Canadian newspaper industry advances on Ottawa, hands out, awash in red ink and democratic platitudes

Posted on January 26, 2017, 11:37 pm
7 mins

PHOTOS: Stop the presses! … I mean the losses! Put me through to the red ink department … I mean the tax department … Actual Canadian newspaper owners may not be as committed to jobs as the sign on the press suggests. Below: Edward Greenspon of the Public Policy Forum and late of the Globe and Mail, and the late Tom Kent, who tried to save the Canadian newspaper industry.

What’s black and white and red all over? The Canadian newspaper industry’s balance sheets.

But as has been said here many times before, no industry had more warning of the extent and nature of the coming digital revolution than the Canadian newspaper industry, and it has turned the wrong direction at every step along the way to its current disastrous destination.

But that doesn’t mean these newspapers’ well-heeled owners won’t demand tax-supported subsidies to support their badly run businesses if they’re given any encouragement – which is exactly what the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to have been doing.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that, earlier today, the Public Policy Forum’s heavily touted report on the future of journalism and democracy included a call for Canadian taxpayers to give $400-million a year to, as the Globe and Mail put it, “news organizations that can no longer afford to fulfill their civic duties.”

Framing the work done nowadays by newspapers as essential to democracy is a tendentious way to describe an industry that hasn’t fulfilled its civic duty for 20 years or more, and whose financial troubles are mostly the result of serial mismanagement and epochal disruptive technological change that isn’t ever going to go away.

As for those of us who, on our own or as part of co-ops or corporations, have managed the shift to the digital way of doing business quite nicely, the mainstream media in general and the newspaper industry in particular want our taxes to help them compete against us.

Accordingly, the Public Policy Forum, headed by former Globe and Mail editor Edward Greenspon, is requesting from the Liberals tax dodges, advantageous copyright rules, and direct subsidies from successful new digital businesses and garden-variety taxpayers.

This way they can continue, I guess, to mismanage their properties, treat their employees like digital serfs, pay senior managers huge bonuses and continue to publish market-fundamentalist drivel and very little else without even a tip o’ the reporter’s fedora to the irony of the situation.

The proposed changes would “free up” $300 to $400 million, Mr. Greenspon told his former employer’s reporter, to be dedicated to a “Journalism and Democracy Fund,” that would presumably be administered by a group of industry executives in a way that ensured the cash made it into the right hands, in every sense of the word.

Interestingly, the think tank specifically opposed a tax credit that could be used by any new media operation, a reversion to the venerable industry tradition of keeping new competitors out of the game.

The Globe said the Trudeau Government has refused to comment on what it makes of the ideas in the report, but weeks of rumours have suggested Ottawa is already halfway on board.

In return, newspaper owners will presumably promise to deliver just a little bit more than their current formula of crime, crime, more crime and anti-NDP propaganda provided free by the shills at the Fraser Institute and its multitudinous market-fundamentalist imitators. However, don’t count on any of that ever actually happening.

Back in 1981, when newspapers still made a contribution to democracy and Canadians who paid attention were worried about concentration of media ownership, Tom Kent and his Royal Commission on Newspapers made a number of recommendations that ironically might have kept the industry viable when the Internet came along.

These included legislated tax breaks for local content, tight rules for ownership to ensure papers remained in local hands, and mechanisms to guarantee communities had a stake in the operations of their local media.

Earlier, in 1970, a special committee headed by Senator Keith Davey had made similar recommendations designed to prevent concentration of media ownership, which were likewise mostly ignored.

Newspaper owners, who imagined the gravy train would never end, wanted none of it. But now that they are reaping what they sowed, newspaper owners want taxpayers to do the heavy lifting for them.

How heavy? Debt-ridden Postmedia Network Canada Corp.’s latest financial results, for example, show that print advertising revenues continue to plummet while the needle has barely moved on digital ad revenue, suggesting they’re not much better at their imagined new business than they were at their mismanaged old one.

Impact Consulting tries again with Legislature news, buys venerable tipsheet

Speaking of the changing media scene, Edmonton-based lobbyist firm Impact Consulting Inc. has purchased the venerable subscription-only legislative newsletter run for 20 years by journalist Jim Armet. They are expected to relaunch the modest publication tomorrow morning with an emphasis on hard news about the government available from public sources. The Armet Report will become the Impact Report.

