Pacific Newspaper Group wants to reset image for readers and employees

Postmedia Network’s B.C. papers have suffered a spate of bad news recently—a large number of employees took buyouts from The Province and the Vancouver Sun, and there were rumours the two brands would be merged into one newspaper. Then there was that memo from Pacific News Group president Gordon Fisher that riled many, putting two floors of its building up for lease and the sale of its B.C. printing plant.

“PNG has been in the news in Vancouver this year for a variety of, shall I say, wrong reasons,” The Province’s editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty told J-Source.

Now, the two newspapers want to “reset” the conversation. Collectively, 86 per cent of Lower Mainland adults read the Sun and The Province every month. That’s a 10.3 per cent increase from a year ago, according to statistics in an editorial note Moriarty wrote.

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“Project Reset is essentially a step back from all the doom and gloom in order to look realistically at the situation,” Moriarty said to J-Source. “Yes, we are going through significant changes, but our overall readership is growing and the health of these businesses, while not ideal, is sound. Nothing Pollyanna about this, just fact-based reality intended to make employees and our customers feel good about where we are at and where we are going.” 

Fisher said the idea for Project Reset started percolating in the early summer as PNG geared up for the start of the fiscal year in the fall. “There was so much negativity about not only our newspapers but also the industry, and we needed to change that conversation.”

The newspaper solicited feedback from advertisers and its employees.

“Some of the employee feedback was quite sobering … many of them wondered if we had a strategy going forward for success,” Fisher said.

“I can absolutely, 100 per cent put to rest that idea that the Sun and The Province are merging,” he said. “And we absolutely do have a very plan going forward.”

Fisher said the newspapers will have platform-specific champions and changes will come to the digital and print editions in 2014. “We’ve been guilty of just copying and pasting the same content on all the platforms, when we now know that isn’t the best approach,” he said.

At the Sun, web editor Aleesha Harris will be the new tablet champion and sports editor Scott Brown will become the new mobile champion. Meanwhile, digital managing editor Gillian Burnett will expand her role to become the web/desktop champion and deputy managing editor Adrienne Tanner will be the print champion. Bev Wake, the city editor, will be the central figure coordinating all the different platforms; she doesn’t have a formal job title yet, but editor-in-chief Harold Munro said that role is being called the “maestro” for now.

While not every story will make it to each platform, it’s the platform champions who will take charge of how the printed product will feature on the other platforms. “The print product will be most strongly aligned to what the reporters are doing, and then the platform champions will mould it to the specific platform,” Munro told J-Source.

Fisher said in addition to these changes, the management has made a commitment to communicate more often with staff through town halls on business updates and also to be more visible generally. “We need to make that part of our culture and say we’re all in this together,” he said.

While not minimizing the challenges facing most newspapers—that print revenue is declining at a faster rate than digital revenue can catch up—he feels confident a solution is at hand.

“We did a survey of advertisers and they still have confidence in the brands of these two newspapers and say we’re the best at getting their message out,” he said. “The issue is that there are so many other avenues for them to advertise through, so they’re spreading their resources out. The challenge, then, for us is convincing them we’re still the best choice.”