Sunday, 29 November 2009

Re new weeklies

Don Sinclair, a retired newsman and former Bowes executive now living in St. Albert, Alberta, comments on new weekly newspapers being launched in western Canada:

"I continue to read with interest about new weekly newspapers sprouting up in the west. They are, of course, the result of the changes in operational functions of existing weeklies owned by Sun Media (Quebecor).

"My congratulations to the latest venture in Strathmore. Long may it prosper.

"The opportunity for start-ups in rural Alberta are, of course, a gift from Quebecor to former employees, although I very much doubt that they even know it.

"As publisher after publisher bites the dust and more and more publications are being managed by a single publisher living in another community, the window of opportunity for former employees to compete with Quebecor opens wider.

"That is because senior management at Quebecor seems to lack any basic understanding of the products or the markets they serve in communities with weekly papers.

"And while the western management team should know, they are either feigning ignorance, or are towing the company line with little or no protest.

"Having been in the weekly and small daily game from 1962 until my retirement in 2001, I have an intimate understanding of how a paper in a small community works. And as former Executive VP and COO of Bowes Publishers for a dozen years, I was instrumental in acquiring many of the papers Quebecor is set on destroying.

"A weekly is only as good as the people who work there and the publisher, editor and ad manager are key members who liaise with the community every single day.

"Unlike a major city daily, these people know everyone in the community due to their positions. Relationships are formed at the council meeting, the county meeting, the chamber of commerce meeting, the hockey rink, the curling club, the minor hockey league, the local school, the local pub and dozens of other places too numerous to mention.

"The staff in total become part of that community, led by the publisher. When you tear the heart of that relationship out of a community by removing key staff members and managing from afar, you leave a void in that community.

"So naturally, the community loses any sense of feeling for the publication being a real part of their lives, and considers it an outsider since the changes. Throw in the word Quebec and you will find a certain, not unexpected reaction, by many small town western residents. In short, they never thought about who owned it before, but the new owners, and former employees, will now be sure to remind them often.

"And when a new publication comes along, with a few familiar faces from the days they felt the paper represented them, the loyalty is instantly transferred to the new publication. And so are the advertising dollars.

"It is sad to see a management team so blind to the concept that they are unwittingly destroying their revenue stream, bit by bit, community by community.

"But destroy it they will. Sit back and watch it happen over the next few years.

"Don Sinclair
St. Albert, Alberta
Visit my web site:"

Thank you for your comments, Don.


  1. Well said Don.
    Did you ever think when you retired that the empire you helped to build could be destroyed so quickly?
    And you're right, PKP is surrounded by yes men and women who have zero understanding of how community newspapers work.
    I too am so thrilled to see people like Mario in Strathmore, and Tyler in Hinton start up rival papers. We know that despite what we're being fed by our superiors about newspapers going the way of the dinosaur, that weekly publications are cherished by their communities and make enough money to pay the bills and then some. It's nice to know that we will soon have options for employment as these new papers crop up. What's making Sun Media papers obsolete is that they are now filled with canned crap and don't have enough staff anymore to cover what's going on except in a perfunctory manner.

  2. Interesting analysis up to the comment about Quebec, which is an ugly sentiment that inadvertently confirms eastern sterotypes about Western prejudices. Would things really be all that different if the company was called NewBrunswickor, or even Ontariocor?

  3. Wow Don.

    You hit it on the head. No arguments. Many of the things you describe are not unique to small town weeklies. They are the relationships all beat reporters must have to prosper.
    It is also how trade publications prosper and, now, as a freelancer it's how I ply my trade, by developing and nurturing relationships.

    Maybe they don't teach that a Quebecor's CEO school or maybe the only relationships they are interested in are around the table at the Quebec Businessman's Club (which actually has a name but I can't think of it now.)

    Either way, Quebcor, as I have often said, sees the presses as their key asset, not people. And, as a result fixates on keeping them rolling. If they don't roll they way they want, they scrap them.
    And that's because they are and always will be a printer. They print phone books, brochures, flyers and other collateral but they've never, ever understood the nature of the content enshrined on those pages.

    And that's because content, news, stories, relationships and the other factors that make a newspaper or magazine the heart of a community can not be easily reduced to numbers.

    Long may you shine, Don. Long may you shine.

    Ian Harvey

  4. As an Ontario resident who spent over two years working at a Sun Media weekly in the heart of Alberta's oil country, I can attest to Mr. Sinclair's notion that the word 'Quebecor' holds a certain connotation.

    We'd all like to think western prejudices to the east (Ontario and Quebec) are a stereotype, but they are not. Nearly every new person I met, when finding out I was from Ontario, said, "Oh, you're one of those f--king Liberals, are ya!".

    I laughed it off because I'd rather debate Leafs and Oilers than politics, but it happened. A lot.

    Mr. Sinclair is bang on, on all accounts.

  5. The Quebcor comment was about Quebecor as a corporation, not Quebec as a province or the people of Quebec generally.

    We have more in common, for example, with the men and women of Le Journal De Montreal who have been locked out for nearly 11 months by Quebecor.

