Bob Cox likes to run long distances. The last time he ran a marathon, the 2006 Manitoba Marathon, he came in 52nd out of 731, eighth highest in his age division (he was 45 at the time). Lately he’s running just for the exercise, but also to let his mind wander. He tries to leave by six in the morning, but sticking to a routine isn’t easy right now. As publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, he has a lot of responsibilities. When he does manage to get out for a run, he does a few stretches and heads off toward Assiniboine Park.

Cox has never liked standing still for very long. His first big job was as a court reporter for the Free Press in 1984, but after three years he jumped to The Canadian Press and worked at bureaus in Regina, Ottawa and Edmonton. He was restless and wanted to see the country, so it was perfect, but after 10 years he took off again, becoming city editor at the Edmonton Journal. He crossed the nation once more in 2000, heading east to The Globe and Mail. As both national editor and night editor there from 2000 to 2005, he was exposed to the Internet beast.

By 2005, he’d seen a good chunk of Canada when he applied for the job of editor-in-chief at the Free Press. Murdoch Davis, his old publisher from the Journal who had since moved into the same role at the Free Press, eventually called wondering if Cox might like to come back to the paper. For the restless wanderer, it was a fresh horizon.

And there was a lot on the horizon. Since his return, Cox has advocated radical change—especially on the website. In two years the Free Press has gone from charging for web content to allowing readers full and free access, doubling the hits and rapidly expanding web traffic. Reporters now move original content to the web and that’s changed the way they do stories. They put up video and audio clips routinely. They update frequently. They regularly interact with the community. It’s a big change. Cox, who has been publisher since November 2007, calls the Free Press a “news organization” on the web rather than a newspaper, and admits he doesn’t know where all these new initiatives will take the paper.

It’s one thing for Cox to advocate rapid change, and quite another to adapt to the reality of the Internet. Recording and filing video consumes too much time, reporters hate undercutting their own stories by posting short web exclusives, and online editions were slow to generate significant advertising revenue. Meanwhile, community interaction is a laudable goal, but sometimes, when audience participation consists of comments such as, “Fuk the MSM anarchy rulz,” journalists have to wonder what’s happening. Cox pushes on, hoping he’s getting somewhere.

The challenge all major dailies face is that they’re huge, costly information providers with declining circulation numbers and advertising revenues. Cox’s manager of online research and development, John Sullivan, who was also his former online editor, understands the dilemma. “If the web’s going to be breaking news,” he says, picking up a copy of the Free Press with his left hand, “what does this do?” He drops it, and it makes a loud thud. “No one’s come to grips with it yet.”

He came from the sky. Mike McIntyre, the Free Press’s justice reporter, arrives on an Adventure Air float plane at 9:30 on the morning of August 14. The Pauingassi First Nation reserve, which sits on a peninsula on Fishing Lake, 310 air kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is accessible by car only in the winter, when the ice is frozen, and even then McIntyre would be taking his chances. His job is to write about the death of Adam Keeper, a six-year-old bullied, stripped, forced into the lake and drowned by fellow schoolchildren.

The only problem is, McIntyre somehow has to stay connected to the office from this remote part of Manitoba and make it look good on the website. He’s brought along his Sony digital camera, and Keeper’s parents agreed to let him videotape the funeral for the Free Press. What will eventually appear on the paper’s website looks shaky, handheld, like a home movie. There’s a shot of the victim’s parents. A child runs out of frame. The camera abruptly cuts to the congregation and an Aboriginal singer with an acoustic guitar, playing a song in Anishiinabe, the Pauingassi language. The video pans across grieving families. Then it’s over. No narration.

McIntyre has captured Adam’s funeral on video, but now he has to wait. At 5:30 p.m. he takes out his memory card, puts it in an envelope and gives it to pilot Oliver Owen, who slips it into the pocket of his white shirt and takes off. When he lands in Winnipeg, a Free Press employee picks up the card from the Adventure Air office, and James Turner , who was then the video editor, uploads the clip onto the server. It’ll be online before Winnipeggers fetch their morning paper.

The story could have ended there, but because web surfers linked to it through social bookmarking websites such as Digg.com, over 140,000 people saw the story that day alone, the most daily traffic the Free Press has ever had. The debate held on those websites about what to do with the kids who murdered Adam—counselling, punishment or something else—made for the kind of “YOU’RE WRONG” debates the Internet is known for.

