PHOTOS: Canada’s newspaper publishers are finally getting a grip on how to deal with this new-fangled technology stuff, like that Internet thing. Just pick up the phone and get the federal government to give you money! Below: Postmedia columnist Andrew Coyne, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey, former Globe and CBC journalist Paul Adams, and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Right-wing newspaper owners want your tax money to subsidize their obsolete, mismanaged, and highly biased publications – and it’s starting to look as if they’re going to get it.

As predicted in this space nine months ago when the Trudeau-Government-commissioned report of the so-called Public Policy Forum urging corporate welfare for foundering mainstream media first appeared, the full court press is now being vigorously applied to get your tax dollars to bail out Canada’s newspaper industry.

Don’t assume that just because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has loudly ruled out a tax on Internet providers to finance this boondoggle that his federal Liberals don’t view the boondoggle itself with favour.

On Friday, a newspaper publishers’ lobby group called “News Media Canada” put on a push for the federal government fork over $350 million to create a fund to bail out the print industry and its spectacularly unsuccessful online advertising business, from which no one wants to buy ads.

This was clearly timed to coincide with the release the day before of the report of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, “Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada’s Media Landscape.” That report, intoned the Globe and Mail, a potential beneficiary of a newspaper industry bailout, “represents the federal government’s attempt to find a sustainable model for funding Canadian journalism.”

The newspaper publishers want you to pay up to 35 per cent of the salary of every journalist working for a mainstream media publisher, to be capped (for now) at $85,000 a year. Not all of them, of course, will actually be “journalists.” Many will be managers or writers of advertising copy disguised as journalism.

Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia, which likely stands to be the largest beneficiary of such a scheme, praised the Parliamentary report. “They were smart enough to notice that if they did nothing there will be no media in Canada,” he said. (Emphasis added.) This statement, of course, is obvious baloney. Mr. Godfrey also asked: “You think we like cutting people because we just don’t need them?” That quote may have been garbled, or it may be unintentionally telling.

Either way, count on it, industry bosses also expect to be able to continue mismanaging their newspapers as they have for generations, including their near total exclusion of progressive voices and their union busting and other appalling human resources practices.

Notwithstanding the latest details, what the Parliamentary committee and the publishers have in mind is pretty much the same thing proposed by last year’s report of the so-called Public Policy Forum. The PPF is led by Edward Greenspon, a former senior Globe and Mail manager. The proposals in the PPF’s “Shattered Mirror” clearly originated in the corporate boardrooms of the media industry long before the likes of you and I heard anything about them.

Arguments in favour of the planned bailout – which the industry, of course, insists is not a bailout – can be summarized as follows:

1)    It’s not our fault; the Internet did it
2)    Real and responsible news is worth saving
3)    There will be a catastrophe if you don’t bail us out
4)    Canadian democracy will suffer

There are four things wrong with this argument:

1)    It is their fault, at least it’s not just the Internet
2)    Real and responsible news hasn’t been provided by Canadian mainstream media for 20 years
3)    Not bailing them out won’t be a catastrophe, or even much of a problem
4)    Giving them money and letting them carry on as they do now likely will harm Canadian democracy

Consider: As I wrote nine months ago, nobody 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.

Or, as Andrew Coyne put it in a surprisingly on-point commentary in the National Post Friday, “this is not a case of market failure, but industry failure. Nothing whatever prevents readers from buying what we are selling. There is only our own proven incompetence at providing them with a product worth paying for. As an industry we have made every mistake it is possible to make, sometimes twice. Now we’re going to make you pay for them.” (You’d almost think Mr. Coyne reads this blog!)

Consider: The anti-social role played here in Alberta by spectacularly mismanaged Postmedia, whose shares are now worth about two-thirds of a penny each, but whose executives are paid millions in salary and bonuses. As English Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, Postmedia will likely be the principal beneficiary of this scheme, even though its biased news coverage, hysterical denunciations of Rachel Notley and her government’s polices, and daily support of the far-right Opposition parties have now gone completely over the top.

Newspaper owners will no doubt promise to use their free money 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, but don’t count on that ever actually happening.

Meanwhile, in another of the many articles softening us up for this idea, former CBC and Globe and Mail journalist Paul Adams, now a Carleton University journalism teacher, wrote in iPolitics that “in the steady coverage of their beats, newspaper reporters don’t only act as ‘watchdogs’ – calling out problems when they intrude. They also function as ‘scarecrows’ – deterring trouble at city halls and legislatures by their mere presence.”

