New Canadian Media

By: Beatrice Britneff in Ottawa, ON

Canada’s oldest media union is renewing calls on the federal government to intervene and help the country’s struggling news media outlets, after Postmedia Network Inc. and Torstar Corp. announced today they will collectively shutter more than 30 community and daily newspapers and eliminate 291 jobs.

In response to the closures – which came about through a publication swap between the two companies – CWA Canada is urging the Liberal government to inject more money into local news coverage; to “beef up” the federal Competition Act “to prevent concentration of ownership” in the news industry; and to allow non-profit news organizations to qualify as charities so they can be supported by philanthropic funding.

In a statement, the union – which represents approximately 6,000 media workers cross Canada – called the Postmedia-Torstar deal a “deathblow to local newspaper coverage.”

“It’s a dark day for local journalism and for local democracy,” Martin O’Hanlon, president of CWA Canada, wrote in a statement. “This means fewer journalists reporting on the stories that matter to communities – and leaves almost no one to hold local politicians and powerful interests to account in many places.”

Last year, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly conducted consultations on how to revamp Canada’s cultural policies and strategies. During that time, many groups suggested a variety of lifelines the government could throw to ailing media outlets – particularly newspapers, which are struggling with steep declines in print circulation and advertising revenues.

In a major speech in September outlining Canada’s revamped cultural strategies, Joly said the government does not intend to to provide that level of assistance to the news industry. Joly said the government will not “bail out industry models that are no longer viable” but will instead support “innovation, experimentation and transition to digital.”

The minister said Monday afternoon she is “sorry” to hear about the Postmedia and Torstar closures and that the government “values the importance of journalism.” When asked whether the Postmedia-Torstar deal has caused her to rethink her largely hands-off approach to the news industry’s fate, Joly reiterated that the government is “looking to support local media while they transition to the internet.”

But Pierre Nantel, the NDP’s culture and heritage critic, argued the government is not doing that.

“It’s absolutely terrible… (Minister Joly) has been asked by so many stakeholders, so many interveners… she didn’t pay attention at all, and this is what you get,” Nantel said. “You get job losses and you get a voice diversity situation that’s going to be lacking.”

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, who serves as the Tories’ Canadian heritage critic, called the Postmedia-Torstar deal “disappointing” but contrary to Nantel, argued that the government has no place in giving newspapers a leg up. He said he also does not support philanthropic financing of journalism because he believes “journalism has to be truly independent.”

The closures announced today – many of which are effective immediately – will largely affect communities in eastern and southern Ontario.

Through the deal, Postmedia acquired 22 local newspapers and two Metro dailies from two Torstar subsidiaries. Postmedia said in a press release it plans to close all of those publications, except the Exeter Times-Advocate and the Exeter Weekender, by mid-January. The local papers that Postmedia will fold include Metro Ottawa, Metro Winnipeg, Belleville News, Kingston Heritage, St. Mary’s Journal-Argus as well as a number of Ottawa-area publications.

Meanwhile, Torstar acquired a total of 17 publications from Postmedia: seven daily Ontario newspapers, eight community newspapers and free dailies 24Hours Toronto and 24Hours Vancouver. The two dailies and the eight community papers are being shut down immediately, as well as three of the daily newspapers – the Barrie Examiner, Orillia Packet & Times andNorthumberland Today.

Torstar will continue to operate and publish the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and Peterborough Examiner.

Four free dailies and 32 daily and community papers are being shuttered in total. The Postmedia closures will result in 244 layoffs, while Torstar’s will eliminate 47 full-time and part-time employees.

Postmedia and Torstar both claim the papers they are folding are located in communities that are served by other publications.

“We were not creating any news deserts,” Bob Hepburn, the Toronto Star’s director of community relations and communications, said of Torstar’s 13 closures. “(The communities affected) will continue to be served by Metroland publications.”

In a company statement, Torstar’s President and CEO John Boynton said the deal will allow the company to “operate more efficiently through increased geographic synergies in a number of our primary regions.”

Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey acknowledged in his company’s press release that closures involve letting go of “many dedicated newspaper people.”

“However, the continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models,” Godfrey wrote.

Postmedia and Torstar said their deal is “effectively a non-cash transaction” as the publications exchanged have “approximately similar fair values.” Their statements also noted the exchange is “not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act” and no regulatory clearance from the Competition Bureau was required.

In an email to iPolitics Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau said the Bureau is aware of the Postmedia-Torstar transaction and will be “undertaking a review” of the deal.

“While I cannot speak to the specifics of a Bureau review for reasons of confidentiality, under the Competition Act transactions of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in any market in Canada,” Jayme Albert, senior communications advisor, wrote in an email – adding that the commissioner has up to one year after a transaction has taken place to challenge it in the Competition Tribunal.

Here is a list of the publications Postmedia acquired from Torstar and has decided to close:

  • Belleville News
  • Brant News
  • Central Hastings News
  • Frontenac Gazette
  • Kanata Kourier-Standard
  • Kingston Heritage
  • Meaford Express
  • Metro Ottawa
  • Metro Winnipeg
  • Nepean/Barrhaven News
  • Norfolk News
  • Orleans News
  • Ottawa East News
  • Ottawa South News
  • Ottawa West News
  • Our London
  • Quinte West News
  • St. Lawrence News
  • St. Mary’s Journal-Argus (and the St. Mary’s Weekender)
  • St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News
  • Stittsville News
  • Stratford City Gazette
  • West Carleton Review

Here is a list of the publications Torstar acquired from Postmedia and has decided to close:

  • 24 Hours Toronto
  • 24 Hours Vancouver
  • Barrie Examiner
  • Bradford Times
  • Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin
  • Fort Erie Times
  • Innisfil Examiner
  • Inport News (Port Colborne)
  • Niagara Advance
  • Northumberland Today
  • Orillia Packet & Times
  • Pelham News
  • Thorold Niagara News

Republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

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