The story on Adam’s funeral is still available for free. For most of 2007, content was free for one week; after that, non-subscribers had to pay. Free Press online coordinator John White rabble-roused to eliminate the firewall. He knew it wasn’t attracting anybody new. Even The New York Times had unlocked its archives and columns, after a futile spell of trying to pry money out of readers for “premium” content. Now the majority of Free Press content, going back to 2001, is available without charge.

Because users are now able to read both old and new stories, they visit the site more often, says White, and more traffic means more advertising. His equation? “Traffic plus new content equals cash.”

Cox likes to run along Wellington Crescent, near his own street in the River Heights North neighbourhood. Wellington sports a lot of stately mansions and three-storey houses. It’s right beside the Assiniboine River that runs through Winnipeg. There’s a lot of green here, both in the trees that provide cool shade, and in the bank accounts of the house owners who pay people to plant those trees.

A lot of these mansions were built around the turn of the 20th century, when Winnipeg experienced an economic boom. With the Canadian Pacific Railway coming through town, the money poured in. It was going to be the “Chicago of the North,” except for one glitch. In 1914, the completion of the Panama Canal—a technological marvel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—reduced the number of rail trips necessary across the country. Winnipeg has never reached those heights of optimism since.

Four decades before this letdown, in 1872, when Manitoba was just beginning to experience boom times, William Luxton and John Kenny started the Manitoba Free Press (renamed the Winnipeg Free Press in 1931). It was one of the few survivors of “Newspaper Row,” a.k.a. McDermott Avenue, where at least half a dozen papers competed for Manitoba readers.

The Free Press was historically known for being a Liberal paper, although its politics have blurred over the years, especially since the NDP became such a force in Manitoba. It has editorialized for more improvements and funding for Winnipeg’s downtown, which has become decrepit over the past couple of decades—in part because companies, including the Free Press, moved their offices and factories out of the core. There are still a few movers and shakers downtown, though. The Asper family, for example, does business at CanWest Global Place. At 33 storeys it’s the city’s tallest building. In 2001, patriarch Israel Asper negotiated the purchase of the old Southam newspaper chain from Hollinger, Conrad Black’s company, to add to his television properties. Now Asper’s offspring control CanWest Global Communications Corp., a media empire with newspapers in every major city from Victoria to Montreal. Except, that is, in their hometown: they own neither the Free Press nor the Winnipeg Sun.

CanWest was beaten to the punch by Thomson Corp. In 1979, Thomson bought the Free Press. Then in 2001, Ron Stern and Bob Silver formed the FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership. They also bought the Brandon Sun, Winnipeg’s Uptown weekly and other Manitoba community newspapers.

As a CanWest executive, Davis instituted a policy of running uniform editorials in all company newspapers, which angered journalists to no end. Four years later, as Free Press publisher, Davis agreed to distribute the National Post in Winnipeg. While former editors were critical of CanWest (Izzy Asper once claimed the paper was obsessed with it) the two companies now have a good business relationship.

Andy Ritchie, the Globe’s former vice-president of operations, replaced Davis at the Free Press in 2006. But it wasn’t a great fit and Ritchie left a year and a half later over a disagreement with the owners about his top-down management style.

With no CanWest offering around, the Winnipeg Sun is Cox’s lone challenger. When the 90-year-old Winnipeg Tribune folded in 1980, employees took what was left of its staff and started up the Sun. The current incarnation is a typical Sun Media paper: no stories on page 1, page 3 girls, tabloid size. As of early 2008 its circulation sat at 38,924, less than one-third of the Free Press’s 119,936 weekday number (in 1979, a year before the Tribune shut down, it had two-thirds of the Free Press’s circulation). As for the web, the Sun’s site features no local breaking news and little video.

For now, at least, Cox just has to worry about everything else on the Internet.

No one is likely to make the mistake of calling Cox a hip guy. He was always the straight man when he and his colleague, humour columnist Doug Speirs, did their charity comedy act together. A clumsy one too—Speirs recalls that Cox once knocked over a flaming drink, igniting both the bar and his fleece sweater, though he quickly beat out the flames with his hand. He’s basically a quiet guy, balding, with a face like an avuncular insurance salesman. He likes to talk things over before making a decision. He doesn’t seem overly confident—or the go-to guy for making big changes—yet he is.

