Saturday, 1 June 2019

Demise of Saskatoon Express just plain old sucks

The final Saskatoon Express.
    I never thought the last story I ever wrote for the Saskatoon Express wouldn’t make it into the outlet’s print edition.
    Actually, I believed I would be contributing more stories to upcoming editions of the weekly paper well into the future. This is a common thought at the time when a media outlet ceases operation.
    On the morning of May 13, I was typing out a story on Saskatoon Valkryies linebacker Emmarae Dale from a hotel room in Prince Albert for what was supposed to be the upcoming edition of the Express.
    I was in Prince Albert to cover Game 7 of the WHL Championship series that night between the host Prince Albert Raiders and the Vancouver Giants for this blog and for The Canadian Press.
    I was trying to finish the story on Dale before the lunch hour arrived.
    When the lunch hour did arrive, I had the story on the Western Women’s Canadian Football League standout player ready to be sent into the Express office along with a photo package.
    I opened my email to discover my urgency wasn’t needed.
    A message was sitting my inbox from Express editor Cam Hutchinson that was only five minutes old.
The seniors guide produced by the Saskatoon Express.
    The message thanked me for the stories I wrote for the Express over the years and said the weekly had officially closed its office doors.
    I was caught off guard, because I was expecting the Express to close up shop any time soon.
    The publication was moved into a nice new office space in the north end of the city.
    Plans had been in development for me to work in a closer partnership with the Express, and some of the steps in that plan had already been executed.
    I wasn’t surprised, because this type of things happens on a regular basis in today’s volatile media industry, especially in Canada.
    The story on Dale meant for the Express appeared in my blog and can be found by clicking right here.
     At first, I compartmentalized the demise of the Express, because I was so involved with the WHL final and the Raiders run to the Memorial Cup tournament. Prince Albert won the series deciding Game 7 of the WHL final that night 3-2 in overtime with Dante Hannoun picking up the winner.
Emily Clark on the Saskatoon Express cover.
    Before going to that game, I put posts up on Facebook and Twitter linked to Hutchinson’s farewell column for the Express.
    When you motor around Saskatoon now 18 days later, you wouldn’t even know the Express existed for an eight-year run.
    All the yellow bins that held the print versions of the paper have been picked up.
    If you try to connect to the Express’s website, most links come up with an error message. The Express’s Facebook and Twitter social media lines have gone untouched for about a couple of weeks.
    In the Lawson Heights Mall, I found copies of the seniors’ guide that was produced by the Express.
    That was the only sign I could find in town that the Express even existed.
    Hutchinson wrote in his column that advertising dollars were drying up. The final edition of the Express was covered in an advertising wrap and about 35 percent of the interior of the publication contained ads.
    I am speculating here, but I believe there was a fear in this volatile economy that ad revenue would dry up.
    Most of the people who had money invested in the Express were older veterans from the newspaper industry who were nearing retirement age, at retirement age or past retirement age.
Julia Flinton on the Saskatoon Express cover.
    Again, I am speculating, but I think that played a lot into the decision to close up shop. Eventually, people would like to have the option to roll into the sunset and not work.
    Still, the fact is the Express is no more.
    The thing that hurts the most is Saskatoon lost a media voice that was an alternative from the mainstream outlets.
    Hutchinson did a great job of rounding up what I call were the “outlaws” or media members that were often cut loose by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
    Due to the connections these media members had, the Express as a weekly was a vehicle that could keep the mainstream outlets accountable in their coverage, especially if they are owned by chains.
    You can bet the big local managers with companies like Postmedia, which owns the StarPhoenix, have to be doing fist pumps, because a competitor went down giving them more of a free rein.
    The Express’s demise reinforces the notion for chain media companies that they wait out local competitors and watch them close when they run out of steam.
    Because the mainstream outlets in Saskatoon are shadows of what they were 19 years ago, there are tonnes of stories in Saskatoon not being covered.
A Saskatoon Express story featuring Kaitlin Willoughby.
    When the Express was around, the mainstream outlets had to check it out to see if there was anything pressing or big that was missed.
    The Express carried stories in arts and sports that often were overlooked elsewhere or wouldn’t become stories unless the big local managers at the mainstream outlets took an interest in them.
    The weekly contained writers that typed out political columns you would not likely see in mainstream outlets as well.
    The Express provided a vehicle to showcase some of my stories on the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
Kirby Dach on the cover of the Saskatoon Express.
    The Stars won four of the last five SFMAAAHL titles and earned berths at the Esso Cup female midget AAA nationals in each of those runs.
    Global did stories on them. If it wasn’t for Global and myself doing stories on the Stars, their exploits would have been ignored.
    They have produced players that have skated in Canada’s national team system too.
    The most traction the Stars had in mainstream outlets came in the 2017-18 campaign, when they fell in the Esso Cup title game to the St. Albert Slash 2-1.
    Even looking at the sports scene, there is so much I am not able to do as a solo person with my blog.
    The high school sports scene in Saskatoon is barely covered, and it was a staple of coverage for years in mainstream outlets.
    For minor sports at that level, they are usually the first to get cut because they draw the most jealousy complains by irate parents, who often confront the big bosses at mainstream outlets. The complaints usually revolved around one school getting more coverage than other schools or one minor sports team getting more coverage than other minor sports teams.
A Saskatoon Express story featuring Ashley Messier.
    The big bosses realize if those sports aren’t covered, they don’t deal with irate parents and have more hours in their day to focus on other things.
    I’ve often written stories on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team and hockey teams.
    When I’ve tried to do stories on the other Huskies teams on top of that, I find my time gets too taxed, and those teams I don’t write about deserve props too.
    In Saskatoon, the WHL’s Blades and the CJFL’s Hilltops aren’t covered to the extent they should be even with the work of my blog added in.
    In a naive way, I was hoping to work with the staff at the Express and hopefully try to better bridge gaps in the coverage.
Cianna Lieffers on the Saskatoon Express cover.
    The Express helped me work with sports scenes that I didn’t have any links to like the local stock car scene at the Wyant Group Raceway.
    Another thing I found disappointing with the demise of The Express was the lack of reaction.
    My initial social media posts on Facebook and Twitter drew no reaction.
    The Express Facebook page had three readers write in with their sympathies.
    I was told by lots of people in the community they loved checking out the Express, because they finally got to see a well put together print publication again.
    I have been met with lots of surprise over the past two weeks when I tell people the Express is no more.
    The Express offered lots of support to this blog. I admit I will have to deal with a hole not having that support there.
    Overall, I enjoyed working with the staff at the Express. Hutchinson, who is a long time friend, and general manager Dan Senick are gems.
The Saskatoon Express office all closed up.
    If they ever wanted me to work together on another media venture, I would be all for it.
    At the moment, I am still feeling disappointment the show isn’t going on.

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