When Postmedia bought Sun Media's newspapers in October 2014, the ownership consolidation of Canadian newspapers became significantly tighter in a shrinking media universe north of the 49th parallel.
“This investment by Postmedia is a strong endorsement of the future of the Canadian newspaper industry and made-in-Canada journalism,” said Rod Phillips, Postmedia Chair of the Board, in a press release. “We are excited to be the custodians of many of Canada’s best known and trusted media brands, now and in the future.”
The future only lasted 16 months as Postmedia announced that the main print outlets in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa would merge into a single newsroom in those cities. While there would visibly be 2 papers in each market, the news would be the same, except for style points for the Sun papers' tabloid format.
The changes do not apply in Toronto where the National Post and Toronto Sun have separate newsrooms.
Postmedia isn't known for its ethical editorial philosophy. The company reportedly forced its papers to endorse Stephen Harper in the last federal election. And the company's clever share structure barely hides the fact that the company finances are controlled by U.S. hedge funds.
Newspapers have thrived with competition, however wafer-thin that might have been. To have no daily competition in the nation's capital, along with the 3 largest media markets west of Toronto, is a sin against journalism.
While the last shift in Canadian media is appalling, the universe wasn't in good shape. Outside of Toronto and the French publications in Quebec, there has been little competition for some time. The Globe and Mail and the National Post act as national newspapers, but their focus is mostly Toronto.
The Montréal Gazette, also owned by Postmedia, has been the only English language newspaper in Quebec's largest city for some time. The competition has been on the French side with La Presse, Le Journal de Montréal, and Le Devoir. However, since January 1, La Presse is only available in print on Saturday.
For our U.S. readers, we should explain that the traditional "Sunday" newspaper comes out on Saturdays in Canada. Most newspapers in Canada do not have a physical Sunday paper more out of tradition, but printing 6 days a week does reduce costs versus U.S. newspapers.
Canadian newspaper troubles don't begin and end with Postmedia. The (Halifax) Chronicle-Herald, Canada's largest independent newspaper, gave layoff notices to striking workers last week with some jobs outsourced to Toronto.
Metro and 24 Hours have had various success with free daily weekday papers in major Canadian cities. The ease in getting one during the morning commute makes the papers a tempting option, even if their value reflects their cost: free.
For the casual news observer, the free papers feel like "news."
Toronto offers a competitive news market: The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, and the Toronto Sun. The latter 2 are considered very conservative though on different planes (National Post, highbrow; Toronto Sun, lowbrow). The first 2 newspapers are less conservative: The Globe and Mail is centre-right (its bizarre 2015 Conservative Party endorsement notwithstanding) while the Toronto Star is the only major English-language paper that could be considered left of centre.
Nuances such as editorial approach aren't even on the horizon elsewhere in the country, outside of the French papers in Montréal. The Canwest papers, then bought by Postmedia, and the Sun Media papers were generally conservative, slightly less so in Vancouver.
One major news source that has suffered in ratings and financing of late is the CBC/Radio-Canada. Reduced journalism in print in Canada hasn't always been replaced on TV and radio by the public broadcaster. Several markets have seen reductions in local supper hour newscasts.
News is relatively cheap to produce, so cutting local news time is a really bad sign. Even with increased funding, CBC may not be able to afford to put that money into news gathering.
CTV and Global produce national newscasts. CBC News Network and CTV News Channel carry news on cable, though as we've noted in the past, the old CBC Newsworld was so much better.
"The National" remains a very strong nightly newscast. But even the best TV news benefits from the strong in-depth reporting that newspapers can provide. And Canada doesn't have that many strong papers left.
CBC Radio One delivers news, analysis, and commentary on a very high level. Listeners can access the stations in their local markets, through smartphone apps, and even on satellite radio while in their cars.
The fact that the Sun News Network failed is actually not a bad sign in terms of the state of Canadian journalism. While the right-wing venture tried to model itself after the Fox equivalent, Canadians have a much higher appreciation for news outlets that are factually accurate than let's say, some elements in the United States.
But as we've noted, conservative news consumers still have the vast majority of the daily newspapers and the National Post, among other outlets.
Macleans is the top national newsmagazine though this form of news has also suffered from readership declines. Canada's History, formerly known as The Beaver, is another top newsmagazine outlet.
Unfortunately, there is no Canadian equivalent of Slate, Salon, or The Daily Beast above the 49th parallel.
There are smaller outlets, free weeklys, and other alternative sources of journalism, especially in larger cities. As someone who reads a lot of Canadian news to serve my readers at CanadianCrossing.com, I find some great quality outlets but suffer from a lack of quantity options, especially outside the major cities.
As a journalist and love of Canada, I worry about how Canadians get their news. The 2015 federal election was filled with small news stories about the previous government that factored into people making knowledgeable choices on who to vote for on October 19. The same applies to the many provincial elections we've covered in the last few years.
Democracies flourish with rich, robust journalism. Canada should be a rich, robust democracy with the journalism to back that up.
Even in these troubled times for journalism, major cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa can support and deserve 2 strong independent newspapers, not a weak newspaper pretending to be 2 newspapers.
photo credit: Vancouver Sun/Postmedia