Can one newsroom plus one editor add up to two newspapers? That’s Postmedia’s story and they’re stickin’ to it!

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PHOTOS: The Edmonton Journal’s building in downtown Edmonton as it appeared today. Below: Margo Goodhand, Paul Godfrey (Nick Kozak, Toronto Star photo) and Stephanie Coombs.

After a day of merger mania accompanied by brutal newsroom cuts at Postmedia’s daily newspapers in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver, it is very clear the media chain’s Toronto-based management is determined to keep pretending each of its dailies in each city is a separate entity.

Yes, newsrooms will be merged in the four Canadian cities “with two brands,” and, yes, there will be only one top editor for each newsroom, parent Postmedia Network Canada Corp. admitted yesterday, but it stoutly insisted each will retain its own brand and style.

Margo-May_2011“Let me be clear on one very important point,” said Postmedia CEO and President Paul Godfrey in a statement yesterday afternoon, “we will continue to operate separate brands in each of these markets. What is changing is how we produce these products.”

“I think we have found the formula which, at least at this point in time, can mean the continuation of those publications,” Mr. Godfrey also told the Globe and Mail’s reporter. (Emphasis added here.)

So that’s Postmedia’s story and they’re stickin’ to it. It was without doubt the content of Mr. Godfrey’s message in telephone calls to each of the mayors of each of the cities.

It is all baloney, of course.

It may have been seen as necessary baloney by Postmedia’s head office. After all, when the company purchased the Sun Media newspapers from Quebecor Inc. last April, Mr. Godfrey promised that both Postmedia and Sun newspapers would continue to operate independently of one another in markets where they competed directly before the acquisition.

Paul Godfrey in his office at The National Post. Toronto, ON. March 12, 2013. Nick Kozak/For the Toronto Star.But as other media reported, the two separate “brands” will not have different reporters for different beats, the same people will produce both papers from the same copy in the merged newsroom, and, most important of all, the same managers will oversee the production of both.

Needless to say, this is not a recipe for editorial diversity!

In the case of the four Postmedia dailies in Alberta – the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, and the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun – each will be led by an editor with roots in Sun Media.

Lorne Motley, the former editor of the Calgary Herald and before that a Sun editor, will edit both Edmonton newspapers. Jose Rodrigues, who until recently the editor of both the Edmonton and Calgary Suns, will now be the editor of the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald.

Under Mr. Motley’s leadership, the Herald has gone as far to the right as Suns. So his appointment in Edmonton where the Journal has pursued a more balanced editorial policy that the Herald is hardly a promising signal.

CoombsIn Vancouver, where the Sun name predates Sun Media and the paper that bears it is known as the city’s higher quality daily, Postmedia Western Canada Vice-President Rob McLaughlin will run the combined newsrooms. Postmedia is looking for an editor in Ottawa where the Citizen’s editor-in-chief has already announced plans to quit.

Even without yesterday’s deep cuts, in which more than 90 editors, reporters and photojournalists lost their jobs, such a scheme simply cannot produce newspapers that are even insignificantly different from one another except in the size of the sheets of paper they’re printed on. Combine this with Postmedia’s single editing operation in Hamilton, Ont., is the situation gets even worse.

Most of the people who lost their jobs were experienced journalists who know their communities well. The heaviest losses appear to have been here in Edmonton, where at least 35 bodies were cut, compared with 25 in Calgary. A partial list can be seen here. The ranks of photojournalists were especially hard hit, presumably on the theory any typist can be handed a digital camera.

Meanwhile, the shocker in Edmonton yesterday morning was the inclusion in the purge of editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand and managing editor Stephanie Coombs, both respected journalists. It is highly unusual for the two top news executives at any major newspaper to be let go on the same day.

Judging from the tone of their social media posts yesterday, both Ms. Goodhand and Ms. Coombs received little notice the axe was about to fall on them.

Ms. Goodhand told me in a short Twitter message that “I don’t know what was behind their decision, frankly, could have been many factors. But it was a tremendously sad day.”

The pair had been seen as insufficiently enthusiastic about head office plans to merge the Edmonton newsrooms.

But we must also ask if the sensible editorial published by the Journal last Friday, in which the paper’s editorial board, then including Ms. Goodhand, sensibly pointed out that the province’s NDP Government could hardly be blamed for the price of oil, or the current state of the economy. As is well known, that is not a message Postmedia wants its newspapers to convey to their diminishing readership.

It is also difficult to ignore the reality that all the new editors appointed yesterday are men, while all the top editors who lost their jobs were women. So it is possible the cuts at the top in Edmonton simply reflect the gender bias of Postmedia management.

With Postmedia deeply in debt, its actual advertising revenue in freefall in all categories, and its profits being nibbled to death by vulture capitalists in the United States, yesterday’s events were probably inevitable.

The company lost $263.4 million last year. In the first quarter, corporate revenue was down more than 13 per cent, principally because of the collapse in print advertising and a corresponding slide in revenue from digital ads.

As Mr. Godfrey’s remarks to the Globe hint, the latest newsroom depredations are unlikely to be the end of it.

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