My Divorce From the Edmonton Journal
I remember when the Edmonton Journal arrived on my front doorstep each day when I was about 14 years old. It was a big thing. It arrived in the late afternoon in those days and I started with the Sports section and then read the rest of it from front to back before dinner. It was my real window to the world in those days, which were long before the dawn of the internet. If it wasn’t in the Journal, then it didn’t happen.
I recently received my notice to review my annual subscription to the Journal. It’s for $403.20. It seems like a lot of money but it’s only about $1.33 per paper.
After a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to renew. For the first time in over 50 years, I won’t be reading the Edmonton Journal every day and here’s why.
The Postmedia Purge
On January 19, 2016 what has become known as the Postmedia Purge occurred. Postmedia owns the Edmonton Journal and many other former Southam newspapers like the Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, along with the Sun newspaper chain, weekly papers and others.
Postmedia announced what’s likely the biggest cutback in reporting and editorial staff for newspapers in Canadian history on January 19. The Edmonton Journal, along with several others, saw scores of veteran reporters suddenly terminated. 35 reporters in Edmonton alone were let go. Many of them have worked in the media for decades. They were the people who I used to read every morning as I had the newspaper spread across the kitchen table when I had my oatmeal and coffee. I knew some of them personally and really felt for them and their families on that dark day in January when so many of them were let go from a job they had worked so hard for and believing so much in.
The story of that day was told the best by Margo Goodhand, who lost her job as Editor of the Edmonton Journal. If you have a few minutes to spare, give it a read, because it’s an excellent account of what happened behind the scenes that day from a veteran journalist.
The news got worse as Postmedia also announced that reporters would be covering stories for both newspapers in all markets. As a result, in Edmonton the same reporter would be covering disasters, events, news conferences, sports and much more for both the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun. Postmedia tried to make the coverage sound like it would be different because the two papers would have different headlines and some stories would be rewritten. Few were buying it.
We had reached the point where the same story would appear in both newspapers. Somebody who had written for the Journal for 30 years would now appear in the Sun as well. It would have been like Wayne Gretzky playing for both the Edmonton Oilers AND the Calgary Flames.
What has happened in the last ten months has been predictable. There’s no longer any competition between the two dailies in Edmonton. They have basically the same stories written by the same reporters. Only the front pages look different.
I used to buy the Sunday Sun from the newsstand on a regular basis, but after the Purge things were different. It didn’t take me long to realize the same story I was reading on a Saturday in the Journal was being rehashed in the Sunday Sun. I stopped buying the Sunday Sun. Why bother?
Why the Competition Bureau allowed the Postmedia deal to buy the Sun newspaper chain to go through in the spring of 2015 is beyond me. It had to know the day would come when the newsrooms would be merged, competition would be gone and readers would be the big losers. Of course Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey was assuring everyone at the time that the two newsrooms (Postmedia and Sun) would operate separately.
Today’s Edmonton Journal looks much the same on the surface as it did before the Purge, but the feel is different. Very different.
Raisin Bran Has Two Scoops - the Papers Have None
One of the great things I used to like about being in Edmonton where we had the Journal and the Sun fighting for readers was competition. That competition led to differences in the editorial stance of the two newspapers. The Journal was big, conservative and solid, while the Sun was new, confrontational and controversial.
That competition also led to the newspapers fighting to get news stories that the other didn’t have. The best of those stories are called “scoops” in the news business. I used to love seeing the Journal have a front-page story nailing the government for wasting taxpayers’ money, or the Sun with a story about catching somebody or some company in a compromising position. Telling accurate, interesting, but sometimes embarrassing stories are the heart of great journalism.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a real scoop on the front page of the Edmonton Journal. Some of the stories are interesting, but they’re not what I would call scoops.
I’m not blaming reporters for this. They’re all doing their jobs, but when the Purge occurred, a number of senior reporters were let go, as part of the 60 turfed in Edmonton and Calgary. Their years of experience and contacts went out the window too. As a result, the Journal is now covering the basics and doesn’t have the luxury of giving reporters the time needed to investigate stories that will produce a “Whoa” when they appear on the front page.
In Edmonton, it’s CBC that has become the go to source for scoops. In the last couple of years it’s broken more stories than the Journal. That didn’t happen before.
By the way, many of the reporters who lost their jobs in the Purge have now been hired back by the Journal, but with different responsibilities and likely at a lower pay rate and with far fewer benefits. They way they do their jobs isn’t the same as it used to be.
Six For the Price of Seven
A few years ago the Journal announced it would no longer be publishing a Sunday edition. It went to Sundays back in the 1980’s when it tried to compete against the Edmonton Sun, which had its biggest edition every Sunday. This was the same story in a number of Canadian markets where the broadsheets tried to put something up against the Sun chain each Sunday.
When the Journal made the announcement about backing away from Sunday it made no mention about crediting people like me who had already paid for a year and expected to get a newspaper every day. That’s because there would be no refund or credit. The Journal said that all features normally carried on a Sunday would be moved to other days of the week, suggesting in its mind it was all square with readers. No need to make any adjustment it said.
Wait a minute. If I paid a restaurant in advance to dine there every night for a year and then partway through the year they told me they would be closed every Sunday and I would have to find a different place to eat, I’m pretty sure I would be getting some money back. Not from the Journal. It’s a small point, but one that has stuck with me.
The Journal has also stopped publishing on holidays, so when a big story occurs on a Saturday, the Journal isn’t able to have any coverage of it until the following Tuesday if there’s a long weekend. It’s not news anymore by then.
It’s Just Not the Same Anymore
The layout for the Journal has now been farmed out to people in other parts of the country and to a longtime reader the difference is obvious.
Take what the Sports section looks like as an example. The meat and potatoes of every sports section are game stories from the big game the night before appearing on the front page of the sports. Not in the Journal anymore. The game story from the Oilers, as an example, has been appearing on page 3, with sports features on the front page. I’m not really sure why this is being done. Perhaps it has something to do with deadlines, which appear to be tighter than in the past. In some cases readers aren’t getting a game story in the sports section, but instead get a photo and perhaps final score and are directed to the newspaper’s website for more information. If I wanted to do that I wouldn’t have bought the paper.
I’ve also noticed several cases of layout mistakes being made. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal, but the feel of the paper isn’t the same.
The New Morning Reality
My wife and I have three kids still at home, but they won’t miss the Journal. Our youngest son reads the sports once in awhile, our daughter glances at the paper every now and then if she has something to eat by herself and my wife checks some of the sales flyers, but she can also get them online. It’s really not a loss to them.
I’m not sure what mornings will be like when my subscription expires on October 21. I may check out the latest news on my iPad. I may even get an electronic subscription to get the latest news. I do know those 20 minutes while having breakfast (and longer on Saturdays) will be different.
What we’re left with is a product that’s not as good as it used to be, one that's provided less often, and at a price that continues to increase.
What I also know is if a dedicated newspaper reader like me is leaving the Journal behind, there can’t be many others left.
Listen to the full interview I did on CBC Radio in Edmonton about the blog.
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