Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the seventh day, the Free Press rested

I have seen the future of journalism, and it looks a lot like the Winnipeg Sun.

I've been holding off on writing a review of On7, the Winnipeg Free Press' new Sunday tabloid aimed at drawing young people, because I wanted to give it a chance before I unleashed my blind rage at the very idea that the paper is putting its long-term investment into a paper tabloid, and not a digital product, when its target audience doesn't give a rip about the paper.

Get it? Paper? Rip? Awww, forget it.

When I walked into PharmaPlus on Sunday at 8 p.m. to buy my copy of On7 - what's the rush when the news is a day old already? - I was a little worried that it might already be sold out, and I'd never get to see the first issue of the glorious Sunday experiment.

My fears instantly abated when I saw a pile of about 1,000 On7s stacked in the newspaper stand - a good sign for me, a bad sign for the tabloid, especially considering that they only expected to sell 35,000 copies in a city of 700,000 people.

The first thing you notice when you pick up On7 is that it looks and feels exactly like the Winnipeg Sun. Odd: kind of like Coke producing a beverage that tastes just like Pepsi.

Oh, that's right: Coke did produce a beverage that tastes just like Pepsi, and it was called "New Coke." It was such a smash that they discontinued it, and brought back the original Coke under the moniker "Coke Classic."

Can "Sunday Free Press classic" be far behind?

What time is it (hey buddy)?

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that:

1. In recent times, "the news" isn't the size of the story, but its timeliness - the instantaneous nature by which we can now follow (skim?) along and the idea that a "breaking" news story is one that's just been posted online or on our phones.

So, as I click on my Globe and Mail app right at this moment, I can tell you that the article called "How to protect your intellectual property" is 300 seconds old, and the one lower down called "How to buy in to Warren Buffett" is one hour old.

2. Newspapers are dying to the tune of three million papers a day (says Media Life). The ones that are surviving and thriving are ones like the Wall Street Journal, which:
  • Offer value to a specific demographic;
  • Are available online and via smartphone (there's an app for that!);
  • People can get for free at work, but - get this - work pays for it!
3. Hyper-local is where it's at:

I'm not sure that the Free Press' days as a staple in every workplace in the city can or will ever come back; however, it's not too late for the Free Press to get young - which is to say "future" - readers by offering hyper-local content via a smartphone/online strategy.

This is what the L.A. Times is doing to survive, according to Sebastien Provencher's Praized Blog.
"The LA Times’ online strategy needs to be local as opposed to national as it will allow them to differentiate their offer versus other “national” newspapers like the New York Times. They’ve realized that local users are key to online revenues as they generate more monthly page views and twice the display revenue per page views.

"Their product approach is “we want to own Los Angeles”, i.e. be integral to life of Angelinos, be the source of news and information about Los Angeles to the world and be an information retailer by creating, aggregating and curating LA content."
What's hyper-local about On7?

Given that, what would be so wrong about the Free Press "wanting to own Winnipeg?"

Since there's no smartphone app to answer that question, let's have a look inside On7, shall we? Here's the breakdown of issue #1:
  • A few articles by CreComm students - cheers to CreComm students! By definition, this means that the tabloid isn't all bad. Moving on:
  • A very light article about the flu - nothing new in the article;
  • A good article by Bartley Kives about Winnipeg's parking fetish (but I like Graham's article about the same thing at Progressive Winnipeg better);
  • A brief, by-the-book community-support article about a Ronald McDonald House charity event;
  • A list of seven things you probably missed this week because you weren't reading the Free Press;
  • Wire copy and lots of it: The Canadian Press, Canwest News Service, The Associated Press, and a bonehead piece from the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services about a dude selling a big ball of rubber bands;
  • Twenty-four pages about sporting events that happened yesterday;
  • An article about the late-night talk shows by Aaron Barnhart, a writer from the Kansas City Star, who I quite like - even when I disagree with him. But you can read his website for free here;
  • "Celebrity Scene," featuring a photo and one-paragraph "item" about some of your favorite local celebrities: Jude Law, Michelle Obama, 50 Cent, and Sarah Palin. Why anyone would need to get this stuff in the Free Press in the era of TMZ is beyond me;
  • A photo of the week from the Associated Press: a woman crying under a poster of Michael Jackson. Never seen that before;
  • Miss Lonelyhearts, for anyone who might really long for a classic Winnipeg Sun experience by reading her advice in tabloid form again;
  • Movie listings and the NY Times crossword puzzle - two apps I have on my iPhone.
Might as well just add the Free Press Girl to the roster, and call it a day.

But it's for the kids!

I know, I know: I'm a grouchy, old guy.

So, yesterday, I asked my advertising majors what they thought of On7; at age 20 to 25, they're positioned at the sweet spot of the Free Press' desired demographic.

The ones who weren't stifling their yawns said, "What's this about the Free Press putting out a tabloid on Sunday?"


  1. So not only is the Winnipeg Free Press NOT advancing with the times and capitalizing on it's monopoly in the province, it's becoming the Winnipeg Sun.

    ...did you hear that? Yup, that was my journalistic heart breaking.

  2. Sigh. way to refute my positive review of On7.
    I guess something I didn't mention in my blog post is that this publication is definitely not properly aimed at the target they say they're aiming at. 20 somethings aren't going to read this any more than they'll read the regular dead-free edition of the Freep.

    But let me say this Kenton: there is more to life than iPhones and apps. I think the majority of young people get their news (when they want it!) from a regular, Bill Gates-driven desktop PC and the same Internet that everyone else uses. The problem that the Free Press (and all newspapers) has is: how can they bring in the same ad revenues from their website as they have been bringing in over the years from their print edition. The answer: they can't. Internet based, pay-by-the-click advertising has exposed the farce of traditional print "impressions" and no one is going to pay those kind of prices ($60,000 for a full, two-page spread!) for an ad that they can't track the results on.

    So where does that leave us? What is the answer to the Free Press's woes? Because despite what I've said in the pat, they are still the best publication we have.

  3. On7 sold more single copy sales than the traditional Sunday paper. Over two times more, actually.

  4. Yeah, I guess it would, considering that's the only way it's available.


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