A major redesign of the Ottawa Citizen in print and online aims to tailor the news to readers of different ages and interests, pushing deeper into a multiplatform model that will soon spread to other Postmedia newspapers across Canada.
Changes unveiled on Tuesday gave the paper's print and online editions a colourful makeover. But the newspaper also launched a new mobile app delivering short, digestible news stories targeting younger readers and an evening iPad edition focused on feature-length stories and multimedia.
The Citizen is the guinea pig for a broader four-platform strategy set to roll out across seven other newspapers owned by Postmedia Network Inc. in the next 12 to 15 months, including the Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal and Vancouver Sun. The company says the changes are more than cosmetic, and will shape their journalism to target readers in certain demographics and on different devices – and let advertisers to do the same.
The revamp comes amid financial hardship at Postmedia. Its second-quarter losses grew by about 60 per cent this year, to $25.3-million, with print advertising revenue down nearly 15 per cent. The company has also endured deep cutbacks, and last year erected metered paywalls on its newspaper websites to help offset losses from falling print ad revenue. A Citizen digital subscription costs $12.95 a month and includes the new digital editions.
"Going forward, the reader is going to have to pay more. There's no doubt about that," Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey said. "And that's why we have to cater to the four platforms and the demographics there so that people will feel comfortable."
The company concluded the kinds of content readers look for "vary significantly, and even dramatically, from one platform to another," chief operating officer Wayne Parrish said. The company polled more than 17,000 people across the eight markets using Ipsos Canada.
Postmedia is betting that advertisers will spend more on tailored ads that can be shown to reach a certain demographic, such as younger readers. "They want a scientific way of determining how to get the best bang for their buck," Mr. Godfrey said.
At the Citizen, that will mean more graphics and info boxes, and fewer large blocks of type in the print paper. But with two thirds of the Citizen's online traffic now coming through a mobile device, a new smartphone app is designed to lure readers with only minutes to spare who are looking for a quick dose of news. A dedicated team will produce and repackage stories in short, sharp chunks from 6 a.m. until midnight.
"It speaks in a vernacular that is much less formal, much less rigid, and has a sense of humour, has a bit of life to it," Mr. Parrish said of the app.
At 6 p.m. each weekday, the Citizen will also publish a tablet edition for Apple's iPad focused on news and features, with interactive graphics, video and audio. It joins a growing stable of tablet-specific digital papers, such as the one La Presse launched last year at a cost of $40-million.
The Citizen's tablet edition fits with an existing desire "to recapture that afternoon newspaper vibe that was mostly lost to television news some years ago," said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. But "it's unclear whether that has been a successful move."