Karl Johnston, Publisher
We have some ‘good’ news to share with you, our valued readers and advertisers! Today, the paNOW family launched a sister site in the ‘northeast’: serving Melfort, Tisdale, Nipawin and surrounding areas. This community information portal has taken a page out of the paNOW, battlefordsNOW, meadowlakeNOW and saskNOW playbook and can be found online at northeastNOW.com. We invite you to share the news with your friends and family on social media. The good news doesn’t stop there. Having noted the success of paNOW, our new owner, The Jim Pattison Broadcast Group continues to take the format across western Canada. Today you will find similar sites in Kamloops, Lethbridge, Nanaimo, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and soon Prince George!
All this is happening against a backdrop of bad news for the media industry. Community newspapers continue to close in Canada. In the past two years, the big media companies like Post Media and Bell have slashed hundreds of jobs nation-wide. We’re not immune from this trend here at home. In our own neighborhood, the community newspaper in Hudson Bay and La Ronge have suddenly closed and you can expect more as community newspapers ‘right size’. The Prince Albert CTV station has quietly eliminated jobs, shuttered its studios, moved production of the noon news cast from Prince Albert to Saskatoon and relocated to a strip mall. PA’s daily print paper limps along - a shell of its former self with fewer staff and even fewer pages. A year ago, it was sold and the new owner has publicly stated he can’t seem to figure out how to make a printed paper work so they’ve cut back more and reduced distribution to rural communities to cut costs. If that wasn’t bad enough, the community newspaper in North Battleford ran a front-page headline stating there was no news worth reporting that week so ran nothing!
The expansion of the NOW brand across western Canada is one example why we shouldn’t give up hope for the survival of local journalism. Over the past 5 years paNOW has proven an audience still exists for local reporting and community information. We’ve also demonstrated that local advertisers are more than willing to join with us and follow readers from the printed paper to a new platform. The fact is readers don’t care any less now than they did before about what’s happening in their community. What has changed is the way readers choose to consume that information. We still want to know what’s going on, we just don’t want to wait to ‘read all about it ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’. It’s the same reason we now order up recent release movies from our living room versus trudging down to the local video store on a winter night (remember that?). We’re not watching fewer movies (we’re watching more) we’re just watching them differently. Today’s consumers have a choice and most want it now. More accurately, they want to consume information on their schedule and when they need it, not on the media company’s production schedule.
Unfortunately, traditional newspapers are tied to a cumbersome business model that revolves around the printed paper: deadlines and printing presses, trucks and paper carriers. Everything must run on a schedule or nothing happens at all. While they often have the right content, they are married to the print business model. It’s a catch-22: if they abandon the printed paper and go online and on demand they abandon the revenue model which is still almost entirely tied to the printed paper and the weekly flyer bundle. If they do more than dabble online they’re killing their own business. The fact is that wad of printed flyers stuffed in your mailbox is largely what’s paying for what’s left of the printed paper and without that we probably wouldn’t still have a daily paper. Shrinking readership and revenue is bad. Losing the flyer revenue would be a disaster.
Our business model is simple: focus on local content, deliver it online and the audience will come. With the launch of northeastNOW.com we’ve added more reporters to beef up our local news and sports content. When you combine our newsrooms in Melfort, Prince Albert, North Battleford and Meadow Lake we now have 19 journalists making the NOW newsroom in central, northeast and northwest Saskatchewan the region’s largest several times over.
Telling people there’s no news to report (so why buy/read the paper) doesn’t give people a reason to read the paper. The same goes for slashing pages and eliminating service to the community. Even charging people for something readily available for free elsewhere seems outdated and off putting. When readership and audience declines, advertisers turn away. As advertisers turn away revenue drops and content is cut further. It’s a vicious circle. Now we don’t profess to have a solution for ills of an entire industry but we’re confident we’ve figured out a way to ensure Melfort, Tisdale and Nipawin keep a local newspaper while restoring advertiser confidence in the ability of the media to reach a large local audience.
Since launch, paNOW has steadily grown readership. In a matter of months, it overtook readership at the daily newspaper (and the paper had a 100-year head start!). Here’s how paNOW measures up: in the most recent 30 days more than 184-thousand unique users visited the site 771,323 times. These visitors consumed 2.9 million pages of information. At the same time paNOW delivered local advertisers nearly 26 million advertising impressions. paNOW has proven that advertisers will stick with newspapers. Advertisers are okay with losing the printed paper, just not the results. In 2016 when we launched battlefordsNOW and meadowlakeNOW those two sites out-performed paNOW in a comparable 3-month period at launch. The response we’ve seen is truly amazing and extremely gratifying.
Finally, I want to shout out to the local advertisers who have chosen to partner with us on this project. Community journalism is not possible without advertiser support – certainly if you wish to pursue a free-to-read model like we have chosen. We are extremely grateful to have gained the confidence of our founding partners: Melody Motors, Prairie North Co-op, Thomas Motors, Northeast Appliance Plus, Milk +Honey Laser Clinic & Professional Aesthetics, Fouillard Carpets, John Bob Farm Equipment and NAPA Traction Unified Auto Parts Incorporated.
So, that’s our good news story. Local journalism is alive and well, at least in our little corner of the world. We’re very optimistic about the future of local online journalism. Watch us grow!
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