The first reporting job I ever got was at the grandly named Canadian Statesman newspaper, a family-owned weekly paper in Bowmanville, Ontario. When I got there in 1988, it already had been serving the community for more than 100 years, providing local news every Wednesday.
As the previous century ended, the James family sold the paper to Metroland Printing, part of the TorStar empire. And in 2007, Metroland killed the paper, folding it into a tabloid weekly that covered a larger geographic region.
I only worked at the Statesman for a year, but I learned 10 times more in that year than in the year I subsequently spent getting my Masters degree in Journalism. Don’t misunderstand: I learned a lot at the Western j-school. It’s just that I learned a whole lot more during my year in Bowmanville.
The paper had a staff of two reporters and one editor. Together we covered local council, school boards, service clubs and sports. We took black-and-white photos with manually operated SLR cameras and developed the film in the tiny darkroom next to the tiny newsroom.
On Wednesdays, everyone in the building – about 20 people in all – schlepped back to the printing press where that week’s newspaper came rolling off the press. Our job was simply to stack up bundles of 25 papers, run them through the machine that tied them up and load them on the truck for delivery.
As romantic as handling the papers was at first, I quickly learned to schedule assignments and interviews for Wednesday afternoons to avoid the only physical labour involved in my first real, full-time job.
I thought about the Statesman recently when I was working on this month’s Business London cover story. It’s about a London news organization with infinitely more reach than my beloved Statesman ever had, more too I imagine than this city’s daily newspaper, the London Free Press has.
Diply.com is a web-based purveyor of news geared to millennials around the world. If you’ve seen Buzzfeed, you have a good idea of what Diply looks like. It looks gorgeous and draws in readers with a cornucopia of entertaining, whacky, silly and occasionally serious stories, lists, photos and videos.
Last month, it attracted 110-million unique visitors who dialed up 770-million page views. So it’s numbers are pretty close to Business London or this website – if you move the decimal place over a few spots.
The Diply operation is a rabbit warren of eager young writers, editors and designers who product oodles of unique content every single day. The goal is always to go viral and attract an ever-growing tally of eyeballs. They can come from anywhere in the world. In fact, only six per cent of readers are in Canada. Almost half are in the U.S., and the company is set to open offices in New York and L.A. in 2016 to pursue the American market further.
It also has an office in Morocco and targets no less than the world in its search for readers. Marshall McLuhan would be impressed.
Operating since 2013, it has 100 employees.
Make no mistake. It’s not the New York Times or Globe and Mail. It’s not even the London Free Press or Canadian Statesman. But like newspapers of yesterday and today, Diply is focused on serving its readers – providing them with content that brings them back regularly. Hard core fans sign up as members and can post their own content, squaring the circle of social media.
If you ignore the content, the place looks a lot like a newspaper did 20 years ago – a hustling, bustling newsroom full of people producing copy for the latest issue. The scale has changed. Certainly the topics and writing approach has changed. But the central mandate to deliver hordes of readers to paying advertisers has changed very little. Read more in this month’s Business London.