Newsprint ‘wraps’ – not good for fish and, as it turns out, not much good for newspapers either

Posted on June 10, 2014, 1:01 am
6 mins

The Edmonton Journal’s “wrap” Friday, showing the hidden front page inside. Below: The wrap’s uninspiring front page.

Now that nobody sells fried fish wrapped in yesterday’s edition of the local daily any more, presumably for fear the ink will leak through into your liver, the term “wrap” has come to be faintly respectable in newspaper circles.

The word nowadays is used to describe a four-page advertising feature that wraps around the entire newspaper. They’re one of the few profitable services the declining industry has left to sell in an era when fewer readers want the print product, and when ads hardly work at all if you can’t click through to a web page but nobody can figure out a way to make very much money from the Internet.

It’s hard to see, though, how wraps are going to provide much more than short-term gain in return for future pain for the flagging industry.

At any rate, it’s hard to imagine the question being asked in Alberta journalistic circles last Friday about the wrap that covered the Edmonton Journal that morning will do any good for the paper’s reputation, let alone anything at all to persuade readers what what they read in the local daily is suitable for anything but wrapping fish.

This is a pity because the Journal’s reporters still work hard and produce an excellent product by the standards of most Canadian cities. And it’s hardly their fault if their paper’s fortunes are chained at the ankle to owner Postmedia News’s expensive boutique flagship product, the National Anvil, otherwise known as the National Post, just as the water starts to slop over the decks.

The question that had everyone abuzz Friday: Was it mere coincidence that the day Alberta Health Services bought an expensive “wrap” obscuring the Journal’s cover, bad news was expected on the front page the next morning about the province-wide public health care authority?

Certainly the coincidence between the timing of the appearance of the four-page wrap Friday morning, dully laid out and full of inconsequential stories about what a wonderful job AHS is doing, and the scheduled arrival on Thursday of two reports from the Health Quality Council of Alberta that highlighted the mishandling of long-term care by AHS and the provincial government was … shall we say … evocative.

Leastways, it seems probable given what was going on Thursday that AHS and the government’s spinners would have known the news from the report about the health care provider’s controversial “first available bed” policy was going to be bad, and that it was likely destined for Friday’s front page.

So speculation was everywhere that was the explanation for the wrap’s appearance Friday morning.

In the event – as often seems to be the case with AHS – the $20,000 or $30,000 or whatever was spent on the wrap (I’m speculating here based on my own experience with newspaper advertising) was not needed if indeed something sinister was going on.

As is well known, the tragic shooting in Moncton, N.B., dominated front pages everywhere in Canada, and the story about AHS’s troubles slipped deep inside, to page 8. Nor was the story that was written likely to do AHS much harm, since the government sensibly promised to implement all the Health Quality Council’s recommendations.

But even if the timing is nothing but an unfortunate coincidence – which is also quite possible, given the speed at which a bureaucracy as big as AHS can move – such cynical speculation will do little to improve the public’s perception of AHS, or the newspaper that sold it the advertising feature.

Wraps have been much in the news lately in the Ontario election, with various political parties being encouraged by the shameless Sun News Network to buy wraps that appear to be legitimate Sun front pages – if such a concept is not an oxymoron – touting their candidates as if the coverage had been written by real journalists.

The goal of these ads, quite clearly, on the part of both Sun News and the parties that have bought them was to deceive readers.

No good can come from this. They don’t buy much credibility for their purchasers, and, in the long term, they’ll leave the remnants of their sellers’ reputations as sources of news in tatters.

If these papers were smart, as well as desperate, they’d forget about this particular advertising vehicle before the wheels fall off.

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