Not so long ago, Impact was trying a different approach to dipping its corporate toe in Alberta’s tepid media waters. But an earlier version emphasizing analysis of the often-opaque goings on under the dome of the provincial Legislature was apparently a flop with the company’s clients.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

20 Comments to: Canadian newspaper industry advances on Ottawa, hands out, awash in red ink and democratic platitudes

  1. Prairie Observer

    January 27th, 2017

    The most optimal scenario for all parties concerned would be for the present print media ownership structure in this country to crash and completely burn. Hopefully what would emerge from the white ashes would be a number of independent, locally owned papers in the Canadian marketplace. It should also be federally legislated that both print and broadcast media can never again be cross owned (preventing another Canwest/Postmedia corporate mutation.) Hopefully the new papers resulting from this creative destruction would have the new blood needed to make both their print and electronic platforms relevant. The newspaper delivered to you door each day should be more than some over priced fish wrap.

    Reply
  2. Andy M.

    January 27th, 2017

    Very good piece, Blogger Dave. But, my blood still boils at the incredible gall of the whole plot. When are Canadians going to stand up against our own rigged system? (See also Canada’s growing international cachet as a tax avoidance haven). Maybe Postmedia should put the squeeze on Black for that $400 million they need so badly. Surely, he has something left from the $3.2 billion CanWest paid him for his paper empire in 2000. Better yet, let ’em sink in their self-made swamps. Long live the bloggers.

    Reply
    • Dusty

      January 27th, 2017

      Not all people want to read left-wing bloggers for news, Andy. Do you have anything that would replace a major newspaper in major cities and towns, and that would report on standard local news, as distasteful as you and the author of this article find said papers?

      Reply
      • PIGL

        January 28th, 2017

        The claim that they are not doing that now. As for “left wing bloggers”, I was not aware of a critical shortage of bloggers of the other persuasion.

        The difficulty is in financing political reportage at all levels; the present model that is imploding, is based on financing executive salaries and returns in investment to foreign held vulture funds, who pursue systematically an anti-democratic, anti-Canadian agenda because that is their economic interest. Burn it down and start something new. The Kent Commission report would probably be a good place to start, despite the technological changes that have destroyed the old funding model for city dailies.

        Reply
      • Athabascan

        January 28th, 2017

        Any yellow rag would be better than anything the alt-right Postmedia puts out.

        Those who like their news filtered through nasty right-wing diatribe should consider Breitbart, Rebel Media, or Fox News.

        As for local news I would suggest Metro News for its excellent reporting and well written articles.

        There fixed it for you Dusty – you’re welcome.

        Reply
  3. Paul

    January 27th, 2017

    I would take us in an entirely different direction: eliminating tax deductions for all advertising; eventually taxing that advertising–as (ab)use of the public commons–eliminating privately held media; limiting the ownership of any one individual to, say, one percent of any publicly traded media company; issuing start-up funding to new media; and issuing to each citizen / family a media subscription grant redeemable for any media outlet subscribing to a set of civic principles and responsibilities; an oversight body of citizens to monitor performance; and penalties ranging from revocation of subscription grant eligibility, to fines, and eventually to criminal prosecution for perjury where it can be established that the outlet has made statements –or quoted statements as fact — that it knows to be untrue.

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    January 27th, 2017

    Good Heavens! If a subsidy should come to pass,

    1. Will the subsidizing government start to put pressure on the editorial content? You have to wonder if Stephen Harper’s cuts to the CBC would have happened if the CBC had been a Harper mouthpiece.

    2. Will Paul Godfrey et al still get their obsecene bonuses?

    3. Will Rebel Media claim they are a legitimate news source (like they did to gain access to the Alberta Legislature, and the Climate Change talks) and try to get in on it too?

    This is opening a can of worms that really should stay closed.

    Reply
    • Maureen

      January 27th, 2017

      Best reply yet. I agree totally with you. AND the bastards tried to tell us who to vote for. I will never forgive that.

      Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        January 28th, 2017

        Yeah, that was a turning point for me. Over the years we watched our beloved Edmonton Journal slowly deteriorate as lower revenue induced cutbacks gradually eroded the quality of the publication. We continued getting it, however, because, well, we always did. It was the election day editorials, however, that really made us look critically at our subscription.

        It’s too bad, really; I miss reading a good newspaper.

        Reply
  5. jerrymacgp

    January 27th, 2017

    Isn’t it entertaining how big business is all about the free market and keeping the government out of their business, until it’s their own oxen being gored?

    Maybe what we need instead of corporate welfare for Postmedia and its ilk, is a Crown-owned newspaper, competing with the private sector ones, sort of a print equivalent of the CBC.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      January 27th, 2017

      At least it should be “work for welfare.” Maybe we could put Mr. Godfrey to work pulling up sugar beets in Taber.

      Reply
    • Maureen

      January 27th, 2017

      No more corporate welfare for Postmedia.

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      January 27th, 2017

      That would work for me.

      Reply
  6. Eric Cameron

    January 27th, 2017

    One of the recommendations in The Shattered Mirror that makes sense (Recommendation No. 1 a) : The distinction made in the treatment of Canadian and non-Canadian print and broadcast media should be extended to the Internet. The current situation is neither fair nor sensible. A Canadian advertiser cannot deduct expenses when buying space in The New York Times but can when buying an ad on nyt.com.

    Interesting to see the people who have been hollering for so long about the CBC suddenly asking for subsidies. Whatever happened to free enterprise?

    I wonder what Roy Thomson would have to say about this if he were still alive. I worked as a reporter for his company (the Cape Breton Post, the Island’s only daily). Their cost-control was oppressive, but I was allowed to pursue stories anywhere I wanted and I was always given ample space and a light-handed edit.

    Does anybody remember The Fourth Estate, the weekly that was published in Halifax for many years? That may be a model for the future of local journalism.

    The Internet is wonderful, but there is something about ink on paper.

    Reply
  7. J.E. Molnar

    January 27th, 2017

    These corporate capitalists who rail against the “nanny” state at every opportunity, in their various publications, now want a government handout. Is there no end to their hypocrisy?

    Reply
  8. Brett

    January 27th, 2017

    No wonder. We subscribed to the Calgary Herald for years. Eventually got tired of reading nothing but CP reprints. It became a ‘feel good’ newspaper with very little investigative journalism, it lacked in depth articles, and there .were more ads than anything else. We switched to Saturday only for a few months and then dropped that. We would not take it even if it was free.

    I now do Post on line, sometimes Globe, plus the Guardian.

    I am in as much favour of giving Ken Thompson a Gov’t subsidy as I am in seeing the City of Calgary pay for. a new hockey stafium that 80% of Calgarians will never be able to tske their families to.

    Reply
  9. Dusty

    January 27th, 2017

    Although I don’t want to see traditional newspapers die outright like you all and the author of this article does, what we need is something along the lines of The Guardian here in North America. The only thing is, setting up a paper like The Guardian would take a lot of time and money, which I doubt that the Canadian left could ever do apart from the few alternative newsweeklies (NOW Magazine, The Georgia Straight, The Tyee) being published now in a few major cities.

    @PRAIRIE OBSERVER, this article I came across a few days ago defines extreme emoprogressive left-wing people like you: The Nihilistic Purity of the Far Left Will Kill Us All

    Reply
    • PIGL

      January 28th, 2017

      Oh, Please. If you pretend to think David Climenhaga’s blog is Far Left, you are simply trolling. Trollage is further demonstrated by your claim that the author wants to see traditional newspapers die outright: there’s no way to derive that from what he wrote…you are simply lying. Then there’s the dig at lazy smelly hippies which you apparently think you have disguised sufficiently. You obviously have not looked at the The Georgia Straight or Now in 20 years, but you know what Right Thinking people are supposed to assume about them. Finally, there’s the use of the term “emoprogressive”, which I predict you do not have the balls to use to anyone’s face: that word alone brands you as despicable. Since this is a family blog, I will conclude simply by observing that you unworthy to be scraped from the sole of David’s shoe. .

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      January 29th, 2017

      You know who else was an emogressive left-wing? Jesus that’s who.

      I would say on behalf of all left wingers – thank you for the compliment Dusty.

      Reply

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