PRESS

Montreal’s dailies at war

Anthony Wilson-Smith March 19 1984
PRESS

Montreal’s dailies at war

Anthony Wilson-Smith March 19 1984

Montreal’s dailies at war

PRESS

Despite Montreal’s many fading glories, it is still one of the greatest newspaper centres in North America. Even with the loss of two dailies (the Montreal Star and Montreal-Matin) in the late 1970s, the surviving one Englishand three Frenchlanguage dailies still give bilingual readers the biggest choice in Canada. Said Mark Harrison, editor of the English-language Montreal Gazette, who weathered other media wars for more than 25 years while working for The Toronto Star: “Montreal is the best news city in the country, both for quan-

tity of newspapers and the number of events happening.” Now, Montreal’s already lively contest among the dailies is heating up. The various papers are taking bold initiatives of one type or another—including the introduction of regional editions, special sections, frontpage color, a new printing plant and a possible takeover—to increase their respective market shares.

The most ambitious gamble is under way at the 100-year-old La Presse, which was the subject of rumors in the press community only a year ago that it was on the verge of closing. On March 11 La Presse daily (circulation 200,000 weekdays; 300,000 Saturdays) began publishing a Sunday edition for the first time in its history. Although La Presse has always been a broadsheet, general-interest newspaper, its Sunday edition is a tabloid concentrating heavily on sports. As such, it is challenging the huge sexcrimeand sports-oriented Le Journal de Montréal (circulation 320,000 weekdays; 349,000 Saturdays; 330,000 Sundays). Said La Presse Publisher Roger Landry: “We are in competition, and if I want to play the game I have to go seven days a week.” Under the direction of Landry, a marketing specialist and former vice-president of the Montreal Expos baseball team, La Presse has increased its circulation by roughly 40,000 since 1977 and has eliminated annual losses which the new publisher said were “in the millions of dollars.” Landry estimated that 1983 figures will show a profit of about $3

million for the newspaper’s owner, Gesca Ltée., a subsidiary of Power Corp.

Montreal’s other middle-of-the-road newspaper, The Gazette, faces a different challenge—a changing market. With a total circulation of 205,000 on weekdays and 276,000 on Saturdays, the paper has about 86,000 bilingual francophones among its readers. The Gazette is pinning its hopes for growth on “zoned editions”—two separate supplements to the regular newspaper which circulate only in Montreal’s east end or West Island. The supplements, like those that several North American metropolitan dailies, including The Toronto Star, have produced for several years, concentrate on community news and offer advertising rates that compete with those of the existing community newspapers. So far, The Gazette’s supplements have lost money, but, said Managing Editor Mel Morris: “We be-

lieve that the supplements will ultimately be successful because they are clearly the best way to satisfy the reader’s taste for local events.” As well, The Gazette has recently begun running color pictures daily on its front page, a process that Morris says costs about four times as much as black and white. It also has extended provincial coverage and it is planning new daily columns from Ottawa and Quebec City.

For the tiny Le Devoir (circulation 34,000), the challenge is modernization. It lost $450,000 last year, and readers complained that antiquated printing equipment, which demanded an earlier deadline than rival papers, and an emphasis on ponderous analysis and editorials were rendering it irrelevant as a source of information. But recently it has improved its business section substantially, begun a new recreation section and installed computerized typesetting equipment. Managing Director Michel Paradis, who works under JeanLouis Roy, the paper’s overall director, said Le Devoir turned a modest profit in the final quarter of 1983. It ended a twomonth advertising blitz on radio, television and billboards early this month and it will begin another similar campaign in April.

At Le Journal de Montréal, Publisher Pierre Peladeau is earning record profits. Stock in his Québécor Corp., which includes 25 weeklies and three dailies (Le Journal de Québec and the Winnipeg Sun are the others), is selling for $36 this year, compared with $8 in 1979, and it recently split. Peladeau, who in the past has said that “a newspaper’s purpose is sales,” is now building a $23million printing plant for Le Journal to increase maximum circulation to 480,000 copies and add color capability. He has also expressed interest in buying Le Devoir, which his plant now prints and distributes. But that, Le Devoir’s Paradis says, is “something that will certainly not happen—at least not while I am here.”

Perhaps the biggest change in the city’s journalistic community is attitude. La Presse’s Landry said that for the past two years a CBC journalist called him on the same date with the same question. “Both times I had to tell him the rumors were not true and we were not about to fold.” Then last December the reporter called again on the same day—but with a different question. “This time,” said Landry with a smile, “he said he had heard a rumor we were about to spend millions expanding, and he wanted to know if that was true. I had to tell him no—not yet.” Now, as Montreal’s dailies reach out for a bigger market, the most cheering news in the city may be the state of the papers themselves.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

in Montreal.