CP calls for conciliator

The new Canadian Press, which transformed from a co-operative to a private company in 2010, is having labor problems these days. WIthout a contract since the end of 2011, the request means neither party can walk away from the table till April. The Canadian Media Guild represents 240 staffers; management’s argument is they’re losing money; likely the unions is focusing on the pension fund, which has been a bone of contention for some time. Stay tuned. This whole mess wouldn’t have happened if Sun Media and Post Media walked out of the co-operative several years ago, severely reducing the number of media using CP copy.

Postmedia seeking easier rules on foreign ownership

Back from a long Christmas break.

Postmedia has hired a lobbyist who will argue for easier rules on foreign ownership. Income tax laws don’t allow advertisers to deduct advertising costs unless the owners of newspapers are Canadian. Apparently Postmedia is looking for foreign investment simply because it can’t find Canadian investors. Torstar has long been rumored as an investor but if it did it would kill the National Post, which is a competitor.

From Jan. 10 2012 Globe and Mail

The publisher of Canada’s largest chain of newspapers is lobbying Ottawa to allow more foreign investment in the newspaper industry, a move that would have significant implications for the sector if it were successful.

Lobbyist David Angus of the Ottawa firm Capital Hill Group Inc. filed a new registration last month listing Postmedia Network Canada Corp. as a client. The document says Mr. Angus will work on behalf of Postmedia in “seeking to allow foreign investment in Canadian newspapers,” according to the public registry of lobbyists.

Ottawa’s foreign investment rules for the telecommunications industry have generated plenty of headlines since the government announced in its Throne Speech in March, 2010, that it would seek to open the sector to more foreign ownership. By comparison, there has been little discussion about the rules for owning newspapers.

But Postmedia, which publishes the National Post as well as urban daily newspapers, including the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen, is in the position of needing to find a committed owner in a difficult environment for print media.

The company’s current investors, led by New York-based Golden Tree Asset Management LP and other funds, are expected to want to sell their stakes in the company within the next few years. Some, such as RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Drew McReynolds, have speculated that Torstar Corp. could be a potential buyer.

But others are not confident a Canadian buyer will emerge offering the right price.

“The only way [chief executive officer Paul Godfrey] is going to get something out of this is if the company gets bought out. And I can’t think of another company that would pay a premium in Canada,” said one media analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It would have to be a foreign plan.”

Executives from Postmedia were not available for comment on Monday. Mr. Angus did not return calls requesting a comment.

Foreign investment in Canadian newspapers is not banned outright, but tax laws make Canada a hostile market for would-be foreign owners. That’s because the advertisers that keep newspapers afloat cannot deduct their spending on print ads for tax purposes, unless a newspaper’s owner qualifies as Canadian, under the Income Tax Act.

Currently, Postmedia has found a way around issues of foreign ownership with the dual-share structure of its stock, which keeps voting control of the company in Canadian hands.

If Postmedia were exploring the possibility of being foreign-owned, however, those tax restrictions would be front of mind in its lobbying efforts in Ottawa. The only other restriction is that, under the Investment Canada Act, any investment by a non-Canadian in the newspaper sector would trigger a review by the Minister of Heritage as to whether it would be of “net benefit” to Canada – assuming the asset is worth $5-million or more.

Mr. Angus’s registration listed Canadian Heritage, Industry Canada, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office as the federal departments he intends to communicate with on Postmedia’s behalf.

Post ready to sell soul; pulls back at the brink

Well, they’ve done it a couple of times now, so it seems to be a policy. The Arts and Life section has a cover that looks like an editorial, but is actually an ad, this time (Tuesday Dec. 6), an ad for hmv for Amy Winehouse’s postmortem album. This is ethically dodgy enough to begin with, but when you open to the editorial page, there is a cover pic and review of the same album. Expecting an adman’s gush job on the album, I was pleasantly surprised that a proper, objective review of the album was done by Mike Doherty, noting as other reviewers did that this is an assemblage of outtakes and songs earlier not deemed fit for release, and hence for fans only. Still, I wonder how long it will be before the ad guys start “suggesting” lines for the editorial side. This is very close to the edge for the National Post.

