Less News, More Opinion in the Vancouver Sun

Since we’ve come back from Morocco, I haven’t been reading an offline newspaper. The local paper, the Victoria Times Colonist, is pretty mediocre. We sometimes get The Globe and Mail on Saturday, but that’s the extent of things.

While in Vancouver this week, I’ve had the chance to look through a couple of copies of the Vancouver Sun. I was interested to page through the front section of Friday’s paper. I snapped photos of the front page and pages A3 and A4. Look for the little portrait shots of the columnists:

Column on A1 Column on A3 Column on Page A4

Here’s what I was struck by: in the three (I assume) most-read pages of the paper, there were more column inches given over to editorial commentary than hard news. The same is true, as I look at it, for Saturday’s front page. It features three stories–one news piece and two editorials. I’m hesitant to use the term, but I’m struck by how bloggy the Sun is looking these days.

Is this evidence of the paper’s recognition that it is not, first and foremost, a source of timely news?

I was chatting with a reporter at a regional newspaper the other day, and she commented that her periodical was “circling the drain”. I have little sympathy for newspapers, because their operators were handed every opportunity to lead the web-based new media charge a decade ago. They declined, and they’re suffering the consequences of playing catch-up. There are obviously exceptions–The Guardian springs to mind–but too many papers seem to be clinging to an expiring paradigm.


  1. I’ve heard similar things from similar people. With the timely demise of the real-estate/condo industry in Vancouver, I hear advertising revenues are hugely ( like 50% ) down.

  2. The Sun’s tilt towards opinionated writing is, I think, a sign of their last gasps. You’re absolutely correct that newspapers were handed a golden opportunity to solidify and grow their audiences with the web, and they’ve squandered their readership in spades. Even today, you’re hard pressed to find a link in online articles, even when the article itself is about something happening on the web.

    That fear and loathing has made them hold onto what they know so tightly it’s now slipped away or dead in the hand.

  3. It is interesting that the one thing journalists hold against bloggers is that blogging is not journalism because of the amount of opinion put into reporting on a topic, yet the papers seem to be weighing more and more on opinionated content and less of reporting on facts through classic journalism.

    I even approached my hometown newspaper about redoing their website so they wouldn’t have to be playing catch up as well, and of course they shot me down. Sure, the subscriber base is smaller and lends to most of their revenue stemming from that being successful. They still see a web presence as being just a simple presence, and it’s painful. It could be so much better, and I should know. I helped build that site in 1995, and it hasn’t changed that much since.

  4. Ouch, John, that is remarkable. I couldn’t find any dates except the copyright — 1998. And frames! Wow.

    Anyway, if newspapers are to continue print editions, they probably should be (a) in-depth reporting and analysis, and (b) opinion, since pure get-the-facts-out timely print news can’t keep up with TV, radio, and online.

    But I also wonder if Darren’s sample was skewed this day: the front page doesn’t usually contain editorial content, but the current parliamentary crisis demands more analysis than pure reporting, since the facts are pretty clear, but the implications are what’s important.

  5. You might be surprised what portions of a paper are read most often and most loyally.

    The comics lead by far.

    Then sports.

    I can’t remember the sequence after that.

    (Me? I skim through the the first section and then through the section that carries the crossword — and then I settle in with the cryptic.)

  6. I have to agree with Derek above: weren’t you just asking for 50 analyses of the political and economical situation, Darren?

    World news is available on tv and the web instantly, who wants to read the 5 columns about it written the night before. I think newspapers should concentrate on 2 things: hyperlocal and locally sensitive opinions. I trust the AP and AFP writers more on world news, but I really want a good report from my city hall, and all the surrounding communities too.

    Then, opinions are fine, but who really cares about national issues–you can always find someone to agree and disagree. But informed opinions about the local issues that really affect me is what I want. I don’t care if it’s on the web or in print, if it’s relevant to me, I’ll seek it out.

    I’m on the computer all day and fortunate to live in a techopolis (SF Bay area), so I’m very happy to read all the great blogs on the SF Chronicle’s website (sfgate.com). I feel they’re doing every thing right to keep me coming back. I’ll add that I used to live in Hawaii and still go online to the local papers, to read their local news of course–so expartriate readership is another advantage to a local focus in this mobile world.

    I wouldn’t be so harsh on the papers either, what did you expect from large entrenched powers and corporations?

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