    It's Quebecor which is short sighted and fails to grasp the concept of what a newspaper is and how content is integral.

    And at least I put my name to my comments.

  6. Just a clarification on the Hinton Voice – this start-up is owned and operated by Robin Garreck and Sarah Burns (we are both former Hinton Parklander employees). With that said, Tyler is a great community newspaper guy and his editorial background and overall knowledge are a definite asset.

    The Hinton Voice started publishing in June 2009 and we are doing great. We've received ongoing support from some businesses who wanted to see a more community-oriented approach to their local paper and who appreciate the fact that the profits stay here in Hinton and are not siphoned off to some corporate headquarters out of province.

    Customers and readers have also appreciated the quality of our printing ... and we feel a debt of gratitude to Roger Holmes and his good people at Star Press in Wainwright, AB, whose consistent work quality and continued guidance have been a great help.

    The Hinton Parklander went total market coverage in September, but we stuck to our guns with a paid circulation on the belief that there is value in what we do and that people will pay for it ... that has continued to be the case. Subscriptions continue to grow steadily, with the Parklander move to a free paper actually pushing people to our office for subscriptions when Quebecor refused to refund money for those who had already paid for home delivery.

    Just as an update, we won the Newcomer Award at the Chamber Small Business Awards in October and were recently awarded the contract for a writing and design project for early 2010 that will be a welcome boost to the bank account!

    It has been a lot of hard work, but we feel it is paying off.

    Anyone who wants to check us out online can do so at (we are planning to do some redesign work in the coming months) or check out our Facebook page.

    Anybody who REALLY wants to support these independent movements can buy an ad or get a subscription!

    We are happy to hear the news out of Strathmore ... and wish Mario and his crew all the best! We want to thank TSF for connecting the people who care about accountable journalism, whether they be large daily papers or small weeklies like us.

    We hope you reconsider changing your focus back to primarily the Toronto Sun and instead keep your network available to all of us trying to keep the spirit of your 'Day Oners' alive.

    All the best,

    The Hinton Voice

  7. Ian,

    You may put your name to your comments, but that doesn't mean you read the original post with any care. I quote:

    "Throw in the word Quebec and you will find a certain, not unexpected reaction, by many small town Western residents."

    You may choose to read that as referring only to a specific company. I'll read it as saying what the words actually say.

  8. The word Quebec is part of the word Quebecor. From my direct experience ever since Quebecor bought Sun Media it raised some hackles whether it was used as Quebec or Quebecor. Westerners in small towns saw little difference.

    We kept the Quebecor logo off the editorial page for many years to avoid the backlash we knew was entirely possible.

    Be that as it may, I pointed out the feelings of small communities toward the new ownership because it is part of the history of the reaction to Quebecor ownership of Sun Media that I personally experienced.

    I can also tell you that when Quebecor bought Ronalds Printing in Edmonton in the 90s and had all the delivery trucks repainted with the Quebecor logo, the backlash in the city of Edmonton by Ronalds customers was so severe that they called in all the newly painted trucks and repainted them again with the old Ronalds logo.

    To ignore either scenario would be to ignore an important aspect of the history of the company in Alberta.

    Don Sinclair

  9. Don:

    But that doesn't make it right, does it? Criticize the company for its decisions if you want. But don't criticize them for being Quebecers. (And I realize you're not expressing your own views on that score, but rather those that you ascribe to many people in Alberta.) That's the part that struck me as ugly. To say that it's there and it's real doesn't make it any less ugly.

  10. It would be the same if an Indian or American company came in and took over, people don't like outsiders, regardless of who they are or where they are from.
    And they furthermore, they don't like seeing their friends, neighbours and fellow business people lose their jobs for the sake of corporate greed and lack of innovation.

  11. Anonymous who posted at 2:40 a.m. has it right "… they don't like seeing their friends, neighbours and fellow business people lose their jons for the sake of corporate greed and lack of innovation."
    It doesn't matter what the company name is and to suggest otherwise is just plain silly. I'm in Ontario (and don't believe this province is the centre of the universe as many think it is) and the company could be called anything at all and it would still suck. PKP cares only for his ego and having it stroked by yes-people.
    I hope any paper starting up in any market with Quebecor in it does well. Only wish someone would start one up in my area.....

  12. Quebecor is gift-wrapping the startup of these publications, with many more probably on the way. What else does a company expect when it gives a kick in the butt to its best and brightest?? Those of us still hanging on in the trenches can see many of these people getting back into the business as our competitors and doing a damn good job. Yeah, way to go, Quebecor, you're making many of us silent cheerleaders for the departed

  13. Quebecor has taken the presses from Welland and Niagara Falls, and a couple of other locations, and sold them off to some place in Peru.
    Wonder if the sale was to make sure there were no operating presses in Niagara, or elsewhere in souther Ontario, to keep start up newspapers from getting access to printing?