Capital City to Grapple With X Press.
Calling it “a tremendous opportunity for quality to prevail,” Toronto’s NOW Magazine has pushed north 600 kilometers and launched a sister newsweekly in Ottawa — Canada’s capital and fourth largest city. Aptly flagged Capital City, the 30,000-circulation newspaper — which was launched at the end of April — will go head-to-head with Ottawa X Press, which is — like NOW — an AAN member.
“It’s an interesting situation,” says NOW Editor and CEO Alice Klein. “It’s not an extremely large market [roughly one million people], but it’s a very liberal and educated community. Of course, it’s home to the country’s federal government, but it’s also the center for Canada’s high-tech industry.”
NOW had long been contemplating expansion into Ottawa, according to Klein.
“For a long time,” she says, “we had people coming to us saying, ‘Please come to Ottawa and start a NOW -type paper’ — like ex-X Press employees, advertisers — people who thought the current weekly didn’t reach its audience or [didn’t write] stories about what was important to the city of Ottawa.”
But it took the birth of yet another alternative in the city in March — Metro, started by the publishers of an Ottawa business paper — to finally spur Klein and her company to take action.
“Our hand was really forced when Metro launched,” Klein says. “In layout and attitude, it was fancied as a NOW -type alternative. It was obvious to us at that point that if we didn’t move into the market, it would be lost to mediocre efforts, and Canada’s capital city was too important for us to let that happen.”
While Metro folded last week after publishing just 12 issues, Capital City Editor Einar Murchison says his seven-issue-old publication continues to receive nothing short of absolute praise.
“CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Company] radio had a panel discussion a few weeks ago,” he says, “where people were comparing Ottawa’s three weeklies, and it was pretty much the consensus that Capital City was head and shoulders above the others.”
At quick glance, the advent of a second newsweekly into such a small market would appear to bode poorly for the five-year-old X Press. However, according to Publisher Jim Creskey, the emergence of rival papers has meant a bonanza for his 45,000-circulation paper.
Before competition, Creskey says, X Press’ page count was consistently under 30 pages. But now, he adds, X Press is “putting out papers that are 48 pages.” Moreover, X Press’ display ad and classified ad lineage have increased in recent months, according to Creskey.
Creskey attributes the growth of the paper to “becoming a teenager” in terms of editorial and aesthetic ripening as well as his staff’s “renewed” energy in publishing a solid paper. He adds that some weeks the paper’s pick-up count jumps “anywhere from 200 to 700 copies.”
It remains unclear whether Ottawa can support two alternatives. But one thing is indisputable: There’s already bad blood between the papers.
Murchison holds back nothing when he says: “There’s been a void in this market that X Press never addressed: They’ve never covered parliament hill or had any coverage of provincial government issues. X Press is like a university paper that’s never grown up.”
Klein, who says her organization at one time considered trying to buy X Press, adds, “There were discussions, but we didn’t feel X Press had the reputation we could buy into.”
On the other front, Creskey alleges that Capital City pillaged his sales staff and also tried to do the same with the editorial staff, but to no avail.
He adds: “I’ve heard they [NOW ] said that they’ve come into this market to put us out of business.”
Murchison denies the claim, saying “We haven’t come into the market trying to kill X Press. We’ve come in trying to be the best paper in the city.”
Verbal sparring aside, there’s a new player in Ottawa’s alternative market — and a well-financed, experienced group of people backing it — that is in it for the long haul.
“There’s probably room enough for two papers for awhile,” says Murchison. “Whether or not X Press can keep up in the long run is, presumably, a different story.”
Creskey remains unmoved.
“When we finally heard that they [NOW ] were coming for sure,” he says, “we knew it was going to be a fight. This is going to be fun.”