The trouble with this is that most Canadian newspapers – and in particular Postmedia’s – all but eliminated the beat system the better part of 20 years ago. There are no watchdogs, and damn few scarecrows. There is no shortage of corporate cheerleaders and right-wing shills, however.

And what about those of us who have already successfully invested in digital platforms – especially small independents? Naturally, there will be nothing for us. This scheme is meant to favour the big players, and so it will.

Mr. Coyne frets needlessly that the government handouts his industry is demanding will inexorably lead to newspapers “much less interested in free markets, limited government, and … much more congenial to arguments for state intervention.”

If only it were so! Alas, I’m afraid what we’ll get instead is the same old stream of market-fundamentalist drivel and front-page editorials penned in Toronto demanding that we ignorant provincials in “the regions” vote for Stephen Harper 2.0 when next we have the chance to exercise our franchise.

Progressive voices will remain tightly shut out and a great cry of “freedom of the press” will go up if anyone dares to suggest that he who pays the piper should get to call the tune.

We have come a long way from 1970 and 1981, when a Senate Committee and a Royal Commission on the newspaper industry recommended solid measures that would have gone a long way to prevent the decline of news and make newspapers sustainable. The industry fought hard to protect its right to corporate concentration, plus the stream of unmarketable right-wing drivel it promoted as a result.

Now they are demanding a handout to float the pro-market claptrap and right-wing propaganda no one will voluntarily pay for. This is ironic, to say the least.

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  1. I don’t think the National Post and its mini posts are worth saving at this point. I have been recently checking for Edmonton articles in certain sections of The Journal and found none for days or weeks, which is not surprising as none of their former writers work there any more. The local content is mostly the advertising, otherwise it is recycled content from the National Post and even then it is pretty thin.

    I don’t know if it would be possible for the newspaper to be less connected to the community than it is now, although I am sure the mini posts will continue down that path. I think at this point the local TV coverage of the news is better. Perhaps Mr. Godfrey has finally realized, they are not cutting their way to greatness, but oblivion.

    It is sad, people still do want to know what is going on, but they don’t want a paper you can see through on some days and is largely written somewhere near Toronto that often serves as a cheerleader for the latest right wing idea of the week.

    Being such proponents of the free market the Post should conclude that if people are not buying their product, maybe the problem lies with the product. However, of course they save their lectures about the free market for others and believe it does not apply to them – subsidies for dairy farmers and air craft manufacturers bad, but for newspapers somehow good.

    I doubt Mr. Godfrey spent all these years laying off people if he really minded it much and I think at one time maybe not that long ago he still believed it would work. However, I suspect he is now coming to the realization of where it will really end. Will the last one please turn of the lights? Mr. Godrey will eventually have to hand himself his own pink slip and the closer it gets to that, the less enjoyable the task becomes.

    1. It’s worse than this; newspapers who will benefit from this bailout will have an incentive to not report on it in their news sections or comment on it in their comments sections, lest citizens lash back. So the organizations who are supposed to be the watchdogs have a vested interest in keeping this quiet. Shame! I suggest everyone with a twitter account circulate Dave’s piece far and wide – the word has to get out!

  2. An excellent synopsis with all bases covered. Well done!

    It appears the chickens have finally come home to roost for the newspaper industry. As mentioned, two Royal Commissions and a Senate Committee expressed concerns over the concentration of media ownership, the most recent being 2006. Their concerns 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.

    The newspaper industry needs to find and create a new business model that will support vigorous journalism, without the political baggage of right and left wing biases. Varying opinion/commentary is good — unbiased journalism is better. And…hire more qualified journalists to cover all the critical city and provincial beats.

  3. I am not so sure that their stream of right-wing drivel is totally unmarketable, just not at the value the vulture capitalists and executive suites assign to it.

    Speaking of assignments, can anyone dig up the pope-holy condemnations of postal subsidies for Canadian magazines that I am pretty sure were printed in the Pest and the Globe? Because although you, David, reserve much of your scorn for the National Pest and the former Southam papers, the Globe and Mail is no better. Any paper that employs Wente and that boot-licking toady Ibbitson deserves tp share the fate of the Conrad Black’s preposterous fraud.

