Industry players see healthy future for newspapers

Jim Day
Published on May 30, 2014

Mark Challinor, international vice-president of the International News Media Association.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

Mark Challinor sees a healthy future for newspapers, but not for papers solely in print.

Newspapers that are most likely to thrive will embrace a content mix of print and digital together, says Challinor, the international vice-president of the International News Media Association.

"Digital technology is just going like a fast steam train now and we need to embrace it quickly before we get left behind,'' he told The Guardian after delivering a keynote address Thursday in Charlottetown on the future of newspapers at a conference for the Canadian newspaper industry.

He notes in Canada, like around the world, some newspapers have fully grasped the need to adjust aggressively to the digital world while others have not.

Challinor says sometimes smaller papers feel they do not have the resources or expertise to keep pace with the growing shift.

"My view on that is you don't need to spend shed loads of money,'' he says.

"You can take the first steps into a new world and then allocate your resource as you go.''

Challinor says the newspaper remains for many consumers a familiar and sought after means to be informed and entertained.

"I believe that print still has a very long future because of the reasons I said: its tangibility, the feeling of a newspaper, a lot of people still like that,'' he says.

More than ever, though, newspapers must place greater attention on content, stresses Peter Kvarnstrom, chair of the Canadian Newspaper Association.

"Make sure that we are publishing great papers . . . relevant and compelling and unique content,'' says Kvarnstrom, who serves as president for B.C. operations for Glacier Media Group.

"We are seeing that the better newspapers are faring better.''

Kvarnstrom says status quo is not an option for newspapers looking for longevity and prosperity.

He says most newspaper companies have embraced online product. Canadian newspapers are making money with their websites.

"It's not the actual website itself that is making the money,'' he explains.

"It's the deal sites. It's the flyer sites.''

He adds the newspaper industry continues to face systemic challenges in terms of changes in the preferences of advertisers but he feels papers are responding well.

Suzanne Raitt, vice-president of marketing for Newspapers Canada, says newspapers continue to earn a big piece of the advertising pie.

In Canada, newspapers account for 29 per cent of all advertising revenue, putting papers in a deadlock with money pumped into television commercials in the country.

Print flyers still work, says Raitt, noting a survey showed Canadians regularly read flyers looking for deals.

Raitt says many wrongly view the newspaper industry in Canada to be in great peril. She blames tougher times facing the industry south of the border for the erroneous perception here at home.

"I think the challenge is we get all this bad news coming out of the States and I think people assume the Canadians market is like the American market,'' she says.

"We're very different. We have a lot more competition which actually keeps us more vibrant. We're always launching new products.''

Challinor anticipates that at some point down the road — he will not hazard a guess as to how far down the road — the readership of newspapers in traditional form may become very small.

"It depends on who and where you are,'' he adds.

"But I think for now, anyway, I think print remains important and remains an important cornerstone to the offerings that we do. But it's not the be all and end all any more. It's about a mix.''