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Postmedia bid for role in UCP 'war room' illustrates the folly of Trudeau's lifeline for failing newspapers

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The former state-of-the-art Deerfoot Trail headquarters of the literally failing Calgary Herald. Photo: David J. Climenhaga.

Connect the dots, Mr. Prime Minister! That newspaper industry bailout package you're foolishly planning in the name of preserving democracy is principally designed to keep a corporation afloat that will do anything, no matter how unethical, to destroy your government.

If you want proof, look no further than Postmedia's astonishing admission, revealed on Twitter by my sharp-eyed colleague Dave Cournoyer, that the corporation has signed up a well-connected Conservative lobbyist to persuade Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government to let it be part of its $30-million "war room" fake news and harassment operation.

The one-sentence bombshell spotted by Cournoyer was in the province's lobbyist registry, which Postmedia apparently assumed no one would bother to check. The Toronto-based, largely U.S.-owned media corporation founded on the crumbling bones of the once proud Southam newspaper empire has hired former Jason Kenney campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to "discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government's energy war room," the filing said.

The newspaper corporation's assumption likely would have been justified had we been forced to rely on professional journalists to stay abreast of things. Cournoyer, who is an independent blogger, got almost no credit for his efforts when his discovery became a story yesterday.

There is an amusing irony in Postmedia's bright idea. As humans have understood from the dawn of civilization, no one should expect to get paid for something they're willing to give away for free.

And whatever Koolsbergen has been asked to whisper in the ears of his former bosses at the UCP, Postmedia has been enthusiastically acting as an unofficial communications auxiliary for Alberta's new governing party since the day the Alberta NDP was elected four years ago, if not for nothing, then for scraps.

Now, by the sound of it, Postmedia has concluded its openly partisan efforts in the service of the UCP deserve to be rewarded.

Postmedia, caught in a trap of its own devising, feebly claimed its lobbying only has to do with the efforts of its "commercial content area," not news. This strains credulity considering both the open biases of its Canadian newsrooms and the past political activities of former board member David Pecker, notorious for his "catch and kill" strategy of using payoffs by his U.S. news corporation to bury scandals that threatened President Donald Trump.

But even in the unlikely event Postmedia speaks the truth, after a fashion, this is no excuse. The intentional blurring of real news and paid "commercial content" -- essentially paid advertisements disguised to look and sound like news -- is a deplorable trend that is as much a part of the story of legacy media's steep decline as the ravages of digitization and technological change.

Meanwhile, in its national news coverage, Postmedia is as dedicated to the destruction of Trudeau's government just as it was of former Alberta premier Rachel Notley's.

A day never passes that the same UCP-Postmedia stenographers who openly campaigned against Notley don't also attack Trudeau, often in the same breath, as the frequent references to the imaginary Notley-Trudeau alliance in the recent election campaign illustrated.

Mark Towhey, once unruly Toronto mayor Rob Ford's chief of staff, a man said to be without journalistic experience, was recently hired by Postmedia to carry on this work at the Toronto Sun. As Postmedia's Alberta websites and newspapers did with Kenney, the Toronto Sun also played a key partisan role in the election as Ontario premier of Rob's brother Doug along with his chapter of Canada's Conservative Axis of Intolerance.

Now, Postmedia is actively campaigning to make federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer prime minister of Canada. Local Postmedia papers with a streak of independence soon receive their marching orders from corporate headquarters in Toronto, as is well known.

And yet Trudeau's government persists with its plan to put the legacy newspaper industry on publicly funded life support, which has been intentionally designed to exclude new and alternative media and which, by merit of the literally failing newspapers Postmedia owns, will principally benefit that company.

Seriously, how dumb is that?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David Climenhaga

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