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Digital Corporatization Diminishes Windsor Star

Digital Corporatization Diminishes Windsor Star

Alanis Morissette might ask “Isn’t it ironic?” The Windsor Star, which prides itself on investigative journalism and caustic think pieces, has a corporation-imposed zipper on its mouth when it comes to news about its own decline.

Effective March 4, 2019 the Windsor Star stopped publishing a Monday printed newspaper or digital e-edition.

Long-time subscribers like myself were apprised of this dramatic change on February 21 in a brief note to readers from Managing Editor Craig Pearson.

Included in the message was the news that there would be no change in the subscription price. Online trolls had a field day. “Extra! Extra . . . five papers for the price of six,” emoted Ray Pillon. “Windsor Star I’ll give you a tip. ’Get Out Of The Business’.”

In search of more information, I called Pearson, who is a really nice guy, and he politely indicated that all questions must go through the Toronto corporate offices of parent company Postmedia.
Phyllise Gelfand is Vice-President of Communications for the chain, which has a stable of 35 of the country’s 90 daily newspapers and has long been bleeding red ink. In an email exchange, I asked her first about the decision to drop the Monday edition.

She reiterated what was published under Pearson’s name in the cryptic February 21 note: “The change reflects the changing media landscape in North America and our own digital transformation.”

And so it begins. Many people believe that dropping the Monday edition is a blunt signal that the print newspaper is suffering a slow death and the Star will become purely a digital publication.
For baby boomers and tactile readers like myself, that would take away one of life’s pleasures — sinking back in my La-Z-Boy chair to smudge my fingers on my daily newspaper’s ink.

Gelfand reported the Windsor Star is one of 14 Postmedia newspapers that recently dropped the Monday print edition. Those do not include the National Post, which permanently ended its Monday print edition in July of 2017.

Why is the London Free Press staying at six? “We continue to review all of our operations,” she responded.

The Star’s editorial staff has shrunk to 19 people, including managers, photographers and Jim Parker, one prolific sports writer.

“Postmedia newspapers have not had publishers for a number of years, according to Gelfand. “Copy editing and headline writing are done in the Windsor newsroom. Postmedia Editorial Services (PES) in Hamilton handles layout and pagination for many of our titles, including the Windsor Star.”

As a former Windsor Star sports writer in the 1970s, I can tell you there were six writers and editors in the sports department alone, and we covered the local amateur and Detroit professional sports scene like a glove.

I find it sad that the editorial department has been plucked like a chicken, but bravo to those brave journalists and award winning photogs who run their tails off in the face of the corporatization of the industry. Employees long ago called the paper “the daily miracle.” Now there can be no doubt.

When I worked at the Star, some called it the best newspaper in Canada. They boasted having the highest penetration of paid circulation in the country, with the Saturday edition delivered to over 100,000 doors.

These days it is hard to discover what the circulation actually is. It’s not on their website, and it took a wild goose odyssey to ferret out the numbers.

After first being diverted to a Media Sales Consultant of the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun who provided inflated numbers, I tracked down News Media Canada, a national association of the Canadian news media industry.

Marketing and Research Director Kelly Levson, who works out of Toronto, sent along the Star’s most recent figures from the 2018 fourth quarterly report of auditing firm Alliance for Audited Media (AAM).

Average weekday circulation stood at 26,855 paid, either for print papers delivered in your mailboxes or replica e-papers paid for online.

Qualified circulation was pegged at 9,675. Erin Boudreau, an AAM Marketing Manager out of Chicago, explained that qualified circulation is defined as issues sent to individual consumers that are either non-paid or paid for by somebody else. For example, it could be a digital issue sent gratis to a school for educational purposes.

Not included in the Star’s audited circulation is the Star Review, an affiliated free publication with token editorial content bulging with advertisement flyers, delivered every week to non-subscription households. Many recipients see it as a nuisance.

I learned from AMM that there are 24 newspaper circulation types and definitions in this new digital age. And yes they make me dizzy.

Levson said many newspapers no longer get their circulation audited. While the Star still does pay AAM to audit them, News Media Canada stopped producing annual comparative circulation reports in 2016.

The Windsor Star did not fare well in the 2015 list of the top 24 newspapers in Canada. Its circulation numbers declined 22% from 63,870 in 2009 to 49,613 in 2015. And as noted above, it’s been freefalling in the four years since.

The only papers on the 2016 list that fared worse were the Montreal Gazette (down 51%); Toronto Sun (-36%); Ottawa Citizen (-26%); Saskatoon StarPhoenix (-28%); Edmonton Sun (-34%); Regina Leader-Post (-30%) and Vancouver Province (-30%)

Ten fared better and three matched the Star’s 22% dip, the Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun and Edmonton Journal.

Only four had increased circulation — The Globe and Mail (7%); the National Post (19%); Le Journal de Quebec (32%), and surprisingly the Hamilton Spectator (10%).

Postmedia, no doubt to entice paying advertisers to push their products online, has adopted an alternative measurement to paid subscriptions, counting Monthly Unique Visits. According to this tool, the Windsor Star digital site has 478,000 unique visitors monthly and 163,000 weekly readership. It shows that a lot of non-subscribers are accessing the online platforms in various ways without paying. Digital cannibalism is afflicting traditional newspapers everywhere.

Needless to say newspapers are struggling mightily. Media firms like Postmedia are due to get federal tax credits for those who subscribe to local digital news.

So the question lurks. How long will the print version hang on until getting completely swallowed up into the digital world?

Perhaps as long as it takes baby boomers like me to get a little more tech savvy and price conscious. The annual cost of a subscription to the digital replica of the daily print newspaper is $112. The annual subscription cost of a print copy being delivered FIVE times a week to my door is $378.

While you do get a free digital replica of the paper as part of the $378 and it is understandable that the cost of delivering the print edition is more, from a selfish consumer perspective, one day down the road I might decide to save $266 a year, get out of my La-Z-Boy chair and cancel the print subscription.

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