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: Gastropost Alberta & the Future of Newspapers

In the summer of 2012, Postmedia launched two experiments to explore the future of newspapers. One launched here in Edmonton, and their task was as ambitious as they come: to transform the way the Edmonton Journal does business.

They’ll operate much like a tech start-up, with no pre-determined outcomes. They’ll be testing some theories about the growth of the news business, and working to identify, customize and build new products to serve our community.

The Edmonton Experiment, as it was affectionately known in the early days, eventually launched as Capital Ideas Edmonton. Focused on helping local entrepreneurs share what they know, it has grown into a vibrant and active community with events that regularly attract nearly 200 people. The project has also started to figure out its business model, landing a partnership with ATB Business recently. They haven’t yet transformed the Journal, but the initiative has been successful enough to grow beyond the experiment phase.

The other experiment that Postmedia launched was at the National Post. Rather than unlock the expertise of the community or focus on an under-served niche, they decided to share pictures of food with Gastropost. No, really!

Last week, We asked a group of food lovers in Toronto to eat something delicious every day and tell us about it. Some dined out, others stayed in — all made our mouths water. Interested? Get involved!

Chris Tindal, a member of the National Post Labs team that launched Gastropost, described it as much more than just sharing food pictures:

We’re not sure exactly what this is yet, but there are a few things we know (or hope) it’s not. First, this isn’t regular user-generated content. The closest analogy we’ve come up with is to say we’re looking for expert-generated content from the voices within a community. Second, in the example of food, this isn’t designed to replace or compete with what food bloggers, restaurant reviewers and Yelp and Foursquare users are already doing, but should instead surface new value that will ultimately strengthen those existing communities and improve the food experience of the whole city.

As great as that bit of marketing-speak sounds, when you get right down to it Gastropost is all about user-generated content finding its way into the newspaper. This reality has been cemented by the way Gastropost finds its photos (and by extension, its members): via social media services like Twitter and Instagram, services which have helped to define user-generated content.

What is true is that Gastropost does not compete with food bloggers or restaurant review sites. It simply can’t – there’s only room for photos to be shared. Though the weekly missions add a game-like dynamic to Gastropost, it would seem that it’s the chance to see their photo and name in the newspaper that drives people to share and become members.

Gastropost Edmonton

Maybe that’s enough. Gastropost has since expanded to Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, and now has more than 10,000 members across the country. Still, I have a hard time visualizing the future of newspapers looking through Gastropost-tinted lenses.

Gastropost Alberta

Gastropost started its expansion into Alberta in October when Gastropost Edmonton launched. It was a small blow to Capital Ideas, as Brittney Le Blanc shifted experiments to become the Community Manager for Gastropost in Alberta. I can’t think of anyone at the Journal better suited to the role than Brittney, and in just the first month she had already attracted more than 1000 members. Clearly a wise decision by the powers-that-be.

I visited Brittney at her office at the Edmonton Journal recently to learn more about Gastropost Edmonton. Here’s what she had to say:

For more on Gastropost Edmonton and how it works, check out Linda’s excellent post.

Last month, Gastropost expanded to Calgary, with Brittney once again leading the charge. I’m fairly certain that Gastropost will find success here in Alberta just as it has out east. Sharing pictures of your food has become so accepted (and even encouraged) that restaurants that ban the practice seem unusual.

But will Gastropost change the way Postmedia does business? Of that, I’m much less certain.

The future of newspapers?

Maybe it’s unfair to paint Gastropost with the future-of-newspapers brush. The initiative did grow out of Postmedia’s desire to figure out the newspaper’s role in the future of media, however. The initial objective was very clear: “to transform our cities by inspiring everyone to share their expertise, something we think newspapers are uniquely positioned to do.” So, what can we learn from Gastropost about the future of the newspaper? 1

Basing the success of Gastropost on a reader’s desire to appear in the newspaper seems fraught with risk. The first time your photo is selected, of course you’ll get the warm fuzzies. But that experience is fleeting, and the next time it happens it’s much less exciting. With two full pages of tiny food photos, it won’t take long until yours is featured. Then what? Surely Gastropost can offer more than a whimsical “look ma, I’m in the paper!” moment.

It is often said that newspapers should reflect the communities they serve. Others go further and suggest that newspapers should actively be a part of the communities they serve. I think that’s where Gastropost fits in.

Gastropost Edmonton

Here’s what Brittney wrote in the blog post introducing Gastropost Calgary:

Food is a connector. It’s a common ground that you can share with nearly everyone. We have family dinners, cookie exchanges around the holidays. We share new dining experiences with friends and trade recipes and ideas at potlucks. Food helps us connect through the good times and bad, sharing communal memories and bonding over allergies and sensitivities. Strangers bend over from the next table, wondering what you’re eating and whether they should order it.

Viewed as a way to connect with the community, selecting food for the National Post experiment was a no-brainer. In decades past, a shared food experience might have come from recipes, restaurant reviews, or other food news printed in the newspaper. Today, it happens all the time, on Twitter, food blogs, and other services. Gastropost is a way for Postmedia to remain relevant in that world, to be a part of the food community in which its readers are active.

