The 'giant,' the 'mouse' and the fight for Winnipeg newspaper readers
Free Press and Sun newspapers fought hard for readers, even as they spent and lost money doing so
Talk about a loss leader — a paper that hadn't turned a profit in its first seven years.
But despite all the metaphorical red ink that had spilled, by February 1988, the upstart Winnipeg Sun newspaper was building a steady readership by taking away readers from its long-established rival, the Winnipeg Free Press.
"The Free Press still has a big lead — 169,000 papers sold every day, compared to the Sun's 50,000," the CBC's Ross Rutherford told Midday viewers, reporting on the years-long battle between the two papers.
"But there's no mistaking a trend, according to the latest circulation figures."
'We can stop it'
The challenge to the Free Press was serious enough that its then-publisher Art Wood was taking steps to halt the Sun's challenge to the Free Press.
"I think we can stop it, I think we can arrest it by making some improvements," Wood said, telling CBC News about plans to address the paper's quality and its delivery operations.
Over at the Sun, Brian Dunlop pointed to the advantages a tabloid held for potential readers, when discussing the readership gains it had made in the Winnipeg market.
"Tabs have better acceptance, particularly among new readers, than broadsheets do," he told CBC News. "People don't have as much time to dedicate to a newspaper as they used to have. So, they turn to a tab, they can get a quick fix."
A slicker product
Whatever the explanation, the Free Press planned to push forward with changes that would deliver a slicker product to readers.
"The giant is about to step on the mouse," Rutherford explained, referring to an impending move by the Free Press to open a new printing plant at a cost of more than $100 million.
With a new plant, the Free Press would be able to put more colour into its pages and also print a paper that could arrive on readers' doorsteps by the early morning.
"That, I think, will help to alleviate a tremendous of the problems that we face today," said Wood.
Rutherford said Wood questioned how long the Sun would keep on going if it kept losing money, particularly if the Free Press had a more competitive product.
Three decades on, both papers remain in operation.