Print resurrection

How newspapers in Canada are adapting to a shifting landscape

For several years, newspaper circulation in Canada has been declining. Increasing competition for advertising revenue combined with new mobile platforms and websites have caused print newspapers to reduce staff and diminish print schedules. 

This conundrum affects not only the print industry, but television and radio as well, perhaps most notably evidenced by recent layoffs at CBC. However, this is hardly the death knell of printed news, and much of the hand wringing may
be overblown.

According to the latest report from the Newspaper Audience Databank, an organization that does research for the newspaper industry in Canada, nearly six in 10 readers still prefer print versions
over other formats. 

Despite this guardedly optimistic outlook, the status quo isn’t good enough for editors like Paul Samyn of the Winnipeg Free Press

“We have to innovate. If we keep doing things the way we always have, we will be in decline,” he says.

The Free Press has fully embraced the new digital age, with smartphone apps, a free online version (one of the last major newspapers in Canada to have unmetered access, though you must subscribe to comment on stories), and an augmented reality app that lets readers scan the pages of the Free Press with their smartphones to obtain additional content.  

“We’re trying to find ways to respond,” Samyn says. “We want people to think of the Free Press as more than just
a newspaper.” 

Readers can expect more unique, robust coverage, including the new weekly series, “City Beautiful,” which uses a combination of print and online videos to explore the rich history of Winnipeg, from Freep staffers Scott Gibbons, Melissa Tait, Randy Turner, Gordon Preece and Rob Rodgers .

Of course, keeping costs in line with the wane of advertising dollars is also paramount to the vitality of the newspaper. Aiding in this is the fact that the Free Press has remained independently owned, despite the trend towards conglomeration of media outlets by large corporations such as Quebecor and Postmedia.

“Our decisions are made in the best interests of our market, and we aren’t dictated [to] or saddled with the debt of a large head office somewhere,”
Samyn says. 

Other newspapers in the city are taking a different approach to cost reduction. Metro News editor Elisha Dacey explains how having versatile staff not only lowers overhead, but actually enables them to break news faster.

“All [of] our editorial employees ... are able to do everything. Compelling writing, interviewing, great photos, video as time permits, and we all maintain an engaging presence on social media,” Dacey says. 

“There’s less waiting for one person to do one thing, while another person does another. In that way, we’re generally able to get news up more quickly than
our counterparts.”

All of the flashy apps, websites and social media are a great way to connect with the new tech-savvy consumer, but at the heart of it all remains solid reporting. Without a good story, all of the software merely ends up becoming fluff. 

“If you can come up with original, relevant content, people will come,”
Samyn says.

”City Beautiful” runs every Saturday in the Free Press. Connect with Metro News online at metronews.ca

Published in Volume 69, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 17, 2014)

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