PHOTOS: An artist’s impression of the Schiaparelli Mars Lander descending gently toward the Martian surface. Schiaparelli’s actual Mars landings may not have unfolded exactly as illustrated by the European Space Agency. Below: The evocative cover of today’s National Post.

About 178 million kilometres from us yesterday, give or take, Europe’s Schiaparelli spacecraft went missing and is presumed to have come to a bad end somewhere on the Martian surface.

The lander’s parachute failed to properly deploy, as the military-scientific-industrial complex loves to say; its retro-rockets turned themselves off too soon. The probability is said to be a small new crater on the Red Planet.

can_np“The European Space Agency has not yet conceded that the lander crashed but the mood is not positive,” the BBC reported with delightful understatement.

Back here on the corner of Earth’s surface known as Canada, also yesterday, Postmedia Canada Network Corp. appears to be experiencing a fate not dissimilar to the final moments of the Schiaparelli lander we have just been speculating on.

Postmedia is rapidly descending toward the surface. Its parachute seems not to have deployed quite properly. Will the retro-rockets slow the hurtling object before nothing is left but a crater?

Judging from Postmedia Network’s news release on its fourth-quarter financial results yesterday, the giant Canadian media corporation’s managers have not yet conceded that their craft cannot possibly land safely. But, reading between the lines, the mood is not positive.

In both cases, the disasters are the result of the nexus of hubris and technology.

Postmedia Network is the owner of the largest newspaper chain in English Canada. It is the descendant of Canada’s once-mighty Southam Inc., publisher of such quality newspapers as the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. Hollinger Inc. and CanWest Global Communications Corp. had a hand in it along the way to the present state of affairs.

Postmedia also owns the National Post, founded in 1998 by former newspaper mogul Conrad Black, apparently in part to push the Canadian media to the political right. If that was the plan, it worked spectacularly. But the cost of maintaining the vanity publication has dragged sound publications like the Herald and the Journal toward the planetary surface.

In its fourth-quarter financial results posted yesterday, Postmedia reported losses of $99.1 million, 84 per cent more than the Toronto-based company’s loss of $54.1 million in the same quarter last year.

You don’t need a calculator to know that if Postmedia keeps losing money at this quarter’s rate, it’ll soon be burning through $400 million a year. And that, my friends, is not sustainable, as they like to say in Postmedia’s regular bloviations on governments in general and the Alberta NDP in particular.

I’ll just quote the key paragraph from the Postmedia press release: “Revenue for the quarter was $198.7 million as compared to $230.2 million in the prior year, a decrease of $31.6 million (13.7%). The revenue decline was primarily due to decreases in print advertising revenue of $26.4 million (21.3%) and print circulation revenue of $5.6 million (8.0%). Digital revenue increased by 0.8% in the quarter.” (Emphasis added.)

Again, it doesn’t take an MBA to see where this is going. Revenues crashing; losses piling up; principal business dried up and blown away in the wind; and the big technological hope for the future, digital advertising? … barely on life support.

Then there is the matter of what the Toronto Star – another once-great Canadian newspaper with financial troubles of its own – has termed Postmedia’s “looming debt bomb.” (Toronto Star editors of old would have deleted that phrase, by the way, on the grounds such a metaphorical device might go boom, but wouldn’t loom.)

The explanation of the debt bomb, though, is easy enough: Years of mismanagement and bad business decisions, plus huge bonuses for the top executives responsible for bringing the company low.

But Postmedia managers – like the ESA’s hopeful technicians – say they have a plan. Despite constant layoffs, 800 of them this year, Postmedia has kept about 4,000 employees since buying Sun Media’s English-language newspapers last year. They say they’ll now get rid of some more, saving another 20 per cent of salary costs.

If that was numbers of employees, it would mean another 800 down the chute. It may be a few less, though, because they’re bound to cut older, more experienced journalists – the kind you need a few of to run a decent newspaper. So maybe it’ll only be 700 that go over the side.

Regardless, they’re cutting pretty close to the point where there won’t be anything left to cut, at least if the idea is still to publish news.

Oh, they also have some “acquisition synergies” in mind. We’ve actually seen some of these, in the form of combining the newsrooms of the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, as well as the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun. It appears the Suns’ deplorable corporate culture has emerged triumphant in both places and nothing about that should encourage readers about the future of print journalism in English Canada.

Despite having been transformed into a highly ideological market fundamentalist propaganda system over the past 20 years, I suspect Postmedia’s managers have another survival plan not mentioned in yesterday’s news release – government bailouts. Certainly other newspaper organizations are openly lobbying Canadian governments for just such relief.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic, you and me, the victims of the neoliberal era for which the National Post and its increasingly clone-like regional frankenpapers have constantly agitated being asked to bail out these business failures with our taxes!

