Friday, July 11, 2008

 

For Sale one newspaper inquire within

Onward and upward
The Independent is on the block, if you haven’t heard and care to know.
Brian Dobbin, the publisher and financial
backer, says his interest is not in Newfoundland anymore. Which is a shame to hear from the Newfoundlander
who put so much of the hum in the Humber Valley. He’s disillusioned with this place, to put it mildly, but I’ll leave it to Dobbin to tell his own story. I don’t know the details.
What I do know is that Dobbin saw potential in this newspaper, backing it for four years and four months. He was the best of publishers, in that he rarely stuck his nose in editorial’s business, granting the newsroom the most precious of gifts — freedom.
But I’ll come back to that further on.
Some history to begin: the rocky road of an upstart newspaper. The first issue of the then-Sunday Independent rolled off the press on Oct. 12, 2003, smack dab in the middle of the Williams/Grimes election.
The powers that be at the newspaper
back then — full of piss and vinegar, if not newspaper know-how — were eager
to tap into the political coin, although they didn’t get much in that first paper, a full-page ad from Danny and a quarter page from the Liberals.
The first owners lasted at the helm for almost five months when, on the verge of shutting down because of low ad sales and poor circulation, they passed the reins to Dobbin, and new life/cash was injected into the paper.
Then, two years and five months later, on April 1, 2006, the Pink, White and Green was lowered to half-mast on the front page and the newspaper said an official farewell and we printed our last issue. Dobbin’s resort company went public in the EU and the new foreign investors, in Dobbin’s words, didn’t see the business value in a “small upstart paper
in Newfoundland.”
Dobbin called me a day or two later and offered me a chance to resurrect the paper with a public appeal for advertising
and subscriptions. If the public wanted
an independent press, they had to get off their butts and support it.
It worked. The paper missed one issue
before roaring back to life, led by a core of editorial employees who were granted a piece of the ownership pie. The boost substantially improved our bottom line. The paper has made fantastic headway
since the restart, and Dobbin agreed to remain on as publisher and financial backer.
The Buy and Sell magazine took over our rural circulation, making us a true provincewide newspaper, available from one end to the other. We changed our distribution day to Friday from Sunday, making The Independent a weekend paper
to compete against the Saturday Telegram,
the most successful paper in the land.
We made a case to the province to treat this newspaper the same as The Telegram or Western Star in terms of government advertising. Government agreed, coming on-board about a year ago as an anchor advertiser.
Our circulation has grown 9.2 per cent since last fall, which is unheard of in a day and age when newspapers are said to be dying off. Our advertising has also made inroads. Our largest paper to date has been 48 pages. The one you’re holding
today is a solid 36.
But we’ve had challenges.
Our frontline sales people report that our rates — which are already lower than the province’s two dailies — are being undercut by as much as 40 or 50 per cent by the competition. It’s hard to compete against the bottomless pockets of Quebec-
based Transcontinental, the company
that owns The Telegram and Star and 15 other weekly papers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
But we’re doing it, and it’s important for us to succeed. In the absence of The Independent, Transcontinental would have a virtual monopoly in this province, a stranglehold on advertising rates and circulation. And content.
That’s bad news for the advertiser, and bad news for the reader. We have had expressions of interest in The Independent,
and it’s hoped a deal will be done soon. Two-week notices were issued to all 16 full-time employees on July 7, as required by law. Technically, employees
don’t have to work the two weeks, but every last one has remained on the job, a testament to their passion and professionalism.
The Independent’s mandate is unabashedly
NL first. We make no apologies
for that. We’ve been free to explore and investigate all things Newfoundland and Labrador, free from the responsibilities
that come with being the daily newspaper
of record. Our ambition is to remain
a weekly.
So much of this paper is tied to our history, but more of it is aimed toward the future. There must be balance.
While the province’s economic engine has never revved higher, there’s also concern. In the absence of a booming oil industry — both on the Grand Banks and in Western Canada — this province would be in the same old half-sunk boat.
The mining sector is going full tilt, and tourism is strong, but the fishery remains in tatters, and pulp and paper is shaky, to say the least. One particular newspaper editor would have you think all is rosy, and advise you not to worry about the past — build, don’t blame. But that editor
went fishin’ a long time ago and mistook
the nonsense of a babbling brook for a deeper message of complete acceptance
of our fate.
He does this place no good.
The Independent isn’t looking for a newspaper war, so much as a truce, acceptance
of competition on the same block. Which is how it should be.
Now is the time, with money and confidence
to spare, for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to question who we are, where we’re going, and how to get there. The Independent is in the business
of challenging everything around us — from the CBC to Danny Williams to the Canadian Confederation. And so we should.
For sale: one newspaper. Inquire within.
ryan.cleary@theindependent.ca

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