Christopher Waddell: I would be very surprised if the National Post did not survive. Without the Post, the newspaper group would have no access to the Toronto market which is a very large and important advertising market. Without Toronto an advertiser really isn't placing a national ad. At the same time the Financial Post has already been integrated into CanWest papers as a couple of pages in each paper's business section every day. That gives the newspaper group an ability to sell national ads that reach more readers than an ad in the Report on Business and I suspect that will be a key marketing strategy of the newspaper group.
John: Is there enough online revenue out there to sustain the news rooms of newspapers like the CanWest papers?
Christopher Waddell: Not right now. That's the big challenge everyone in the media is facing. Outside of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times no one has been successful at charging for access to web sites but that's the direction media owners would like to go. Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. has already said that's how he wants to go and others are busy developing models for online subscriptions, micro-payments for stories etc. I don't think anyone believe that online advertising can support online news the way that print advertising has supported newspapers for decades. The challenge is figuring out how much the public will pay for what. It would be fascinating for different news organizations to launch different approaches and see what does and doesn't work.
Claire Neary, Reportonbusiness.com: Any idea what those approaches might involve?
Christopher Waddell: Sure, it could be everything from getting a certain number of articles for free every month then paying something for a few more and more for more after that to subscriptions, to a mixed model that may lead to producing a paper only online some days and in print and online on others (no Monday papers for instance which except for weekend sports are pretty thin on content), to charging a monthly or annual subscription. It may also involve different delivery means - the Kindle once it is allowed in Canada or other forms of electronic readers, subscriptions to headline services. There is a tremendous range of technology out there for reading text - it comes down to the imagination of other producing the material in how they want to market it.
Karen: There's been some buzz in the freelance world about what this will mean for the health of Canada's media landscape. Do you think this is a precursor to de-conglomeration? If so, what effect do you think that could have on the swath of laid-off reporters/editors who are currently looking for work?
Christopher Waddell: I think de-conglomeration is a possibility and would be a welcome change if it happened. For almost a decade now the media world has been caught up in convergence - the belief that the same material can be produced by a small number of journalists for distribution across the television, print and Internet operations all owned by the same company. That's proven to be an almost complete disaster for everyone involved to the point where it is impossible to identify any benefits that came from convergence. De-conglomeration (if that's a word) presents possibilities for more employment but that likely won't come for a while. Independent owners of newspapers or television stations, should they emerge, will likely be very cautious with spending initially until they decide what print-broadcast-Internet mixture model best serves their audience and they see some stability in their operation and the economy.
Claire Neary: Aside from employment prospects and balance sheets, what kinds of effects do you think de-conglomeration might have on the quality of journalism produced in Canada?
Christopher Waddell: The public is best served with more rather than less competition. The more voices out there on any given issue the wider range of opinion the public receives. The more reporters and news organization chasing a story the more likely it is that the story will be advanced by someone finding out something that others don't know. Conglomeration has also forced a degree of homogeneity on media in Canada that prevents it from reflecting the communities in which they are located and operate. For instance all CanWest newspaper websites are identical. Global, CTV and CBC local newscasts all look identical and operate to identical formulas regardless of the community in which they are located. As a result viewers and readers see less and less of what is distinctive about their community in their newspaper or newscasts and that has had led to declines in audience and readership. More independent ownership of the media significantly heightens the potential for more competition and also means more potential for innovation, experimentation and willingness to take risks at a time when the media, which is traditionally very conservative, desperately needs an infusion of new thinking.
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