Postmedia merges Edmonton Journal & Edmonton Sun newsrooms, lays off 35 including senior editors

Postmedia today announced it is merging newsrooms and cutting about 90 staff across the country. Here in Edmonton, the Journal and the Sun newsrooms have merged and 35 people have been laid off as a result, including Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand.

The Journal
The Journal, photo by Channing McRae

When today started, there were about 90 people in the two newsrooms. That was already down signficantly from peak newsroom sizes – Terry McConnell suggested the Journal newsroom alone had 165 people ten years ago. Losing 35 people in a single day is devastating.

Here are the impacted folks we know about (alphabetically by surname, with links to sources):

You can read the memo that went along with these cuts from Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey here. Here’s an excerpt:

“What this means is that today we say goodbye to approximately 90 of our talented journalists, colleagues and friends. We will be working closely with those affected to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.”

Postmedia has decided to form “a national sports writing team under the leadership of Bev Wake, Senior Executive Producer, Sports.” While there will be “writers in each of our markets” according to Godfrey, it’s no surprise that the local sports reporters were significantly affected by today’s cuts.

This was obviously a difficult and painful day for many talented journalists here in Edmonton. Jana Pruden, who fortunately remains at the Journal for now, live-tweeted the agony of waiting for the news today.

Why is this happening?

When Postmedia purchased the Sun and other properties from Quebecor last year, it promised to keep the competing papers separate. That strategy has obviously changed. Here’s what Godfrey wrote in his memo today:

“Since the acquisition of the Sun Media brands, we have been working to move our teams together in order to leverage strengths and also to find synergies and savings. We have made progress across our Sales, Marketing, HR, Finance, IT and other administrative functions. The next step is our newsrooms.”

The reason is money. Or as Todd Babiak put it, “Postmedia isn’t a media company in any traditional way, it’s a debt-servicing entity.” From Postmedia’s latest quarterly shareholders’ report:

“Print advertising revenue increased $49.0 million to $142.1 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print advertising revenue decreased $16.4 million, or 17.6%, and declines were experienced across all of our major categories including decreases from local advertising of 17.1%, national advertising of 23.4%, and insert advertising of 7.2%. The decreases were due to declines in both volume and rate with the total print advertising linage and average line rate decreasing 11.4% and 9.8%, respectively, during the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year.”

Print circulation isn’t doing much better:

“Print circulation revenue increased $20.5 million to $67.9 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print circulation revenue decreased $3.2 million, or 6.7%, as a result of paid circulation volume decreasing 7.2%, partially offset by price increases.”

And perhaps most concerning of all, digital revenue is also decreasing:

“Digital revenue increased $5.9 million to $30.2 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, digital revenue decreased $1.4 million, or 5.7%, as a result of decreases in local digital advertising revenue of $1.8 million and digital classified revenue of $0.6 million, partially offset by an increase in digital subscription revenue of $0.2 million and other digital revenue of $0.7 million.”

Postmedia is now targeting $80 million in cuts by mid-2017. Some are even suggesting that bankruptcy could be in the cards.

On losing our local editors

You might snicker at the thought that Edmonton had any independence from the mothership in Toronto, but now it’s official that we lack local editors:

“Jose Rodriguez, the Calgary Sun’s editor-in-chief, will oversee both Calgary papers, while current Herald editor Lorne Motley moves to Edmonton to steer the Journal and Sun there.”

It seems that Lorne will actually be moving to Edmonton, but it’s still highly suspect that a perfectly capable editor in Margo is being replaced with someone from our southern neighbour. I know that Margo spoke out about Postmedia’s endorsement of the Conservatives, but I can’t see that as the reason she was let go as some have suggested. If it was, I think we should be surprised to see Paula Simons remain at the Journal, as she heavily criticized the endorsements.

I think it’s an incredible shame to see Margo, Stephanie, and Donna go. Edmonton’s newspapers have lost some experienced editorial leadership and that will have an impact.

On keeping both papers

It’s no surprise to me that both papers will remain, even if they’ll be run entirely by the same folks on both the business and editorial sides of the fence. Here’s what I wrote back in November:

“While there’s a lot of wisdom in combining the sales and business teams from each paper (which has happened) and even sharing physical office space (which is happening) it makes much less sense to combine the editorial teams or otherwise merge the two papers. There’s little overlap between their audiences and a lot of lucrative ad inventory to lose by getting rid of one of the papers. Postmedia has made some surprising decisions in the past so I guess I wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happened, but I also wouldn’t put any money on it.”

So it’s a good thing I didn’t put money on it, because they did go ahead and merge the newsrooms. The papers are separate in name only now.

What does this mean for Edmonton?

While today’s news doesn’t destory journalism in our city, it certainly isn’t good for it. As Paula Simons wrote:

“We’re going to lose many other great reporters, photographers, and editors too. And it will be a loss, not just for us, but for the city they covered so passionately.”

I’m hopeful that many of the individuals impacted today will find new jobs here in Edmonton, but given the state of our economy, I don’t know how realistic that is. And that means we’re potentially losing some key insight, perspectives, and talent to other locations.

// On the other hand, innovation often arises out of difficulty. With a poor economy and a sudden increase in free agents with unique skills and experience in the media industry, perhaps we’ll see Edmonton make something new again.

Media Monday Edmonton: Postmedia’s new Edmonton Journal

Last Tuesday the Edmonton Journal launched its redesigned newspaper, website, and mobile apps. It has a new logo, new fonts, new colors, and a new ad campaign called “at your fingertips”. In announcing the changes, editor Margo Goodhand wrote:

“These changes reflect detailed research on how, when and why you read us. As our audience has grown and changed the past 112 years, we have, too. We’re excited about unveiling big, new ideas.”

