Home > Industry stuff > Karl Marx and Adam Smith weigh in on the closing of the Nelson Express

Karl Marx and Adam Smith weigh in on the closing of the Nelson Express

February 4, 2011

The Nelson Express published its final paper this week after being driven out of business by what Express publisher Nelson Becker said was the Black Press-owned Nelson Star’s aggressive competition.

He gave an interview to Kootenay Ko-op Radio’s Mike Chapman in which he talks about exactly why his paper has shut its doors. The entire interview can be heard here, starting about two-fifths of the way through.

Becker said the paper’s revenue simply couldn’t keep up with its costs, given the lower ad rates by the Star:

“For years the Express has been on the line of breaking even or losing money and for the last year and a half, more or less, I had to ask this question very seriously and in order to stay afloat I ended up having to as much as I could reduce my expenses.

“With the aggressive competitiveness of the Nelson Star I could not match their rates and I had no doubt that they could continue. I just could not see the way to continue.”

He said he hopes that the low rates will be maintained, now that the Star’s the only print game in town. “But that’s up to them.”

He said the tough economic times compromised the editorial side of the paper too.

“My coverage of city hall was much reduced and that came partially out of not having the City of Nelson newsletter which was a tremendous financial support to the Express.”

Chapman noted that both Becker and the publisher of the Star, Chuck Bennett, sat on the board of directors of the BCYCNA, the mission statement of which says the organization aims to: “Promote and cultivate co-operation, understanding, a spirit of fraternal regard and friendly relations among its members.”

Becker said:

“Not living up to what seems to be the objects of our association is indeed sad. I interpret that as having good competitiveness and not endeavouring to put each other out of business. The Nelson Daily News was also a member of the association.”

“We should not think that this situation is just in Nelson this is a provincewide and in many wides nationwide struggle of independent media against the large chains.”

Becker, though, is generally conciliatory and adamant that the Star operated as a business and, as such, it could do so as it saw fit. In general, he comes across as someone who’s loss will be felt in Nelson.

Indeed Becker is remarkably self-aware of his paper’s faults, noting that the tightening of expenses meant that he could pay his journalists enough to keep them on staff (Chapman seems more bitter than his interview subject). More than a couple publishers could take note of the following:

“I wasn’t able to pay staff what they needed in order to see this as a permanent job and that’s what for stability would have helped a lot. So I was squeezed in the middle. [On the] one end I had my expenses rising and my staff needing more financial support. On the other end I had advertisings say you’re charging too much . . . and I squeezed in the middle because I’m the sort of guy who wants to satisfy everybody.”

Becker was also asked if online news was the future of local journalism, given that Chris Shepherd, a former editor of the Express, and two former Daily News staffers are all plying their trade on the web.

Becker says that few people he knows get their news online (although Becker, himself, is an exception to that).

Of the Nelson Post and Nelson Daily, he said:

“I think that they will serve a community but I don’t think that the internet will be a mass media in a local community.”

Instead, he feels that online news works best, and is sustainable, when catering to a massive, worldwide reader base.

Becker said he’s not retiring, but is developing an online mailing list through which he will communicate his future plans.

Chapman also spoke to BCYCNA Lorne Derkson about aggressive competition between newspapers (although he skirted around it for a while). Finally, Derkson confirms that the BCYCNA doesn’t address competition conflicts between papers as occurred in Nelson.

That, in turn, sparked a dialogue between my internal Karl Marx and Adam Smith.

AS: Competition is good for papers, both editorially and on the ad side of things. When paper’s stop competing editorially copy gets stale. If they stopped competing on the sales side of things and kept prices up, they’d simply drive advertisers away from print.

KM: Competition merely leads to consolidation and that’s not good for anybody. Look at the situation in Nelson. Don’t tell me it’s better because of the competition. Co-operation—but not collusion—is better.

AS: The Star may have driven two papers out of business but those deaths led to new online news sources and, potentially, a rejuvenation of local journalism.

KM: The Star is too big. The Post and the Nelson Daily won’t be able to compete and will eventually go the way of the Express.

AS: Then something better will come along.

KM: Or we’ll just grow used to having one media outlet and turn to watching the Real Housewives of Orange County to placate ourselves. Vicki Gunvalson is the opium of the masses!

AS: Nuh, uh! The free hand of the market has spoken: Vicki for president!

KM: Fascist!

AS: Commie!

KM: Mother-lover!

AS: Crazy beard-grower!

Anyone looking to unleash their inner Mercantilist is welcome to comment.

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That was a pretty good post, eh? Keep them coming by helping me out.. It’s easy, quick and the pay is shite. E-mail bclocalreporter (at) gmail (dot) com.

Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll shamefully update the post.

We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!

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  1. February 9, 2011 at 8:47 am

    I think it’s sad that the Express is gone from the point of view of someone who lives in Nelson. People really enjoyed that paper. I had nothing to do with the business, so can’t comment on the business model.

    As far as Adam Smith and Karl Marx go, I’m with Karl all the way! But I interpret him a little differently, comrade.

  2. Andrea Klassen
    February 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Since the NDN closed last summer, I’ve thought Nelson would be a great study for some intrepid journalism student doing their honours review. With the Express gone and a couple new print things percolating around town in addition to the online sites, it seems like a better and better idea all the time—especially since I don’t think there’s a local journalist with enough distance on the issue to ever get at the full story, myself most definitely included.

  3. Glyn
    February 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Nelson manacled himself by restricting opinion pieces by saying he only accepted stuff from either representatives with credentials in the field or by chair persons of organizations.
    He also wanted to avoid controversy by not publishing news about active community groups- I remember having a 2 hour interview with 2 of my cohorts with him and he published nothing. Also he was also restrictive on his lengths of letters to the editor.

    He said the loss of the City page was a part of his revenue and wondered what role the community could have had in that to question City Hall’s wisdom had it been made public.

    This community paper had the potential to have had a critical and lively edge to it, but I feel missed the boat.
    The NDN’s boat went out many years ago when it leaned so far right, it could have been mistaken for the tower in Pisa.

  4. February 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    As former employee of the Express I was involved in the great struggle to keep the publication afloat, yet I can’t help but feel Nelson Becker is looking at all the outside sources that cultivated in the demise of his weekly.

    Becker’s business model was faulty and I’m not certain that even if he had revisited it, he could have created enough revenue to support it. However, I do find his reasons and excuses while valid, at least in part, not the entire problem. Becker refused to diversify his product, he failed to expand his distribution to become more competitive with Black Press, he failed to embrace new media and the potential revenue that can be earned at much less of an expense than straight print. The Express never evolved plain and simple.

  5. February 4, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Nice write up. It was interesting to listen to the interview and have myself alluded to (pressure from staff) and outright referenced.

    I suppose I played a part in the downfall of the Express, both when I left and perhaps when I started the Nelson Post and News in the Kootenays.

    I don’t feel any regret for whatever part I played. The option was to sacrifice any sort of future for myself by staying on at the Express, and while I believe journalism has an aspect of service to the community, I don’t believe that should come at any personal cost to myself.

    I suppose I fall on the side of Smith in terms of competition, but only so long as it’s fair. I don’t know whether competition between the Star and Express was fair or not and given my own competition with the Star I don’t think I can offer an unbiased comment.

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