When Cox took the baton as editor-in-chief in April 2005, his paper’s website was mere “shovelware.” Hired web monkeys loaded the print edition onto the Internet, and that was it. The main innovation back then was something called fpnews.ca, which offered the newspaper’s entire contents in PDF files. But there was a catch—the electronic version was available only to print subscribers. On the main site, the paper charged for its web content. Executives were worried that readers might go straight to the Internet and bypass the broadsheet altogether.

Managers at the Free Press, as well as most other Canadian newspapers, have since calmed down. Now they grow audience numbers through the website rather than flogging their paid subscriber base. For Cox, newspapers need their Internet audience to make up for the decline in circulation. “My number one job is to capture audience,” he says. “If you don’t have them, you don’t have anything.”

Cox hasn’t captured the audience alone. Andy Ritchie, his predecessor, opened up a slew of sister websites, including a massive launch for Whatsonwinnipeg.com, a full-service entertainment website, which he put video on. John White ran a local news website before Cox hired him. Cox learned a lot from his former co-worker, Globe online editor Angus Frame, about how to cope with the new and imminent realities of pushing video, adding bloggers and posting live updates. Sullivan, who felt that online content was being ignored and left out in the cold under Davis, now manages one of the most important parts of the newspaper. Cox fields half a dozen new ideas for Internet content every day. It’s overwhelming, but he’s still looking, still restless. The website continues to change, and the paper along with it. The Free Press has added 6 a.m. staffers and have divided their deputy editors’ duties into online and print.

At 7 a.m., Free Press editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand is at home when the email comes through. Rapper Kanye West needs an Xbox 360. Right now. Well okay, the paper needs an Xbox 360 right now so West can have one in his dressing room later. That’s why marketing director Brodie Milne is emailing. He’s been preparing for the concert right from the get-go and is now helping with the setup of tonight’s show at the MTS Centre. The Free Press is co-sponsoring, and West’s contract rider demands an Xbox 360 be backstage. Milne’s asking everyone, including the editorial boss.

No, Goodhand doesn’t have an Xbox 360, but she’ll ask friends before her board meeting in three hours, and the other editors at the meeting. Turns out no one else has an Xbox 360, either, and none of them knows where to get one. Arts and life editor Boris Hrybinsky and Goodhand segue from the Xbox 360 crisis—Milne eventually snags one from a buddy—to how best to review the concert. West will take the stage at 10 p.m., one hour before the paper’s press run starts. They decide to put the review on the web instead, and drop a throw on page 1 to direct readers to the site.

Pushing people to the site is exactly what editors have to do, according to Sullivan. “The newspaper should not have any breaking news in it,” he says. “Breaking news is fundamentally the purview and territory of the web.” The Globe’s Frame agrees and says, “There are still newspapers that do not put breaking news on their website—that’s old hat.” Three or four paragraph stories, shorter than what will appear in the paper, are fine; the city desk calls them “webbies.”

Around the city desk, while they’re writing stories, reporters grouse about who gets the cool toys. Management gets BlackBerrys, while the people who actually file stories have to wait in line to sign them out. They need BlackBerrys, they say, to send in their webbies and updates directly from the scene. Goodhand says not so fast; the editor-in-chief’s position “is a BlackBerry kind of job now,” too. Reporters also have trouble adjusting to the reality of letting go of their stories. Before webbies, other Winnipeg media read the paper’s exclusives in the next morning’s edition. Now this competitive advantage is all but gone.

“We might as well put it on the website,” a reporter says.

“I’ll contact the radio station,” another chimes in.

“I’ve already emailed them,” the original reporter says.

Meanwhile, Sullivan prods the newsroom about filing to the web. He bellows: “Feed the beast!”

Sports reporter Ed Tait would like to help, but he’s having a bad video day. Normally he’d tape the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football practice, but it was rained out. Instead he gets the usual boring locker room interviews about the upcoming Canadian Football League game against the Calgary Stampeders. And he records Blue Bombers coach Doug Berry in the Chairman’s Lounge, a small, dimly lit bar with ugly green carpeting. The only other guy shooting the coach’s press conference is from the Calgary Herald.

