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.

Published in Top Stories

by Maria Assaf (@MariaAssaf) in Toronto

Hermie Garcia arrived in Canada in 1984, shortly after he and his wife, Mila Astorga-Garcia, were released from a military prison for being part of the left-wing underground movement in the Philippines.  After trying to find work in Canadian mainstream media and failing for not having Canadian experience, the couple started the Philippine Reporter in 1989. 25 years later, they continue to run the paper from their home. With a circulation of 12,000, the paper serves some of the nearly 200,000 Filipinos in Toronto, out of the close to 500,000 Filipinos in Canada. Every year, about 30,000 Filipinos arrive in Canada as permanent residents. 

Here is a condensed and edited version of an interview conducted by NCM Reporter Maria Assaf with the newspaper publisher shortly after the 25th anniversary celebrations:

Q: Many newspapers are facing a crisis as they lose readership to online media. How does your paper manage to stay afloat after 25 years and what sets you apart from other Filipino community papers?

A: We listen to the community and we interact with a lot of groups and sectors of the community, so that we have a strong sense of their interests, their concerns, their issues. There’s the issue of immigration, of temporary foreign workers, issue of caregivers, issue of jobs for immigrants, issue of family reunification. We interview them, we get their opinions, we get their views, we get their life-stories, and then the response of the government, the provincial and municipal. So people find stories in our paper that impact their lives.

Q: How do you find out what issues your community cares about the most?

A: We attend dozens and dozens of events going on in the community every week in many areas of Toronto, so we take pains in talking to not only the readers, but the members of organizations. We attend the meetings, we interview them, we read their newsletters and publications, we read their websites. So we have a strong sense of what’s happening in the community.

Q: What is the biggest challenge ethnic media faces in comparison to mainstream media?

A: Most of the ethnic media, be it newspapers or magazines or radio programs or TV programs or online publications, they don’t have the resources of the mainstream media. The mainstream media have hundreds of millions in revenue. Except for publications like Canadian Immigrant, which is owned by Torstar (publishers of the Toronto Star), all the ethnic media publications are small businesses, so they don’t have the millions, they don’t have the big printing presses, they don’t have hundreds of members of staff, most of these are family-run, what you would call mom-and-pop businesses.

Q: What do you think small ethnic media can provide that others can’t?

A: Publications like Canadian Immigrant, in addition to being owned by a corporate mainstream media, its approach is also different. It wants to cover all the ethnic communities. They are somewhere above the communities. But most of the ethnic media outlets, they cover specific communities. We are more deeply connected to the community. For example, we have a story coming out tomorrow about [federal Minister] Jason Kenney stating that Filipinos are abusing the live-in caregiver program for purposes of family reunification. That’s a very strong statement. Then they announced some changes in the temporary foreign workers programs. These were covered by the mainstream media, like Toronto Star, Globe and Mail. We also covered them, but we got reactions from community groups, community leaders. So that’s the difference. We are not confining ourselves to job-hunting stories.

[W]e have a story coming out tomorrow about [federal Minister] Jason Kenney stating that Filipinos are abusing the live-in caregiver program for purposes of family reunification. That’s a very strong statement.

Q: With a staff of only about seven full-time people in Toronto, how do you manage to cover stories from all over Canada?

A: We know people from other cities, like Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg. We have connections with some groups, some individuals who can occasionally write for us and who occasionally volunteer stories to us or send pictures or press releases or cover stories in their areas. Because we’ve been in operation for 25 years, it’s not that hard. You know a lot of people. We know sources, we know the leaders, we know the groups, we know the organizations, we know when events are held. It is not hard to find writers. There are so many potential writers and former writers and reporters and journalists in the community.

Q: How did you get fresh foreign content at the beginning?

A: We couldn’t afford to pay correspondents in Manila, especially at that time. We called our friends in the Philippines in the media and asked them to send stories and we paid them not their rates, but some kind of discounted rates, because we were friends. We asked some newspapers there to send stories to us for re-print. We went the extra mile. We were the first newspaper in the Filipino community to use a fax machine. We even asked the papers in Manila to fax pictures so we could use them on page one in our newspaper.

Q: Tell me about the challenges you faced when you started the paper.

A: When you have limited resources, limited equipment and limited staff -- writing staff and office staff -- it is very hard to sustain a business, because you cannot afford to lose money indefinitely. Especially when the market is relatively small. We learned not to confine ourselves to our community for advertising revenue. It was a losing proposition for the first few years. But we didn’t stop. I was thinking we would grow, we would become stable, we would make money and continue publishing a paper that is self-sustaining and we succeeded. It was very hard at the start. Especially before I quit my job, we would work only at night and on weekends. My wife and my family sacrificed a lot to produce this paper for a long time.

It was very hard at the start. Especially before I quit my job, we would work only at night and on weekends. My wife and my family sacrificed a lot to produce this paper for a long time.

Q: What made you think you could start a new paper in a city that already had about five Filipino community papers, when the community was much smaller?

A: I didn’t have any business experience in the Philippines. What I thought was that if these community papers that existed then ... some of them were not run by journalists, they were run by business people who didn’t have any journalistic background. I thought if they could do it, may be I could do it too. I thought I could produce something with quality. In the Philippines, I was a journalist for many, many years. I worked as a magazine writer, later as a reporter and later as a desk editor of two daily newspapers. Because of my experience and my wife’s experience -- she was also a reporter at a business daily for a long time -- I had the feeling that content-wise, it’s not hard to produce a newspaper. Lots of those papers were covering entertainment stories, there was a lack of serious stories. Some of the newspapers then were using old stories, from months and weeks ago. They were already stale. [Mila Astorga-Garcia is co-publisher and managing editor.]

Q: How has your paper coped with the growth of the Filipino community in Canada?

A: We always get calls, we always get e-mails, we always have people tell us personally, “We need more copies of the paper,” ... “In this store we don’t have copies of the paper,” in these far away, far away rural areas. We have to print more so we have to spend more, and we have to get more advertising revenue. Because our newspaper is free, what we do is we make distribution more efficient. We make sure that not too many copies are wasted. We visit outlets regularly and if we find that the old issues are still there, we reduce the number of copies and take them to other outlets. If there’s a party or an event, we deliver the newspaper. At that time we covered more stories from the Philippines, because not much was happening in the community [here], now there are more activities, more events, more people, so more stories. 

(Editor's Note: At the 25th anniversary celebrations, Garcia printed T-shirts with the words "Stop killing journalists". Many journalists have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines. There's a campaign among journalists there and their supporters to prosecute the perpetrators -- mostly politicians, police and military who were subjects of the journalists' investigative stories, according to Garcia.)

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

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