One way or another, we’ll pay

Torstar, a media corporation that publishes the mildly progressive Toronto Star newspaper, has been sliding down the same financial razor blade as its largest competitor. Torstar lost about 85% of market capitalization in five years, a less disastrous result than the one experienced at Postmedia, where shareholder values fell essentially to zero.


Torstar 5 years

This week, Torstar announced further downsizing, with 52 jobs lost. We can only wonder which of Canada’s newspapers will remain in five years time. Investors have already bailed, now the companies survive by selling tangible assets. When those are exhausted, liquidations will begin. This chart demonstrates Torstar’s financial decline:


Comedian and social commentator John Oliver did a segment on journalism for his HBO series Last Week Tonight:

Oliver’s work is both amusing and alarming. He places responsibility for the current state on both media managers and media consumers:

A big part of the blame for this industry’s decline is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce. We’ve just grown accustomed to getting our news for free. And the longer that we get something for free, the less willing we are to pay for it. …Sooner than later, we’re going to have pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it…

Writing at Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor expands on Oliver’s comments. He notes that New York times and Financial Times have had success in obtaining financial support from readers. Doctor believes those properties have delivered value and been smart about levying charges for content:

Most essentially, both still publish enough daily original reporting to maintain daily habits for subscribers. That’s the journalism that should be at the root of the journalism business. Both publications have seen cutbacks, but both maintain robust, experienced, and increasingly innovative newsrooms.

Compare that to the ungodly decline in numbers, knowledge, and know-how in so many regional newsrooms across the country. For most daily publishers, the business logic is counterintuitive — cut the news staff in half and charge twice as much for the remaining output — and consumers have responded understandably by walking away.

In British Columbia, we’ve seen corporate media with almost no interest in delivering value to readers. They divided markets to eliminate competition and made mutual support deals with governments to gain advertising, to avoid recycling fees and to redefine the term “Canadian-controlled.”

Newspapers sacrificed journalistic principles so that consumers cannot now be sure if they are are reading news reports or disguised advertising. Postmedia entered a formal partnership to promote the interests of the fossil fuel industry and downplay concerns about climate and the environment. They give broad coverage to Fraser Institute propaganda and no space to critics who identify the think tank’s financial sponsors and counter its defective research. Readers of In-Sights are aware of billions of public dollars flowing to gas companies and private power producers but the corporate media remains silent about those wealth transfers.

In other words, Paul Godfrey’s Vancouver newspapers are like Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas paper. Each of the properties care less about complete and accurate reporting than about manipulating public opinion to favour a financially privileged few.

stressRather than improving the output and persuading news consumers to pay for content, media moguls aim to have the Trudeau Government bail out their news businesses. It will happen too because Liberals have always been willing to spend public money if private advantage was there to be gained.

Spin, wobble, collapse:

2011: John Cruickshank, Publisher of the Toronto Star and President of the Star Media Group, forged ahead with his dynamic transformation at the Toronto Star, leading it to new heights of editorial excellence.

2012: John Cruickshank …has provided great leadership as daily newspapers forge their way in a new digital era.

2013: John Cruickshank …carried on with the innovative transformation of operations at Canada’s largest newspaper.

2014: John Cruickshank continues to provide outstanding leadership through this period of significant transformation at the Toronto Star as it adapts and seeks out opportunities to capitalize on its audience-focused and multi-platform future. John’s leadership has been critical in building organizational momentum behind the new tablet initiative.

2015: John Cruickshank, the Publisher of the Toronto Star and President of Star Media Group, has announced he will be stepping down from his positions in May…

2016: John who?

Note:  2011 – 2015 from Torstar’s annual reports to shareholders.

Categories: Journalism, Postmedia

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7 replies »

  1. A couple of months ago we cancelled tha Sun and Province. It wasn’t easy after a lifetime going back to delivery boy days and my genuine imitation silver Tillicum pin but it was was well, well worth it. I’m still finding places to park my eyes in the morning but publications like Insight-Ca, Laila Yuile, The Tyee, and The Common Sense Canadian give me a helluva lot better perspective on local stuff and there’s BBC, CBC, NYT, and The Guardian for the broader picture. I’m not wild about the word “progressive” but, iPolitics and Policy Alternatives are part of the new diet.

    You must learn to be a scanner – happily, I’ve never lost my speedreading ability from law school days.
    Once a week my coffee partner gives me her copy of the Sun and in five minutes I see the wisdom of my decision. Virtually everything I read now is of value, everything I used to read except Luann and The Lockhorns was bilge and wasted time I now put to good use.

    It’s a nuisance having to surf for news and comment but it can be fun, you constantly pick up and save the shortcuts and you have the satisfaction of no longer wasting money on theives in three piece suits like Paul Godfrey. And it doooo feel good.

    Finally, here’s the big bonus – I read the comics online and have recovered all my favourites the bastards stole from me.