Tait needs something, anything, to send Turner. No one ever trained him on how to use a video camera; his editors just told him to get out there and shoot. Since then, the managers have hired a video expert from Global TV to teach filming and editing techniques. After a few practice runs, other sports photographers—who’d also been converted to double-duty as videographers—taught him a few tricks with zooms and how to hold the camera. Tait says he “got real artsy-fartsy, like Martin Scorsese.” The bosses seemed to notice Tait’s budding auteur-like sensibilities—and they were ecstatic that he got video on site.

Today Tait hasn’t got much, so he cuts it short. The material’s weak and there’s no time to go through it all anyway. He writes up a script, does the voiceover and sends it to Turner, who is having his own long day. Usually he works from 3 to 11 p.m., but figures he won’t finish editing until 9:30. Then he’ll start videotaping his broadcast, which could take him to one in the morning.

Turner shot yesterday’s video newscast at the back of the newsroom with a handheld camera and lighting apparatus. The background is a wall cover-ed with Free Press front pages from the last few years. An old Underwood Five typewriter sits just out of frame. The audio typically consists of Turner reading punched-up leads. The video usually shows zoom-ins of still photographs. “Maybe the standards are lower on the Internet?” Turner wonders, “I don’t know.”

The look might be more amateur hour than auteur, and Turner admits he “doesn’t know who’s watching it,” but the Free Press keeps loading video onto the site. In fact, it offers more video than any other newspaper in Canada. Photographers go wherever editors think something might happen.

Wayne Glowacki has to shoot a University of Manitoba protest about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies, even though he’d rather produce more in-depth, documentary-style fare, similar to what’s available at globeandmail.com or thestar.com. The big papers don’t post new video every day, and some of their material also looks amateurish, but the stories generally have more depth. One Globe video in December 2007 starred feature writer Ian Brown talking about his severely disabled son, Walker. Much of the script was lifted from Brown’s 8,000-word feature published in the Focus section, but it looked like a mini-doc, whereas Free Press videos look like local news.

Glowacki arrives at the protest, but no one’s there. Or maybe they were. The press release had the event happening at 12:30 a.m., but he’d assumed 12:30 p.m. A flag decrying Harper’s environmental apathy is the only evidence that it had happened. Growacki leaves after about 10 minutes. Some days there’s no good video in Winnipeg.

The craving of the beast creates problems for the writers too. Sports reporter Paul Wiecek didn’t want to post his exclusive that the Blue Bombers had signed Juran Bolden, formerly of the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on September 5, but management decided to go ahead. The story went up at 5:30 p.m., but the paper doesn’t monitor its own website feeds 24-7, so no one tracked the followup. At 8:37 p.m., in response, the Blue Bombers made the Bolden acquisition official. The team also announced that it had acquired Ike Charleton, who’d been cut from the NFL’s Detroit Lions. By midnight, sports fans were sending emails wondering why the paper’s online coverage was incomplete. Wiecek read the messages the next morning.

Cox usually finishes his run after half an hour. Long distances can feel endless and runners need to develop a mental toughness to survive. They can’t focus on their feet pounding the pavement, or their lungs feeling pinched or even the goal ahead, because they’re never quite there. The mind has to wander.

By the time Cox gets home, he’s run across Wellington Crescent, through Assiniboine Park, then back along Wellington to his house. Some days when he finishes, the sun has not even risen. He does a few cool-down stretches, slips inside the house and gets ready for work.

The web is always going to have something new, something fresh, something unexpected for newspapers to adapt to. That makes it tricky to plan and react. News chasers such as Cox can’t focus on the goals, or the pain or even the act itself—they simply have to keep running.

They’re trapped by this race, but they weren’t “free” when they were just printing a broadsheet. They were constrained by their medium, but it was safe. Then the experiments came along—opening up the site, statistically analyzing the number of hits, adding video, blogging—and it became freer and scarier. The Free Press’s Internet venture is one large incubator. Cox says, “Let’s see what works.”

Now, the delivery system has changed from a 100-year-old way of doing things. The Free Press has woken up from the dream that the classic model would survive. And the editors are asking fundamental questions: Why is the newspaper structured the way it is? What should newspapers publish when the breaking news is already on the web? For John Sullivan, the answer is clear. Print journalists must provide depth, analysis and debate. “If I already know what happened,” he says, “tell me why I should care. That’s the new territory of the newspaper. That’s all it should be.”