The redesign is the latest in a series of changes that Postmedia has made since the Ottawa Citizen launched its new look in May 2014. The Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald redesigns launched back in October and November 2014, and at the time it was expected the Journal redesign would launch in March of this year (I’m not sure why it was delayed). We’re the fourth of seven planned redesigns.

New Edmonton Journal
Edmonton Journal editor Margo Goodhand

Thus far Postmedia has been highlighting its four platform strategy, with different print, web, smartphone, and tablet editions. But it appears that strategy has faltered here in Edmonton, as we are not receiving the same tablet changes that other markets have. For instance, when the new Herald launched Postmedia talked about “a new weekday news and current affairs magazine app for the tablet available through Apple Newsstand, ready for readers to download weekdays at 6 p.m.” Here in Edmonton, we’re getting “a rebranded iPad app, available through Apple iTunes, providing a comprehensive tablet news experience with multimedia and rich photos.” Instead of the updated tablet app, we’re getting additional non-local content with “NP in the Edmonton Journal”, a pilot project that is “a comprehensive package, 8-12 pages in length of national and international news, commentary and analysis powered by the National Post.”

This highlights that there’s nothing local about the changes. The redesign removes any doubt that the Journal is part of a national chain, with Postmedia featured prominently and very little room for the Journal to be unique. The Herald, Journal, Gazette, and other papers in the family have always shared elements of their look and feel, and even content, but the new design seems to take that commonality to the next level.

The New Logo

The new Edmonton Journal logo was designed by Tyler Brûlé & Winkreative (all the new redesigned logos were). It features a two-tone orange abstract shape that had many Edmontonians scratching their heads when it was unveiled. Paula collected all the responses and jokes about just what the logo is here.

ej logo

The official explanation is:

“The Edmonton Journal’s redesigned masthead combines its classic nameplate with an abstract representation of Edmonton’s River Valley. Rendered in shades of orange, inspired by the fall colours, harvest time and the beautiful sunsets over the Edmonton city skyline, the new masthead reinforces our connection to the city and unifies our print, web, smartphone and tablet platforms.”

As mentioned the words “Edmonton Journal” are the same as before, they’re just now inside the orange box. Still, I found this response to the Montreal Gazette’s new logo could just as easily apply here:

“I don’t recognize the Gazette anymore. The new logo doesn’t say, “trust me.” Now it just whispers “I’m from Toronto,” or, more specifically, “My design was outsourced to Hamilton,” because it’s a little to shy to admit it. I would be, too.”

I understand the decision on the logo and colors was made in Toronto well before Albertans elected an NDP government. I also understand that we won’t be the only “orange” city in Canada as only a handful of colors were chosen for the planned newspaper redesigns.

Having a square logo makes a lot of sense in this age of profile icons, but I honestly do not see the river valley nor sunsets when I see the new Journal logo. I just keep thinking about file folders. I guess it’ll take some time to get used to it and to stop hunting for the blue EJ icon.

The new logo is being used in all four editions and has also made its way to ID badges and signage.

The New Website

This is the edition I use most. The new Journal website runs on WordPress VIP just as before but it now features a modern, responsive design. This means that depending on the size of your screen, the site adjusts its layout accordingly. It looks good, if a little stark (there’s a lot of white). Headlines use the “Titling Gothic FB Cond-Standard” typeface, with the article body using “Benton Sans-Regular”.

One of the biggest changes appears to be the prominence of the Postmedia brand. You’ll see it in the top right in the banner that is pinned to every page, and in the footer in big, bold letters with links to other Postmedia Network properties. Combined with the National Post ad banner that usually appears above the fold, the new Edmonton Journal is more tied to the network than ever before.

The other big difference with the new site is the performance. It’s anecdotal, but it feels faster to me than the old site did. A quick test using Pingdom shows that the site takes 271 requests to load 3.3 MB for a performance grade of 68/100. According to the tool, the new Journal site loads faster than 43% of all websites tested.

Unfortunately I didn’t run the test using the old site before it switched over, but we can compare to some similar sites. The Province, which uses the same layout/design as the old Journal site, takes 958 requests to load 13.1 MB and achieves a performance grade of 69/100 which makes it slower than 78% of all websites tested. Similarly, the Regina Leader-Post (which looks even more alike the old Journal site) takes 482 requests to load 8.1 MB and achieves a performance grade of 58/100 which makes it slower than 94% of all websites tested.

It seems like URLs are in transition, with a new slug style (/business/local-business/paula-simons-blog-how-orange-was-my-valley) and old slug style (/news/world/pizza+wins+over+hearts+jaded+cynics+social+media+starts+trending/11378573/story.html) co-existing. The new ones are much more readable, though they still aren’t hackable (/business/local-business/ gives you a 404).

And my favorite change? The artificial 2-page article is gone – everything appears on a single page now, no JavaScript clicks required.

Though there are some very visible changes, a lot has stayed the same also. Stories still use Facebook for comments. You’ll still find a large ad unit at the top and a few ad squares down the right column. And annoyingly, you’ll still get full page ads like this:

ej website

Another thing about that screenshot is that it probably takes you longer than it should to figure out what site you’re looking at! There is no traditional-looking masthead and the square logo isn’t very differentiated from the other squares at the top of the page.

