Ottawa Citizen and the Future of Local Print Journalism


“Journalism industry is in crisis[1]”, Pickard argues when he talks about the current status of journalism, and “especially at local level[2]”. Acting exactly as such a local newspaper, Ottawa citizen, an English-language daily newspaper owned by Postmedia Network in Ottawa, Canada, is struggling to survive and even develop if possible. In this blog, the content strategies, a special type of journalism being attached importance on—data journalism, the business model and the future of Ottawa Citizen will be discussed, with my latest and first experience to Ottawa Citizen on 30th Oct and relative idea mentioned in the Week 7 reading materials.

ImageA declining trend of newsroom workforce in 12 companies is illustrated by the line chart above—2013 Pew’s “State of the media report”. However, Robert McChesney said that instead of saying farewell to print journalism—though there are declines which cannot be ignored, and it is asserted that “by all accounts, the industry remains in free fall”—people should realize that journalism is not dying and it may never die. Also, the appearance of digital age would give rise to a chance for journalism and the public to figure out a way to help it live longer and more dynamically. Ottawa Citizen could serve as a good example of it.

Carl Neustaedter, the deputy editor of Citizen, said that, the same as other traditional print journalism, Citizen is vulnerable to the longtime business journalism—its ownership has changed 4 times since it was established. And in 2007, the number of journalists in Ottawa citizen was reduced from 135 to 85, that is, 50 people were fired including 2 great reporters, while it is good to know that 140 more staff were hired to construct a 170-member team in its Hamilton branch that year, indicating that it was trying to keep journalists as a core point in its development by not losing so many journalists in total. After the 2008 global financial crisis, what’s more, the majority of Citizen’s journalists (99%) worked in Hamilton, with only 1% left in Ottawa, Ontario.

Facing this big change of working environment, new content strategies were brought out to try to adapt to it effectively and efficiently.

Hyperlocal Journalism

Firstly, the “hyperlocal coverage”, defined as “news reporting that more closely reflects the everyday lives of residents in a particular community”[3], which “appears to hold at least the potential for developing a sustainable model”[4], is Ottawa Citizen’s key reporting model. The hyperlocal coverage of Citizen covered both news in old Ottawa (suburbs) and the downtown, consisting “a company town”, Carl said, which fitted the local nature of the newspaper well but was not a 100% free “town”—easily influenced and even controlled by revenue status, owner’s opinions and the government because of its dependence on traditional business model and official accounts. And it corresponds to the opinion suggested by Barnhurst, K. that there is “a turn toward nearby places”[5].

Three Content Areas

Secondly, there are 3 main parts of content in Citizen’s reports: political and public service, traditional news and life news. From which we can see that, by keeping pace with the trend of “long journalism” mentioned by Kevin, the “political content is among the most important in journalism[6]”, and its reliance on official accounts is considerable, concluded as the “weakness of professional code”. This point of view is confirmed by Andrew Potter, Citizen’s Managing Editor, seeing the “free press”—who “has the right to speak without government censorship”[7] and could achieve and satisfy the literate public, construct viable press system and give easy access to the press by people—is “romantic thoughts”, though they have been trying to figure out how to maintain neutral, balance between official accounts and the voice of citizens as well as the exact principle of fair news reporting. However, the weakness “also has its virtue, not the least of public life”, as we could see that public service is still a part, though may not be the most important one, of the reporting arrangement.


Content sections of Ottawa Citizen

And another point worth noting is that soft news—news covering entertainment, celebrity, gossip, crime, and lifestyle journalism—is a new comer and is gradually being a favourite of the news industry. In Citizen’s coverage, said by potter that the existence of sections such as travel and home are of great value to attract related advertising investment, and delivering audience to these sections could earn itself considerable profit. And thus, this model is viewed to be “bread and butter” to Ottawa Citizen. That being said, it has also developed into side sites, which concentrate on contemporary and soft news only, with subscribing purpose instead of pursuing journalistic value or public good (such as “Citizen Cycling”, “Flyer City” and “Shopping” section, pictures below).Image



Four Platforms

Print & Website

To get adjust to the thriving digital era to “take advantage of the technology and make reading news a habit to people instead of controlled of depressed by it”, Potter said, Ottawa Citizen has developed into four platforms: redesigned traditional newspaper productions, redesigned website, new mobile app and tablet, responding “the migration of audience to digital forms”[8]. In general accord with what Kevin said about the “differences among topics aligned with journalistic practice” in “News experiment online: story content after a decade on the web”, the news content is various among these four platforms. Print productions are richer in reporting news in Ottawa and different moves that are going on, with its website reporting more omnivorous news with videos as supplements ( sometimes).

