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Canada's news media near sole-source

By JOSEPH CHRYSDALE   |   June 17, 2012 at 6:01 AM   |   Comments

TORONTO, June 17 (UPI) -- The downsizing of news media in Canada has led to a situation in which newspaper publishers are indirectly paying their competition for news.

In Canada, a country of 34 million people, or 10 percent the size of its U.S. neighbor, the news media landscape has changed dramatically in recent years as a result of technology and the recession-dogged economy.

Now, all but one of the national news outlets is being sourced by the Canadian Press agency.

Late last month, the Postmedia news group announced it had rejoined the "new" Canadian Press provider and was laying off at least 25 people in its chain of 10 urban daily newspapers from British Columbia east to Montreal.

That leaves only the QMI Agency, a Quebecor-owned news company whose major papers are under the Sun newspaper brand in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, along with a myriad of local and regional publications. The corporation also has a cable television news channel, Sun TV, akin to the right-wing U.S. Fox TV network. It dropped its CP membership in March 2009 and maintains its own internal editorial network.

The Canadian Press is now the prime national news source for almost every major Canadian media outlet, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV News, Global TV and Postmedia News, as well as national publications such as the National Post, the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star.

The CP was founded in 1917 as a not-for-profit news-sharing collective, along the lines of the Associated Press, which was formed in New York in 1845.

The CP and AP still maintain an exclusive news, radio, television and photo sharing agreement for their respective clients.

In November 2010, three news organizations bought the Canadian Press: The Torstar Corp., parent of the Toronto Star and associated media, the Globe and Mail newspaper and the Square Victoria Communications Group, which publishes numerous French-language newspapers in Quebec.

That's created a curious situation in which almost all of the national and local competition is feeding from the same trough as newsrooms are downsized amid shrinking advertising revenues.

However, Gordon Fisher, president of the National Post and executive in the Postmedia group, told UPI in a telephone interview the decision to go back to the CP after dropping it in 2007 didn't equate to a dilution of news reporting.

He said the Internet had created "commodity news," in which the same information is readily available from hundreds or thousands of sources and it didn't make sense for Postmedia writers to be turning out such copy.

"Running and funding our own news wire service -- providing commodity news -- just wasn't economical," Fisher said. "What we don't want in our newspapers is commodity news.

"What we're really concentrating on is creation of local news, news that you can't get anywhere else, because that's the only way you can differentiate yourself."

Postmedia posted a second quarter "modest" loss with revenues of slightly less than $200 million.

The company began as Canwest Global with its flagship National Post newspaper, which first went to print Oct. 27, 1998. The media venture was the brainchild of media mogul Conrad Black, who wanted a conservative alternative to the Globe and Mail, which heralds itself as Canada's national newspaper.

However, the global economy that's decimated the news industry continues to haunt Postmedia and others.

In a May 29 news release, Postmedia said three of its papers would cease publishing on Sundays. It also announced a consolidation of its newspapers' composing and pagination operations to a facility in Hamilton, Ontario, 45 miles west of Toronto.

Phillise Gelfand, Postmedia vice president of communications, told UPI the expanding Hamilton operation was creating new jobs, but didn't say how many.

Elsewhere, news media contraction was seen in April at the Globe and Mail, a partner in the for-profit Canadian Press. It reported a 20 percent drop in annual revenue and in an internal memo, the paper said it needed at least 80 staff to take unpaid leave during the summer.

Globe management also said there could be layoffs and it was considering instituting a "paywall" for its online content.

Postmedia also indicated it was considering "metered access" for three of its online newspaper editions.

Topics: Conrad Black
© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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