THE NEW

How Bob Cox and The Winnipeg Free Press caught up with the pack in building an on-line presence—and why the finish line is still far from sight
BY WILLIAM STODALKA Photography BY Thomas Fricke

Bob Cox likes to run long distances. The last time he ran a marathon, the 2006 Manitoba Marathon, he came in 52nd out of 731, eighth highest in his age division (he was 45 at the time). Lately he’s running just for the exercise, but also to let his mind wander. He tries to leave by six in the morning, but sticking to a routine isn’t easy right now. As publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, he has a lot of responsibilities. When he does manage to get out for a run, he does a few stretches and heads off toward Assiniboine Park.

Cox has never liked standing still for very long. His first big job was as a court reporter for the Free Press in 1984, but after three years he jumped to The Canadian Press and worked at bureaus in Regina, Ottawa and Edmonton. He was restless and wanted to see the country, so it was perfect, but after 10 years he took off again, becoming city editor at the Edmonton Journal. He crossed the nation once more in 2000, heading east to The Globe and Mail. As both national editor and night editor there from 2000 to 2005, he was exposed to the Internet beast.

By 2005, he’d seen a good chunk of Canada when he applied for the job of editor-in-chief at the Free Press. Murdoch Davis, his old publisher from the Journal who had since moved into the same role at the Free Press, eventually called wondering if Cox might like to come back to the paper. For the restless wanderer, it was a fresh horizon.

And there was a lot on the horizon. Since his return, Cox has advocated radical change—especially on the website. In two years the Free Press has gone from charging for web content to allowing readers full and free access, doubling the hits and rapidly expanding web traffic. Reporters now move original content to the web and that’s changed the way they do stories. They put up video and audio clips routinely. They update frequently. They regularly interact with the community. It’s a big change. Cox, who has been publisher since November 2007, calls the Free Press a “news organization” on the web rather than a newspaper, and admits he doesn’t know where all these new initiatives will take the paper.

It’s one thing for Cox to advocate rapid change, and quite another to adapt to the reality of the Internet. Recording and filing video consumes too much time, reporters hate undercutting their own stories by posting short web exclusives, and online editions were slow to generate significant advertising revenue. Meanwhile, community interaction is a laudable goal, but sometimes, when audience participation consists of comments such as, “Fuk the MSM anarchy rulz,” journalists have to wonder what’s happening. Cox pushes on, hoping he’s getting somewhere.

The challenge all major dailies face is that they’re huge, costly information providers with declining circulation numbers and advertising revenues. Cox’s manager of online research and development, John Sullivan, who was also his former online editor, understands the dilemma. “If the web’s going to be breaking news,” he says, picking up a copy of the Free Press with his left hand, “what does this do?” He drops it, and it makes a loud thud. “No one’s come to grips with it yet.”

He came from the sky. Mike McIntyre, the Free Press’s justice reporter, arrives on an Adventure Air float plane at 9:30 on the morning of August 14. The Pauingassi First Nation reserve, which sits on a peninsula on Fishing Lake, 310 air kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is accessible by car only in the winter, when the ice is frozen, and even then McIntyre would be taking his chances. His job is to write about the death of Adam Keeper, a six-year-old bullied, stripped, forced into the lake and drowned by fellow schoolchildren.

The only problem is, McIntyre somehow has to stay connected to the office from this remote part of Manitoba and make it look good on the website. He’s brought along his Sony digital camera, and Keeper’s parents agreed to let him videotape the funeral for the Free Press. What will eventually appear on the paper’s website looks shaky, handheld, like a home movie. There’s a shot of the victim’s parents. A child runs out of frame. The camera abruptly cuts to the congregation and an Aboriginal singer with an acoustic guitar, playing a song in Anishiinabe, the Pauingassi language. The video pans across grieving families. Then it’s over. No narration.

McIntyre has captured Adam’s funeral on video, but now he has to wait. At 5:30 p.m. he takes out his memory card, puts it in an envelope and gives it to pilot Oliver Owen, who slips it into the pocket of his white shirt and takes off. When he lands in Winnipeg, a Free Press employee picks up the card from the Adventure Air office, and James Turner , who was then the video editor, uploads the clip onto the server. It’ll be online before Winnipeggers fetch their morning paper.

The story could have ended there, but because web surfers linked to it through social bookmarking websites such as Digg.com, over 140,000 people saw the story that day alone, the most daily traffic the Free Press has ever had. The debate held on those websites about what to do with the kids who murdered Adam—counselling, punishment or something else—made for the kind of “YOU’RE WRONG” debates the Internet is known for.

