The recession is cutting into advertising revenue, and newspapers are in decline.
Could there be a worse time to aggressively expand a newspaper?
Thats exactly what Craig Westcott is doing. He is launching The Newfoundland and Labrador Post, which describes itself as the provinces journal of business, politics, arts and life. The old Business Post still exists as an insert in the paper. The first issue goes into distribution today, with an April 1 cover date (though I dont think its a hoax).
So, is Westcott just plain crazy or crazy like a fox?
No doubt some of you are wondering about my sanity given that were expanding at a time when newspapers are closing and scaling back all over the place because of the economy and the Internet, Westcott writes, in his Pillar to Post editorial in the April 1 edition. The thing is, Newfoundland is a different market than the rest of the world. Not only is our economy holding its own amid the global economic turmoil, but our demographic profile is different. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest proportion of older adults of any jurisdiction in the country. Older adults are more inclined to read newspapers than surf for one on the Internet.
As well, its not true that all newspapers are dying. Community newspapers are continuing to hold and even grow their readerships. Its the daily papers that are suffering. And we are not ignoring the Internet. We intend to improve our presence there as well.
In an email, received just before posting this item, Westcott said he is contrarian by nature.
Recessions are great times for contrarians. The fact that the rest of the world mistakenly thinks newspapers are passe makes it even more of an opportunity. Now is the time to invest for the good times that will return. One day I would like to own most of the weeklies in the province. That's a big dream, and probably unrealistic. But you have to shoot for something.
I asked Westcott why he is doing this, and what he would like to accomplish.
Three reasons, he replied. First, I love newspapers and I don't want them to go away. I think good ones and useful ones are going to be around for a long while. I hope the Newfoundland and Labrador Post is both. Second, this is a great opportunity to grow readership and attract advertisers. I've been wanting to do this for a long time. I even corresponded with Brian Dobbin recently about acquiring the name Independent. The province needs a provincial newspaper. Combining The Business Post with a general interest newspaper is a great opportunity to educate Newfoundlanders about business, some of whom might not ordinarily think they would be interested in business news, even though it affects their livelihoods and way of life. And, while I enjoy covering business news, I also miss all the other issues - politics, crime, social issues, quirky stories, City Hall, you name it. And finally, this is a chance to gradually attract and help foster some new talent in the way of writers, designers and advertising salespeople, which is personally fulfilling.
The paper has a fresh new layout with better use of colour, and, lo and behold, theyve got Ray Guy as a columnist. Theyve also added local author Darrin McGrath as outdoors columnist. Westcott says the current circulation to 5,000 business owners in the Northeast Avalon will continue, with the addition of free pickup points at coffee shops, hotels, and other businesses. He is also adding distribution points across the island and eventually into Labrador.
The goal is to get papers in all the major centres including Bay Roberts, Carbonear, Whitbourne, Clarenville, Gander, Grand Falls, Springdale, Deer Lake, Corner Brook and
Stephenville. By this fall, we hope to double our circulation and make The Newfoundland and Labrador Post the second largest newspaper in the province circulation-wise, Westcott writes. We also hope to move from a monthly publishing schedule to weekly within 18 months.
Westcott said the circulation increases to 8,000 with this latest edition, and will increase by 1,000 to 2,000 copies with each new edition, until rising to the 20,000 range. I figure this will make it a viable alternative to the Saturday Telegram, for advertisers, Westcott said.
You can call Westcott many things and Im sure hes heard it all but you cant accuse him of being gutless. This is a bold move, and I wish him good luck with this venture.