Sun Media whacks 400 more jobs

Will the last one left please turn out the lights? You kind of wonder how much longer the Sun newspaper chain will last, or how long Quebecor shareholders tell Pierre Karl Peladeau to stop with expensive, political moneylosers like Sun TV.

Nov. 29 2011, The Globe and Mail

– The Globe and Mail

Media conglomerate Quebecor Inc. is eliminating 400 jobs from its far-flung Sun Media division, Canada’s biggest newspaper publisher with dailies and weeklies across the country, a union official said Monday.

It was on Twitter where talk first emerged that the Montreal-based multimedia giant would be cutting at Sun Media, which has dozens of papers, free commuter publications and numerous weeklies in Ontario, Quebec and other provinces.

Paul Morse – president of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild, which represents workers at the Toronto Sun as well as several other Quebecor newspapers – said the cuts follow a round of buyouts at the Toronto Sun last week.

Mr. Morse said about 400 jobs are on the block, roughly half of which are to be eliminated through buyouts. About 100 employees will be laid off and another 100 or so positions will be done away with through attrition, he added.

Quebecor’s executive suite was confirming nothing, however.

“I do not wish to make any comment at the moment,” Serge Sasseville, Quebecor vice-president of corporate and institutional affairs, said in an e-mail.

One Twitter user said 20 employees had lost their jobs at the Calgary Sun newspaper, with more cuts coming in rural Alberta.

An anonymous poster on a blog for employees and former employees of the Sun chain, Toronto Sun Family, said there had been 27 layoffs in Edmonton, though the poster said they were not certain about the location.

Like other media companies, Quebecor has been squeezed by the slowing economy, which has hurt advertising revenues and eroded the company’s profits.

In its most recent quarter, the Montreal multimedia giant controlled by the Peladeau family reported a near 69 per cent drop in earnings. With a big chunk of its assets in Ontario and Quebec, the company has been particularly vulnerable to the slowdown in the manufacturing economy of central Canada.

“There have been several layoffs at the Toronto Sun, where they are shipping pre-press work offshore to India,” Mr. Morse said. A number of non-union jobs at the Toronto Sun have also been cut, he added.

The Quebecor media conglomerate owns Sun papers in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, as well as numerous other properties including the London Free Press and Kingston Whig-Standard. It launched the Sun News 24-hour news channel last year.

In Ontario, where Quebecor bought the former Osprey chain of small papers in 2007, Sun Media owns dailies from Barrie and Peterborough to Sudbury, Welland and Woodstock Sun Media also runs free commuter dailies from Montreal to Vancouver and French-language papers Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, along with websites and numerous other businesses.

The Sun chain’s last big round of layoffs came just before Christmas in 2008, with 600 jobs cut.

Pierre Karl Peladeau’s Quebecor Inc. is a holding company with more than 15,700 employees and a nearly 55 per cent stake in Quebecor Media Inc.

Quebecor media owns Sun Media, French-language broadcaster TVA Group Inc. , the Vidéotron cable TV operator in Quebec, the Canoe website and other properties.

Earlier this month, Quebecor reported a profit attributable to shareholders of $26.1-million, or 40 cents per diluted share, on $1.01-billion in revenue, down from $83-million, or $1.28 per diluted share, a year ago on $969.9-million in revenue.

However despite the overall gain in revenue, news media revenue at Quebecor slipped slightly to $235.2-million in the quarter, down from $238.5-million a year ago.

Globe and Mail shows way in modern dailies

So, if the Postmedia group is showing the wrong way to do business, the revamped Globe and Mail is showing the right way. After about a year or so into its new format, circulation is up, higher than other dailies. The reason? Simply because the Globe has adapted its content, giving up the day to day stuff well covered by the 24 hour news channels and the web, except in such major things as Jack Layton’s death, and focusing more on commentary, background and features. It provides a double spread daily providing good depth (and great design) on a major issue and it has columns throughout. In short, it’s adopted the sports model of coverage. Since Joe Fan knows the score already, he doesn’t pick up the paper looking for a game report; he looks for the commentary and background to give the game report some greater meaning. So it is for news, now. The net gives us the day to day stuff, updated regularly. The printed page gives us something deeper and different from the net. A great combination; beats the convergence model all to hell.

