The* London Free Press*, a paper I read as a kid in the 80s and 90s while visiting my grandfather, will no longer print in London.
My biggest concern is what this means for the quality of the publication with a print deadline which must account for shipping of the paper into London, and how much evening news won’t make it into the morning newspaper.
James Bradshaw, media reporter for The Globe and Mail, reports Postmedia is closing its London, Ontario printing press and outsourcing printing of the daily London Free Press to TorStar’s Hamilton printing press in the *Hamilton Spectator *building.
Postmedia’s other properties currently printed at the London plant will “be moved to other Postmedia production locations”.
The Sarnia Observer, Simcoe Reformer, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, and Stratford Beacon-Herald are other Postmedia dailies in the London regional area.
The Importance and Decline of the Printing Press
The printing press was the single most important asset of the newspaper during the 19th and 20th centuries. They were costly large machines. They required large custom built industrial buildings to house them. This capital investment created stability – it was very difficult and costly to launch a competing newspaper.
Over time, for many reasons, regional monopolies formed.
I tried to find the article I read many weeks ago explaining how the larger newspaper in multiple newspaper mid-size cities grew dominant. The primary passage I wanted to link to states that consumers sought certain ads, advertisers sought the larger audience, the most interesting ads were always in the larger paper, and consumers moved to that paper, advertisers found more reasons to advertise in the larger, and the feedback loop lead to regional monopolies.
Even today, a pressing press for tens of thousands of copies is a multiple storey tall marvel of engineering.
The end of the printing press at the *London Free Press *is the end of an era.
I’m going to be gloomy by noting two things: it’s worth noting the printing press at *The Guelph Mercury *was shuttered in 2014 and just short of two years later, the paper was shuttered. We have no idea when Postmedia will collapse, but it is coming.
The Real Estate
The London Free Press is located in the heart of London – two blocks from the passenger rail station, and across diagonally from the London Convention Centre. There’s a huge redevelopment opportunity for the land.
As I noted in early February when the* Guelph Mercury *was shuttered, real estate is now more value than the newspaper institution.
Other newspapers in the region have already sold off their prime downtown real estate. The Brantford Expositor’s grand downtown building is now a student residence. The St. Catharines Standard’s former headquarters is planned for a student residence.
The Expositor staff are now in a business park, The Standard remains in a smaller space downtown.
TheSpec’s sister paper, The Record, sold its valuable highway bordering property to move into a downsized downtown Kitchener office in 2005. The site is now a movie theatre and box store mall.
The future of the Freep’s building will not differ, and what remains of the paper will hopefully stay downtown in rented commercial space.
Printing Deadlines and Quality
This brings me to my biggest concern. The 129 kilometre shipping of the printed newspaper from Hamilton to London six times a week.
This means an hour-and-a-half of travel time in good weather and road conditions.
It 90 minutes less of news which can be included in the newspaper, and that’s assuming that The Spectator printing press is available that late into the evening. If the Free Press is forced to print earlier in the evening, that will further squeeze the print deadline.
“Yesterday’s News Tomorrow” is not acceptable.
How many evening London local sporting events and political developments won’t be in the morning newspaper? How about that late night tight vote at London City Council – the vote where the paper ‘holds the presses’ for an extra 15 minutes to get it on the front page?
If the paper doesn’t have it, what’s the point of buying the newspaper?
Which brings me to my lament. My grandfather lived in Sarnia. Each day, he had the Observer delivered. On Saturday, he’d send me to the store to pick up the London newspaper. I remember fondly reading that London paper, with its different comics, and coverage of Woodstock, Simcoe, St. Thomas, Ingersol, and other places I recognized more than Petrolia or Stratroy.
Also, because I often think, I wish I wrote that instead of only tweeted.