Media War 2.0 -

Media War 2.0


That’s the title of Tom Watson’s feature in the new issue of Canadian Business. It looks at how the big players in the Canadian media biz — The Globe, Star, Postmedia, and Sun Media — are all working different strategies as they try to figure out how to make money in a business environment that has changed almost unrecognizeably since the National Post was launched.

Here’s the key passage, outlining Paul Godfrey’s “digital first” strategy for Postmedia:

Godfrey, who has what he considers real money on the line, insists the Post is on the verge of profitability. And he says it won’t start bleeding again because Postmedia will dramatically attack costs associated with traditional newspapers. There will still be printed products from the old Southam chain, but they won’t be breaking news.

“Instead of taping me right now,” Godfrey says, “you’d be collecting video. The editorial guys are going to have to carry webcams. When a story breaks, we’ll issue alerts on cellphones and mobile devices. Then the story goes on the web. Editors will be digital media curators. Video clips will be sent out to all the social-networking streams. And ultimately, the stories of the day are wrapped up in print.” Four years from now, Godfrey says, Postmedia will have “a content division and a sales and marketing division. That’s it. Everything else will be centralized or outsourced.”

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Media War 2.0

  1. I don't like it much. Not to say that people who like it are wrong. I just like reading so much better than listening/watching. Reading you can do at your own pace – you can easily re-read or slow down or skim or speed up. All of these (but particularly skimming) is so hard to do with video and audio.

    I personally beileive that reading leads to more thoughtful consumption, on average, than watching.

    • Not to mention that the level of detail one gets between the two is considerably different.

      I'm almost always dissapointed by the level of detail one gets from an interview versus print.

      • I find that reading those crappy free dailies that are now offered in major Canadian cities to be almost a painful experience, they're so devoid of meaningful content. Another product for those with ADHD, which is apparently a huge market.

  2. We've had enough years of digital media to ask this question:
    Has any news outlet that *started* online ever decided eventually that it wanted/needed to put some of its content on paper? That would be one bit of data indicating whether there's an intrinsic value to paper-based news.

    • Politico?

    • I agree and I disagree. I think that paper-based news does have a value – millions of Canadians read a newspaper every day, exchanging money for the paper, so there is a "value" right there. But it is in decline, and the spread of IPad Kindle readers will hasten that.

      My oint above is that i just like the reading aspect, online or on paper, better than the watching aspect. Would I rather see an event or read about it? See it. Would I rather read about it or watch someone talk about it? Read about it.

    • It would be much harder for a digital source to suddenly decide it can eat the Globe and Mail's lunch and invest the however many millions of dollars it would take to do it than it is for an existing paper to move its content digital. So just because none of the digital sources have decided to go to paper isn't, in and of itself, proof that paper has no value.

      • That's why I only said it would be "one bit of data." I'd be curious to hear the details of any digital media company that suddenly said, "Hey, THIS bit of our business would work better in print."

    • The television was invented in 1926.. there are still people alive who can remember a time before it existed.

      It's been less than a generation since the first web-browser was written — ie, most people alive today can remember a world before the world wide web *existed*

      It's only been 15 years since the general public was able to access the web — ie, there are people still in college who started school before the web was generally known about.

      To say that we've had enough years of digital media to ask such a question is absurd. It'd be like asking in the 1930's if there'd ever been a novelization of a movie, and saying that such a thing is one bit of data indicating whether there's an intrinsic value to novel-based fiction.

      • So, too soon, eh? Shouldn't even ask the question? What if asking the question helps support *your* point of view. Would that be OK?

        I never said the answer to the question would settle the matter. I just implied that it might be useful.

        • e.g., what if it turns out that the answer is "hell yes! Lots of digital companies find it essential in certain circumstances, such as…"?

          • Remember your McLuhan and possibly you'll understand my response:

            The question you propose is useless for this purpose regardless of the answer.

          • Are you even going to try to explain why?

            Evidence that real companies are finding real reasons to print news on paper, and are making money at it, has to be useful to figuring out whether there is a business case for doing so. Surely you don't find in McLuhan reason to think that evidence is not useful. Are we supposed to answer all questions a priori?

  3. For me, the big degradation in news coiverage has been the reliance on outsourced news files. Reporters are desk jockies augmenting CP/AP/Reuters/CNN streams with some back files or quick phone quotes from local notables. Going out in the field, generating stories with careful digging and sourcing is no longer a feature of most daily newspapers.