Overall though, I like the changes. The site feels faster, the new story toolbox (with share, comment, print, and font adjust buttons) is much more useful, and even though it’s a hamburger menu I actually am growing to like the section navigator.

The New Print Edition

I don’t regularly read the print edition, but Sharon does. She noted the reorganized (and in some instances renamed) sections and also commented (as others have) that the font seems smaller (though it is actually “a wee bit bigger” but I guess the different typeface could account for the difference). The new print edition was designed “by Postmedia design consultant Gayle Grin, with input from Mario Garcia, the world’s preeminent newspaper designer,” the same folks that worked on the other newspaper redesigns (as you might expect).

New Edmonton Journal

In glancing at the new print edition, it strikes me as more colorful but less local. I’m sure it has just as much local content as before, but the National Post and Financial Post seem to be featured quite prominently (in addition to NP in the Edmonton Journal there’s FP Edmonton which is the new Business section).

The New Apps

The new tablet app is actually the old tablet app as mentioned above, but with a fresh coat of paint. You’ll find the new orange logo and some minor look & feel changes, but that’s it. Everything else is the same as it was before.

New Edmonton Journal

The new smartphone app has changed, however. In addition to the new logo and colors, the app now features a section called “EJ Now” which is intended to “focus on live, local storytelling with content formatted for the small screen and aimed at readers on the move.” It is updated from 6am until midnight. The app is available for iOS and Android, so Windows Phone users like myself have to rely on the responsive website (which is a huge improvement over what we had before).

The New Ad Campaign

I’ll just highlight what was written in the news release for this one:

“The new advertising campaign, “At your fingertips”, is centred on the Edmonton Journal offering a variety of content that matters to Edmontonians and is available on all four platforms. The campaign focuses on both local and generic characters representing content categories such as news, sports, politics, business, arts and life and reinforces the accessibility readers have to the Edmonton Journal’s content. The integrated campaign, developed in collaboration with Sid Lee, starts today.”

at your fingertips

The McDavid finger is cute, but I don’t expect this campaign will last long.

Overall Impressions

I think there are some positive and negative changes with the Journal’s redesign. The faster, responsive website is long overdue and will have a big impact. The print changes don’t seem too controversial, though it remains to be seen how pilots like the National Post insert will fare. I think we could see some great things with the EJ Now smartphone feature, but it’s a shame nothing has been done for the tablet edition.

But with all of these changes the Journal feels less local and unique. And who knows what’ll happen now that the Sun and Examiner are working in the same building. It was very strange to see Sun/Examiner publisher John Caputo walking around with an orange Edmonton Journal pin at the launch event. It’s a brave new world, I guess!

The bottom line with this redesign? It seems that a better experience comes at the expense of local individuality. The Edmonton Journal is Postmedia’s Edmonton Journal, now more than ever before.

Media Monday Edmonton: Editorials & Endorsements

Should news organizations write editorials? Should they endorse political candidates? I think the answer to both questions is yes. Perhaps they should do it differently than newspapers have historically written editorials and endorsements, but I think both are important activities for news organizations today, and even more so for news organizations of the future.

To understand my point-of-view, I think there are three key things to consider. First, I believe the view from nowhere is harmful. Second, I believe that technology is dramatically changing the opportunities we have to seek out varied opinions and perspectives for the better. Third, I believe that news organizations need to be part of the communities they wish to inform.

The View from Nowhere is harmful

I firmly believe that the view from nowhere does more harm than good. The idea that journalists are unbiased and impartial strikes me as wrong, and the idea that keeping their biases hidden because it earns them more authority is even worse. As Jay Rosen wrote:

“In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” Illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work! Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too. But that comes from doing the work.”

If you’re going to do all of that work, you’re going to form an opinion. Why not share that work? Why not share the facts and an opinion? I do not think that facts and an opinion are mutually exclusive. I would much rather read an opinion from a journalist who has invested a great deal of time and effort into understanding and forming that opinion, than a so-called impartial piece that belies the journalist’s true feelings and knowledge of the story.

Increased access to varied perspectives is a good thing

The democratization of publishing ushered forth by the web has provided us with a lot of crap, but also with more intelligent, well-researched, and thoughtful perspectives than we’ve ever had access to before. Gone are the days when reading one newspaper article would provide you with everything you could possibly know about a story. These days, that article is just the tip of the iceberg. Venture below the surface, and you’ll find a myriad of voices, perspectives, facts, and other information. It can take a bit of work to avoid getting lost in the sea of sources, but in exchange for an ounce of effort you’re rewarded with a ton of insight.

Who wants to do all that work, you ask? Increasingly you don’t have to. Searching the web today is less like finding a needle in a haystack and more like asking a question and getting an answer, and search remains a focus of major investment for the key players. New software that aggregates sources together appears almost daily, and with every new tool the algorithms get better and better. Curators are blossoming alongside both search and aggregation, offering yet another way to cut through the clutter.

I reject the notion that the explosion of perspectives makes it too easy to get trapped into the so-called echo chamber. At the end of the day, I don’t think human beings are satisfied reading only things they agree with and ignoring everything else, if for no other reason than we crave connection. As strongly as you might feel about something, keeping it to yourself is nearly impossible. Nothing compares to the experience of telling another person.

News organizations need to be part of the community

I agree 100% with Edmonton Journal editor Margo Goodhand when she wrote, “I still believe editorials can inform and challenge a community.”

The Edmonton Journal’s mission remains unchanged from the early days: “to provide relevant and reliable news and information to the Edmonton community.” In order to do that, the Journal needs to be part of the community, otherwise what credibility would it have? You can talk about a community without being part of it, but you can’t talk with a community unless you’re a member.

