Steve Castagne didn’t get into the newspaper business for the money, but rather because he saw it as a public service.
Castagne, chairman of Daily News Ltd, and his colleague Jerry Chin Lee both joined the board at inception as the business-minded members who would help guide the enterprise to financial viability, while Newsday matriarch Therese Mills, who was then chairman, CEO and Editor in Chief, oversaw the content.
“I saw it as a moral responsibility, and so did Jerry. We both had a discussion before investing. We didn’t see it as a charity where we would come in and lose our shirts, but we saw it that if we put our minds to it, it would work,” he recalled of his decision to join the team in the early 1990s that would eventually launch Newsday in 1993.
He admitted the initial success of the paper was surprising and gratifying, especially because critics didn’t think there was space in the market then for a third paper.
After a while, the paper was able to hold its own, and about five years later, even became number one in the market.
“From a business perspective, it has been a good investment.
“From the point of view that we’ve achieved our goal for the product, I’d have to say no,” he said, longing for a return to the original ideal of more positive news.
Reaching the People
Part of that positive press is expanding the reach of the paper. Right now, the board’s primary goal is increasing market share. And while its competitors might see expanded coverage to throughout the region and diaspora, Castagne prefers Newsday to keep it close to home. “Going in the opposite direction would be better for us. You need to have certain international and Caribbean stories, but in reality, the market is in TT,” he said.
The best way to do that is by going into the rural areas. Newsday is the only paper that makes the effort to service several communities on the North Coast, for example, Castagne said, because it’s hard for news organisations to justify delivery expenses to those places compared to sales.
For him, and the ethos of the Newsday, it’s not about being a leader, it’s about service to the people. It’s why Newsday offered a free paper in Tobago, the Tobago Newsday, in addition to selling the daily paper there.
“We already have a paper that is selling out, but we launched Tobago Newsday to go into those areas not normally reached.”
The print media’s relationship to the people in these communities is totally different from that of the other media, he said. What he would like to see is more stories coming from those rural areas. Decentralisation is a must for Castagne.
“We have a rich culture in Trinidad, and I don’t think we really appreciate that, because everyone is focused on the same thing. I think the most important thing we can do as a newspaper is find ourselves in every area.”
Attracting Advertisers and Covering Costs
Advertisers, though, needed to be convinced. Castagne admitted in the early days, despite its being the fastest-growing and eventually, number-one paper, advertisers didn’t seem keen on the demographic Newsday was attracting.
“We hit the middle of the road. We didn’t get up to the high end, but we got from the low end right up to the middle.”
What ended up changing was that it attracted women.
“They’re the real decision-makers. Eventually advertisers recognised that and that’s when they started coming,” he said.
Thankfully, Newsday now has an equal share of the advertising along with the rest of the competition.
Getting advertising in Tobago isn’t a problem: surveys have shown that the paper gets 75 per cent of that market, not including the Tobago Newsday, the cost of which is covered completely by advertising.
Sales don’t cover the costs of production of newspapers. Newsprint alone costs more than the final product is sold for, so advertising makes up that shortfall.
The battle between the editorial and advertising departments for space notwithstanding, Castagne said Newsday prides itself on maintaining a 55:45 ratio of ads to copy. The businessmen on the board aren’t happy to see the competition running at 60:40 or 65:35 ratios, because they know the paper is losing out.
“Once there was enough, everybody was happy. The economic downturn has meant a drop in advertising by nearly 50 per cent.
“It’s a struggle to cover costs, as well as maintain a high quality product – including hiring the best reporters and photographers, who create the content.”
But Castagne has hope that it’s not going to be like this for long.
“The ad dollar today is very competitive, but I think it’s quite obvious that the economy has turned, and it’s going to come back.
“When it does, the paper will definitely benefit.”