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Century-old Bow Valley newspaper shifts to digital-only format

In a move that reflects the changing landscape of the media industry, the Bow Valley Crag & Canyon announced last week that it will be transitioning to a digital-only format.

BOW VALLEY – In a move that reflects the changing landscape of the media industry, the Bow Valley Crag & Canyon announced last week that it will be transitioning to a digital-only format.

The newspaper, which has been in circulation in the Bow Valley for 123 years, announced to readers last week that the move would take effect Feb. 27, with just five more print editions planned.

“In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing an innovative new approach to serving the community, a form for readers to discuss what matters most, where you can find coverage that helps you live at your best in the Bow Valley,” stated a recent article by Crag staff.

The Crag is among a dozen Alberta publications, including the Cochrane Times and Airdrie Echo, that will be making the digital shift following an internal memo sent to staff on Jan. 18 from the newspapers’ publisher, Postmedia.

Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno, who was a journalist for the local Bow Valley paper on-and-off from 2009 to 2013, said while she is glad the outlet will continue providing news to the region, she was also saddened to hear of the change.

“It’s always a sad day in any community when they lose a print newspaper, in my opinion,” she said. “And that of course applied here, especially with the Crag & Canyon having such a rich history in Banff.”

The weekly paper was established in 1900 by Banff icon Norman Luxton, who purchased the historic Old Crag Cabin on Bear Street in 1902, where the paper was published until 1929.

The paper was first known as the Banff Crag & Canyon, publishing its last edition under that moniker on June 26, 2013, when it would henceforth become known under its current name after Postmedia combined it, along with the Canmore Leader, under one regional publication.

From the renaming of the Rocky Mountains Park in 1930 to Banff National Park, to the catastrophic floods in 2013, the Crag has long been the area’s newspaper of record, establishing a strong foothold on regional happenings and acting as a watchdog to local institutions.

DiManno said it was her coverage of council meetings in her time as a journalist at the Crag that prompted her to run for Town of Banff council in the first place, but her memories of the newspaper date back much further.

“It was always on my grandmother’s coffee table,” she said. “We always kept a copy of the paper there. It would come to her doorstep and then we’d move it to the coffee table where it would stay for the week.

“We’d peruse through it and see what was going on, read all the stories, and then repeat the same cycle next week.”

To this day, DiManno said she makes a point of seeking out local newspapers in every community she visits.

“These newspapers are the heartbeat of the community. They really give you insight into what makes folks tick, what the hot topics of the day are, and a glimpse into some of the local characters,” she said.

“I’d say the Crag has been that for Banff, not only for residents but for the many visitors who come here.”

As an avid consumer of news and someone who has experience in the media industry, the mayor said she also understands the economical and logistical challenges print newspapers and magazines face as the world evolves toward a more digital mindset.

According to the Postmedia memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the company is implementing the measures as part of a transformational plan geared toward managing costs.

Postmedia announced the changes a week after reporting a significant quarterly loss. In its most recent quarter, the publishing giant had revenue of $124.2 million in the first quarter compared to $118.1 million in the same period last year. However, the results noted it was due to parcel services revenue and offset the decline of advertising revenue of $4.1 million and $2.3 million in circulation revenue for an ultimate net loss of $4.4 million.

At the end of the last fourth quarter, Postmedia had revenue of $458.2 million for the year ending on Aug. 31, 2022, compared to $442.3 million in the previous year for an increase of $15.9 or a growth of 3.6 per cent.

On Tuesday (Jan. 24), Postmedia announced it will lay off 11 per cent of its 650 editorial employees as it contends with rising costs and declining advertising and circulation revenue.

The company purchased Brunswick News Inc. in 2022 from the Irving family for $16.1 million, with $7.5 million in cash and $8.6 million in voting shares in Postmedia. It purchased Sun Media in 2015 for $316 million, which included taking on about $140 million of debt. The American hedge fund Chatham Asset Management owns roughly two-thirds of Postmedia and holds most of its debt. 

For years, newspapers have struggled with declining print advertising and circulation revenue, which has forced them to ramp up efforts in digital advertising and subscriptions to compensate.

Postmedia, which owns about 90 per cent of Canada’s newspapers, has shuttered titles, implemented layoffs and offered voluntary buyouts to several outlets over the past number of years. The company has a reported debt of $274 million, according to its 2022 annual report, much of which is in first and second lien notes.

In 2017, the company announced it would cut 244 jobs as a result of plans to shutter 21 newspapers across Canada. In 2020, another 15 newspapers were permanently closed across Manitoba and parts of southern Ontario due to dwindling revenue, with Postmedia citing financial unsustainability due to the debt it took on.

There have been many other shutdowns in between, not just by Postmedia but other publishers as well. Other regional newspapers impacted by the move are the Hanna Herald, Drayton Valley Western Review and Pincher Creek Echo.

“I can understand [the move] certainly because of operational issues and cost issues, and we’re likely to see more of this,” said Banff’s first mayor Leslie Taylor. “But, in the case of the Crag, we’re talking about a piece of history changing that is pretty substantial, and naturally that makes people feel a bit nostalgic.”

Taylor said she keeps a copy of a commemorative edition the newspaper put out a few years ago when they celebrated one of their milestone anniversaries. It includes a replica of the very first edition of the Crag & Canyon.

“It includes stories from over the years and it’s really quite something to look back on,” she said.

“If making the shift to digital enables the paper to continue operating, I’m all for that. I think that all news outlets are facing tremendous challenges right now and being able to keep a variety of news outlets is a good thing for society.

“I wish them well in this new iteration.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.