National Post makes money; bleeds dailies dry

Well, PostMedia announced recently that the NP, after 13 years, was making money. It also announced that the “profit” are largely due to $17.3 million in costcutting across the chain, mostly for salaries in the dailies. I’m sure they feel real good about that across the chain; they are profitable, so they take staff cuts to prop up a “national” newspaper that wouldn’t float otherwise.

In other news, PostMedia announced again that it would start charging for users for on-line access, again following the crowd.

And in local news, I’ve let my subscription to the Leader Post lapse. I finally got fed up with paying $400 a year to read every morning what I read the day before on the web. I used to spend ten minutes a day on the L-P and eight minutes of that was on Wonderword.

Tomorrow, I’ll do something positive, and examine a newspaper model in Canada that works and should be emulated if the daily business wants to survive in the digital age.

Postmedia sells Victoria Times Colonist, weeklies

Well, the company that defines itself as “primarily in the large, urban newspaper business” (CEO Paul Godfrey), has sold the Victoria Times Colonist, a large urban newspaper, to Glacier Media, along with 20 community newspapers. The communities are a bit of an odd sale; they actually are profitable, money machines. Godfrey says he wants to pay down debt; surely one of the best ways to do that is keep your profitable enterprises and use them to pay down debt. And another way is to sell/close your unprofitable enterprises, like the National Post. The Times Colonist is another matter. The paper was added to the sale “following failed attempts to have the paper’s union agree to cost-cutting measures.” Might be tough times ahead for the union, though given it is a monopoly newspaper, the TC should be a money-maker anyway for Glacier. Maybe this is a harbinger of things to come; the Postmedia selling off its profitable bits until it’s left with the National Post, which then has to shut down because there is nobody left to subsidize it. Just hoping…

Supreme Court ruling helps bloggers

The Supreme Court of Canada has just made a major ruling on defamation. Up to now, the law said that not only was the source of a defamatory comment liable to prosecution, so was anyone who transmitted the defamation. Thus, not only was Don Cherry at risk for his “pukes” comments of late, so was the CBC for broadcasting them, and any other media for further broadcasting them (and hence the apology, once the CBC lawyers put a legal gun to Cherry’s head, I presume). Anyway, the Supremes announced in a unanimous ruling that people who hyperlink in digital media are not liable to prosecution if they link to a defamatory statement. This is a wonderful admission of reality by the SCOC. There’s so much going on it’s impossible to track all the hyperlinking. Now, if they’d do the same and waive copyright permission for every quote used on the web…

“The internet cannot, in short, provide access to information without hyperlinks. Limiting their usefulness by subjecting them to the traditional publication rule would have the effect of seriously restricting the flow of information and, as a result, freedom of expression,” the ruling said. “The potential ‘chill’ in how the internet functions could be devastating, since primary article authors would unlikely want to risk liability for linking to another article over whose changeable content they have no control. ”

CBC, Oct. 19 2011

Steve Jobs on Mainstream media and the blogosphere

Steve Jobs is getting the kind of adulation that Bill Gates can only dream of. Anyway, in all the chat with his unfortunate demise, some comments from him on the importance of mainstream media versus the blogosphere, and of an intervening force between brain and keyboard:


Traditional media remains vital.

“I don’t want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers. I think we need editorial oversight now more than ever. Anything we can do to help newspapers find new ways of expression that will help them get paid, I am all for.”

[D8 conference, via All Things Digital, June 2010]

NADbank: newspaper circulation up for all dailies

The Globe reported yesterday (B2) that it’s readership was up significantly. After piercing through the self-congratulatory rhetoric, it turns out every major daily, even the lowly Suns, are up, as well as the National Post. The numbers:

Average weekday readership grew by 10.8 per cent to 709,000 in seven largest English language markets

National Post showed a 27.4 per cent increase to 361,500

On line readership at Globe (102. per cent, combined print and net) and Post (8 per cent) increased.

In vital Toronto market, Star inched ahead 0.3 per cent, Sun by 5.4 per cent, Globe by 16.9 per cent and Post 51.4 per cent! (is it possible that PostMedia’s strategy is working?) Final comment: Star is most boring newspaper in Canada; suits its suburban readers nicely. The new Globe is actually a great improvement; forget about keeping up with net and electronic media; concentrate more on opinion, backgrounders and features.