Going the wrong direction

Someone should tell the Toronto Star they are going the wrong direction. The Star cut 55 jobs this week and are going to contract out their page layout to a company based in Australia. Other papers have gone the same way, laying off news staff and contracting out page lay out and other work. The Brandon Sun has tried that route, so has the Winnipeg Free Press. Some weeklies have gone that route as well.
The trouble with newspapers began a long time ago when the only road to success seemed to be to sell out to a bigger newspaper or to a chain of newspapers.
If a person studies newspaper history, we see that the Southam group grew very large, so did the Thomson group, the Glacier Group, the Quebecor group, the Conrad Black group. There are many examples and most have not been that good as business models.
This latest trend to reduce newspapers to nothing more than a chain of store-front offices with lay-out, distribution and many other activities centralized in a larger town or a city far away, across the ocean. It has an appeal that seems can’t be resisted.
The problem can find its roots many year ago. It used to be that the publisher/editor/owner was either all the same person or a closely knit group of local people. Stories of how editors and publishers worked together, fought together, drank and ate together are the very fabric of the newspaper industry history.
Now, western Canadian weekly papers are mainly owned by a chain with an office in Vancouver or Montreal. When a newspaper association gathers for a convention, instead of 50 or 100 people in the room, there will be 20 and some individuals can carry 10 or 15 votes. It’s not unusual for two chains of newspapers to carry a majority of the votes in a room.
Newspapers are now owned, not so much by publishers and editors, but by non-newspaper shareholders. The bean counters have taken over the newspaper world. The only interest a shareholder has is to make a return on the investment. They don’t give a rat’s rear end about the community, the local issues or what is best for the community. This move to pay homage to chain ownership and their return on investment is a sign that money is marauding morality, that dollars are defeating decisions of decency and that common sense is captured by greed.
In order to survive, a company has to make a profit. This current trend however doesn’t seek growth for profit, it seeks a sort of self-cannabilism by cutting costs faster than they seek growth.
Many years ago, these two newspapers, the Neepawa Banner and The Rivers Banner had the opportunity to sell out, to cash in so to speak. This publisher (and his partner/wife) said “No”. A well thought out “No” and we are glad we did. It was a tough decision but now, we stand as the oldest publishers in Manitoba among all publishers both private and corporately owned . We have a strong local presence and God willing, plan to stay that way for a long time to come. No one can truly predict the future but we can certainly lay out our hopes and plans.
That’s where the chain newspapers and the large corporate groups have gone wrong. Add to that the fact that many papers, not the least of which is the Toronto Star, have gone off the rails politically for years. Sometimes these large papers and paper groups simply lose touch with their readers.
A newspaper has to pick a road and stay on it. It’s a bit tougher for a larger city newspaper to do so but the Toronto Star long ago lost touch with the needs of their local community. In a day and age when world-wide news stories are flashed instantly to every desk top in the world, the daily newspaper can’t keep up with world news. Daily, three times a week or weekly, a local newspaper has to cover local stuff. In real estate sales, they say everything is location, location, location. In a newspaper, no matter how large or small, it’s local, local, local.
It’s a pretty simple formula and many papers and newspaper chains have lost sight of that.

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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247