The story on Adam’s funeral is still available for free. For most of 2007, content was free for one week; after that, non-subscribers had to pay. Free Press online coordinator John White rabble-roused to eliminate the firewall. He knew it wasn’t attracting anybody new. Even The New York Times had unlocked its archives and columns, after a futile spell of trying to pry money out of readers for “premium” content. Now the majority of Free Press content, going back to 2001, is available without charge.

Because users are now able to read both old and new stories, they visit the site more often, says White, and more traffic means more advertising. His equation? “Traffic plus new content equals cash.”

Cox likes to run along Wellington Crescent, near his own street in the River Heights North neighbourhood. Wellington sports a lot of stately mansions and three-storey houses. It’s right beside the Assiniboine River that runs through Winnipeg. There’s a lot of green here, both in the trees that provide cool shade, and in the bank accounts of the house owners who pay people to plant those trees.

A lot of these mansions were built around the turn of the 20th century, when Winnipeg experienced an economic boom. With the Canadian Pacific Railway coming through town, the money poured in. It was going to be the “Chicago of the North,” except for one glitch. In 1914, the completion of the Panama Canal—a technological marvel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—reduced the number of rail trips necessary across the country. Winnipeg has never reached those heights of optimism since.

Four decades before this letdown, in 1872, when Manitoba was just beginning to experience boom times, William Luxton and John Kenny started the Manitoba Free Press (renamed the Winnipeg Free Press in 1931). It was one of the few survivors of “Newspaper Row,” a.k.a. McDermott Avenue, where at least half a dozen papers competed for Manitoba readers.

The Free Press was historically known for being a Liberal paper, although its politics have blurred over the years, especially since the NDP became such a force in Manitoba. It has editorialized for more improvements and funding for Winnipeg’s downtown, which has become decrepit over the past couple of decades—in part because companies, including the Free Press, moved their offices and factories out of the core. There are still a few movers and shakers downtown, though. The Asper family, for example, does business at CanWest Global Place. At 33 storeys it’s the city’s tallest building. In 2001, patriarch Israel Asper negotiated the purchase of the old Southam newspaper chain from Hollinger, Conrad Black’s company, to add to his television properties. Now Asper’s offspring control CanWest Global Communications Corp., a media empire with newspapers in every major city from Victoria to Montreal. Except, that is, in their hometown: they own neither the Free Press nor the Winnipeg Sun.

CanWest was beaten to the punch by Thomson Corp. In 1979, Thomson bought the Free Press. Then in 2001, Ron Stern and Bob Silver formed the FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership. They also bought the Brandon Sun, Winnipeg’s Uptown weekly and other Manitoba community newspapers.

As a CanWest executive, Davis instituted a policy of running uniform editorials in all company newspapers, which angered journalists to no end. Four years later, as Free Press publisher, Davis agreed to distribute the National Post in Winnipeg. While former editors were critical of CanWest (Izzy Asper once claimed the paper was obsessed with it) the two companies now have a good business relationship.

Andy Ritchie, the Globe’s former vice-president of operations, replaced Davis at the Free Press in 2006. But it wasn’t a great fit and Ritchie left a year and a half later over a disagreement with the owners about his top-down management style.

With no CanWest offering around, the Winnipeg Sun is Cox’s lone challenger. When the 90-year-old Winnipeg Tribune folded in 1980, employees took what was left of its staff and started up the Sun. The current incarnation is a typical Sun Media paper: no stories on page 1, page 3 girls, tabloid size. As of early 2008 its circulation sat at 38,924, less than one-third of the Free Press’s 119,936 weekday number (in 1979, a year before the Tribune shut down, it had two-thirds of the Free Press’s circulation). As for the web, the Sun’s site features no local breaking news and little video.

For now, at least, Cox just has to worry about everything else on the Internet.

No one is likely to make the mistake of calling Cox a hip guy. He was always the straight man when he and his colleague, humour columnist Doug Speirs, did their charity comedy act together. A clumsy one too—Speirs recalls that Cox once knocked over a flaming drink, igniting both the bar and his fleece sweater, though he quickly beat out the flames with his hand. He’s basically a quiet guy, balding, with a face like an avuncular insurance salesman. He likes to talk things over before making a decision. He doesn’t seem overly confident—or the go-to guy for making big changes—yet he is.

