Advertisers have virtually disappeared and it's sad sad to think how a once proud paper has hit an all-time low.
That 80's Paper
When I realized the Edmonton Journal Sports section was only two pages in length, I thought back to when I was in radio. Sometime in the 1980’s the Journal sent its Sports Editor around to do the morning radio shows to promote the Journal’s decision to publish two pages of stats in every edition, seven days a week.
When he dropped into 96 K-Lite Radio, I remember telling him how pumped I was. As a kid growing up in Edmonton, I used to love pouring over baseball box scores from the night before in the Journal. Two pages filled with stats on every sport taking place would be awesome.
It may have been, but it didn’t last long.
Over time, ads started to creep into those two pages, then two pages of stats became one page and so on.
When you look at the Journal today, the only stats are standings for the NBA and NHL. For some reason, the NBA standings are always on top of the NHL standings, which shouldn’t be the case in Canada. I’m sure it’s just another small detail that gets overlooked.
It really doesn’t matter because every time the standings are published they’re already out of date. Due to the paper’s early layout deadline, results from the evening’s games aren’t included.
Like many things with Postmedia newspapers these days, only the illusion of good coverage is given.
Newspaper of Record
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine emailed to say he realized the Journal’s sports section doesn’t have any scores. Not one. A sports section without scores.
He was right. There’s the odd exception, but not many.
I remember the days when Saturday’s Sports section used to cover several pages. Over the years we had columnists like Wayne Overland, Terry Jones and Cam Cole. There was a ton of coverage on the pro teams like the Oilers and Eskimos, along with stories on local curling, baseball, golf and horse racing.
Not now. This year the Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts (provincial women’s curling championship) was played in Wetaskiwin in mid-January. It wasn’t even mentioned in the Journal. Not once. It was as if it didn’t exist, even though the event was less than a hour’s drive from Edmonton.
Decades ago the phrase “Newspaper of Record” was created. What it meant was, one newspaper provided the daily record for the community. If it happened and was important, it would have been included in the paper. There was a record of it that could be kept on a shelf, unlike a story on television or on the radio that vanished into the air.
It is no longer the newspaper of record. How can it be when it misses so many stories?
The sad thing is, the Journal used to have terrific local sports coverage, done by writers like Curtis Stock, Marty Knack, Ray Turchansky, Norm Cowley and many others. There was coverage of university and college sports, stories about local Olympic hopefuls and much more.
Unfortunately, those writers and their replacements have all been let go due to budget cuts. The writers there today can't be blamed. They're doing their best. Budgets get in the way.
This past Friday there was a story about the daughters of former bobsledder Pierre Lueders, who are speedskaters, and it stood out like a sore thumb because it was so rare. It was nice to see, but I don’t expect a trend.
Where Have the Ads Gone?
The Edmonton Journal isn’t the only Postmedia newspaper with this problem. The same is happening to the Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun and many others. It’s been happening in the US too and in many other countries.
Awhile back, Postmedia decided to cut costs by using the national Post as the bones to local newspapers across the country, and local coverage would be like the skin. The front section of the Edmonton Journal contains local news, there are a couple of local stories in the sports, the obits are local, there’s the odd local story in Entertainment and the Homes section contains some local stories.
That’s it though. Other than that there’s no difference to any other Postmedia paper.
It’s a far cry from the day when every paper was different and the layout was done locally. Now it’s done in one place and the local stories have to fit into the template.
It’s basically being done to allow Postmedia to survive as long as possible. I don’t know how much longer that will be. I don’t expect printed versions of papers like the Journal to be around in another ten years and unless there’s a miracle, the entire chain will likely be gone not long after.
This past Wednesday, I did a quick audit of the amount of advertising in the Journal. It came to only two and a half pages. That’s two and a half pages of ads in the entire newspaper, not just one section.
Many years ago, the Careers section used to bring in millions of dollars a year for the Journal and other papers in the Southam chain. Now these ads are all on LinkedIn and employment websites like Indeed. Classified ads used to create millions in revenue. Now those ads are all on Facebook and Kijiji.
We only have one real national newspaper chain. If Postmedia goes, we won’t have much left for papers.
Postmedia is on life support now and unless it gets huge dollars from internet giants like Google and Facebook, it’s pretty clear how this story will end.
Over the weekend, I read a terrific article on the history of the Calgary Herald in The Sprawl, an online publication from Calgary. This is a great example of how new forms of journalism are filling the gap left by what had been the dominance of newspapers like the Herald and the Journal.