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April 2, 2020, 10:08 a.m.

No paywall in the chicken coop: A fast-food chain is paying to take down 16 Canadian newspapers’ paywalls this month

Canadians will be able to keep abreast of the latest news for the next month, thanks to a sponsorship from Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters, home of the Tater Poutine. This thing could have legs.

We live in unprecedented times. Communities world over have willingly isolated themselves in their homes to stop the spread of a virus. Travel and socializing has ground to a halt, leaving parks, arenas, and bars empty.

And a fried chicken chain is stepping in to make sure Canadians can access journalism.

On April 1, Postmedia announced it is partnering with Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters, a Canadian fast-food restaurant with 170 locations, to drop its paywall on all content for the entire month. “We’re pleased and gratified by this generous vote of confidence in our journalism,” wrote Lucinda Chodan, senior vice president of editorial, on the National Post’s website.

Despite the timing of the announcement, this is not an April Fool’s joke. “[It’s] real,” confirmed Jeff Barlow, vice president of marketing for Mary Brown’s.

“People now want news more than any other time in our recent history,” said Barlow. “That was the whole insight behind doing this with a news organization.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened what was already a precarious situation for the journalism industry. News organizations in Canada and beyond have laid off staff or cut salaries, while some resorted to reducing — or simply eliminating — print publishing.

Barlow said Mary Brown’s chose to partner with Postmedia because they are such a large part of the news landscape in Canada: “It’s just a very credible network of journalists and brands.”

Postmedia content from its broadsheet newspapers — the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, London Free Press, Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Vancouver Sun, Windsor Star, National Post, and Financial Post — will be free from April 1–15, according to Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice president of communications. From April 16–30, the paywall will drop on tabloids The Province, Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, Ottawa Sun, and Winnipeg Sun.

Postmedia had previously announced that it would drop the paywall on its coronavirus coverage, with public interest stories made available across publications from March 16 “until further notice.”

Barlow said that, while Mary Brown’s is also doing an advertising campaign with Postmedia, it’s separate from the partnership to drop the paywall. It’s part of an effort the company has made to serve the public during the pandemic, which has also included delivering food to frontline workers. He declined to state the value of the partnership.

Postmedia reported a $3 million loss in its first quarter of 2020,due to lower print advertising and circulation revenue, BNN Bloomberg reported. Gelfand did not respond to further questions about how COVID-19 has affected Postmedia financially.

This story first appeared at J-Source, a publication of the Canadian Journalism Project, a venture led by the journalism programs at Ryerson University and Carleton University. H.G. Watson is a Toronto-based journalist and was J-Source’s managing editor from 2015 to 2018.

POSTED     April 2, 2020, 10:08 a.m.
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