Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The whirling world of media

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A decade ago, Canada's newspaper industry was in a tizzy and I got caught up in the whirlwind. I ended up working for four different newspaper owners in 46 days.

On July 31, 2000, I was working as city editor of the Edmonton Journal when Conrad Black sold the paper -- and many others -- to Canwest, as Winnipeg's Asper family expanded their media empire to combine newspapers with broadcasting, including the Global TV network.

While my co-workers wondered what changes would come, by August I was on my way to Toronto to work for the Globe and Mail, owned by the Thomson Corporation.

On September 15, it was announced that giant BCE was buying majority ownership of the Globe and Mail and creating a new media unit that included the CTV network.

It was enough to make your head spin.

Now 2010 is proving to be just as busy in the Canadian newspaper business.

The Canwest newspaper chain, beset by debt troubles, was formally taken over this week by the Postmedia Network, which bought the papers out of bankruptcy protection. The Asper era in newspapers is over, replaced by an investment group led by Paul Godfrey, former head of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The venerable Canadian Press wire service is being sold to a group of eastern firms, whose papers include the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and La Presse in Montreal. The 93-year-old co-operative, in which papers shared their stories with one another and shared the cost of joint news gathering, will cease to exist, replaced by a privately owned service.

And Quebecor, owner of the Winnipeg Sun, wants to launch Sun TV News as a right-of-centre news network drawing, in part, on the resources of Sun newspapers under the QMI -- Quebec Media Inc. -- agency banner.

What is especially interesting is that, while the players are changing, the language used to explain the moves has not changed much in a decade.

In 2000, convergence was the buzzword. Mixing newspapers with broadcast outlets was done to expand the great potential of content in the new media world. Content from strong newspaper brands with dominant market positions would be combined with TV and leveraged across multiple media platforms. Journalists would be multi-purposed and advertisers would go to a single source for print, television, online and other outlets.

"We don't intend to be one of the corpses lying beside the information highway," Izzy Asper said upon Canwest's purchase of the papers, unwittingly describing exactly where the company would end up a decade later.

Godfrey used similar language this week as he promised to pursue an ambitious "digital first" business model that harnesses strong brands in dominant market positions.

Godfrey described newspapers as the great content creators and talked of using journalists across multiple media platforms.

"I would expect most reporters are going to carry video cameras so they can put their stories on the web immediately, to cells, iPhones and social networks," he said.

His vision is little changed from that of Izzy Asper, though the technology and possibilities have advanced hugely over the past decade.

Newspapers owners are looking to unlock the potential of content and looking to new technology to help do so.

That is really the reason behind the demise of CP as a co-operative. Large news companies want to keep control over their content and have thus withdrawn from sharing it through CP. Instead they want to use it themselves in various ways, such as repurposing it for Sun TV.

Canwest newspapers left CP a few years ago and this year the Sun-owned papers also pulled out, leaving behind a news service that has itself transformed into a multiple-media provider of content, instead of a co-operative of newspapers sharing stories among themselves.

We're not immune from these changes at the Winnipeg Free Press. We are also embracing the technology changes and looking for ways to extend the use of our content. We used to print news stories. Now we do everything from publishing online and using social media to providing videos and live coverage of events.

However, this time I'm not caught up in the ownership changes. The Free Press remains independently owned -- watching what others are doing as the media landscape evolves.


Bob Cox is publisher of the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2010 A14

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About Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

"Rejoined" is a better word for it, because Bob first worked at the newspaper as a reporter in January 1984. He covered crime and courts for three years before getting restless and moving on to other journalism jobs.

Since then, his career has spanned four provinces and five cities. Highlights include working in Ottawa for the Canadian Press covering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien during his first term in office, and five years at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, first as national editor and later as night editor.

Bob grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but has spent most of his adult life in Western Canada in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton.


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