    Our local Southam paper includes less than 5 no-name reporters covering the local news beat and doing the augmentation schtick above. The rest of the local talent are in the columnist business of expressing an opinion, which entails the marketing consideration of generrating outrage to prove reader engagement. Everything else is from chain sources and, more often, bought from American newschains for the lifestyle, arts and entertainment sections.

    • Southam kept a paper to itself?

      • I'm in my 50's; I lost interest and I lost track of which conglomerate owns what.

        • There was a good mini-documentary that I saw on this topic, it accompanied the DVD for the last season of The Wire — it was lamenting what's happening to newspapers in North America. One of the things they mentioned was the value that's lost when you sack a reporter with 20 years' experience in creating sources & contacts (e.g., at the Police Department, the Courthouse, City Hall, etc.). You cannot replace that, period.

  4. I don't see how Mr. Godfrey can make money doing this. Whether print or shaky web-cam, who will pay for it?

  5. 'There are no newspapers on the bridge of the Enterprise.'

    • There were newspapers on Babylon 5 though, Emily…albeit ones that were printed on demand from a computer station.

      I'm a whole lot less concerned about the way it is delivered than the spin put on it and how the reporters get paid.

  6. A somewhat related question: How much revenue is generated by Maclean's and Canadian Business attracting eyeballs to their content online? How does that compare with revenue and profit by the publishing division? And how will you tell them apart as (I suspect) many of your committed subscribers spend a lot of time with you online?

    Is the online product even meant to generate profit? Or just lose as little as possible as you chalk the costs up to "marketing" in the hopes that enough people migh click on the "Subscribe Now and get a chintzy gift!" button?

    • This is based on memory, but I think CanWest's online division made money. However, it was such a miniscule amount that it didn't matter.

    • it depends. The key figure is the percentage of overall revenue from digital compared to print. I don't have Macleans or CB figures. I heard that the WaPo has the highest of any US newspaper, at 22%, and that the NYT is around 17%. When I was at the Citizen, I think I heard that it was only 7%, though I don't know that for sure. So Godfrey's target of 20% is pretty ambitious.

      • Thanks, Andrew. If the key figure is percentage of overall revenue, then you should also surmise that a key figure is the percentage of overall expenses.

        And if you don't have CB figures… shouldn't you? Either as a higher-up in the chain of command of that venture (btw, I am liking the dead-tree version more and more), or as a business journalist?

        • Ha! I suppose I should. But I'm editorial and print, and there's a fairly sharp distinction b/t our print and digital wings. We're relaunching the CB site sometime soonish, though. Glad you're liking the print version — I think we're getting some good stories going.

          • there's a fairly sharp distinction b/t our print and digital wings.

            Really? With substantial (but obviously not total) content overlap, that surprises me. And even if there is very little overlap, I would have thought you would aim for something more harmonious than "sharp distinction."

        • But to your first point, again I know more about print than I do the magazines. A general rule of thumb for newspapers is that about 1/3 of expenses are ink, paper, and presses. That is also pretty much the percentage of revenues that comes from subscriptions. So in a sense, subscribers aren't paying for content, they are paying for the delivery system. Ads make up most of the rest of the revenue.

          So in theory, if your digital side could get up to 2/3 of your total revenues, you could just shut the print version down and call it even. But you might not even need that much, because you could also layoff a huge number of reader sales and service staff. So all you'd need is a newsroom and an ad network. So, say you could get digital revenues up to 35% of your total, shutting down the presses might start to look like a good idea.

          • I suppose too that if you then add in a David Akin report on both the "print" (ie online) and the television, you only have one talent, shared between two divisions, driving down costs even more….

            But the flip side of this is that my paper is filled with AP reports and such – if you want a distinctive online voice, how much AP can you have?

            Finally, if the Citizen were to go online majority, does that mean David Warren and John Robson doing VLogs? If so, I am frightened…

          • So that's it . . . you wanna sack the "paper boy". Wait'll the tech guy "accidentally" adds the "N-word" to one of your columns.

  7. Godfrey is saying the same stuff Southam did a few years ago, when the merger happened.

    What hasn't changed, is that the actual content, the words and images, are still being sourced from folks who get paid to create and capture content. So, while an online component is critical, it has yet to make enough money to self sustain actual reporters. Citizen journos have their place, but they'll never replace the professionals. They may supplant them, but it will be a very different news landscape.

  8. When a story breaks, we'll issue alerts on cellphones and mobile devices. Then the story goes on the web. Editors will be digital media curators. Video clips will be sent out to all the social-networking streams. And ultimately, the stories of the day are wrapped up in print.

    That sounds like a promising strategy. Not sure about the last part though, the part where they wrap things up in print. The rest seems good though.