By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor
With the unveiling of a new print, online, tablet and smartphone editions of the Ottawa Citizen, Postmedia Network has kicked off a four-platform strategy that it hopes will breathe new life into the struggling company.
While many in the industry believe that responsive design—the same editorial content resized to fit every device size—is the way to best deliver digital content to readers, Postmedia is headed in another direction. Its new four-platform strategy banks on the premise that readers want to engage with content in dramatically different ways on different devices. And that means not only does the content have to look different visually, it also has to be editorially different.
“We came to that conclusion very early on, that we cannot be everything to everybody,” Chief Operating Officer Wayne Parrish told J-Source. “We fundamentally believe that and made a strategic bet on it.”
Postmedia has been beleaguered by buyouts and layoffs and initiated a number of cost-cutting ventures, and in a media landscape where digital revenues are not catching up as fast as print revenues have been declining, the success of the four-platform strategy will be closely watched by publishers and analysts across the country.
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The nuts-and-bolts of the four-platform strategy
The Ottawa Citizen is the first of Postmedia’s eight metro dailies where the four-platform strategy was implemented, and will be rolled out in the other dailies over the next 12 to 15 months.
The newspaper versions will have new colour-coded sections and will all get a redesigned “pill box” or brand. While most media companies that build responsive designs do not duplicate their work on smartphone and tablet apps, Postmedia is. The Citizen's website will be responsive-designed, plus the smartphone app will have fresh content 18 hours a day and the tablet version will present a news and current affairs tablet magazine 6 p.m. daily.
Don’t call it a redesign though—“that’s the language of print,” Parrish said. “This is more than window dressing or slapping lipstick on a pig.”
The Citizen’s marketing campaign which showcases a hipster dressed in Victorian-era clothing and a top hat promises that the newspaper, which has been trending since 1845, is now “reimagined” for today.
Postmedia said its internal research shows the migration of its digital audience has accelerated in the past 18 months so that now, approximately two-thirds of its total traffic is coming via mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
While Parrish would not tell J-Source a figure for how much this new product strategy would cost the company, either for the Ottawa Citizen or bringing it to all its newspapers, he did say the company diverted internal resources towards it.
“I think when people ask about how much it costs, they’re thinking about La Presse investing $40-million on its tablet,” Parrish said. “This was nothing like that.”
However Postmedia has been restructuring with the goal of reducing operating expenses by 15 to 20 per cent by 2015.
“I think what a lot of people missed was that we also said the company will be making strategic investments in certain areas ... it was a two-pronged approach,” Parrish said. “While we were making those changes, we were also lengthening the runway and thinking about how we can reinvent the business, and that’s where we are now.”
Restructuring the newsroom
With an editorial strategy that caters to four different audiences—print edition, tablet, smartphone and online—the way the newsroom files content will change.
Reporters won’t be filing four different versions of the same story; rather the Citizen will have platform-specific champions that will determine if a story should be featured in their platform and if so, what format it will take.
“Sometimes that could mean the tablet version only has a video and no text, or the editors decide that story won’t make it into the smartphone version at all,” Parrish said. “What this is it will change the way newsrooms create content ... more than implementing the products, we need to make sure everybody is trained.”
Postmedia will also hire in a few key digital areas as the strategy is rolled out in other newspapers.
The Province, the tabloid that competes with the Sun in the Vancouver market, as well as the National Post will get their own platforms, although Parrish said it’s not clear if that will be rolled out in the 15-month period.
Postmedia Network will be closely watching how the four-platform strategy works at the Citizen, including three key metrics: number of subscriptions, the level of engagement including time spent on a page and unique page views, and digital revenue.
Parrish would not say which of the Postmedia metro newspapers—Vancouver Sun, Windsor Star, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Regina Leader-Post, The Gazette (in Montreal), Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald—will get the new platform products next, but how quickly it will be rolled out depends on the success of the Citizen.
What do you think of the redesigned Ottawa Citizen? (New version on the left and old version on the right). Leave your comments below.
— Donald McArthur (@captainbyliner) May 20, 2014
Good, some of those papers are butt ugly "@tamara_baluja Postmedia: New strategy will be rolled out over 12-15 months on majority of papers"— Josh Kolm (@JoshKolm) May 20, 2014
Seriously, I’ve never seen a better iPad app, anywhere. Completely reinvents the form.— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) May 20, 2014
Clarification: This version has been updated to reflect that Postmedia is not headed in the "opposite direction" of responsive design. While most media companies that build responsive designs do not duplicate their work on smartphone and tablet apps, Postmedia is. The Citizen's website will be responsive-designed, plus the smartphone app will have fresh content 18 hours a day and the tablet version will present a news and current affairs tablet magazine 6 p.m. daily.
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