An anonymous missive has appeared on The Gazetteer, purporting to be from “a newsworker at Postmedia” and offering an explanation for that chain’s sudden turn against the Harper Conservatives. The Gazetter‘s proprietor, RossK, had wondered if aggressive work on the robocall file and other signs of journalistic life at Conrad Black’s former playthingie meant some sort of sea change was underway. He received the following response. For our part, we expect the change has more to do with Postmedia’s deteriorating finances, and a vague memory that scandals sell papers. But as regular readers of backofthebook know, we loves us a good conspiracy theory . . .
“Ok, RossK, I’ll bite. As a news worker at Postmedia, I think this is an interesting and important question you’ve raised about this odd shift in the commercial media.
It was McGregor and Maher at the Citizen and the National Post who picked up the rifle first, as you note, with the robocall scandal. And now there’s O’Neill. And there are more to come. The Postmedia chain has turned against the PM. Period.
There is no way to understate the importance of that shift. It hasn’t worked its way through the whole empire; you don’t immediately change the attitude or approach of the hundreds of idiots you’ve appointed to management jobs over the years. Or all the columnists, or reporters.
But it’s started.
And it’s huge. It should NOT be underestimated.
The question for us in their newsrooms is: What in the hell can the PM have done to piss off Postmedia (run nominally by the Tory-loving former managers of Canwest, but in reality owned and funded by GoldenTree, a New York hedge fund)?
Well, here’s one theory:
1. GoldenTree invested in the chain in 2010 because newspapers are high cash generators. (Usually, anyway.) Because Canada has foreign-ownership media laws, the new company and its share holdings had to be very carefully structured.
2. But maybe that wasn’t such a big deal, because Harper was making a lot of big, loud promises about opening up ownership to foreign interests. That would mean GoldenTree could unload the chain, or parts of it, in future with relative ease. Hedge funds like to get in and out quickly, and there aren’t a lot of Canadian buyers for a property that big. Quebecor was really the only competitor that GoldenTree faced in 2010 as Canwest lay dying, and Quebecor lost out because it couldn’t put together a big enough offer.
3. Foreign ownership isn’t anywhere on the apparent radar for Harper anymore. At all. Period. Unless he’s in completely secret talks that no one has heard a word about.
4. Postmedia isn’t making money, certainly not at the rate GoldenTree needs it to. As a hedge fund, it would have wanted to move in, tap the cash flow and sell it on. There are lots of more promising cash machines for GoldenTree to move on to.
5. Postmedia executives, including CEO Paul Godfrey, toured newsrooms in BC just weeks ago to announce that while the two papers in Vancouver were still clinging by their fingernails to the black side of the ledger, red ink looms with absolute certainty in the very near future. An online-only Monday-Friday edition of the Province is widely rumoured to be in the works, with staff busy working on a new design for the weekend edition. (Yes, some of this is company trash talk aimed at turning newsroom workers against pressroom workers in talks for a contract that expired about 18 months ago. But that’s not the whole story. True, newsroom workers have taken huge hits; press workers haven’t, yet. And true, pressroom costs are high, and they were high in Victoria, where the chain used them as an excuse for selling the paper there to Glacier. But it is also true that the papers aren’t making the money they should, costs aside. That’s because the company doesn’t understand its product or its readership and can’t think of any other way to fix the problem than to continually cut costs, which in fact only makes the product worse.)
6. Quebecor, which owns the Tory-worshipping SunTV, is now the PM’s best friend and only defender.
7. So should GoldenTree force a sale of Postmedia, with foreign ownership rules still in place, well, the best and maybe only positioned buyer might be . . . ta da! . . . Quebecor.
8. Which would result in a takeover of the majority of Canada’s news outlets by a completely right-wing company.
9. Say it all together now: Hmmmmmmmm. Can this have been the plan all along?
As I say, just a theory among some of us.
But it would be fair to say that the shift in Postmedia’s Tory coverage is significant enough to have most of our newsroom radar on full alert.
And I would add one other thing, since none of us know where this ride will take us. For everyone feeling so rightly cynical about the media, you will note that there is the odd MSM reporter left who can, when turned loose, still produce. You will note that there were others at the Globe and CBC etc who joined in after the Post kicked off the robocall-fest. I would argue that the heavy lifting was still done by the blogosphere, including you and many of those in your own circle. But I think there is still a rescue-able body of journalists left should the MSM, or any portion of it, come under new ownership that actually understands it own product, readership and social contract — something that Postmedia fails entirely to do.”