From the ashes a fire shall be woken….Media Style The last few weeks have been amongst the darkest in Canadian Media..Is there a flicker?

<span class="entry-title-primary">From the ashes a fire shall be woken….Media Style</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">The last few weeks have been amongst the darkest in Canadian Media..Is there a flicker?</span>

By TSM

A poet I am not.

While not opposed to poetry, I am not a fan either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….Right?

However, perhaps it’s just being hopeful but some industry sources have confirmed for me that perhaps I am not necessarily nuts, or as nuts as perhaps, I thought.

The poem from which the title comes goes like this:

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

So why was it that tweet from Mike Wilner and his comment that seemed to cement an idea that’s been kicking around for some time?

Wilner, the recently jettisoned Rogers employee announced on Twitter today that he has a new gig. He’s going to be a columnist for the Toronto Star.

Mike, in his first column, wrote the following:

“I’m so excited to be joining the Star for many reasons, but mostly because of the direction in which this coverage is heading. In a time when so many media companies are pulling back, cutting departments, turning their airwaves and column inches over to syndicated programming and wire service reports, the Star is talking about expanding. Beefing up coverage and doing it on multiple platforms. I’ll be giving you my thoughts and opinions about the Blue Jays and baseball in the newspaper and on the website and app, but I’ll also be podcasting, doing live Q&A’s and interacting with you on social media the way I always have been.”

I am sure you are still wondering WTF I am thinking here.

Well, after talking to lots of folks there are two things that are likely going on. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Here’s the simplest and most likely:

TorStar sees what the Blue Jays success looked like over the past several years, sees where the team is at, and wants to be the defacto place for Blue Jays media. With no offense to Mr. Wilner meant at all, but they have a pretty healthy roster of talent already. With the rest of the media world going to hell in a handbasket, it appears that Torstar is going to try to ride the wave that is the Blue Jays.

No, I don’t think I am making this out to be more than it is. Everyone else is cutting costs and Torstar at least for now doesn’t appear to following suit, at least not in sports. Enough people nodded their heads when I asked if this is a further sign that they are actually investing in sports while trying to capture the rise of the Blue Jays who, when hot is good for business everywhere.

I am told by the way, that no media are going to Dunedin for Spring Training. Costs will be down dramatically. We don’t know where the boys of summer will be playing so the entire travel budget could be flat this year affording the outlet to be more creative on talent.

Where it gets more interesting is the second possibility. Many people out there believe that the folks who bought the TorStar have something more than just a newspaper on their minds when they acquired the paper. I remind you that the principals now are named Jordan Bitove, Paul Rivett, and David Peterson. Now Bitove is of the once Raptors owner family and Peterson the former Premier of Ontario between 1985 and 1990 and he was also the first chairman of those same Toronto Raptors. Rivett, from what I learned today has no connections to sports per se. He’s a lawyer turned businessman who earned his keep at Fairfax. Not a dummy – at least not according to the street.

Originally Rivett said two interesting things:

“I don’t have any doubt this is not going to be easy. But we’re not reinventing the wheel. It has been done, at the Post and the Times. You can get subscriptions up. It’ll be a matter of how good we are as leaders to convince people to please stick with us and help us through this journey.’’

and

“Listen, I’m not and will never be Jeff Bezos. He’s one-in-a-million. But I do know his work and I’ve talked to people at the Post who’ve executed his strategy. It can work for newspapers. With the Star, there’s a playbook for success already there. At the core of it is, you still have really good journalists who care and want it to work. Have we reached the tipping point and it’s too late? Do we maybe not have enough heart left, meaning the journalists who drive this whole organization. I hope not. Maybe there’s a way to catch up quickly.’’

Perhaps what they have discovered from my former boss, is that in order to grow the business you need to be customer-obsessed, play the long game and invest in those initiatives that data proves can be winners. While getting things steady in the paper is important, but could the three men believe that the road to success is enhancing the paper into more of a media company. Websites, apps print, social media are all table stakes. Could the vision be broader than that? Is the way to grow the business by thinking more omnichannel: that is to bring the customer the content that they want, however, whenever on whatever they so desire? Quality, engaging content is critical. The actual specific vertical medium type has become irrelevant. Is a topic like sports the right entrant to test the waters? Could TorStar broaden its reach by thinking beyond the printing press and presenting more of a full-scale media offering?

In Canada, we think of media companies and we think that has to include wiring, wireless, connectivity, and the content too. In a blink, we’ve moved beyond that. Our desire for consumption of content is not tied to access. For the most part, everyone has access, tons of it. The ability to create unique, quality, highly engaging content in real-time is where the battle is being won. Our attention spans are minute, we no longer are willing to wait until tomorrow morning or even late that night for highlights or stories. By the time the highlight is edited for tv, it’s been seen on social media 6 million times.