    Thanks for this article

  4. Executive salary levels really embarrassed the government in the Bombardier bail-out, and I would assume someone in Ottawa will have learned from the experience. My guess (hope?) is that any media bail-out will be tied to executive salaries being limited to levels that are politically acceptable.

    This, then, creates a delightful scenario where Paul Godfrey is told Postmedia may have a bail-out, but only on the condition that Mr. Godfrey’s salary drop from its current level to say $250,000. The mental image of the executive team trying to twist the message that government has no business interfering with corporate affairs, without appearing to be hypocrites, is an entertaining one. If Godfrey’s present salary is 2.5 million, would he accept a 90% pay cut to allow the business to continue to operate? If not, how would he sell his refusal of an offered bail-out to his shareholders?

  5. In case you didn’t follow all of David’s links, I want to bring forward this from the 1980 Kent Commission Report on newspaper ownership:
    “The press, which assumes a licence to criticize every other institution, is the least open of any to criticism of its own performance … [and] is singularly reluctant not only to accept criticism and acknowledge error, but even to justify its own conduct when it believes itself to be in the right” (1980: 175).

    What’s to be done you ask? Well, below is a snippet of a letter I sent to my MP.

    “The Internet is certainly a challenge for the newspaper industry, but newspaper publishers have had decades to adapt. The industry could have chosen alternatives to obnoxious corporatization. They did not.

    The industry could have demonstrated its value to democracy by including all voices on the political spectrum, the voices of all genders and ethnicities, the voices of youth, a full range of economic perspectives, and something other than crime, crime, and more crime.
    They did not.

    Real and responsible news is worth saving, but the current industry is not that. Bailing this industry out won’t have much economic impact, except to the owners, because the industry has already castrated itself to to the point of economic irrelevance.

    If a free and vibrant press is essential to Canadian democracy, then the Canadian government should not make the same mistakes as the soon-to-be-extinct newspaper publishing industry, i.e. ignoring our current technological and social reality.

    Instead, investments could be made in the full spectrum of modern journalistic efforts. How about the establishment of a national body or association of journalism, freed from employers, that sets and administers journalistic practices? Journalism starts with independent journalists. What better way can the government provide support than to support the actual value-providers?

    How about the government provides subsidies, grants or other seed monies to kickstart journalistic enterprises that utilize Internet technology, including any number of existing productions like bloggers and others outside of the clearly incompetent newspaper industry?

    How about policies Heck, if it’s such a public need, why not fully fund some kind of independent, arms-length and reputable public service to provide news and journalism for Canadians? Like the CBC?”

  6. Being clairvoyant, I have to correct the record. What Messr. Godfrey was thinking was: “You think we like cutting people because they just won’t write what we want them to?”. Just wait until the yankee efforts to end net neutrality migrate north to rescue bail out funded faux journalism with a new electronic firewall. On a lighter note, you mugs get Derek “biggest phony in Canadian politics” Fildebrandt to teach you all about how to be a good libertarian as he runs for leader of the UCP or some such artificial distraction. Maybe Preston will buy him a sweater vest to soften the edges of his cannibalistic Darwinism. Better yet, maybe we’ll get Gavin Mcinnis and Ezra Levant out of their alt white closet to hit the stump for him. Good luck you schmoos!

  7. I am an avid news reader. All sorts, left and right, from Canada and from other countries.

    The last thing I want to see is the Gov’t forking over money to the newspapers simply to compensate for their lack of foresight and business acumen. Besides, where will it end. Do we subsidize the pathetic Calgary Herald or the Biesiker Bugle?

    I feel the same way about putting a dime of public money into the proposed Flames arena. Most Calgarians cannot afford to take their family to a hockey game so why should they subsidize this entertainment business?

  8. Dave would you include the Toronto Star in the right wing msm you despise so? If you look at the financial performance of Torstar they appear to have been losing money off and on for years. Is this because of their decidedly left leaning content? I certainly agree that some media executives wages are obscene and not warranted if you look at the companies financial performance. These large companies have failed to successfully monetize their digital content. I certainly believe journalists need to be employed. I have a lot of respect for people who can successfully string words together. As for subsidizing these media conglomerates I am not in favor. Having said that I hope a solution is found because many good journalists will be on the unemployment line otherwise.

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