It won’t be long until the thrill of getting your food photo in the newspaper wears off. The trick will be for Postmedia to figure out how to make money from participating in the food community before that happens. If they can do that, perhaps Gastropost can tell us something about the future of newspapers after all.

Thanks to Brittney for being a good sport and doing the video! The music is “Chords for David” by Pitx.

  1. Note I’m using the phrase “future of newspapers” instead of “future of journalism” on purpose. Despite the worldview of Gastropost’s creators, I look to Clay Shirky’s seminal post from 2009 on the matter. 

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?

Media Monday Edmonton: Getting social on Facebook

For some reason I was curious about local media and Facebook recently, so that’s what I looked at this week. If you’re looking for a good rundown of recent news, check out Karen’s latest Edmonton New Media Roundup.

Here’s a quick comparison of Edmonton media organizations on Facebook (as of October 17, 2011):

102.3 Now! Radio Radio 55,454 3,186
91.7 The Bounce Radio 49,280 1,816
Global Edmonton TV 41,963 2,447
100.3 The Bear Radio 21,416 1,786
Hot 107 FM Radio 16,565 1,597
Sonic 102.9 Radio 14,244 1,605
CTV Edmonton TV 12,876 1,080
CISN Country 103.9 Radio 9,799 1,181
CKUA Radio Radio 9,045 198
104.9 Virgin Radio Radio 7,587 848
Edmonton Journal Print 5,695 269
K97 Radio 5,461 334
BT Edmonton TV 5,155 1,222
92.5 JOE FM Radio 3,488 175
up! 99.3 Radio 3,221 482
Edmonton Sun Print 3,134 616
630 CHED Radio 2,026 53
Lite95.7 Radio 1,727 180
Vue Weekly Print 980 14
CBC Edmonton Radio/TV 963 30
The Team 1260 Radio 945 7
96.3 Capital FM Radio 842 54
Metro Edmonton Print 803 14
the edmontonian (retired) Online 744 2
fusedlogic Online 693 12 Online 581 20
iNews880 Radio/Online 354 6
The Gateway Print 336 3
The Unknown Studio Online 296 3
City and Dale Online 251 9
Avenue Edmonton Print 190 6
West Edmonton Local Online 176 11 Online 155 6 Online 54 14
Jay n’ J. Online 21 0

Some thoughts on this table:

  • Radio stations are clearly the heaviest users of Facebook among the local media, both in terms of likes but also activity.
  • Online properties generally don’t have many likes on Facebook. Is this because they’re already online, just elsewhere? Is it because they don’t have as large an audience to promote Facebook to?
  • I would have expected CBC and the Edmonton Sun to place higher in terms of likes. They both have a significant offline audience, but they evidently haven’t been as aggressive at converting that audience into Facebook likes as other media organizations.
  • I think it’s interesting that 102.3 Now! Radio almost never links to its website on Facebook. Instead they posts photos, videos, and general notes, and seem to generate quite a lot of discussion. Contrast that with iNews880, where pretty much every post on Facebook is a link back to the website.

There’s a ton of additional analysis that could be done (which organizations advertise their Facebook pages, which have it integrated into their websites, etc.), but I think this is a useful start.

What do you think about the results?

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.

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!

January 2010 Headlines: Edmonton Journal vs. Edmonton Sun

I think it’s fair to say that Edmonton’s two major dailies have strong stereotypes attached to them. The Edmonton Journal, as the capital region’s newspaper of record, is generally considered reliable, encompassing, and important, with an emphasis on politics and current events. The Edmonton Sun, which has just less than half of the Journal’s weekly circulation (according to data from 2008), is generally considered a bit more tabloid-like, with an emphasis on sports and special sections. But I’m not happy with stereotypes – I like data!

There is obviously much more to a newspaper than its headlines, but I figured that was a good starting point for comparison. Using data extracted from Twitter (which means it may be incomplete) I compared headlines from The Journal and The Sun for January 2010. I counted 662 headlines for The Journal (in blue) and 589 headlines for The Sun (in red).


The most frequently used words in The Journal’s headlines were: Edmonton, Alberta, new, fire, man, woman, Oilers, Calgary, gallery, and police.

The most frequently used words in The Sun’s headlines were: Haiti, Canada, city, man, Canadian, Edmonton, Alberta, Hatian, new, and quake.

Here’s a quick comparison of the average length, average number of words, and average Automated Readability Index (ARI) for each headline:

I’m not sure that calculating the ARI for a headline is valid, but calculating it for the collection of headlines isn’t valid either (because they aren’t equivalent to sentences). I did look at the collection though – The Journal used 865 complex words, whereas The Sun used 552 (a complex word is three syllables or more, as determined using this online tool).

I don’t know what the takeaway is here, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. I’ll probably revisit this again in the future, with additional news sources, and probably some sentiment analysis as well. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Recent media links & thoughts

I read a lot about new media, journalism, publishing, news, etc. I always try to think about the things I read from both a global and a local perspective. Here are some thoughts on the things I’ve read recently.

From Jeff Jarvis:

I’m not so sure journalism is storytelling anymore.