But how can a company be a part of the community? I think the answer is through its people. Journalists are the Edmontonians that can talk with the Edmonton community, not the organization itself. It is those journalists that will have gained knowledge and insight into something that is important to the community, such as an election.

Ignore tradition

The one line in Margo’s piece that still troubles me is this: “I would hate to be the first in the Journal’s 110-year history to abandon a venerated newspaper tradition.” (How will she lead the organization into the future of media if she is unwilling to break with tradition?) Even though I think editorials and endorsements have a place in the news, I think news organizations need to be willing to make some changes.

I don’t think unsigned editorials have a place in the future of media. Margo identifies the Journal’s editorial board in her piece, so why not identify the writer of each editorial on a regular basis? Is it solely to maintain the artificial separation between the editorial board and columnists? I would like to see editorials with a byline. The journalists who wrote the editorial will of course have sought insight from others, done some research, and perhaps even consulted the archives, but that doesn’t change the fact that they wrote it.

Likewise I don’t think political endorsements should carry the name of the news organization, but rather the name of the journalist(s) making the call. Maybe an editorial board as a whole can’t agree – why does there need to be only one endorsement, or lack thereof? ‘The decision is yours’ offered absolutely nothing of value. I would much rather have seen two or more strong, opposing opinions. That would have given me additional perspectives to consider.

To the future!

From my viewpoint in 2014, the future looks a lot more complicated and a lot more interesting than it is now. I’ll need to work harder to truly understand the world around me and my place in it, and I don’t and won’t rely on any single source of information. I’ll continue to consult sources with perspectives that match my own as well as sources that offer a different point-of-view. I’ll make up my own mind.

I think editorials and endorsements, created by journalists who know enough to have formed an opinion and who are clearly identified, are a healthy and important part of that future.

Media Monday Edmonton: Linking in the local paywall era

In December 2012, the paywall came to Edmonton when the Edmonton Sun launched SUN+. In May, the Edmonton Journal followed suit with the Postmedia paywall. It was only a matter of time before local media decided to try the approach made popular by the New York Times. Maybe they’ll help a little, but paywalls are unlikely to save media organizations, especially local ones. Time will tell what kind of an impact they have here in Edmonton.

For my own news consumption, I haven’t really been affected by either paywall. I’m a print subscriber of the Journal, so I get full digital access as well, provided I login. I don’t read the Sun particularly often to be honest, so I find I don’t run up against the limit there.

Where I have been impacted is in what I link to. If you did an analysis of all of the websites I have linked to over the years, particularly in my weekly Edmonton Notes, I don’t think it would be a surprise to find the Edmonton Journal on top. The reason I link there is simple: they cover more local news than anyone else, often sooner than anyone else, and almost always better than anyone else.

Lately though, I have been trying to avoid linking to the Journal. The reason is also simple. I hate the experience someone might have if they click through and have reached their paywall limit:

journal paywall

If you encounter that screen and try to close the dialog, you’re taken to the Journal’s homepage. You don’t get to read the article I sent you there to read. Now that’s fine, you need to pay if you’ve reached your limit. And if you don’t want to pay, then you shouldn’t be able to see the article.

But that’s not the experience I want someone to have coming from my website. Links are the currency and soul of the web, and I don’t make them lightly. If I’m linking to something, it’s because I think it is worth you taking the time to click on it.

I have never been particularly happy about linking to the Journal, actually. The biggest problem used to be that if you clicked on a link that was old enough, there’s a good chance the article would no longer be online. It’s a baffling strategy that I’ve never understood. In some cases I have used the trick to try to keep the links valid for longer, but there’s no guarantee they’ll continue working indefinitely. There almost never is on the web.

The Journal’s paywall has changed the equation. Now it doesn’t matter how old the link is – you could have a poor experience just by virtue of clicking on the Journal’s website too many times. That sucks, in my opinion.

The solution to this seems simple, right? Just link to another source that doesn’t penalize readers for reading! The problem is this: more often than not, there’s no one else worth linking to.

That sounds harsh, but it’s true.

Here’s a couple of recent examples. Let’s say I wanted to link to Mayor Mandel’s comments on turning the Yellowhead into a freeway. The Journal is my only option (here’s the link). They’re the only ones who wrote about it.

What about today’s news that the first signs are up on the site of the new downtown arena?

CTV has a video, but no story (and that video page is horrific…there’s no date or time anywhere on the page!). iNews880 has a 354 word story with a video and a couple photos. CBC has a 138 word story with a single photo. Metro has a 272 word story with a single photo. The Edmonton Sun has a 454 word story with a photo, though the story is not really about the signs (they took a different angle which is not a bad thing). But remember they too have a paywall. Global has the "best of the rest" in this case with a 578 word article and a video, though the article is mostly quotes.

The Journal’s article clocks in at 565 words and has two photos. But word counts are just one indicator to look at. In this case, as in most others, the Journal’s article is best because of the information it contains1. It has quotes like all the others, and it tells you what the signs are for, like all the others. But it also gives you the context of the project – where it is, how much it cost, how a previous Council vote led to this, what the DBA’s research has found, when construction will start, when the Oilers are expected to start playing in the new facility, the impact on Northlands, and more. There’s no question you’ll be better informed after reading the Journal’s article.

That’s the one I want to link to, if only I could be sure you’d get to read the wonderful article I just described.

