The following was posted two-and-a-half years ago on my old blog, after a massive round of layoffs at the Winnipeg Free Press. At the time, the local Twittersphere exploded in passionate debate, much like last weekend after the Freep announced its new paywall. Some of this is dated, but I think the central concept holds: the Free Press can’t be just in the journalism business anymore. They have to branch out, create different content. As Kenton would say, it’s Edutainment time!
With all the hullabaloo and talk about the “future of print journalism” after last week’s Winnipeg Free Press layoffs, ideas are flying around the Twitterverse about how the storied publication can survive in the new online world order.
Here’s my unsolicited suggestion to help save the Freep: they should get into the radio business.
It’s not that much of a stretch, really. In the early days of radio, many newspapers did in fact start up or buy stations so they could preview the next day’s stories on the air and get more people reading their newspaper. It was the birth of news radio as we know it. They’d read headlines on the radio and tell people to buy the paper to get the full story the next morning.
Seems to me like they were way ahead of their time.
Cross-platform journalism is the future of this industry, especially in our Internet-driven 24-hour news cycle. Reporters have to be able to write for print, television, radio AND the web. And they have to do it all in the same day.
At least that what they should be doing. It’s not happening as much as I thought it would. Some media outlets see the opportunities, Global TV and CJOB 68 for example. They cross-promote each other, use each others reporters and stories, and basically drive their viewers/listeners to each others platform.
Seems like a really good idea, but I wonder how the advertising side of it works. Do they share clients? Part of me thinks no, but I’m really not sure.
Advertising drives the media business. It pays the reporters’ salaries and makes the owners’ profits. That part of the industry will never change. But, as Dan Lett so eloquently put it in his blog Saturday, online ad revenues don’t generate enough money to pay for the content they’re producing. Papers can’t charge as much for web advertising as they do for print ad space, because the Internet busted the print advertising mythos wide open. Online advertising prices are based on an “actual value” model – how many impressions/click-throughs, etc… You pay for what you get. Traditional print advertising prices are based on some “magical” circulation number the paper’s ad salesmen put out there: “300,000 people read our paper so that’s how many people are going to see your ad!” Sadly, this was never true. Or at least, there was never any way to prove it.
So the Freep needs to bring in more ad dollars. Why not open up a whole new revenue stream by crossing over to a new medium? I know, I know – they already tried WFP TV, producing web videos on community news stories. That was a foray into the television world, wasn’t it?
Not really. It was still web-based, I never saw it on my actual TV.
No, I’m talking about really crossing over to another medium. We’ve already determined that print advertising is a dead duck, and TV advertising isn’t doing much better. That leaves radio.
Radio’s actually in pretty good shape in the new world order. It’s still the only medium that can be safely consumed while driving, and for that reason it’s not going anywhere. Sure, I know people now have their iPods plugged into their car stereos to listen to music, etc. but that’s not our target audience here. Personally-chosen music has been competing with radio since they days of the eight-track cassette.
There’s a very large portion of Winnipeg’s radio listeners that love the news/talk radio format. It’s huge here, more so than any other Canadian market. CJOB 68 and CBC Radio One are perennially at the top of the ratings. If their numbers have been dropping recently, it’s only because they program content more relevant to the older “baby boomer” demographic.
I’ve been saying for years that if anyone had the guts to start up a news/talk format station for Winnipeg’s younger audience, that station would clean up. There’s a demand for this kind of programming that is not being met. CJOB and CBC are trying to shift their programming to target the younger listener, but it’s been a very slow transition – they have to do it without alienating their core listeners.
|Concerts or interviews at the WFP Cafe could be broadcast on the radio. Photo: Winnipeg Free Press
The Winnipeg Free Press on the radio would be a great fit, I think. Their reporters would call in live reports or make appearances on the air while they’re gathering for their news story. They’d write the same news stories for radio, print and web. Even the Freep’s columnists would have something to do: host the talk shows. I could totally see Dan Lett or Doug Speirs taking live calls, talking about the issues that matter most to young Winnipeggers. Gary Lawless already has his own successful radio show on TSN 1290 and many of the reporters currently working at the Freep have made appearances on both CJOB or CBC radio. They’d have their own hourly news and sports readers, all already working for the publication. The only additional costs would be the purchase of the CRTC license, maybe a few board operators, etc… and leasing a broadcasting facility. The new radio advertising revenue stream would cover those costs and more.
There could even be some cool cross over with the WFP News Café (which hopefully is not a victim in the next round of cuts.) A live concert or interview at the café could be broadcast on the radio, as well as on the web.
Cross-media journalism is the answer to the problems faced by today’s traditional media. Every media outlet should be reporting across multiple platforms, and I’m not just talking about their “home” medium and the web. Every company in this field should have their fingers in the web, radio, TV and print.
CBC currently has a pretty good model. We all know that CBC isn’t in the money-making business, but if they were, I think they’d be doing well. They report on TV, radio and the web and their reporters work in all three. If they were bringing in ad revenue on all three of those platforms, they’d be killing it!
So that’s my two cents. Free Press Radio – I like the sound of that!
And hey – if the Bell/Astral merger is approved by the CRTC, it sounds like a few FM frequencies will be opening up in the Winnipeg market.
The timing couldn’t be better.