Fried chicken chain partnership lets newspaper company drop paywall in April

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We live in unprecedented times. Communities world over have willingly isolated themselves in their homes to stop the spread of a virus. Travel and socializing have ground to a halt, leaving parks, arenas and bars empty.

And a fried chicken chain is stepping in to make sure people can access journalism.

On April 1, Postmedia announced it is partnering with Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters, a Canada-based fast-food restaurant with 170 locations nationwide, to drop its paywall on all content for the entire month. “We’re pleased and gratified by this generous vote of confidence in our journalism,” wrote Lucinda Chodan, senior vice-president, editorial, on the National Post’s website.

Despite the timing of the announcement, this is not an April Fool’s joke. “[It’s] real,” confirmed Jeff Barlow, vice-president of marketing for Mary Brown’s. 

“People now want news more than any other time in our recent history,” said Barlow. “That was the whole insight behind doing this with a news organization.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened what was already a precarious situation for the journalism industry. News organizations in Canada and beyond have laid off staff or cut salaries, while some resorted to reducing — or simply eliminating — print publishing.

Barlow said Mary Brown’s chose to partner with Postmedia because they are a large part of the news landscape in Canada. “It’s just a very credible network of journalists and brands.”

Postmedia content from its broadsheet newspapers — the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, London Free Press, Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Vancouver Sun, Windsor Star, National Post and Financial Post — will be free from April 1-15, according to Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice-president, communications. From April 16-30, the paywall will drop on The Province, Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, Ottawa Sun and Winnipeg Sun.

Postmedia had previously announced it would drop the paywall on its coronavirus coverage, with public interest stories being made available across publications as of March 16 “until further notice.”

Barlow said that while Mary Brown’s is also doing an advertising campaign with Postmedia, it is separate from the partnership to drop the paywall. It’s part of an effort the company has made to serve the public during the pandemic, which has also included delivering food to frontline workers. He declined to state the value of the partnership.

Postmedia reported a $3-million loss in its first quarter of 2020, due to lower print advertising and circulation revenue, according to BNN Bloomberg. Gelfand did not respond to further questions about how COVID-19 has affected Postmedia financially.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at hgwatson.com.