It probably sounds like I’m lamenting the state of local media. I actually think this is potentially a big opportunity. Why couldn’t someone other than the Journal produce high quality content consistently? There’s no secret sauce at the Journal for doing so. Surely another organization could do what they do. It just takes resources (time, effort, money, widgets, algorithms, whatever).

Which brings us back to the paywall. Producing high quality content consistently isn’t free. If nothing else, it takes time. Postmedia (and by extension, the Journal) seems to think that the paywall can help to cover the cost of producing that content. I don’t think that’ll turn out to be the case in the long run, but I hope I’m wrong. It would be a shame if the only thing the paywall accomplishes is to make the best local content harder to get.

1 – To be clear, I don’t think the Journal’s article is perfect. It doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it’s on the web – there are no links, no interactive media, etc. But it does contain the best information in the text itself.

Media Monday Edmonton: Righting the ship at the Edmonton Journal

After a year full of change, the Edmonton Journal of 2013 and beyond will be a very different newspaper than the one you’ve come to know. In fact, if the transition goes according to plan, you won’t think of it as a “newspaper” at all. Instead you’ll think of it as “the most valued source of information about our community…accessible when and where our readers want.” That’s the Journal’s vision statement, and its leaders would suggest that the changes made over the last few months were all in support of that goal. While that may be true, there’s also the business reality of being owned by a larger organization that continues to lose millions of dollars every quarter in an industry undergoing dramatic change. With a leaner organization and a greater focus on increasing revenue, can the Journal (and Postmedia) really turn things around?

Edmonton Journal

“Everyone agrees the old business model for newspapers is challenged,” says Edmonton Journal Editor in Chief Lucinda Chodan. “No one has figured out an alternative that allows us to pay a large newsroom full of journalists good wages to continue to do fine contextual journalism that sheds light on important local, national and international issues.” The truth is, we have never really paid for the news. As usual, Clay Shirky sums it up well: “We have, at most, helped pay for the things that paid for the news.” Newspapers produced bundles of content and sold ads against that content, but the realities that allowed that to work in the print world no longer exist in the digital world. “Newspapers, as a sheaf of unrelated content glued together with ads, aren’t just being threatened with unprofitability, but incoherence,” Shirky wrote.

Solving that problem is not trivial, and it’s harder still when the business needs to continue to operate. That has led to the deep cuts at newspapers all over North America. Here in Canada, Postmedia hopes to cut spending by $120 million over the next three years, and it has made changes across the chain in an effort to do just that. In August came one of the biggest yet: all of its newspapers now use shared pages built at a central facility in Hamilton for non-local content. Instead of each newspaper selecting and editing national and international stories, they’ll all print the same thing. The initiative, dubbed OneTouch, meant the loss of 20 full-time equivalent jobs (FTEs) at the Edmonton Journal.

We’ve seen a number of other changes happen here in Edmonton already this year. In June, the Journal stopped publishing the TV Times, which resulted in numerous complaints and the direct loss of 96 subscribers. Starting July 1, the Journal dropped the Sunday edition. As of the end of August, that had resulted in the direct loss of 320 subscribers and many more complaints. And while the impact of the stoppage of rural home delivery is hard to quantify, it could be significant (the paper is still available in grocery stores, gas stations, and other locations in rural areas). In August, the Journal announced it would outsource the actual printing of the newspaper to Great West Newspapers, starting in 2013. A total of 70 full-time jobs would be cut as a result.

In September the Journal’s six-day average circulation was 95,706 (total of everyone who bought a paper, subscriber or otherwise), so while the number of actual subscribers lost as a result of the changes seems relatively small, the impact on headcount has likely had a much larger effect. Both Cam Tait and Nick Lees are no longer full-time employees, though both are writing weekly columns. Ed Struzik is another recently departed member of the newsroom, after he requested a buyout. Those are just the most recent names you recognize to leave, however. Dozens of former staffers are gone, and that has likely had a very real psychological effect both inside and outside the organization.

More changes are on the way. Fortunately, it sounds as though most others will be focused on increasing revenue rather than simply cutting costs. Yes, you might soon find yourself paying for content that was previously “free”. In August, four of Postmedia’s newspapers launched paywalls. “You can’t spend millions of dollars on content and just give it away,” Postmedia chief executive officer Paul Godfrey said. A paywall here in Edmonton is virtually guaranteed, and will launch sometime this fall according to Chodan.

Another big change on the way is “product differentiation.” The key here is for the Journal to stop thinking of itself as a newspaper, and instead as a news organization utilizing a variety of platforms, print being just one of them. That should enable it to take advantage of the opportunities provided by each platform – there are things you can do with a tablet that just aren’t possible on paper. I don’t think the printed newspaper will ever go away completely, just as vinyl records have not vanished, but there are big advantages to this strategy of treating print as just another platform. You might pay more for a tablet application that brings you interactive features, for instance.

It’s an example of how the Journal is becoming more deliberate about finding new revenue streams. This doesn’t mean you’ll see sponsored news articles, however. “We don’t expect our journalists to build revenue into their considerations when they are gathering and disseminating news,” Chodan says. Instead, think of e-books and other non-newspaper products. “Many newspapers are now creating new revenue streams around (often primarily digital) content that has high reader interest, good journalism and revenue attached.”

The Journal took a big step down this path over the summer with the launch of Capital Ideas. The goal is to bring local entrepreneurs together to share what they know, and so far the events have been well-received. Generating revenue from that effort hasn’t been a focus yet, but that’ll have to change eventually. If it works, Capital Ideas could become a model for other Journal-led projects. “We are examining the ways that we can add value to readers’ lives…then figuring out how to make the financials add up,” Chodan said.

