New York Times Invades Canada or The Bleeding Season: Dead tree deathwatch, part XXVII

Long ago, in a more innocent and profitable age, William Thorsell would inspire his Globe and Mail serfs by declaring that September was the beginning of “reading season.”

The world, quoth Bill, was paying attention and the time had come for journalistic brilliance (and a metric fuck-tonne of ad sales).

That was then. Now it’s time to hunker down after another summer of disaster in the bowl-circling remnants of Canadian journalism:
The Toronto Star laid off 60 employees last month, and the nation’s once-largest newsroom — 400 just eight years ago — is down to 200, as its StarTouch tablet app flails in unprofitability.

At the National Post and its satellites, now including the Sun papers, survivors are just grateful for another paycheque, waiting out the next round of gassings.
CTV’s Canada AM is dead, replaced by a (cheaper) less ambitious production.

Buzzfeed has collapsed its Canadian operation, and is lucky to pick up more than three dozen comments/flames/bots per post.

A quick and dirty audit of ad content in the Star, Globe and Post provides a late-August snapshot of how far the dead-tree printed product has fallen – and how few were there to hear it.

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, the Post printed 30 pages and had a total of six pages of ads, psychics prominent among them. The Star had 40 pages, with nine pages of advertising. The Globe, presumed survivor in this race to the glue factory, had four-and-half pages of paid advertising in its 36-page edition. Generously, one could assess the respective revenues at $120,000, $160,000 and $140,000.

So let’s just set that against the notional Globe expense structure. Daily cost for staff, approximately $160,000; printing and delivering 36 pages, about $140,000. Don’t forget subscribers; they kick in some $130,000. But still, the net on the day: Minus $30,000!

We’re ignoring rent, digital ad revenue, the moofin bill and other expenses, but here’s the problem: the print product still spins most of the money. Nothing has come close.

‘The legacy product’ ‎as it’s known, provides the foundation for the transition to the new era. And we’ve had so many new eras.

Tablets are toast. (Still tethered to your iPad?) The online sites draw eyeballs, but not many dimes. Pay walls have risen and fallen. Video is the new hotness, just like it was a decade ago. Buzzfeed and Vice Media, both darlings in their day, have been retrenching.

So here’s a guess at the future: The world will divide in two.

There will be surviving national/international brands. In English that would be the New York Times and The Guardian. (Maybe, just maybe, the Globe).

The Guardian blew its brains out with a US expansion, lost $130 million on revenues of $430 million last year and has announced it will cut 20 per cent of its costs (read: jobs) by 2018/19. The Times has way more revenue, but its print ads fell 14 per cent and digital almost seven per cent in the last quarter and more declines are predicted. Oh, and its much-vaunted Canadian expansion? Maybe just a trip or four from New York by a feature writer.

The Globe’s advantage, of course, is that David Thomson owns the moribund daily and it’s not yet losing enough money to worry the owner of a $10-billion company.

And then there will be a larger group of local providers. Hyper-local is the term of art. No pretensions to Ottawa coverage or Donald Trump, just the facts on the ground right next door. So you get them wrapped in grocery flyers, or as free weeklies at the coffee shop, but they still draw ad bucks from the neighbourhood rub-and-tug and snooze through planning committee so you don’t have to.

For the mushy middle; the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver’s torpid twins, Calgary Herald/Sun, etc., life is about to get even harder.

Why? The car business.

It has been the remaining mainstay of Canadian papers for the past decade.

For generations auto dealers have used newspapers to peddle their wares. The business is built on getting people to come in for the salesroom experience (“I have to go and ask my manager . . .”)

Print was the medium and they stuck with it.

But those guys are dying off and their successors are wondering why they should drop $20K a week when the web is free and car buyers expect to find what they need there.

Ironic example: The Star has stopped using staff or freelancers in its money-spinning Wheels section. Instead, they’re using stories written for AutoGuide, a web outfit that is part of Torstar’s Verticalscope, a recently acquired operator of hundreds of niche sites.

Without that last, stable, source of revenue, the squeeze on the 15 mid-market dailies in Canada puts them in even deeper peril.

National Lampoon (dec’d) often ended a story with: “Suddenly, they were all run over by a truck.”

In 2016 Canada, it’s a Ford 150, with crew cab.


  1. Well written, good job. Can we interest you in a position with the (ex-Canadian) Autotrader owned by the prestigious Guardian newspaper (London, the UK one).

    [ What? Oh! The Guardian Media Group sold Autotrader off in 2014 for £600m . ] Sigh.

    • You folks at Frank should be checking your own hit rates and ad sales…far lower than the Star OR the Post….working for mimimum wage and half-true salacious tidbits can only last so long….then where will you be…deadweb?

  2. G&M management shouldn’t count on David Thomson the 3rd Baron of Fleet, who seems more interested in buying art and impregnating younger women.

  3. Re: David Thomson’s “interests”. Not every day, Shureley!!
    and RE: Re: losing $30,000 a day.
    So I guess that they don’t really want my $2.49 weekly (to start) for the online Globian.
    My parakeet would miss looking at the op-ed columnists from his perch above.

    As it is the Style and Travel folios are placed as colourful tablesettings, as we circle the column inch counts of any non-political, non-business, non-financial stores with a blue pencil and then the cultural 10 inch columns that may stray into the paper, with a red pencil of joy.

  4. Meanwhile, laid-off or double dipping journalists continue to train bright-eyed young journalists at the multuplying J-Skool programs around the nation for jobs that don’t exist. My guess: total tuition paid at these programs in a year is a disturbingly large fraction of journo takehome countrywide. At least MFA kids are aware theyre getting ripped off. J School is a more surreptitious wealth transfer project for the middle class. Fat chance anyone steps in and shames these quasi-pyramid schemers.

    • Truly, and it goes much beyond the J-Skools…Baby Boomer parents handing over haystacks of cash to Canada`s academic rentier class in the vain hope the university magic will work for their pop-culture-addled kids the same way it worked for them…better get that basement suite finished in time for Convocation, Mom and Dad.

  5. Car ads will save journalism, eh. Well, Ford just announced they’d have driverless vehicles out and running by 2021, mostly for ride-sharing and other fleets. It is estimated that this will lead to a rapid decline in car sales to individuals. Car ads, eh?

  6. Uh-oh, Fast Eddie involved….

    “”Federal advertising is shifting towards online platforms,” says the report, written by public servants and obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
    Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the proportion of ad spending fell by 96 per cent for daily newspapers and 31 per cent for community newspapers while increasing by 106 per cent for the internet.””
    ….”Both documents underpinned a decision last spring to hire a think-tank, the Public Policy Forum, to carry out a $270,000 study entitled “Changes in the newspaper industry,” with conclusions to be delivered by Dec. 31. The heritage and industry departments are each contributing $100,000, while the forum and its partners are providing the rest of the funding.
    Forum president Ed Greenspon, a veteran journalist and editor, is spearheading the project, which includes six roundtables across the country, as well as focus groups and polling.”

    Ottawa cuts newspaper ad spending amid worries about sector.
    Internal report cites options to support Canadian newsrooms, as newspaper revenues tank.
    by Dean Beeby, CBC News Posted: Sep 01, 2016 5:00 AM ET

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