removed. Andrew says it was a lot of work to put together and the interest didn’t justify the work
- Mike wants to know who selects the quote of the day. Andrew says it’s people on the news desk who do it, selecting from various sources and usually trying to keep it tied to the main stories. He says he’s always impressed by the quote selections, and the copy editors at the paper are awesome, especially that Steve Faguy guy.
The summary of that last part might not be word-for-word accurate, but it’s the gist of the conversation.
More questions? Ask Andrew directly on his blog.
Andrew Phillips, The Gazette’s editor-in-chief, is kicking the tires on a new blog in which he’ll discuss the behind-the-scenes inner workings of the newspaper and
cry over wax poetically about the current status of the newspaper industry. Look for real posts at Ask the Editor starting soon.
What would you like to hear from the editor-in-chief of a major metropolitan daily newspaper?