Edmonton Journal Building

There’s no guarantee that any of these efforts will bear fruit, of course. We have seen past initiatives fail to deliver, most recently The Bridge. If the new projects don’t turn out well, there’s always the possibility of additional cuts, either to staff or to the six-day print schedule as we have seen elsewhere. For instance, September 29 was the final daily edition of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. It now prints just three days a week, a widely-discussed change that led to a number of protests. It’s a reminder that things could get worse before they get better.

Without question we’ll look back on 2012 as a difficult year for the Journal, with job cuts and other big changes, but there is reason to be optimistic for the future. “If you count all platforms, readership of newspapers has never been higher,” Chodan said. “It’s just a matter of monetizing that readership in some reasonable fashion.”

The question is, can the Edmonton Journal figure out the monetization puzzle before it’s too late?

Recap: Edmonton Journal Connect

Last night I attended an event called Edmonton Journal Connect, held at the Winspear Centre downtown. It was an opportunity to meet John Connolly and Lucinda Chodan, the Journal’s new publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively. It was also about the future of the newspaper:

Paula Simons was our host for the evening. She kept things rolling along and introduced John and Lucinda to the large crowd. She also used the opportunity to plug her Facebook page! It’s about the future, right? Actually she made a bet she could get to 500 likes by the end of the week. She’s close, at 446 right now.

John spoke first, and introduced the Edmonton Journal’s new executive team:

  • Joseph Wuest, VP Advertising and Marketing
  • Joseph Celino, VP Reader Sales and VP Production
  • Gail Matheson, VP Finance, Planning and Human Resources
  • Sandra Marocco, Director of Strategic Partnerships

He used the bulk of his speech to focus on the transformation that is being led by that team. Citing Taste Alberta, partnerships with the YMCA and the Edmonton Eskimos, John proclaimed that the Journal is “looking to partner and collaborate with you”.

Edmonton Journal Connect

He also touched on the success the Journal has enjoyed recently:

“There are pundits who predict the end of news media as we know it, but we at The Journal are excited as we embrace the possibilities that technology has opened to us. The fact is, we’ve never reached as many people as we do now every week. We’ve never been able to connect and engage and interact with our readers to anything close to what we do now. We have unprecedented opportunities to provide depth and breadth of coverage, expanded community news, community input, conversation and interaction and hugely improved relevance to many communities of interests.”

Every week more than 513,000 people read the Journal, whether it is online or in print. The website records more than 465,000 unique visitors each month. You can read more about the stats here.

Next up was Lucinda Chodan. She started off by talking about the shift in the way the Journal interacts with its readers. I love that Lucinda put it so bluntly:

“The old way of practising journalism was pretty ‘top down.’ We decided. You consumed. Now, readers influence much of what we do, from the stories we pursue to the prominence those stories receive in print and online.”

She cited the use of Chartbeat, a real-time web analytics tool, as one of the ways the Journal is able to monitor and react to reader interest. She also mentioned the goosecam, back by popular demand for the fourth year in a row. Last year there were 220,000 page views on the goosecam page. And of course she gave props to the live-blogging that has been done recently for the arena and Twitchell stories.

Edmonton Journal Connect

Lucinda also made a couple of exciting announcements. First, she said the Journal is introducing a “community newsroom”:

“In this community newsroom, we’ll be inviting local bloggers and interested readers to work with us to assign and cover the news – and to use the Journal online as a place to meet and interact with like-minded individuals.”

Details were sparse, but it sounds like there will be two key ways to get involved. One is the creation of a “community advisory committee”. Starting next week the call for volunteers for that initiative will go out. The second way to get involved was the other big announcement:

“I am happy to announce that we will be offering two community newsroom internships to students at local post-secondary institutions.”

That’s a great way to connect with future journalists and to “pass the journalistic torch” as Lucinda put it.

She closed very confidently:

“As John said, there are pundits out there predicting the death of newspapers. As the editor of a major daily newspaper, I can tell you that pundits are occasionally wrong. And I can assure you that in this case, they have completely missed the boat.”

Before Paula officially ended the program, she mentioned a couple of other exciting things they’re working on, including an improved platform for the Journal’s bloggers, and the aggregation of other bloggers in the community on the Journal’s website. Further details on that should be coming soon.

In addition to the speeches, the evening was a great opportunity to connect with the Journal’s journalists and columnists, as well as others in the larger community. There seemed to be a good range of representation, including local politicians, business leaders, and others. Throughout the evening there were screens up showing a live stream of the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #meetEJ. And two lucky winners walked away with brand new iPad 2s!

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

It was a good night of conversation. I’m excited to learn more about the community newsroom and the community advisory committee, and of course the blog aggregation. Stay tuned for details!

You can see more photos of the evening here.

Let us move forward, together

There were no major upsets last night. Mayor Mandel was re-elected to his third term. Every incumbent councillor was re-elected, including Kim Krushell in the close Ward 2 race.

Envision Edmonton made a lot of noise about 100,000 people wanting to have their say on the airport, yet they apparently didn’t care enough to show up at the voting stations.

By all accounts, yesterday was a victory for Edmontonians ready to move forward, beyond the airport and on to bigger and better things. Yet if you read today’s Edmonton Journal, that’s not the impression you’d get at all.

