When news sucks
When you consider it was supposed to be a key step in what CEO Paul Godfrey called an attempt to "create a new company for a new time,” it's a pretty sad commentary on how newspaper companies have continued to bungle the transition to online culture.
When readers linked up to the new state-of-the-art canada.com at the first of July, they expected to find the best of the news from Postmedia's 10 metropolitan newspapers, including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette. Instead, they got celebrity gossip, skimpy reporting and bizarre online polls, allowing viewers to vote on the burning questions of the day, such as "Is it okay for Oscar Pistorius to be in the Olympics?"
These were the choices for that one:
(a) No way. The carbon fibre legs are an unfair advantage.
(b) Yes. He has earned the right.
(c) Not sure
Is it any wonder readers didn't like it? One said: "Where's the news? Discussions, comments, twitter crap, voices, photos, contests...where's the news? The new site looks sharp but did you actually study your audience before making changes? People were coming here for news."
It was so dreadful a debut that Rob Granatstein, the site's senior producer, went online to try to explain. "Thank you for your comments. We know this is a big change. We understand why you're hesitant. We have put the news back a little, but we still have all the strong reporters bringing you what you expect. We've just moved it back a little to focus on the big - and fun - issues of the day. We won't ignore news, but hope you'll come here and get involved in the stories, talk to the people making the news, and get more out of the story."
Getting more out of the story included canada.com trying to explain the complex scientific discovery of the Higgs boson particle in one paragraph. Then it invited readers to vote on whether it had changed their understsanding of the uriverse. Oh, really, yeah. These were the possible answers, and it's not surprising that few of us participated:
(a) Yes! This is the greatest moment in science in a lifetime!
(b) No. My daily life will continue as it did yesterday.
(c) Could be. I'm definitely reading more about this.
In the days since this inauspicious start, canada.com has scaled back the lame gimmicks and tried to present news in a more staightforward way. Today it sort of looks like any other news website. And that may be even worse.
Postmedia, you see, is supposed to be radically reinventing itself. It is pursuing a digital-first agenda in an effort to reduce its reliance on print. The deep freeze in the advertising market is affecting all print media, and a recent study estimates that for every $7 publishers are losing on advertising in their print editions, they are only earning $1 of digital revenue -- a losing proposition in anyone's books.
Godfrey has literally torn Postmedia and its newspaper newsrooms apart in an effort to stem the losses. The company lost $12 million in its third quarter even as it announced a number of restructuring measures, cutting jobs at a number of papers, imposing paywalls on some of its newspapers’ websites, suspending a number of Sunday editions (or Monday, in the case of the National Post), and moving editing and production to a centralized newsroom in Hamilton. More cuts are on the way. Godfrey said: “The status quo just doesn’t work anymore.”
Well, neither does what comes next.
Part of a digital-first strategy means innovating and moving away from using the web as merely a platform on which newspaper content is displayed. If the troubled relaunch of canada.com is any indication, the news-hungry public isn't quite ready to accept it.