The Edmonton Journal - Four Years After Black Tuesday
There was hardly a mention of it, but a few weeks ago we passed an important anniversary in journalism in Canada. January 19th was the fourth anniversary of Black Tuesday.
Close to 100 journalists and editorial staff at Postmedia newspapers in Canada lost their jobs on what turned out to be the biggest single day of job cuts in the history of Canadian newspapers. Several smaller days of job losses have followed since then.
Despite the fact Postmedia papers are working with a fraction of the staff they used to have, I believe a decent product continues to be produced.
I remember Black Tuesday well. It was January 19, 2016 and I was working in my home office writing my e-newsletter that was due to be sent to my mailing list the next day. I checked Twitter and news was breaking about massive layoffs at the Edmonton Journal. Then similar tweets reported even bigger job losses at the Calgary Herald, followed by other Postmedia newspapers in Canada.
It made me sad. I was a little surprised at the number of people who were being let go and some of the names, but not shocked. I had worked in radio for 15 years and saw the writing on the wall before leaving the business. The same thing was happening to print journalism, but the effect was much more dramatic.
Although more people subscribing to newspapers would have helped, what was behind the massive layoffs were huge reductions in advertising revenue because of increased competition from the internet. Newspapers should have reacted to the changing business environment much quicker, but I think it would have only delayed the inevitable.
Two weeks later, former Edmonton Journal Editor-in-Chief Margo Goodhand wrote a terrific article in the online publication The Walrus about the events leading up to Black Tuesday and what happened that day. I encourage anyone interested in journalism to read the article if you haven’t already. It was one of the most interesting articles about the industry I’ve ever read.
Four Years Later
I felt bad for everyone who had lost their job on Black Tuesday and I also remember wondering what the Edmonton Journal would be like after the dust had settled. Losing 25 journalists had to have a dramatic effect on the newspaper that I’ve read almost every day since I was a kid.
Four years later, the Edmonton Journal is certainly different and you can say the same about every Postmedia newspaper in the country.
The paper isn't the same, but credit hard working local reporters for giving us a product that resembles what we used to have before Black Tuesday and keep in mind that many additional job losses have taken place since then. Newspaper reporters work far harder than they used to, which is not to suggest that reporters a generation ago were dogging it. However, the reality today is, reporters have to write more stories and have to spend far more time creating content in social media too. We need to thank the hard work of reporters and other members of the editorial team for the paper now being produced.
It’s not as good though. There’s not as much local coverage as there used to be, but it's impossible to do that with a fraction of the staff. I do miss in-depth stories and features that used to make up an entire section of the Saturday paper for years. I miss local business coverage too. I would far rather read about a local business than the latest news from the mining industry, but that’s what we’re getting in what’s basically the same business section in every Postmedia paper in Canada.
There are other differences too. I occasionally notice the same story carried twice in the paper, an obvious mistake from whoever is laying out the paper, which by the way, hasn’t been done locally for years. I also notice more photos are from Getty Images and other stock photo companies because so many photographers have lost their jobs.
The bottom line is, the Journal isn’t the same, but at least we continue to get a daily paper, with local content. It’s better than the alternative.
Were the Good Old Days That Good?
I’ve heard the familiar refrain that newspapers aren’t what they used to be, they’re not as thick as they used to be, don’t have as many stories, or as many columnists, or have as much sports or special features coverage.
All of that is true, but I wonder if that’s what we really want today? While we long for the old days when the Edmonton Journal and all other daily broadsheets used to be the “newspaper of record” I wonder if things have changed so much that we really don’t want what we used to have, but we just don’t realize it?
I remember the Edmonton Journal making a big fuss about two full pages of sports stats in the 1980’s. Imagine if we had that today? How many readers would care? I know I wouldn’t. Like many others, I get all the sports stats I need online as soon as they happen. I’ve been in sports pools and fantasy drafts for over 30-years. I can’t image waiting until the next morning to get stats.
I also remember getting a newspaper almost as thick as a phone book on my doorstep not too many years ago. Not only was it loaded with advertising, it was bloated by about 20 printed flyers inside once a week. Almost all went directly into the blue recycling bag without getting opened. I don’t think we want to return to the days when we needlessly chopped down trees to produce newsprint. I thought I would miss a printed newspaper. Now I would never go back to one because I would feel guilty about putting so much paper into recycling.
My point is, I’m not sure the newspaper that we remember getting delivered decades ago is what we really want today. We think we do, because we miss the romance of the old days. Yes, more local coverage would be nice. More in depth reporting would be appreciated and it would be nice to get the opinions of more columnists.
We need to realize those days are never coming back for newspapers and we should appreciate what we have before we lose that too.
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Image credit: Edmonton Journal