The Day After: Calgary Herald vs. Edmonton Journal

Here are the headlines/key phrases today on the front of the Calgary Herald:

  • It’s Nenshi
  • New mayor paints town purple with decisive win
  • Political newcomer vows change on the way for city
  • Best voter turnout in years ushers in new faces to council chamber
  • What’s next for council?
  • Big changes at City Hall
  • Calgarians flood polls

Here are the headlines/key phrases today on the front of the Edmonton Journal:

  • ‘Finally, we will move forward’: Mandel
  • Envision Edmonton vows to continue fight to save City Centre Airport

Turn the page, and on A3 you see in big bold letters, side-by-side:

I’m definitely not the first to point out the differences between the Herald and the Journal – this kind of thing happens far too often. And before you comment and say that the Journal is just trying to be balanced, let me say to that: I don’t buy it.

Is there really a division?

There’s no question that the airport has been a divisive issue in Edmonton in the past. But yesterday is not today, and today is not tomorrow. In his article on the airport issue dividing the city, David Staples wrote:

“A council bent on shutting the historic downtown airport won re-election, but the bitterness over issue will continue to fracture Edmonton.”

I humbly suggest that the only “fracture” left is the artificial one that David and his colleagues seem more than happy to perpetuate.

Let’s follow the logic here. Thousands of Edmontonians re-elect a city council that decided it was in the city’s best interests to close the City Centre Airport. Envision Edmonton’s Ed Schlemko says the issue “has divided the city”. As a result, we’re going to continue to be fractured?

This afternoon, the Herald’s website was full of stories about Nenshi. And the Journal? They’ve got a story about new ward 11 councillor Kerry Diotte pushing for an airport plebiscite. It’s not just the Journal either – CBC, the Edmonton Sun, and iNews880 also have similar stories.

Let’s move on

Edmontonians want to move forward – they voted for a council that decided to close the airport. Mandel wants to move forward, as he made very clear in his victory speech last night. Even David Dorward seems to want to move forward.

Envision Edmonton is heading to the courts, refusing to accept defeat. They and what few supporters they have left don’t want to move forward. Kerry Diotte has decided he doesn’t want to move forward either.

The City Centre Airport will close. And then the lands will be redeveloped. We need to focus our energies on making sure that redevelopment is positive for Edmonton.

Let us move forward, together.

Double props to the Edmonton Journal

As you probably know, I don’t shy away from criticizing the Edmonton Journal (or other local media). Though I don’t always succeed, I do try to be constructive, because I think there’s incredible opportunity facing The Journal. Two such opportunities: data-driven journalism, and real-time reporting.

Props to Brent Wittmeier & Lucas Timmons

Neither Brent nor Lucas have been with The Journal for very long, and maybe that’s why they were able to succeed with the unclaimed balances story. Brent was voluntold to write about the Bank of Canada’s unclaimed balances, which he did by teaming up with data journalist Lucas to create a searchable online database for Edmonton. They put together a three-part story, but it didn’t stop there:

We also got quite the response. Dozens of phone calls and emails poured in, and I began working on a follow-up story. And then two. And now, three. Some of these other stories are even better than the original… There should be an extensive piece either later this week or next weekend.

Start with some data, and more often than not a story will emerge. Brent noted: “In truth, they ended up being far more interesting stories than I thought.”

Props to Paula Simons & David Staples

I’m glad to see that Paula and David (with some help from other colleagues such as Todd Babiak) have started a new blog focused on local affairs, called The Edmonton Commons. They used it very effectively on nomination day to share stories about the candidates and the official start of the election. They’ve also got the #yegvote hashtag embedded on the page. Though they have cross-posted some columns, I’m hopeful that their use of the blog as way to forego the print deadline will expand.

Here is Paula’s first post, and here is David’s first post. I like what David had to say:

The sharpening of ideas, the accumulation of good information and the discarding of bad information is at the core of strong decision making. It’s what we hope to do here at this forum. In the past, there were more barriers in regards to entering into the great conversation of civil society, even for a newspaper writer…the conversation was largely one-way. The Internet gives us a new tool that enables that conversation to flourish.

Time will tell how successful the two are with the blog (will they still be writing as often in three months as they do now) but I think they’re off to a great start.

Edmonton Journal launches 2D barcodes with ScanLife

Yesterday the Edmonton Journal launched 2D barcodes throughout the newspaper, enabling readers with mobile devices to scan the codes for access to related information. They chose ScanLife to provide the technology, the same company that Metro Canada chose back in September. Here’s what The Journal had to say about the barcodes, known as EZcodes:

Want to vent? Send a letter to the editor? Tweet at one of our writers? Find a map to that great new restaurant? Just scan the code and that information stays with you and your phone to take wherever you want. The standing codes attached to our regular columnists and bloggers stay under the history button in the ScanLife application on your phone, so you can read their latest columns and blogs even when you don’t have the paper with you.

Mobile barcodes are another technology that Canada (and North America really) is behind on relative to the rest of the world. In that respect, I guess you could say that Metro and The Journal are adopters of the technology. ScanLife isn’t the only player, another popular choice (at least in North America) is Microsoft Tag, which uses high capacity color barcodes rather than the black-and-white EZcodes.

To get started with the codes that The Journal is using, simply visit on your smartphone to download the free scanning software. Then whenever you see the 2D barcode, just scan it! There are more detailed instructions here.

