The Journal de Montréal’s digital shift
This story was originally posted on ProjetJ on Feb. 6. Written by the site’s editor-in-chief, Anne Caroline Desplanques. Translated by Rhiannon Russell.
Since Jan. 30, the Journal de Montréal and its capital city counterpart, the Journal de Québec, have had a new online presence. The president and publisher of JdeM, Lyne Robitaille, plans to market nothing less than “a site that redefines the standard for transmitting information on the Internet.” ProjetJ met with two of the minds behind this digital shift, Dany Doucet et Mathieu Turbide, in their brand-new newsroom in the heart of Multimedia City in Old Montreal.
Unlike the imposing JdeM building on Frontenac Street, where, since the lockout ended, there remains only the classified ads and administrative offices, the new Journal offices are nearly hidden in a building that houses several other businesses. There’s no banner to indicate the presence of Quebecor Media’s flagship. “I don’t know yet if I will put one up. A newsroom on the ground floor with a view of the street…the security plan, it’s not easy,” explains Doucet, vice-president of information, Quebec, Sun Media Corporation, as he welcomes us into a small foyer in which sit old benches from the Montreal Forum. (Photo below - ©ProjetJ)
What a shock upon entering the newsroom: the journalists aren’t clinging to telephones hidden behind piles of books or scattered documents, as is often the case in conventional newsrooms. In fact, the journalists aren’t there at all. “The news isn’t here, it is outside with people. This is where my journalists are,” says Doucet. Alongside a bay window overlooking the street, there’s a large work platform with a dozen outlets (see below photo - ©Journal de Montréal). “They come here when they have something specific to do in the office, when they are in the corner, between two interviews, they come to write their story,” explains our guide, who meets with his troops every morning in a conference call.
Image at the heart of information
In the middle of room sits a big, circular platform with two levels. Computer operators, editors, section chiefs, a receptionist, and both “unionized and executive” artisans work here, elbow-to-elbow, says Dany Doucet, explaining that the hierarchical mixture isn’t intended to create a climate of surveillance, but one of collaboration. On the walls, screens continuously broadcast the main news channels, and others show the newspaper’s website. In this room, the artisans lay out the text along with many images: photos and videos shot by photographers, journalists, and citizens, who are invited to send their images to the Journal. (Below photo - ©Journal de Montréal)
Images are at the heart of JdeM and JdeQ’s new websites because “information, it is above all, events, faces, images,” says Lyne Robitaille. “Sometimes, you almost have to see it to believe it,” adds Doucet. According to him, the new platform’s videos, photos, and interactive infographics provide readers with more information while adding significance to stories: “Video has an enormous impact. Our survey of driving schools would never have had as much impact without videos.”
“People want to see. They’re accustomed to taking photos and videos themselves, so when we do a story, how can we justify not showing them how we work?” adds Doucet’s assistant editor, Mathieu Turbide.
According to him, the team at the Journal de Montréalhas developed tools that allow an integration of videos and interactive graphics in a new way in Quebec, which will allow the two Quebecor dailies to stand apart from their competition. He believes the site offers the most modern information and is the easiest to use in Quebec, as whether you’re on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. “It’s almost like an app; the mosaic format allows simple navigation – the reader need only click the images to access the news and all our videos, and the infographics are compatible with iPads and even pre-smartphones.”
A paywall in preparation
The team is inspired by the popular Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet. “This site is efficient, very visual, and, at the time we started the design of our site, was first in its market in front of Google. We’re aiming for nothing less,” says Doucet. Nevertheless, unlike the Scandinavian model, the JdeM and the JdeQ won’t remain free. “The objective isn’t only to have traffic, but to be prosperous. We don’t intend to give everything for free just to be number one,” says our host.
The paywall system will be put in place this spring. Because of this, the Journal isn’t worried that its new online presence will cannibalize the printed product. “Paper is profitable for us and we want to protect this as long as we can,” insists Doucet. “We’re not afraid of the migration to digital because with the paywall, we won’t be losing revenue.” According to Mathieu Turbide, with its new website, the Journal should attract new readers including young people who are less likely to read print.
Information called “convenience” by QMI agency will remain free, while exclusives, videos, and other graphics will only be available to subscribers. The paywall will nevertheless be flexible and will reserve some content for its subscribers in the morning, then open it to all at the end of the day. With this new approach based on the profitability of premium content, the JdeM recently recruited former Radio-Canada journalist and esteemed investigative reporter Émilie Dubreuil, offering her job security and freedom to produce “info of added value.”
“The days when we told journalists what to do are over. Our day starts with a conference call where each one sells his story and explains what he's going to do today. It's very demanding but it's also very stimulating,” explains Doucet.
Will the paper succeed in seducing other talented reporters? Since the lockout ended, the JdeM has multiplied its job offers. A rare thing in an industry where permanents posts are few, it promotes itself widely through CNW. More discretely, the JdeMalso looks for new bloggers to enrich its opinion section, which is strongly promoted on its new site. Does the recent arrival of Huffington Post Quebecand its many bloggershave the JdeM bosses worried? Not at all, say Dany Doucet and Mathieu Turbide. According to them, this new player should scare the Devoir and La Presse instead.