    Oh, yes, the Globe and Mail – still the Toronto Globe and Mail only more so and next in line after the Sun & Province for the bottom of the bird cage. Hume and Mason, when permitted, rays of sunlight in an otherwise bleak picture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Got rid of the Van Sun, Globe and Mail, Province, CKNW etc a long time ago. Now CBC seems to be walking the plank. If they do not produce quality journalism…I walk. That simple.


  3. What with being a scanner, as Rafe recommends, I find that I now probably spend more on news than I did back in the days of newspapers, even though many of the contributions are voluntary and intermittent. Funny how Torstar and PostMedia are such admirers of a free market until they come out on the losing end, at which point they come to think of themselves as cultural icons worthy of public support. There should be an enormous hue and cry should the least little nickel of public funds find its way into the corrupt coffers of the aforementioned Journalist Masqueraders.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was related to one of the last independent publisher’s of the Vancouver Sun, Don Cromie, by marriage, I do have some insight to the news and media in Vancouver. I am also the major contributor to the Rail for the Valley blog.

    As an aside, I never thought I would get almost death threats blogging about transit !!!!

    The Vancouver Sun died in our household, a decade ago over a complete “puff” story about SkyTrain including a complete fabrication about light rail, based on invented facts and dishonest analyst. I sent several letter to the Editor correcting the many untruths and they did print a horribly edited letter that seemed to show that I actually supported the story.

    Several phone calls to the paper, demanding a retraction and the printing of the original letter (Charlie Smith of the Straight gave me a long course on libel and what to write and not to write), was was told to cease hounding them.

    To continue to buy a tainted products seemed ludicrous and the paper stopped.

    I was once a frequent guest on the ‘NW talk show but was banned from the station due to the influence of TransLink, another honesty depleted organization.

    I seldom listen to ‘NW anymore because the so called talk shows have turned into a 3rd rate “Who’s on first routine”, with a lot of talk of show hosts with their minions. Public comment has been all but omitted.

    What is very sad is that two media sources, once widely read and listened to, have become nothing more that reciters of the BC Liberals wisdom or lack of.

    Like Rafe, I scan the the news; the Tyee, BBC, The Independent, local papers, the Straight, then the blogs.

    Here is a recent sad story, a local media type, called me to discuss the worsening congestion in the region, after a 40 minute discussion, which the both of us were in agreement on most points, two items came into the fore; 1) The reporters news stories were vetted out of province and anti SkyTrain items were cleansed and 2) I was still persona non gratis with the sun senior management.

    The demise of real news in the region, is like giving politicians the keys to the candy store and instead of reporting political misdeeds, the mainstream media, do “puff” stories and gloss over real news.

    There is no real news in Metro Vancouver, but a well choreographed propaganda machine, that Herr Goebbels himself would have been proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. At the time people like Vaughn Palmer and other veterans in the Legislative Press Gallery were given the laurels on which they have been resting for a decade and a half, the average consumer of their product had limited ability to independently check the facts. That has been changing over time, and there are now many sources available to anyone interested in analyzing their work. Resources like Hansard, BC’s Public Accounts, Elections BC, or trusted independent journalists are at our fingertips.

    It became apparent to me several years ago that there was a great disconnect between what these people were feeding (or hiding from) their faithful, and the actual truth. They therefore lost the trust without which they become useless; not only to the public, but also eventually to their paymasters. By their own hand they have numbered their days. Many examples have been highlighted on this and other fine blogs, so there is no need to revisit them now; regular readers know exactly the breadth and scope of their deception.

    The question that comes to mind is whether these Legislative Press Gallery veterans really earned the laurels they were bestowed in days of yore. One could consider that they slowly evolved to their current sorry state over time as corporate interests gained increasing control of their tenure. But is it possible that they have not changed, and in fact were always poor journalists, and we just didn’t have the resources to know the difference? Did they ever even have the capacity to hold the public interest paramount?

    Luckily we have a journalist available as a good control subject. Rafe Mair.
    He’s earned many laurels and much trust as a journalist over time and he’s still at it. His work is in the public interest, and can be fact-checked with all of our available sources. The results tell us that his work can be trusted today, making it very likely that it always was worthy of trust. Unlike the aforementioned denizens of the Press Gallery.

    There are some bright lights on the horizon however; with names like Sam Cooper and Johnny Wakefield. Hell, even Jon McComb has coughed to life lately. We should encourage them and others when we see good work. Maybe all is not lost.


    • You are too kind. Mistakes are made and we all make them which is not surprising since, with nary a particle of truth coming from this government, its barking seals in Hydro especially, its appointment soaked committees, and no reliable news, you’re compelled to work from the proposition that what you’re being told is crap or, as likely, you’re not being told – all this without a decent opposition.

      Fortunately, working with a bit of time honed instinct,good blogging friends and justifiable confidence that all in authority are lying through their teeth, the odds that you’ll get it right are pretty good.

      What a sad reflection that is on the unsatisfactory moral misfits we have set in authority over us.

      Trust me – Brexit and more tell us this will change. Just how? is the scary question.


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