When Cox took the baton as editor-in-chief in April 2005, his paper’s website was mere “shovelware.” Hired web monkeys loaded the print edition onto the Internet, and that was it. The main innovation back then was something called fpnews.ca, which offered the newspaper’s entire contents in PDF files. But there was a catch—the electronic version was available only to print subscribers. On the main site, the paper charged for its web content. Executives were worried that readers might go straight to the Internet and bypass the broadsheet altogether.

Managers at the Free Press, as well as most other Canadian newspapers, have since calmed down. Now they grow audience numbers through the website rather than flogging their paid subscriber base. For Cox, newspapers need their Internet audience to make up for the decline in circulation. “My number one job is to capture audience,” he says. “If you don’t have them, you don’t have anything.”

Cox hasn’t captured the audience alone. Andy Ritchie, his predecessor, opened up a slew of sister websites, including a massive launch for Whatsonwinnipeg.com, a full-service entertainment website, which he put video on. John White ran a local news website before Cox hired him. Cox learned a lot from his former co-worker, Globe online editor Angus Frame, about how to cope with the new and imminent realities of pushing video, adding bloggers and posting live updates. Sullivan, who felt that online content was being ignored and left out in the cold under Davis, now manages one of the most important parts of the newspaper. Cox fields half a dozen new ideas for Internet content every day. It’s overwhelming, but he’s still looking, still restless. The website continues to change, and the paper along with it. The Free Press has added 6 a.m. staffers and have divided their deputy editors’ duties into online and print.

At 7 a.m., Free Press editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand is at home when the email comes through. Rapper Kanye West needs an Xbox 360. Right now. Well okay, the paper needs an Xbox 360 right now so West can have one in his dressing room later. That’s why marketing director Brodie Milne is emailing. He’s been preparing for the concert right from the get-go and is now helping with the setup of tonight’s show at the MTS Centre. The Free Press is co-sponsoring, and West’s contract rider demands an Xbox 360 be backstage. Milne’s asking everyone, including the editorial boss.

No, Goodhand doesn’t have an Xbox 360, but she’ll ask friends before her board meeting in three hours, and the other editors at the meeting. Turns out no one else has an Xbox 360, either, and none of them knows where to get one. Arts and life editor Boris Hrybinsky and Goodhand segue from the Xbox 360 crisis—Milne eventually snags one from a buddy—to how best to review the concert. West will take the stage at 10 p.m., one hour before the paper’s press run starts. They decide to put the review on the web instead, and drop a throw on page 1 to direct readers to the site.

Pushing people to the site is exactly what editors have to do, according to Sullivan. “The newspaper should not have any breaking news in it,” he says. “Breaking news is fundamentally the purview and territory of the web.” The Globe’s Frame agrees and says, “There are still newspapers that do not put breaking news on their website—that’s old hat.” Three or four paragraph stories, shorter than what will appear in the paper, are fine; the city desk calls them “webbies.”

Around the city desk, while they’re writing stories, reporters grouse about who gets the cool toys. Management gets BlackBerrys, while the people who actually file stories have to wait in line to sign them out. They need BlackBerrys, they say, to send in their webbies and updates directly from the scene. Goodhand says not so fast; the editor-in-chief’s position “is a BlackBerry kind of job now,” too. Reporters also have trouble adjusting to the reality of letting go of their stories. Before webbies, other Winnipeg media read the paper’s exclusives in the next morning’s edition. Now this competitive advantage is all but gone.

“We might as well put it on the website,” a reporter says.

“I’ll contact the radio station,” another chimes in.

“I’ve already emailed them,” the original reporter says.

Meanwhile, Sullivan prods the newsroom about filing to the web. He bellows: “Feed the beast!”

Sports reporter Ed Tait would like to help, but he’s having a bad video day. Normally he’d tape the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football practice, but it was rained out. Instead he gets the usual boring locker room interviews about the upcoming Canadian Football League game against the Calgary Stampeders. And he records Blue Bombers coach Doug Berry in the Chairman’s Lounge, a small, dimly lit bar with ugly green carpeting. The only other guy shooting the coach’s press conference is from the Calgary Herald.

