If the medium is the message, the message of the new Globe and Mail must be “we’re too good for lining the bird cage.”
Which is precisely the problem with the shiny, snappy, blurby, colourful new newspaper that debuted this past weekend.
The new Globe and Mail is literally slick – printed on the sort of shiny stock that makes little difference to the experience of reading good journalism, but apparently sends advertisers scrambling for their checkbooks, which is what pays for good journalism in the first place.
The articles are a little shorter and punchier, something that seems to have irked at least one columnist: veteran Roy MacGregor burned a precious line in his Saturday story to complain that his word count was too short to go into the image issues facing Hockey Night in Canada. Irony indeed.
Speaking of that… MacGregor’s story, and another by Bruce Dowbiggin on Don Cherry’s’ legacy ensured the enormously popular HNIC dominated the front of the Sport(s) section of the shiny new Saturday paper.
Meanwhile in Art(s), it was lovable lug Neil Young staring at us from front page, not an operatic soprano or an obtuse architect.
The front page of the paper itself included a pic of the bankably beautiful Sarah Palin, paired with Liberal heartthrob Justin Trudeau among other familiar faces, accompanying a story about deadly drone planes in the skies over Afghanistan.
I know these tropes only too well; they’re what we of the Web call “click bait”.
Sarah Palin, aging rock stars who speak for the working man, the venerable Don Cherry and his pugnacious punditry, celebrities of all kinds and hot stuff about war are our stock in trade around here. Curvacious women and any mention of Tim Hortons, gruesome accidents, weird news, lotteries and crime, plus hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey all the time… that’s our bread and butter at Canoe.ca.
This is the editorial legacy we inherited from our proud paper partners, the tabloid daily Suns in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. It worked in the tabs and it works online for the same reason: it’s what the people want. Quick hits and easy reads are good business, in paper and online.
Canoe.ca may owe a little less, in terms of look and feel, to our broadsheet buddies like the London Free Press and the Kingston Whig Standard – (though these blog posts occasionally wind up in their pages) – but never mind, we’re all in this together now. Everyone still winces when someone says convergence, but there’s no need to say it anyway. Today we just say “reality,” and the reality is that the same piece of content (formerly known as a story) may wind up in a tabloid, a broadsheet, a portal, a local website, a television crawl and a mobile app in one fell swoop.
Yet while online outlets are increasingly the end-point for all those stories, print newsrooms across the country largely own the news-gathering process and the advertising revenues required to support it.
Everyone in our collective business is trying to figure out how to make a product pay when it’s consumed by those, like me, who don’t want to pay for their news.
Digital consumers like us scare the big minds behind the big business of print, including my bosses, because we rarely stop to read a paper.
At least, not until someone spends billions of dollars to redesign one. The fact that I bought the Globe and Mail on Saturday for the first time in years must be a small win of the kind they’re looking for, in a world where printed paper increasingly looks like a thing of the past.
In fact, I didn’t just buy the paper; I’m saving it – in a drawer full of special newspapers that begins with a Globe from Confederation Day, July 1, 1867, and includes moments as diverse as the moon landing, President Obama’s election, Wayne Gretzky’s retirement and Canada’s first Olympic gold medal on home soil.
My copy of the new Globe and Mail won’t wind up lining the bird cage, and for the bigwigs at CTV Globemedia you’d think that ought to be good news.
But there’s the rub: I’m saving this paper because it’s a rare and somewhat precious thing. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll buy more than a couple of dozen newspapers in my whole life; each is bound to be a special item like this one, a curio, in other words, worthy of adding to my collection of historic newspapers.
The Globe and Mail’s redesign process includes purchasing state-of-the-art colour printing presses and a contract for twenty years worth of costly newsprint from our rapidly diminishing forests. Part of the idea was to make the paper more magazine-like, less disposable, and perhaps that has succeeded: after all, I’ll be keeping my single copy indefinitely.
But selling the odd paper to people who think newspapers are collectible anachronisms hardly amounts to a business case.
What the Globe and Mail will need to justify their massive investment in the newspaper business – whose role in journalism has been absolutely central, to be sure – is readers who will buy the paper and dispose of it, day in, day out forever. Lining the birdcage, so to speak, in perpetuity.
Who are these precious readers? They are people who can reconcile themselves to the pressing environmental issues around the use, recycling and reuse of tree-based cellulose paper. They are people with the the time and the energy and the inclination to sit somewhere for long enough to read the newspaper daily. They are people who can and will ignore the TV, the radio, the laptop, and the mobile device to focus on reading words and flipping pages.
Traditional newspapers depend on people who will pony up a buck or two on a daily basis when the news is ubiquitous and free almost everywhere else.
Baby Boomers may continue to do all of those things until the day they die, and statistical predictions suggest that will be just perfect for the Globe and Mail: “Canada’s National Newspaper” may be able to retain its existing audience for twenty years or more, if habits don’t change and the creek don’t rise.
Twenty years is about as long as it’s been since I bought a paper daily, which is why they’re so special to me now.
Way too special to use them for lining the bird cage.
Too bad for the new Globe and Mail.