It’s not too late to save the city’s dailies from a grim fate — here’s how.
By Darren Atwater for The Tyee
During a short visit to my hometown of Vancouver, I did something most Vancouverites rarely do — I read the two daily papers, the Sun and the Province.
These two papers were once unusual in Canada in that they were both owned by the same company, with combined back offices but adversarial newsrooms. However, last year the papers’ latest owner, Postmedia, combined the two newsrooms with one editor-in-chief, a scheme that was replicated in three other cities where the corporation owns two papers.
Sure, we all like the idea of daily newspapers battling it out every day, with hard-bitten journalists exposing corruption in pages printed by ink-stained craftspeople in the press hall and delivered by bright-eyed paper carriers to eager citizens.
Except that’s fantasy now. Delivery is by adults in cars, printing is by low-bid third-party printers, and the hard-bitten journalists have mostly taken their buy-outs.
Unlike many people, I’m not opposed to the combined newsroom. Combining the newsrooms was an opportunity to finally create two distinctive papers, assign stories based on the best person for the job and distinguish them by editing and by story focus. But rather than re-invent themselves, the Sun and the Province chose to create two newspapers that are essentially the same. Same articles, same bylines. No difference in point of view.
Give them the long features, give them the greatest graphics. More people want it, so make it so people want more.
9. But but but… everything’s on the web now
Forget the web. If you are writing stories that mean something to people, they’ll walk over broken glass to get to them. They’ll even pay $1.25.
What they won’t pay for is stuff that they can get for free already. I’m not sure why this isn’t really understood, but the Sun and Province have page after page of stories that I have already read online. Not the exact same article, but the gist. I paid you for this — why are you insulting me?
Don’t put the articles on the unpaywalled web until enough time has passed. A week? A month? It’s a good advertisement for future readers.
And only paywall the stuff worth paying for. Paywalling the garbage doesn’t encourage newspaper sales — and why were you printing garbage in the first place?
But have a daily blog. Hot take every single thing throughout the day, whether it is by your own giant combined newsroom or linked to someone else’s reporting. Stick that on the front page of the website.
Those nine points should cover it nicely, but I think I could conflate them all into one simple point: “give a fuck about what you’re printing.”
But I fear that other wheels are turning, and this is just a step to clear away union problems and other hurdles. I half believe the end game is to kill off one Vancouver paper — obviously the Province, as it was the most starved of resources — and ultimately have the Sun as a local news section wrapped around the National Post. What makes it less convincing to me is that even this has a local news section, and that may be a cost that the hedge funders don’t wish to bear.
Darren Atwater was the publisher of alternative papers Terminal City in Vancouver and Snipe in London and a co-founder of the Street Corner Media Foundation, publisher of Megaphone Magazine. He lives and works in London, England.