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: 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?