A Newspaper on Life Support
Last week, the Edmonton Journal and other Postmedia newspapers announced there will soon be no print edition on Mondays.
On the other hand, it's another step towards extinction. Don't blame the newspaper though, blame the internet and social media because they've left the paper with a serious revenue problem.
The Good Old Days
I grew up in Edmonton, and when I was a teenager one of the highlights of the day occurred just after I got home from school and the Edmonton Journal landed with a thud on the front doorstep.
Even though I was a kid, I realized the Journal was a great source of information. Much of what was in it was informative, from the local news stories, to details in the Sports section on games played the night before. Before the days of the internet, it was the Newspaper of Record in Edmonton.
The paper was usually pretty thick. There was a ton of editorial content, but there was always more advertising.
In those days, the salespeople working for the Edmonton Journal took home a ridiculous amount of money because the paper was making huge profits. It was the only game in town when it came to print ads.
On April 2, 1978, the Edmonton Sun set up shop as the new maverick in town. It entered the world as a morning tabloid, so not long after, the Journal went to both a morning and afternoon edition, as newspaper wars raged in Edmonton and several other cities.
There was enough advertising revenue to go around. The Journal wasn’t making as much, but the paper and its salespeople were still on easy street.
Fast forward about 40 years and the Journal and other Postmedia papers are announcing they’ll soon ditch a print edition on Mondays. How much things have changed.
About 20-years ago, the Journal stopped publishing a Sunday edition. A newspaper salesman at the time told me he was surprised the Journal didn’t cancel its Monday paper. His reasoning was advertisers would much rather see their ads in the paper on a Sunday than a Monday, when they did about 10% of the business as they did on the weekend. Looking back, he might have been right.
The Monday print edition change won’t affect me or many others who have online subscriptions, but it’s another brick in the wall. It’s one foot closer to the grave and another clear sign the paper is on life support.
However, as readers long for the old days of thick newspapers filled with stories and ads, I wonder if they would really be happy if those days returned? Who needs two pages of sports stats every day like the Journal used to have in the 80’s if you can get all that information when you want it online? Who wants to wait for the Careers section on Saturdays when all of those job ads could have been found online during the week?
I’m not really sure the print product of the glory days would be successful in 2022. I think it’s a lot of misplaced nostalgia.
When the Revenue Dries Up
The Monday print announcement has already prompted many people to point to the thinness of the paper and an alarming lack of editorial content, to try to make the point that if the content was better the paper wouldn’t be in this position.
That’s not what happened here.
As the internet got more and more popular around 20 years ago, advertising dollars started to drift away from mainstream media to the internet. Facebook and Google remain the biggest culprits, but there are many others.
Daily and weekly newspapers have watched as a slow, steady and deadly trend saw money going into internet advertising, and away from the papers. As more advertising revenue went elsewhere, there was less money for reporters and other editorial staff.
Newspapers don’t have a quality problem, they have a revenue problem. Sure, the quality isn’t what it used to be, but their biggest issue, by far, is that less money is coming through the doors.
The internet monster is out of his cage and there’s no way to put him back in.
It’s the same with TV news. Last week, I saw an ad from September of 1980 (on Facebook) that showed the personnel working for CFRN (CTV) News in Edmonton. There were 48 people in that TV newsroom then. 48. The number today is less and they actually produce more content.
There’s no doubt newspapers made a lot of poor business decisions over the last 20-years as they tried to compete against internet advertising. Had the decisions been better, they may not be in exactly the same decision, but they would still be headed for life support.
The reality today is, as much or more advertising money is being spent on internet advertising than in mainstream media. The gap will continue to widen.
I understand why people shake their heads when they pick up a newspaper and it’s thinner than their phone. I know it’s easy to point to the product and say it’s crap.
Papers though have had a revenue problem for a generation, which is ironic because at one time they had to tell advertisers to take their money elsewhere at times since they had no advertising space left.
We are seeing changes in technology and demographics slowly but surely take down the newspaper business brick by brick.
As the Tragically Hip sang in Boots and Hearts – See, when it starts to fall apart, man it really falls apart.
Image credit: Edmonton Journal