Jeff points out that saying “journalism = storytelling” is limiting. Journalism is about more than the story, it’s a process. I agree completely. Data, algorithms, aggregators – all are aspects of journalism. They always have been, of course, but their importance/visibility has been heightened lately, thanks to new tools and technologies.


Time Warner’s CNN is taking a stake in hyperlocal aggregator—the latest example of a big media organization making a play in the hyperlocal space.

Smart move, just like MSNBC’s purchase of EveryBlock. And the news today that Google is in talks to buy Yelp. The dollars are starting to flow toward local/hyperlocal news companies. You know how the saying goes: follow the money.

From TechCrunch:

So what really scares me? It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.

From ReadWriteWeb:

In my view both writers and readers of content will need to work harder to get quality content. Right now ‘quantity’ still rules on the Web, ‘quality’ is hard to find.

Lots of others have already discussed the “content farm” issue that made the rounds in the blogosphere last week. My view on it is pretty simple: readers need to become more active. There’s so much information so easily available that you can’t afford to passively consume the news. You have to seek out sources and recommendations. Certainly we’ll get better tools (aggregators, filters, search engines) but I think readers need to make more of an effort. See also: Content farms v. curating farmers.

From Clay Shirky:

…one of the things up for grabs in the current news environment is the nature of authority. In particular, I noted that people trust new classes of aggregators and filters, whether Google or Twitter or Wikipedia (in its ‘breaking news’ mode.)

I called this tendency algorithmic authority.

Fascinating. I think there’s incredible opportunity, both globally and locally, to take advantage of this. Who do you trust for your news? Is it the same people/organizations that you trusted five years ago?

From Unlikely Words:

Ken Auletta from the New Yorker wrote a book about Google, “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It” and before he published it, he cut the last chapter of 25 media maxims.

Now you can read them online. A few of my favorites:

  • Passion Wins
  • Adapt or Die
  • Digital is Different
  • Don’t Ignore the Human Factor

And finally, one of my favorite new tools: Times Skimmer. We need more innovation like that at the local level!

Newspapers, cities, and the local web

Edmonton SkylineThe concept of “local” has never been more important – that’s something I firmly believe. Though I found the book somewhat wordy, Who’s Your City by Richard Florida presents this idea very effectively:

Globalization is not flattening the world; on the contrary, the world is spiky. Place is becoming more relevant to the global economy and our individual lives.

It’s definitely worth a read. So much of our lives is defined by place – by the people and things around us. I think this is especially true when you live in a city.

Cities are interesting because they encompass a range of place sizes. A specific block, neighborhood, area, quadrant, etc. right up to the entire city and greater metropolitan area. Some people identify most with a neighborhood or area, others with the entire city. Often their affiliation depends on the current situation (perhaps a neighborhood when it comes to family issues and the city when it comes to business). Consequently, the information individuals are interested in varies.

Newspapers try to cater to this range of interest. Here in Edmonton, the Examiner publishes stories for different regions of the city. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Edmonton Journal attempts to cover the entire city. Then there are all of the other publications in between. And some news simply isn’t covered by any publication.

There are many problems with this. A newspaper can’t get too specific, because advertisers won’t want to buy ad space if only a few dozen people are going to see their ad. As newspapers move toward a larger audience to attract better ad revenue, they inevitably end up with more general content. And of course, newspapers are not real-time.

Put simply, newspapers are not very good at representing places. For this reason, I find it incredibly bizarre that a number of recent articles focus on place as the reason why newspapers will not go away. For example, here’s an excerpt from a National Post story on Monday:

Newspapers retain their market relevance partly because flipping through a newspaper is one of the quickest and easiest ways to answer the question, "What’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?"

The printed version of the newspaper is connected with a physical geography at a specific point in time that few, if any, online resources can be.

How can any of that be true? We know that to truly find out “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live”, we’d have to flip through a number of newspapers. And even then we’d be missing stuff. The second point is absolutely wrong also – there are many online resources that are intimately connected with a place and time. For instance, EveryBlock. Such online services are probably more connected with a specific place and time because they go down to the street level and often deal with real-time information.

Here’s another excerpt, from a Todd Babiak column in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal:

For its residents, a city must be more than a house, a car and a job. It’s a narrative, a living history, myths and conflicts, and for as long as Canada has been a country the newspaper is where the city has been inscribed.

If it is true that the city newspaper is dying, the city is dying with it.

Just because something has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it’ll remain that way forever. Innovation is largely about challenging the status quo. Thus, the fact that newspapers are failing to innovate shouldn’t be a surprise. To suggest that cities are dying as a result is simply ridiculous, however.

I’m not falling for the myth that cities depend on newspapers. It’s true that a newspaper plays an important role in documenting the evolution of a city, but it’s not the only institution that does so. A newspaper is also not the only way to get information to citizens. Increasingly, citizens can get information directly.

I think we’re at the beginning of the “local” era on the web. As more and more people carry mobile devices that are location-aware, this trend will accelerate. Increasingly, online services will help answer the question, “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?” Eventually they’ll also provide context and background in a way that simply isn’t possible in the offline world.

Newspapers can play an important role in this local era. However, just as cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, neither will the local web.