Mobile APP & Tablet

Talking about the last two, “some digital business analysts see mobile largely supplanting desktop/laptop consumption of news within two or three years…[and] newspapers have responded, as they more or less must, by making their content available in mobile formats ( 2013 Pew Research) ”,so does Ottawa Citizen, who is intending to develop a mobile app to build a platform similar to Twitter for the public to major in reporting hyperlocal news which is shorter than their counterparts online and print ones. And the tablet, which is being considered to have “a potential for brand-building advertising on the devices”, is developed by Citizen to act as a daily magazine. It is said by Potter that “what people prefer to read, how long do they take to read and how do they arrange their engagement in reading the newspaper” (through which platform or through Twitter/Facebook) could be known by journalists in Ottawa Citizen by technological methods, thus making it possible for them to act as a curator of news and get better understanding of people’s preferences. For example, by analysing data of usage of tablets, the journalists could get the knowledge that more people are using their tablets to read in the evening, which enables them to do something with it to manage the tablet platform better.

The Ottawa Citizen is “intending to champion each platform with their colleagues in Toronto”, could they? Let us wait and see.

Social Network

Melaine Coulson, the Senior Editor of Ottawa Citizen Website, discussed with us about their current online journalism, which is taking advantage of the social networks. She begins to work every morning at 7:30 pm and post news at “hot traffic time”—from 8:00 am-9:00 am, at noon and so on—when people are waking up, eating or taking buses and turning to news reports. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are main sources. And Citizen targets and communicates with the audience by tweeting news and tweeting back to people, instead of “roboting” reports, to make more conversations and gain more news as well. With such a progress going on, “wrong reports” could be made, and “what [the Citizen editors] should do is be a normal person to apologize and correct them”, Coulson said, “and speaking of the ‘double check’ performed by journalists, we should see it critically as well…diversity confirming sources do not necessarily confirm the truth of the news because they could be derived from one original source which may turn out to be false or fake.” Added by her that “And journalists are always considered to represent their newspapers no matter they are tweeting with personal account or the official ones”. Therefore we could see the social networking of Ottawa Citizen is flexible and interactive.

Data journalism

And here, just a quick glance at the Data journalism—introduced by Glen Mcgregor, Ottawa Citizen’s reporter—which could represent “an overlapping set of competencies drawn from disparate fields”[9].And Glen calls it “data assisted report” reporting public voice. He is one of the pioneers of such journalism and has published several highly popular news reports till now, such as “The ticket master”, which talked about the person who tickets people most in Ottawa; and “Bikes snatched off streets”, which informed people about the places where bikes are more easily snatched , etc. From these information we can see that data journalism is mostly used by newspaper with explicit charts or tables—Ottawa Citizen in this case—to report news which are close to people’s life and therefore to earn more popularity once they are published. Thus, maybe it would help newspapers maintain or attract audience, but I cannot say it for sure because of the lack of relative investigations.


The Future of Print—A Combination

The paywall and business model of Ottawa Citizen have not been talked about much, but as mentioned above, they are viewing soft news as a source to attract advertising and considering it as a bread-and-butter thing. Additionally, by a brief introduction of the newspaper’s paywall and their unwillingness to drop it, we could say, from a shallow point of view of the Citizen’s business model, some newspapers now are still relying on the “inadequate and outdated business models”[10] by seeing ads as a source of revenue which, as Siles, I. and Boczkowski, P. said in “Making sense of the newspaper crisis: A critical assessment of existing research and an agenda for future work”, may lead to a newspaper crisis. And newspaper paywalls may be a way to gain profits.

Speaking of the tendency of content of the future print journalism, local newspapers are becoming more intended to report nearby news and, with the political news maintaining important in their news reporting, the number of soft news may keep increasing and become more and more, even not as important as the political ones. Side sites which focus only on soft news with subscribing purpose may become a new way for journalism to make profits. Technology would be more embraced by print journalism to establish different platforms to meet different needs of audience and to take advantage of communications with users on social media. Finally, data journalism may also assist print journalism to appeal to more audience to enhance their influence, and gain profits if possible.


[1] Pickard V (2011) Can government support the press? Historicizing and internationalizing a policy approach to the journalism crisis. Communication Review 14(2): 73–95.

[2] McChesney, R. (2013). “Chapter 6: Journalism is Dead! Long live journalism?”. Digital Disconnect: The New Press. pp, 172-215.

[3] Kaye J and Quinn S (2010) Funding Journalism in the Digital Age: Business Models, Strategies, Issues and Trends. New York: Peter Lang.

[4] Kurpius DD, Metzgar ET, and Rowley KM (2010) Sustaining hyperlocal media: in search of funding models. Journalism Studies 11(3): 359–376.

[5] Barnhurst, K. (2013). “Newspapers experiment online: Story content after a decade on the web”, Journalism, 14(1) 3–21.

[6] Barnhurst, K. (2013). “Newspapers experiment online: Story content after a decade on the web”, Journalism, 14(1) 3–21.

[7] Robert McChesney , “Journalism is dead! Long live journalism? ”, Digital Disconnect, The New Press

[8] PEW. (2013).Newspapers. State of the Media Report. Available from:

[9]  Michelle Minkoff (24 March 2010). “Bringing data journalism into curricula”.

[10] Siles, I. and Boczkowski, P. (2012). “Making sense of the newspaper crisis: A critical assessment of existing research and an agenda for future work”, New Media & Society, 14(8) 1375–1394


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s