Whenever I’ve taught courses in the history of print journalism in Canada, I have invariably made reference to a book that is now more than a quarter century old: Wilfred Kesterton‘s seminal work, A History of Journalism in Canada (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1984, 304 p.). First published in 1967, the book meticulously chronicles the development of Canadian journalism through four distinct press periods and is an authoritative collection of the significant names and dates along that odyssey.
Yesterday, amid reports that the Montreal newspaper La Presse plans to go entirely digital within five years, I wondered whether some future history book on Canadian journalism (would it be published on paper?) might not point to La Presse and yesterday’s date as the harbingers of a new “press” period.
La Presse is beginning the transition immediately. It plans to offer long-term subscribers a free iPad and hopes to trim its print run drastically over the coming years. The newspaper company, a division of Gesca Limitée, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Corp., has a printing contract with Transcontinental Inc. that runs through 2018.
J-Source.ca reported yesterday that La Presse has already invested more than $7 million in its “iPad plan” and expects to spend another $25 million to realize it. Postmedia News newspapers, including the Windsor Star, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province and Victoria Times Colonist, have been delivering its products via the iPad since late last year. But the La Presse announcement goes further in that it foresees a complete transition to digital.
As a postsecondary journalism educator, I often get asked about the future of newspapers and, for that matter, the future of journalism. My answers: The future of printed newspapers (“ink on dead trees”) has a finite horizon, as it should. Few of today’s journalists entered the vocation because of a love affair with ink-stained fingers, giant printing presses, metal plates and rolls of newsprint (those romances belonged to an earlier generation). Rather, they entered — and continue to enter — the vocation because of their interest in research, interviewing, an innate curiosity, writing and storytelling across a variety of delivery platforms, and a deep desire to better understand the world, from big-picture issues to esoteric minutiae. That future, I think, remains bright.