If bailouts don’t come – and maybe we can enlist the assistance of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a favourite Postmedia source, to make sure they don’t! – the company is going to have to come up with some more synergies if it’s going to keep slouching along much longer.

Well, that’s what senior corporate managers are paid to think big thoughts about, and why their parachutes are typically in better working order than the Schiaparelli Mars lander’s.

Here’s a small wager: One of these ideas will involve killing off local papers and just operating a small bureau in each province that puts out a local edition of the National Post.

Labour lawyer William Johnson to lead Alberta Labour Relations Board

The appointment of William Johnson, Queen’s Counsel, as chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board was announced yesterday by Labour Minister Christina Gray.

Mr. Johnson, a well-known and respected Calgary labour lawyer since the early 1980s, has since the start of this year been vice-chair of the of the board.

He replaces Mark Asbell, also a Q.C., who has been a member of the board for more than 20 years and chair for 17 years. The news release did not say why Mr. Asbell is departing, only that he will return to private practice.

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  1. Better not ask me to bail out that mess. I had heard once that the US corporation which bought into the Postmedia group was connected with the National Enquirer. Is it true?”

  2. Why its almost as if producing an inferior product manufactured from a rigid ideological framework out of touch with reality using an inexperienced and terrified workforce where only the most servile survive isn’t a good business model.

  3. People have never been more hungry for news content, and PostMedia can’t find a business model that works.

    Given the way they have emptied their newsrooms (starting with the progressive voices), I can’t honestly say I’m going to miss them when they are gone. Perhaps their departure will clear the way for something better to rise up.

  4. Over the years, two Royal Commissions and a Senate Committee expressed great concerns over the concentration of media ownership, the most recent being 2006. Their concerns, which were largely ignored were:

    • minority elite control the public airwaves and print journalism;
    • lack of diversity of viewpoints and reduced quality of news;
    • commercially driven;
    • lack of competition;
    • less journalistic freedom;
    • biased political views may prevail.

    While Climenhaga’s analysis relating to financial mismanagement is cogent, it appears past commissions and committees exhibited amazing prescience when forecasting the future landscape of the newspaper industry in Canada. Sadly, it appears the chickens have finally come home to roost, much to the chagrin of Postmedia and their subscribers.

  5. When I ended my long time subscription to the Journal, the main issues that factored into the decision were the quality of coverage and that it had become more slanted. I suspect I was not the only one that felt that way. It becomes a spiral downward, cut staff – quality declines – readers/advertisers leave – revenue goes down – cut more, repeat. It ends with no staff, no readers/advertisers, no quality. no revenue – and of course no business.

    It is sad, but if I was one of the remaining staff – I would probably take a buy out package now. As the song goes “take the money and run”, before the whole thing falls apart.

    It is sort of ironic how the Post media papers regularly print lectures about government finances, while they are a business that is supposed to try and be profitable, but has such ongoing losses and is now essentially owned by their creditors. What is is these days with those living in glass houses always throwing stones?

    Post columnists and editorials also often lecture governments about not spending money foolishly. I think there will at least be one good outcome from that – I really doubt the government will bail them out.

    1. When I left the Calgary Herald at the end of the strike in 2000, I felt as if my career, my vocation, had been snatched away from me. It seemed like a catastrophe. Now that I am on the cusp of retirement, I thank God every day I was pushed out of the newspaper business when I was, with my retirement savings mostly intact. David is right. Postmedia employees should get out now, while a buyout can still be had. The end is nigh.

    2. David, I feel like you have been reading my diary! For years I looked forward to retiring, and having a good thorough paper read every morning. Unfortunately, just like you wrote, the quality just dropped and dropped, to the point that it was only habit and loyalty that kept us subscribing. Then, just when the loyalty the newspaper was relying on became paramount, they betrayed our loyalty with editorials telling us how to vote.

      We still get the Journal, only now handed down to us from my wife’s mother (who gets it from another woman at her seniors’ residence). I enjoy the Sudoku, and it confirms for us we made the right decision to cancel our subscription that goes back to the 1980’s. I would still enjoy reading a good newspaper, however.


    1. Our host keeps using the phrase “Postmedia’s Alberta Frankenpaper.” This is a bit unwieldy. How about, “The Alberta Enquirer”?

  6. Government Bailouts – If Postmedia gets one, how long will it be before Ezra starts crowing that Rebel Media is a real news outlet, and they should get one too.

    Ezra’s Real Newz Outlet, incidentally, didn’t seem to find the death of Jim Prentice newsworthy last weekend.

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