Edmonton Journal ScanLife Launch

The Journal hosted a party last night at Earls Tin Palace to celebrate the launch. The patio was packed with people wearing nametags with EZcodes on them. Bistro columnist Liane Faulder was the host, appropriate as her section was the first to launch with the new codes. Here’s a video of Liane, Edmonton Journal publisher John J. McDonald III, and Caritas Hospital Foundation President John Boucher (the first advertising partner for the codes) talking about the launch of 2D codes in the paper:

It was a fun party! I learned that Sandra Marocco planted the seed for the idea after a trip to New York. She noticed the tags being used outside Saks on Fifth Avenue, and decided to explore them further. After she found that Esquire magazine was using them, she realized they might provide value to the Edmonton Journal. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edmonton Journal ScanLife LaunchEdmonton Journal ScanLife Launch

You can see a few more photos from the party here. You can also see some photos and a video at The Journal.

Thoughts on 2D barcodes in the Edmonton Journal

I have mixed emotions about the 2D barcodes now found inside the Edmonton Journal. I think it’s great that they are continuing to experiment, trying new things, and I hope we see additional innovations coming from The Journal in the near future. Having said that, I wonder if too much emphasis is being placed on the barcodes by management. More than a few times last night I heard “this is just the beginning” or as was printed yesterday, “the possibilities for connection are endless.” I have three main issues with the barcodes:

  1. Putting the barcodes inside the newspaper reinforces the importance of the physical product. It emphasizes the “paper” part of “newspaper” rather than the “news” part. It’s short-term thinking, not long-term thinking. I think The Journal is very much facing the innovator’s dilemma, and even though the smart people that work under management know what needs to be done, they hit roadblocks at every turn. Here’s a rough analogy for you: The Journal is like a long-time smoker, addicted to paper. Connecting the physical paper to the digital world with barcodes is like a smoker using a nicotine patch, even though we know cold turkey is the most effective way to quit.
  2. Speaking of reinforcing the paper, the barcodes give you more information than the actual website does. That’s just completely unacceptable. Take yesterday’s Bistro article on sliders. The EZcodes provide access to “a list of Edmonton restaurants with sliders on the menu…a tasty recipe from local foodie Shauna Faragini… and where to get slider buns and pre-made sliders”. The online story? Completely devoid of links. There are so many things wrong with this picture that I don’t know where to start. Writers need to do some extra work to create the codes, but I would much rather see that extra work be put into links on the website (and I’m positive that doing so would provide greater value to The Journal).
  3. Less of an issue but still important is that the EZcodes are somewhat generic. Columnists get a code, and some special features like the Bistro get a code, but individual stories do not get their own codes. This is partly a technology issue, but mainly a cost issue. I think that makes the EZcodes a little less useful (an option to “tweet this story” after scanning a code simply isn’t possible, for example).

Again though, I want to reiterate that this is a positive step for the Edmonton Journal from the perspective of trying something new, and working to provide more value to readers (and advertisers). Congrats to the entire Edmonton Journal team for making it happen!

I also want to commend The Journal on the way they did the launch. They had videos prepared online demonstrating the technology, and every article I read asked for reader feedback and suggested a variety of ways to provide it. I really do believe that they want to know how to shape their use of the technology based on reader feedback. The party was a nice touch as well. Most interesting to me though, was the use of the @EJ_Cares account on Twitter. It has been actively monitoring and engaging in discussion about the 2D barcodes and the ScanLife application. The online community are most likely going to be the early adopters of the barcodes, so it’s smart to engage with them right away – well done to the @EJ_Cares team!

I hope Journal readers find the barcodes useful, and I look forward to many more interesting ideas in the future!

UPDATE: Here is Jeff’s take on the party and the barcodes.

UPDATE2: Turns out the information is on the website, just on a different story page (this is another issue with The Journal’s online stuff). I think the link text could have been more clear than “Slider tips and toppings” but the point is the information was online – my mistake!

Mapping where Edmonton’s kids live and learn

On Friday evening, an interactive map I worked on with Edmonton Journal education reporter Sarah O’Donnell went live. Sarah’s first story based on the data was published in the paper today. Here’s our introduction to the project:

With five schools closing in Edmonton’s core and nine new suburban schools opening in September, education reporter Sarah O’Donnell wondered, “Just where do children live?” Local programmer Mack Male worked with The Journal to create an interactive map showing at a glance where children live and where they learn.

Here’s the map we created:

You can also see the map on ShareEdmonton here.

We showed a little of this at MediaCamp a few weeks ago, citing it as an example of traditional media and new media working together to tell a story. Newspapers like the New York Times often publish interactive story elements of course, but this is fairly new for the Journal. And I think it’s just the beginning!

I wanted to share a few notes on how the map was built:

It was an interesting experience for me! We had to double-check the data many times, and had to make decisions about how much/little to show. In that way, it was more like writing words than building a map. Thanks to Sarah for working with me on this!

Here’s what Sarah wrote in her story:

Nine new suburban schools will open next September; like Sister Annata Brockman, some will be close to capacity from the moment they open their doors. One look at a map of where children live shows why.

Most neighbourhoods with the highest number of children are on the city’s fringes. Those are the communities where the new schools are opening.

I was hoping the map would result in some discussion, and it has. Beth Sanders blogged about it this afternoon. She tackles the issue, highlighting as others have that city planning doesn’t “just happen”, rather its the result of many decisions made over time. We need to align our decisions – City Council and EPSB need to be on the same page! Beth finishes with some thoughts on open data:

The City of Edmonton, in creating and providing open source data, is providing a critical feedback loop for Edmontonians to understand how the city we are creating works. There are exciting conversations ahead in Edmonton’s future.

I agree completely. Kudos to the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Public Schools, and Edmonton Catholic Schools for making the data available for this mapping project. I’m positive it is just the first of many tools to come that will help Edmontonians better understand the data and contribute to the future of the city.

If you have any feedback on the map, let me know!