Newspapers prepare for battle

Canada’s four largest media companies are gearing up to fight for ads and eyeballs with a variety of strategies – who will come out on top? J-Source recaps Canadian Business’ analysis.

The article, by Thomas Watson, is titled “Media Wars 2.0” with the dek “Canada’s biggest media companies are girding for battle again, but what’s left to fight for?” and is available in the Sept. 13 edition of Canadian Business. It isn’t available online.

The piece with battle preparations. The Globe and Mail is preparing a massive redesign, The National Post has a new CEO and an aggressive “digital-first” strategy, the Toronto Star is eying acquisitions and the Sun is launching a right-leaning news network.

Waston writes that Globe publisher Phillip Crawley boasts an “Alexander-like confidence that comes from believing you have decisively vanquished an enemy.” The Globe recently launched an iPad application and won an Emmy for an online project about Afghan women. It’s also signed an “18-year contract with printers who are investing in state-of-the-art German presses, which cost $50 million each”, which Crawley says will offer “colour on every page with presses that enable advertisers to use different [paper] stocks.”

But Crawley won’t admit the papers are at war, telling Watson “I have lots to say about the future, but telling people that the Globe won and the Post lost, while true, is such old news that it’s not worth the discussion.”

Sounds like fighting words. And as Watson points out, the discussion is vital. After all, the last war – the launch of Conrad Black’s National Post in 1998 cost combatants $1-billion. He quotes media commentator Carmi Levy who suggests that the Globe should prepare for a “brewing war” like nothing the print publisher has seen before. Levy tells Watson: “The age of the newspaper is over, the age of the media-agnostic newsgathering, community-building entity is just getting started.” In that way, you shouldn’t discount the Post just yet.

The Post is preparing its counterstrike. Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey won’t call it a war, but tells Watson that the Post will eventually dominate because “there is no room for print dinosaurs at daily newspapers.” He says the paper is on the verge of profitability. Watson writes that Godfrey plans to “dramatically attack costs associated with traditional newspapers”, and will no longer publish breaking news.
“Instead of taping me right now,” Godrey tells Watson, “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.” In four years, Postmedia will have “a content division and a sales and marketing division. That’s it. Everything else will be centralized or outsourced.”

Watson writes:

“The National Post made a name for itself running right-wing political commentary, leavened with generous helpings of Anna Kournikova photos – a mix famously labeled “tits and analysis” by a Star executive. Now, Sun Media’s corporate master, Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, has plans to take titillating conservatives to the next level by converging Sun Media’s English tabloids – which have traditionally had some of the best margins in the business – with a new populist cable network that promotes Sun personalities.”

The head of the new network is Harper communications director turned broadcaster Kory Teneycke. Watson writes that Teneycke is okay with critics’ comparing Sun TV to “Fox News North”, considering the U.S. network earns hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Watson speaks with Teneycke, who tells him Sun Media will have “more people wearing multiple hats than anyone else in the Canadian media.” He told reporters to cover “the launch of any Victoria’s Secret outlet like it was the fucking moon landing,” which prompted critics to label the network “Tits and Analysis 2.0,” Watson writes.

“As we speak,” Teneycke tells Watson, “eight out of 10 journalists in the nation’s capital are chasing a story about the long-form census, and, according to a poll I read this morning, 50% of Canadians don’t care about it.”

Watson writes that nobody can “speculate how digital platforms, social networking and the rise of smartphones will affect today’s newspapers.”

He continues: “The only thing we know for certain is that consumers and advertisers are about to witness another pie fight full of surprises. You might even see a return of the man who started it all. ‘I don’t know what his resources are today,’ says Godrey, ‘but I would never underestimate Conrad Black.’”