The smart folks will invest in people to create amazing content and the technology gets it out there quickly, across multiple platforms to engage audiences literally everywhere and however.

When I talked to industry types today there seems to be a consensus that such a strategy could be in play at Torstar. Given the crap that we have seen this past week if it’s indeed true, that’s a great thing. If it’s only the primary, and they are simply hoping to ride the Jays wave if they are investing in headcount that too is a good thing. Let’s hope it’s both.

A couple of random thoughts…

The Pittsburgh Penguins gain is primarily Rogers loss but also hockey fans in general in that Brian Burke had become a breath of fresh air on a product that has become quite stale. People may not have liked him, agreed with what he had to say, but everyone I know and talked to thought he was entertaining. Taking a gig as he did was, in my mind a no-brainer. First, Pittsburgh is not far from Toronto and he remains in the Eastern Time Zone. I have no clue if he is going to “move” to Pittsburgh, but commuting would not be a problem (assuming the border is open) and that would allow him to remain close to his kids which he’s stated on air numerous times. Second, serving as the go-between from the CEO to Ron Hextall seems to be right up to Brian’s alley at this stage of his career. He will get to do the things he wants to do, even if that means telling someone from time to time to butt out. Finally, he can always go back to TV. Whether he lasts 1,3 or 5 years in Pittsburgh any network would take him back in a heartbeat. Pittsburgh’s gain is our loss.

Finally, the cuts of the last couple of weeks were brutal. I tried to say this earlier, but the reality is business and these times suck, there is no question that the folks at the top have awful jobs and that’s why they get the money they do. However, the complete lack of empathy and decency over the last weeks is really quite staggering. There are ways to do things and based on what many people are telling me all the playbooks were thrown out the window here. The timing, the length of time, the tone of the message, proximity to Let’s Talk and finally the revelation of the amount of government funds taken demonstrate a complete lack of give a shit in my opinion.

What’s most shocking to me is that the reputation on the sports side anyways of Bell/TSN has always been really good. Wiping out entire stations with zero warning at this time of year is simply mystifying. The absolute biggest joke is the cutting of the all-sports radio station in Vancouver. I have not heard one viable answer except for things like, “that must tell you how bad things are”.

Again, I hope all those whose lives were upended over the last couple of weeks get back on their feet again soon, doing something they enjoy and find fulfilling.

Jonah

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 5
  • comment-avatar

    Really interesting insight. I was very happy to see the Wilner hiring. All too often these days it seems like once good sports media folks are fired, we never end up hearing from them again due to lack of opportunity. I would truly welcome a TorStar sports media wing that goes beyond written journalism. It makes sense for them to pursue it – with podcasts and streaming the opportunity is there is you have the talent. And there is a LOAD of talent between employment right now.

  • comment-avatar

    Curious to hear from anyone who has listened to any of the The Star’s past sports podcast efforts. The papers have tried to enter this space in the past and it has not made much of a mark. Wilner has way more of an established audience so I imagine it will do pretty well, but will it drive subscriptions? The Athletic have put their podcasts behind the paywall, so others have certainly tried this strategy. The Sun also tried doing short video clips as a way to drive more engagement. Interesting times as legacy media try to become multi-platform.

    Edit: Wilner’s first “opinion” piece for the Star is very bland and replicates numerous articles written already by other people. I have no idea how The Star plans to differentiate him, Armstrong, Chisholm, and DiManno. He would have much more sense as an Athletic hire.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 5 months ago

    Great points, Jonah.

    Mike, I wonder if this augurs for the return of the old, caustic version of Wilner. Maybe he appears after games for a TorStar version of Jays Talk and we click on it to hear him belittle people. Conflict sells.

  • comment-avatar
    Lee (Oakville) 5 months ago

    The main issue this article doesn’t address is how The Star (or any other traditional newspaper) would monetize any of the non-print offerings. Webcasts, videos, newsletters, podcasts, etc. have all been tried and to a large degree have not created any new revenue streams or created loyalty from existing subscribers. Star Touch was launched by The Star about 5 years ago and died an ignominious death a short while later after having lost tens of millions of dollars. The Washington Post is not a true comparable for The Star. The Post is a quasi-national newspaper with extremely deep pockets while The Star is largely focused on a Toronto audience. As well, it’s new ownership team is as yet unproven and it’s ability to finance any expensive strategy shift is also questionable. 

  • comment-avatar
    Jed Matthis 5 months ago

    So great to find someone with some unique thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!