Tait needs something, anything, to send Turner. No one ever trained him on how to use a video camera; his editors just told him to get out there and shoot. Since then, the managers have hired a video expert from Global TV to teach filming and editing techniques. After a few practice runs, other sports photographers—who’d also been converted to double-duty as videographers—taught him a few tricks with zooms and how to hold the camera. Tait says he “got real artsy-fartsy, like Martin Scorsese.” The bosses seemed to notice Tait’s budding auteur-like sensibilities—and they were ecstatic that he got video on site.

Today Tait hasn’t got much, so he cuts it short. The material’s weak and there’s no time to go through it all anyway. He writes up a script, does the voiceover and sends it to Turner, who is having his own long day. Usually he works from 3 to 11 p.m., but figures he won’t finish editing until 9:30. Then he’ll start videotaping his broadcast, which could take him to one in the morning.

Turner shot yesterday’s video newscast at the back of the newsroom with a handheld camera and lighting apparatus. The background is a wall cover-ed with Free Press front pages from the last few years. An old Underwood Five typewriter sits just out of frame. The audio typically consists of Turner reading punched-up leads. The video usually shows zoom-ins of still photographs. “Maybe the standards are lower on the Internet?” Turner wonders, “I don’t know.”

The look might be more amateur hour than auteur, and Turner admits he “doesn’t know who’s watching it,” but the Free Press keeps loading video onto the site. In fact, it offers more video than any other newspaper in Canada. Photographers go wherever editors think something might happen.

Wayne Glowacki has to shoot a University of Manitoba protest about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies, even though he’d rather produce more in-depth, documentary-style fare, similar to what’s available at globeandmail.com or thestar.com. The big papers don’t post new video every day, and some of their material also looks amateurish, but the stories generally have more depth. One Globe video in December 2007 starred feature writer Ian Brown talking about his severely disabled son, Walker. Much of the script was lifted from Brown’s 8,000-word feature published in the Focus section, but it looked like a mini-doc, whereas Free Press videos look like local news.

Glowacki arrives at the protest, but no one’s there. Or maybe they were. The press release had the event happening at 12:30 a.m., but he’d assumed 12:30 p.m. A flag decrying Harper’s environmental apathy is the only evidence that it had happened. Growacki leaves after about 10 minutes. Some days there’s no good video in Winnipeg.

The craving of the beast creates problems for the writers too. Sports reporter Paul Wiecek didn’t want to post his exclusive that the Blue Bombers had signed Juran Bolden, formerly of the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on September 5, but management decided to go ahead. The story went up at 5:30 p.m., but the paper doesn’t monitor its own website feeds 24-7, so no one tracked the followup. At 8:37 p.m., in response, the Blue Bombers made the Bolden acquisition official. The team also announced that it had acquired Ike Charleton, who’d been cut from the NFL’s Detroit Lions. By midnight, sports fans were sending emails wondering why the paper’s online coverage was incomplete. Wiecek read the messages the next morning.

Cox usually finishes his run after half an hour. Long distances can feel endless and runners need to develop a mental toughness to survive. They can’t focus on their feet pounding the pavement, or their lungs feeling pinched or even the goal ahead, because they’re never quite there. The mind has to wander.

By the time Cox gets home, he’s run across Wellington Crescent, through Assiniboine Park, then back along Wellington to his house. Some days when he finishes, the sun has not even risen. He does a few cool-down stretches, slips inside the house and gets ready for work.

The web is always going to have something new, something fresh, something unexpected for newspapers to adapt to. That makes it tricky to plan and react. News chasers such as Cox can’t focus on the goals, or the pain or even the act itself—they simply have to keep running.

They’re trapped by this race, but they weren’t “free” when they were just printing a broadsheet. They were constrained by their medium, but it was safe. Then the experiments came along—opening up the site, statistically analyzing the number of hits, adding video, blogging—and it became freer and scarier. The Free Press’s Internet venture is one large incubator. Cox says, “Let’s see what works.”

Now, the delivery system has changed from a 100-year-old way of doing things. The Free Press has woken up from the dream that the classic model would survive. And the editors are asking fundamental questions: Why is the newspaper structured the way it is? What should newspapers publish when the breaking news is already on the web? For John Sullivan, the answer is clear. Print journalists must provide depth, analysis and debate. “If I already know what happened,” he says, “tell me why I should care. That’s the new territory of the newspaper. That’s all it should be.”