Quebec’s regional dailies go weekly as COVID-19 devastates news media

The Coopérative nationale de l’information indépendante, the group that took over the six regional dailies formerly owned by Groupe Capitales Médias, has decided to suspend daily print editions and keep only the Saturday edition of each of those newspapers as they face a sudden disappearance of commercial ad revenue.

Affected are Le Soleil in Quebec City, Le Droit in Ottawa/Gatineau, La Tribune in Sherbrooke, La Voix de l’Est in Granby, Le Nouvelliste in Trois-Rivières and Le Quotidien in Saguenay.

They’re also laying off 143 workers, almost half their staff, temporarily during this crisis.

And no refunds “for the moment” because they don’t have enough staff to handle that.

This, less than a month after the group said it expected to be profitable in two years.

It’s just the latest media outlet to have to make drastic measures as COVID-19 causes traditional advertisers to pull their ads in what BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman calls a “media extinction event.”

Among the dramatic changes in Canada:

If the crisis continues over the long term, the situation is likely to get worse.

It’s a perfect storm of problems:

  • The crisis itself has put increased pressure on news outlets, particularly television and radio, to increase coverage
  • Absences due to sickness or self-isolation measures
  • Event advertisers pulling ads because there are no more events to advertise
  • Local businesses pulling ads because they’re closed
  • Online advertisers opting out of placing ads on pages related to the outbreak
  • Fewer newsstand sales of newspapers because of those closed businesses
  • Less subscription revenue because newspapers and TV channels have considered themselves morally obligated to provide COVID-19 coverage for free
  • No more sports or arts to drive audience numbers

There are some effects working in the other direction — higher audience for news content, some virus-related government advertising — but the impact on the bottom line is very negative.

Governments have acknowledged this, and in Quebec at least, we may see some additional direct financial assistance to the media. Unifor is calling for emergency measures from the federal government, and it looked like they listened, with Justin Trudeau announcing new measures would be coming, but that turned out to be false.

So for now, the guillotine continues to fall day after day.

UPDATE: J-Source has mapped out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected media across the country.

9 thoughts on “Quebec’s regional dailies go weekly as COVID-19 devastates news media

  1. Albert Musco

    I never thought in my worst nightmares how a global pandemic could potentially change the course of history.The medical and economic repercussions have yet to be determined not only in Canada but in our global community.

  2. Dilbert

    Media extinction event? I think it’s going to be more like a bad business model extinction event.

    The press, particularly print to paper press, depend too heavily on what you could call topical advertising as their revenue sources. Events, sales this week, movie ads, and the like are all short term revenue. These print organizations have not or can not cultivate long term advertising contracts. Unlike television where they are often selling adverting far in advance, print papers seem to be living on a very short cycle. So when an interruption comes, it’s effects are immediate and devastating.

    The real long term effects are not known, but I have a feeling that many who were advertising in the paper may not come back after all of this is done. When they initially reopen, they may shy away for a week or two, and discover that their business is still the same with or without the print ads. Some may forgo them altogether, except for in exceptional cases.

    More importantly, and this is key: The readership are now experiencing what it’s like to live without newspapers. Those who crave information are moving online, to radio, to TV, or other sources for their information. They are getting retrained on how they get informed. There is no way to say that once this is over that they will return to print media.

    For the sake of you and the other people who work in print media, I hope this works out. It’s certainly a meteor crash event for a medium that is really a dinosaur in modern information flows.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Unlike television where they are often selling adverting far in advance, print papers seem to be living on a very short cycle.

      I’ve seen no evidence that print advertising is more seasonal than television advertising. Most marketing campaigns are budgeted for and booked months in advance, regardless of medium.

  3. Mario D.

    The media world stands at the exact same place as all businesses and humans facing this crisis. Some will not survive. I guess this is nature’s law . One thing is for sure, the world as we knew it will not be back and even those who make it through this nightmare will feel the long term effects and hopefully learn something.

  4. Libby

    I am sure you will blame the pandemic when the Gazette finally goes bankrupt. But in reality the horrible product you produce is the real reason. And nothing has changed. Your editor states what a great job she is doing, but in fact it’s the same crap from the same crappy reporters.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I am sure you will blame the pandemic when the Gazette finally goes bankrupt.

      No, it’ll be the economic environment in which no one wants to pay for written journalism anymore. That usually makes more sense than assuming that everyone who works for every local newspaper in North America is making the exact same poor decisions that you definitely wouldn’t make if you were in charge.

      1. Michael Black

        Sadly, people get into a group think, and while tyey’d not consider something previously, once the concept gets enough travel, it takes over.

        I remember when suddenly people decided that albums were wrong, “why should I buy songs I don’t want” and nobody gave it any further thought, they jumped on the wagon. And it ultimately caused endless change in the music industry.

        The mantra now is that old media is bad, that it serves no purpose because everyone can get news online. But nobody thinks about where news will come from if old dries up. News doesn’t grow on trees.

        I’m sad about the shrinkage at the Gazette, but I can’t dismiss it. There has never been a time when The Gazette (and The Star when it was still.publishing) wasn’t delivered here. I know the problem lies elsewhere, and isn’t helped by people who think they can get their news for free online.

      2. Dilbert

        Blaming the consumer is too easy. Newspapers have been making the same massive errors over and over for decades. You are not the only source for news. You are not the only medium. Bad choices and bad decisions have been made based on the exact attitude you are posting here: “We are somehow more important than any other medium so pay us already!”. People aren’t paying because the entire business model of news collection and diffusion has changed. Newspapers have been edged first by radio, then television, and now the internet. Each one has shortened the news cycle, shortened the time from event to reporting, and has better integrated into the lives of the average person.

        Quite simply, at this point, newspapers are in 4th place in a 4 horse race.

        That is 2013 too, you can imagine that the numbers continue to shift as internet usage goes up, as the 35-54 group have aged and moved into the over 55 group, etc.

        Newspaper have made one very serious mistake, one major piece of hubris that has done them in: Every move to rationalize or shrink the business is done on the assumption that it’s only temporary, and that they should cut only as desperately needed rather than making wholesale changes. Your employer has spent 20 plus years “resizing” and losing money. Instead of taking a serious stand and saying “we are 4th, we need to adjust” the attitude has been “we are still number 1, we gotta make people pay us more..”.

        We won’t even get into the insane levels of environmental impacts of newspapers, from trees and paper making to the fuel burned every day to distribute heavy papers around the city. Everything about newspapers is about supporting a ink on paper business model that is no longer the best way to distribute information. It is neither efficient, good for the environment, or even timely when compared to the other distribution methods available.

        It will only get worse from here for print papers. Younger people are skewing hard towards internet. and even the graying 55 and over population are more likely to be using television and radio in front of newspapers.

        Now, you may argue that many of these mediums are depending on the reporting done by newspapers to fill their newscasts, their websites, and such. You may be partially right. However, there is no real business model that supports them paying newspapers for the information. Simply put, if newspapers’ best clients are not paying for anything, then the business model is broken.

  5. Howard Law

    17 at Now Magazine in Toronto. Hoping that the wage subsidy announcement puts a brake on more layoffs.


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