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On being media today

I’ve spent a lifetime consuming and investing in media.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

I’ve spent a lifetime consuming and investing in media.

In the beginning (for me it was 1973 at the age of 25), I didn’t fully appreciate what allowed us to elbow ourselves into the media conversation in Northern Ontario in places like Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Nipigon and Terrace Bay. It was technology. The speed of change was leisurely by contemporary standards, but no less dramatic in their impact.

There were two disruptive forces.

The first was the invention of cold type, in those days almost totally dominated by a company called Compugraphic Corporation. The second force was the invention of the offset press. The first allowed newcomers like me to avoid the very high cost of “hot type,” requiring a large and expensive back shop of typographers to produce a newspaper, and the second meant I didn’t have to buy my own press to get started. I could contract my printing to a “community press” and pay as I went. This slowly broke the stranglehold daily newspapers had on their communities to limit competition.

It’s true we had to drive to Timmins from Sudbury to print our first community newspaper, but in those days if we did not accidently drive off the road into a snow drift with 50,000 newspapers in tow (on one of the loneliest highways in the province) we had a product to distribute.

The result has been dramatic.

In 1973, the Sudbury Star had a paid circulation of about 44,000. Today, it is around 7,000 or 8,000. Now before we weep for daily newspapers in Canada, we need to note as a defensive measure they have bought up most of the weeklies in the country. What comes around goes around.

The game, however, has changed forever.

While the offset press let reprobates like me into the business, today digital technology lets everybody in. We are all publishers and consumers at the same time. Our competition is no longer the daily newspaper; it is us.

I now read the New Yorker on my Blackberry, although I still get the printed copy for a full-course meal. I have learned how to drive the speed limit between Sudbury and Toronto by playing podcasts from around the world. For longer jaunts, it is an audiobook.

Although I have steadfastly avoided Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter as a sanity measure, I discovered something the other day that I predict will eat Twitter’s lunch over time.

It is called Anchor. Best description is that it is an audible Twitter. It now means everyone is in the radio business. Check it out.

There are thousands of apps every year, and they fly and addict you, or die a merciful death.

Our company has remained stubbornly independent all these years, and technology has frightened us and empowered us for most of that journey.

Last month, our sister publication in Sudbury (Northern Life) converted its award-winning website to a standalone portal called

The purpose was not to report the news more effectively. We already knew how to do that. The purpose was to deal our community in — to provide a buffet of all things Sudbury, including the hour-by-hour participation of our readers by reading and contributing.

To bring this innovation to our customers, we partnered with Jeff Elgie of Village Media in Sault Ste. Marie. We bought a licence for his content management system and helped him shape it.

Jeff is a former Northern Ontario Business Award winner and has built an extraordinary chain of standalone websites in Ontario (Timmins, North Bay, Barrie, Sault Ste. Marie and Guelph).

Together in this network, we represent a formidable commercial offering for business people across the North but, most importantly, a leading-edge solution to our readers who demand access, participation and influence in what we do.

The key to media success in any age is community. It either drives your deployment of technology or destroys your soul.

We’ve evolved from broadcasting our news and events to organizing a campfire to share what’s important to us all. Come have a look.

Hope you enjoy it. Born and bred in Northern Ontario. The future.