Pardon the rest of Canwest newspaper employees for feeling more than a little leery about the prospect of the National Post (NP) returning to the financial embrace of “the LP Entities” -- as the lawyers and company executives refer to our employers.
Sure we’re glad that 277 Post employees will keep their jobs for at least a while longer. But how will this affect us?
In the court documents filed as part of the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act proceedings, we learn that the National Post has “had an EBITA loss of $20.3 million, $16.3 million, $13.1 million and $12.7 million, respectively” from 2005-08 and is projected to have had a further loss of $9.3 in the 12 months ending August 31, 2009. In 2001 the Post lost $60 million. Over seven years NP has been bailed out to the tune of $139.1 million.
How can these sorts of losses possibly be good for the financial health of the “LP Entities” that include 12 dailies and 22 non-daily newspapers? In the past year, the 5,400 people working for these publications, including over 1,200 members of CEP Local 2000, have been asked/told to cut wages, to give up promised increases, and to make other concessions because not enough profit is currently being made. Adding in the National Post’s losses can only make matters worse. (It is not only the operating losses that are being taken on, but also the National Post pension plan, which had a winding-up deficiency of $1.6 million as of December 2006. In addition, the “LP Entities” will take on up to $6.3 million in assumed liabilities and make a cash payment of between $2 and $2.5 million.)
Despite a management assertion, in court documents, that “closure of the National Post would increase the LP Entities’ cost burden by approximately $14 million in the fiscal year ending August 31, 2010,” the numbers just do not add up to good news for the vast majority of Canwest newspaper employees.
Instead, the real story is that creditors have been convinced they will get a bigger return on their investment in Canwest debt if the National Post is part of the package of newspapers to be sold. Their plan is to sell a “national network” of newspapers to investors who have been convinced by “convergence” logic similar to what got Canwest in trouble in the first place.
The idea that there are “synergies” in owning a chain of national newspapers anchored by a “flagship” national paper still sounds good to some, despite its actual dismal history.
In reality this form of ownership and operation is a failed experiment. It treated a chain of newspapers like a television network, where the same programs run on every station at the same time.
But newspapers are not the same as television, where central buying of content made by Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver or Hollywood studios makes sense. People buy and read local newspapers to get local news collected by journalists who are members of their community.
The truth is newspapers work best when they reflect the communities in which they operate. People want well-written, unique local news and an editorial slant that champions diverse viewpoints. Not reheated, bland “infotainment” from a “news service” with a narrow political agenda.
Victoria is not Vancouver, which is not Calgary, which is not Edmonton, which is not Regina or even Saskatoon, which are not Windsor or Ottawa, which are definitely not Montreal. Each has its unique politics, culture and sense of itself when looking into a mirror. Successful newspapers reflect that uniqueness.
The best thing that could happen as Canwest disappears through “restructuring” is local ownership. We need news outlets that communities feel belong to them. That’s what we should be fighting for. That’s what makes economic sense, especially in the age of the World Wide Web, when getting news you can’t get anywhere else is the only way to stand out.
The employees of Canwest have their jobs on the line as the corporate restructuring takes place. If the hedge funds, executives and lawyers get it wrong, it is ultimately the employees and the communities they serve who will pay the price.
We owe to ourselves to speak up: Local ownership now!
Gary Engler is vice-president of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Local 2000, B.C.’s Media Union.
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