Monday, February 1, 2016
Postmedia is a ‘cancer,’ Torstar? Go tell that to Guelph
That gem came from the front page of Toronto Star’s Saturday edition, promoting a column by business writer David Olive elsewhere in the paper. The column was titled, “The problem with Postmedia.” In 1,500 words, Olive explores the unfortunately precarious financial position of my company, slams us for having much of our corporate debt owned by U.S. investors, and offers some suggestions on how journalism could be funded going forward. He also seemed to be rather chuffed at the prospect that my company may one day be forced out of business, presumably meaning me and about a thousand of my buddies will soon be looking for work.
I get a lot of that, actually. As a columnist and editorial writer, me and those like me are the people taking the positions most likely to anger and offend people, who then write in just to tell us they hope we lose our jobs. I’ve never understood, though, why they feel that the vast majority of people I work with — photographers, sales people, HR managers, arts reviewers, court reporters — should also end up on the dole. I confess to some surprise that Olive, a fellow journalist, should also be among those apparently keen to see journalists lose their jobs. I wonder what our graphic artists and page designers ever did to piss him off.
Setting aside the nastiness, on the substance of the issues he raises, Olive has some fair points. Postmedia’s debt load is a concern — for me far more than him, I assure you. The fact that much of our debt is in U.S. currency, and the Canadian dollar has been tanking, is especially alarming. It’s fair game for him to note that. Olive misses a few key points, however, so key, in fact, I can’t help but feel as though the Star would rather they simply not be discussed.
Bluntly, Olive seems so concerned by the speck in Postmedia’s eye that he’s missed the beam in his own parent company’s, TorStar. Like Postmedia, TorStar is a large corporation that owns a variety of media properties. Like Postmedia, TorStar is under pressure thanks to the death of our traditional revenue source, print advertising. Like Postmedia, TorStar has recently announced that it will let people go — around 300, in fact, just in recent weeks. Unlike Postmedia, however, TorStar — unindebted, Canadian-owned TorStar — just folded an entire local newspaper. The Guelph Mercury shut down its print edition and let go the entire newsroom last week, after almost 150 years, closed because TorStar couldn’t make money off it. It was a brutal blow to journalism in a city of more than 120,000 souls, with not an American hedge fund in sight. The 26 people who lost their jobs, casualties of TorStar’s “savage, non-stop cost cutting” (Olive’s words, about us), could be forgiven for wishing their paper had been one of the tumours Olive says Postmedia’s papers are. As bad as things have gotten, we’ve yet to kill an entire paper off.
His proposed solutions also seem little in favour within his own company. Olive suggests three future models for funding journalism: converting news orgs to charities or non-profits, community ownership, or direct government support of media. I won’t spend much time on these. All have merit as proposals, all also have drawbacks. None are what Olive’s own TorStar conglomerate is trying.
The Toronto Star, for instance, has been throwing a lot of resources at developing a new tablet-edition of its paper. Hopefully the effort will succeed — I have a lot of friends at the Star, and even just selfishly, would like to see a viable business model emerge somewhere. As the effort plays out, though, the Star is chopping jobs. Indeed, the Star’s tablet push is closely modelled on a similar move by La Presse — and that newsroom has shed 150 jobs as part of that transformation, including dozens in the newsroom.
For what it’s worth, I wish Olive, and his colleagues, well. The Star is my competitor, but I read it every day. Its journalists do great work, as do hundreds of Postmedia journalists who show up every day and do their best, even in these challenging times. It might make Olive feel better to call us names and wish we’d go away. It’s unfortunate, but I get it, and I hope he feels better having gotten all this off his chest. But now, if you’ll excuse me and my fellow Postmedia malignancies, it’s time to get back to work.