Does Canwest need a government bailout?

February 24, 2009

Canwest needs to come up with a $100 million debt payment by Friday to avoid becoming insolvent. And if they manage to beg, steal or borrow the money, there’s always another payment not far behind…

How long before media conglomerates beg for a government bailout? That would be the acid test of journalistic objectivity.


Quebecor imposes lockout again, more trouble at the Montreal Gazette

January 26, 2009

Tough weekend for Montreal’s press. Quebecor put its Journal de Montréal hacks and support staff on lockout. The Montreal Gazette union rejected management’s latest proposal.

Quebecor is getting good at this. They continued to publish the Journal de Québec during a lockout that brought the union to its knees. There is no reason they cannot do the same with the Journal de Montréal, with the same results (yep, they’ve published today). Quebecor doesn’t fear the competition. Given the state of the advertising market, there’s no place for a new daily to emerge and La Presse has proven incapable of attracting Journal readers. Le Devoir? I don’t think so…

As for the Gazette, Canwest wants to have some of the work done in other cities where the chain has operations, but the Montreal workers are not too keen on watching those jobs leaving through the corporate Internet connection. In this economy, where do you go if your position gets cut? Management doesn’t fear a strike, but a lockout is certainly a possibility.

Media will suffer as recession deepens

December 7, 2008

When companies suffer, one of the first things to get cut is the advertizing budget. The painful process has started early this year and is intensifying: advertizing sales in major media outlets are down-waaaaay down. Employees cringe as owners look around for positions to cut, or any kind of savings at all. Forget about the training budget, or the new equipment.

Some newspapers, TV and radio outlets might not make it through the recession. One industry report says some major American cities might find themselves without daily newsprint (thanks to David Akin for the link). Canwest got rid of a whole bunch of positions (including reporters) and more is to come on that front. CBC executives are standing around a huge whole in their budget, scratching their heads. I would not be surprised if more organizations pulled out of Canadian Press, thus bringing down this venerable and very professional news service.

But why so serious? As our Prime Minister reminded us during the election campaign, there are opportunities to be grasped from human misery, for those smart enough to grasp them.

So the ground is shifting: contacts will disappear, reporters will move, news editors will change the way they work (more of them doubling as assignment editors I expect). Keep your ear to the group, update those contact lists and  stay ahead of the curve.

Better yet – less reporters mean news organizations will need prepackaged news (provided by flacks) more than before. Sure, the newspapers will shrink – less ads mean less pages. But it’s likely that there will be as much TV and radio news as before (until the stations shut down of course).

Hopefully, the PR world will respond by producing quality information. We have no interest in objectivity, but quality we can do. But since our budgets will often get cut too, 2009 might simply herald the return of the Gainesburger: the dry, crumbly news release the dogs will eat because they’re hungry and they know that’s all they’ll get.

Winnipeg Free Press on strike

October 28, 2008

I took me two weeks to realize the Winnipeg Free Press is on strike. Blame it on the Ottawa Bubble, Post-election Stress Disorder and old age. The Free Press keeps putting stories on its Web site. The strikers are publishing their own online newspaper, as is now the tradition with members of the Canadian Media Guild. Smart flacks will add the new media outlet to their distribution lists.

Best of luck to both strikers and management. I wouldn’t want the Free Press to be killed by a strike, like the Montreal Star was. The Star’s management was rabidly anti-union, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Winnipeg.

The Free Press was established in 1872. With the Winnipeg Tribune closing in 1980, the only other daily in that market is the Winnipeg Sun.

OOPS UPDATE: Contrary to what I wrote in a previous version of this post, the Free Press hasn’t been absorbed by Canwest. I have no excuse to offer aside from temporary insanity. My thanks to John White who spotted the obvious mistake.

Photograph from Hell

August 11, 2008

A chill ran down my spine this morning when I opened my Ottawa Citizen to A3, to a eerily beautiful photograph Toronto’s burning sky (here in the National Post). Interestingly, they had a quote from photographer Sarah Millar saying it was “like an earthquake”, but the Citizen went with the “it looked like an A-bomb” quote from an evacuated neighbour. Apparently, man-made disasters will trump natural ones.

Happy birthday to you, Izzy

August 11, 2008

Izzy Asper would be turning 76 today, had he not died in 2003. Hard to believe he built his media empire in just 25 years.

Things have been difficult for Canwest in the last five years, although it has little to do with the new management (the next Asper generation) – the seeds were planted duting old Izzy’s reign. The National Post is still bleeding red ink, there are cuts in many of the group’s newsrooms including, most regrettably, the Montreal Gazette.

Angry Canucks

July 30, 2008

Or so Canwest says, in a report printed earlier this week in most of the chain’s newspapers. Mad about gas prices, the environment, crime, the military and probably the weather.

There’s no revolution brewing. Canucks are angry at different people (Big Oil, Big Government, the Taliban and probably God) for different reasons. But if we’re to believe the poll and a follow-up text today, many Canadians are itching to do something and some use the Internet to get some reaction, including a better deal on their cell phone contract.

If there is indeed a vast pool of discontent waiting to be tapped into by some new social force, some might want to take advantage of it. It would be interesting to watch some new political parties or pressure group get some traction on the national scene, as the Saskatchewan Party did in the West.

By the way, the Canwest text is how poll-driven journalism is supposed to be written: select the most newsworthy elements of the poll, include comments from the pollster and one specialist on the topic, but most importantly get quotes from one or two Regular Joes to give a human face to the data. It doesn’t make it true, but it makes it believable and interesting to read. Nicely done.

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