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Quebecor looks to social media to drive revenue

A 24hours newspaper box sits beside The Ottawa Sun in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. Sun Media Corp. said Tuesday it is cutting 360 positions and closing 11 publications across the country, including its 24 Hours free daily newspapers in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebecor Inc. will set up a new division to help it review and understand the digital changes hobbling its Sun Media newspaper division.

The initiative comes from the company's new chief executive officer, who is particularly interested in how the papers can use social media to drive online readership and revenue.

The newly created QMI Digital is a research and development division tasked with understanding how Canada's largest publisher, by number of titles, can take advantage of its 36 daily newspapers and almost 200 weeklies to generate revenue online at a time when print advertising is decreasing.

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"We are creating QMI Digital to increase our all-around agility in a field that is experiencing breakneck, non-stop change," CEO Robert Dépatie wrote in a memo to staff.

The newspaper industry has been hammered by falling revenue, as advertisers reduce the amount they are spending in print and slowly increase their digital advertising spending. The challenge for publishers is to find a way to increase online revenue to compensate for losses in print, something that isn't happening fast enough for many publishers.

The company saw its profit fall more than 60 per cent in the last quarter to $5.7-million. Last week, Sun Media said it would fire 360 workers across the country and close 11 weekly papers as it tries to cut $55-million from its annual operating budget. It has cut more than 1,000 people from its staff of about 4,500 in the last year.

Newspaper companies have looked to other sources of revenue to compensate for losses, including digital subscriptions. But they are still experimenting, and the new division is intended to seek out alternative sources of revenue.

The digital SWAT team will be led by Caroline Roy, previously the newspaper division's vice-president of sales, and will be overseen by a digital governance committee led by Mr. Dépatie, who oversaw the company's highly profitable Vidéotron cable division before taking the top job in the spring from the semi-retiring Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

"QMI Digital's mission will therefore become a cornerstone of Quebecor Media's objectives," he wrote.

Its first job will be to map out Sun Media's vast online presence, including staffing levels and capital spending reviews. Ms. Roy has also been tasked with striking "strategic partnerships" and "managing digital platforms, content and offerings including social media."

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The company has a social-media policy, but it's loosely worded and intended to give individual journalists the freedom they need to experiment with new technology as it comes online.

"Experiment where you feel it's appropriate but e-mail the social media manager if you have anything new that you want to try," the guide reads.

Ms. Roy will start in her new position at the end of August.

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