Ottawa Citizen cutting staff – and Sunday paper

Local papers, delivered daily - for how much longer?

As if we needed it, here’s more bleak news for print newspapers. The Ottawa Citizen says it will cut jobs and eliminate its Sunday papers after July 15.

Outright closures and “daily” papers dropping days are now commonplace events, unfortunately. David Carr of the New York Times recently lamented that a beloved  New Orleans institution, The Times-Picayune, is going to publish papers just three days a week: Wednesday, Fridays and Sundays.

The Citizen’s announcement is just part of chain-wide restructuring for its parent company, Postmedia Network Inc. The change is being presented as not necessarily all bad news:

By the end of summer, the Citizen will have shifted almost all of its page production to a central editing operation in Hamilton, Ont., leaving its editing and reporting staff to focus more sharply on local coverage and the newspaper’s online products, publisher and editor-in-chief Gerry Nott said.

Even with 20 fewer journalists — and a newsroom of about 80 staff, down from roughly 200 a decade ago — Nott believes the Citizen’s “local reporting array” will be wider and stronger than it is now.

The Montreal Gazette stopped printing a Sunday paper two years ago. It reports pending cuts and shifts too:

“The editorial department will be undergoing … transformation in the next few months and more than 20 positions will be removed from the newsroom,” said Alan Allnutt, publisher and editor in chief of The Gazette.

“All roles, from managers on down, will be redefined with a digital focus. We are also looking at changes to the weekday paper sectioning, as well as the number of presses we use to print it each day.”

For anyone who values local print journalism, this is all retrograde, rearguard action. But reducing output in response to shrinking revenue strikes many as inevitable. Quoting once more from the Citizen article:

Nott said the decision to drop the Sunday paper after 24 years was difficult, but is in keeping with trends across the industry in North America. Two other Postmedia papers, the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, also announced Monday they will eliminate their Sunday papers, while the National Post will cut back to five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, during the summer. It will publish a Monday edition again in the fall.

Interviewed by CBC news,  Chris Dornan, associate professor of journalism at Carleton University called the announcement a “significant move.”

“Clearly now what’s happening is that the costs associated with actually publishing a paper-and-ink edition of a newspaper is becoming so burdensome that the newspaper industry is trying to rid itself of costs.”

Plans are afoot to start charging for digital access for a number of Postmedia papers too, as publishers increasingly realize they cannot survive by giving content away.

That’s the big picture. On a household level, it’s easy to see this coming. I grew up on the Honolulu Advertiser (established in 1856, now defunct). Sunday papers there (then) were big and fat, full of the long features, op-eds and the semi-sacred Sunday comics. Imagine my surprise to find that in Ottawa all that happens in the Saturday edition!

Indeed, the Sunday paper here is so thin and unsatisfying that I recently tried to just subscribe Mon-Sat. (But that is not an option.) Truth be told, I’ll miss this particular Sunday paper far less than the concept of a good daily paper.

I do fear losing broad reporting on issues of local significance. It seems like society is largely forgetting how crucial this is for an informed citizenry and responsible governance. Where will that come from, if local papers dry up and die?

It is to be hoped that so-called new media and digital delivery platforms will step up to that plate.

Do you think the role of newspapers is hopelessly obsolete? Or is the same basic function still available, in different forms?

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4 Comments on “Ottawa Citizen cutting staff – and Sunday paper”

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  1. Alan Gregory says:

    The days of a head-of-household reading the morning paper over breakfast are long, long, long gone. And it is sad to the point of tears for me as I have good memories of my father enjoying the daily Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, Idaho, in the early 70s.

  2. Hank says:

    I can’t say I’ll miss the Sunday Citizen. Except for a couple of crossword puzzles and a birding column, there was almost nothing in the Sunday edition of any value, as far as I was concerned. It is hard to justify using all that newsprint to produce next to nothing!

    The demise of a REAL Sunday paper, I would lament; this, not so much.

  3. I know many people who say they only get the Sunday Post-Star in order to get the coupons and circulars… in other words, NOT for the actual journalistic content. This is the opposite of me (I’m only interested it for the content and chuck the advertising crap) but it’s a pretty damning indictment. It illustrates that newspapers are increasingly failing to give people value for money because most of their content, with its reliance on hacked up wire articles, is no longer unique and can be had for free elsewhere. Appealing to nostalgia and sniffing “you’ll miss us when we’re gone” don’t constitute a serious effort to change this dynamic.

  4. Lucy Martin says:

    Here is more discussion on the topic of the health and future of daily newspapers in a NYT article from June 3rd.

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