A launch and a rant

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I hadn’t meant to turn the launch of my book Endangered into an opportunity to go on a rant. But on the very day of my book launch, Postmedia threw 90 people across the country out of work, including my friend Stephanie Coombs, a very fine editor who lost her job at the Edmonton Journal.

I wrote Endangered when I was working as a daily news reporter and the main character is a daily news reporter and the book is really about the practice of daily news journalism as much as it is about anything else. So I had to take the opportunity to say a few words about the sad state of the profession that I love.

The digital revolution has been very tough on traditional print media. That’s true. But it’s also an excuse that’s been repeated, frankly, ad nauseum by corporate owners and their executive flaks to deflect attention way from the role of financial mismanagment and corporate greed in the decline of once-great newsgathering institutions.

When I say financial mismanagement, I could point to the ownership of the Ottawa  Citizen and its sister paper as far back as the days of the Aspers, who in their drive to expand their media empire burdened the newspaper chain with a billion dollar debt that continues to drag down the company today, while at the same time granting themselves and their top executives multi-million dollar bonuses.

When I say corporate greed, I could point to the American hedge fund GoldenTree that is both a major owner and a major creditor of PostMedia. Instead of ensuring that the company prospers, as a responsible owner should do, GoldenTree is mainly concerned with cutting costs and jobs to squeeze its usurious 8-12 % interest payments out of Postmedia’s nine-figure debt.

And while I’m ranting, I would like to give a little shout-out to the Competition Bureau of Canada, which allowed the merger of the Sun and PostMedia chains to go ahead, believing the promises of PostMedia executives that they would keep both Sun and PostMedia newsrooms open and editorially independent. Now that the newsrooms have merged and journalists have lost their jobs, I have only one question for the the Competition Bureau: Were you people born yesterday?

They say that digital technology is disruptive and I can only hope that this will be a good thing in the long run. I know there are lots of young people who are keen to become reporters and to break great stories. I know that lots of them are digitally savvy. And I hope that they can find disruptive ways to tell those stories and to wrest the power of the media out of the grasp of corporations who for the past ten years have been very poor stewards of our – my – much cherished Fourth Estate.

One thought on “A launch and a rant

  1. Preacher, meet choir. I wish that the Postmedia results had broken down earnings by paper, because each of the dailies in the chain, with the possible exception of the National Post, were making money the last I heard — maybe not as much money as before the recession, but profit. It’s only when the chain’s debt, incurred to buy TV properties, is brought into the equation that Postmedia gets into trouble. The papers themselves are holding their own. None of the reporting about the death of journalism mentions that fact. And yeah, how did a company dealing with the kind of crippling debt Postmedia’s been fighting — on the backs of its floor-level staff, last time I looked at a directory there was an extraordinarily healthy cadre of senior vice-presidents — manage to not only borrow money to buy more papers in an industry it claims is dying, but get Competition Bureau permission to acquire more newspapers through the leveraging of more debt when it can hardly pay for the debt it has? It was clear to me that there would be a merger at some point, how the competition commissioner missed it is beyond me.

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