I, for one, welcome our new consortium overlords

Over the past few months, rumours had been circulating around the newsroom that some local rich guys were interested in buying a part of the Canwest newspaper chain, including The Gazette.

Today, those rumours prove true. A consortium led by Jerry Grafstein, Raymond Heard and Beryl Wajsman announced it will be submitting a bid to buy The Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post, pending due dilligence.

The coverage – Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CBC, Reuters, Editor & Publisher, Financial Post – all say the same thing, quoting liberally from the news release and saying the three consortium leaders believe in local control of local newspapers.

No price has been mentioned, nor are the other financial backers named.

All three have media cred: Grafstein, a recently retired senator, founded Citytv in Toronto. Heard was managing editor of the Montreal Star and then worked as news director at Global TV in the 80s. Wajsman is the editor of The Suburban and publisher of The Métropolitain. The Globe’s Jane Taber has analysis of their political leanings, in case anyone really cares.

Unions (and unionized employees) look favourably at the central idea of this bid (Lise Lareau of the Canadian Media Guild calls it good news) because it seems to reject a lot of Canwest’s anti-union moves, like centralization and outsourcing, and it’s making all the right noises about local control of local newspapers.

There’s also the unsaid implication that these three care more about respect than profit. (Like sports teams, media outlets tend to be more about ego than the bottom line.)

Looking at Wajsman’s newspapers, there’s at least some reason for optimism. The Suburban is big for a community paper, and while it’s not pure as the white snow, it’s not filled with press releases and it does actually employ journalists. The Métropolitain, meanwhile, is more of a think-tank than anything else, and is clearly not motivated by profit.

But looking at those newspapers also leaves some worried. Wajsman’s editorials are a bit much for even some staunch federalists, and the papers have some clear editorial biases when it comes to things like the Israeli-Palestinian issue (something the Suburban doesn’t have to deal with much but which The Gazette would have to deal with on a daily basis).

Many will also focus on Wajsman’s political past. One person reminded me of his alleged connection to the adscam scandal, others have already created a Facebook group to protest his bid because of his pro-Israel, pro-business, anti-union stances.

Though I disagree with most of what he writes in Suburban editorials (and most of the opinions written in The Métropolitain), I’m tempted to ask how a right-wing, pro-Israel owner will somehow be different than Canwest. And if “progressive anglos” don’t want their paper to fall in his hands, they’re more than welcome to submit a bid of their own.

There are other obstacles to Grafstein and Co.’s plan, even if they have the money. The biggest is that Canwest (and the banks arranging for the chain’s sale) want Canwest Publications sold as a unit. That centralized services include websites, customer service, advertising, page layout and Canwest News Service. Undoing that might be difficult and expensive (but it might also mean hiring more journalists, programmers and copy editors, which would clearly work in my favour).

And there might be other bids. The Globe is convinced Paul Godfrey is putting one together with his own financial backers. Other names being bandied about include Torstar, Quebecor, Transcontinenal, FP Newspapers and that guy Joe at the end of the bar.

27 thoughts on “I, for one, welcome our new consortium overlords

      1. Marc

        Under Wajsman, The Gazette will become a non-stop diatribe against French people wanting to go back to the Speak White days.

        Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Oxford Canadian.

      Like I said, I’m comparing The Suburban to other community weeklies, like the West Island Chronicle. Agree or not with the former’s editorial stance (and I’m more often than not in disagreement myself), it’s clear one is more interested than the other in putting together a professional product.

      Reply
      1. Shawn

        I would have thought that Gesca (Power Corp) owner of the La Presse and other major broadsheets in the region would be interested in the Citizen and the Gaz. Guess we’ll see…

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Why? Gesca has no English-language assets (so there isn’t much they can do in terms of centralization), and already has papers in Montreal and Ottawa. Why buy a competitor?

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          1. Shawn

            It’s precisely the lack of English language asserts in those markets that I thought might make the deal complementary, and attractive. But you’d know better than me.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Gesca is facing its own financial issues (remember that whole almost-shutting-down-La-Presse thing?). There’s just no reason why it would want to expand into English newspapers if they don’t have any resources that would save money and make it profitable. They’d basically have to start from scratch.

              Reply
  1. AA

    I see hope for the Gazette with Wajsman involved. I always try and pick up the Suburban simply because of his editorials. The Suburbans editorials make the current Gazette’s editrorials look amateur. If you have nothing really to say, don’t write up some nonsense simply to fill up a hole the editorial page. I really like Wajsman’s stuff, because he challenges current popular thought. While the Gazette and other media outlets simply act as cheerleaders to current popular ideas. So, yes, I see a major hope coming to the Gazette if the deal goes through.

    Reply
  2. Maria Gatti

    I agree with making the news more locally produced and researched, but I’m very leery of the Suburban. Not just because it is hardline Likudist but even more because it has been staunchly angryphone and anti-Québécois over the years (and I don’t mean federalist – but a mentality of wanting to return to the era of anglo-minority domination against them damned French). That is really not relevant to most anglophones nowadays (less still to allophones and francophones who read the Gazette, and there are many).

    It is true that the Suburban employs journalists and tends to cover local issues well.

    Reply
  3. ATSC

    What would be very interesting is if the same group also purchased CKMI-TV, and created some sort of synergy between the Gazette’s news room, and a CKMI-TV newsroom. It can still remain a Global affiliate, but at least offer a real challenge to CFCF and CBMT when covering Montreal news.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Synergies have been attempted between Canwest’s publication side and Global News. But there’s just so much you can do to merge two completely different forms of media. Global Quebec carries Gazette stories on its website, and is currently located in a former Gazette office space, but that’s about it.

      CKMI’s problem isn’t lack of efficiency, it’s that it doesn’t have the staff and financial resources to compete with an entrenched leader like CFCF in a market that’s not all that big to begin with.

      Reply
  4. Goaltender Interference

    Wow, I already thought the Gazette’s editorial stances were from the paleolithic era. Now it might get taken over by a man too old to be a Canadian Senator (!) and the editor of The Suburban, a newspaper so angryphone that it makes the Gazette look like Le Devoir. They will probably be very good at appealing to the Gazette’s core audience (retired people west of the Decarie) and so it would be good for the paper’s short-term future. But I think it will exacerbate the long-term problem of the Gazette, which is that it is being ignored by the 20- and 30-somethings. (Of course, when this translates into a fatal decline in readership 15-20 years from now, the Grafstein consortium will be long gone.)

    Reply
  5. Princess Pea

    Beryl Wajsman!?!? RIP The Gazette.

    My most memorable experience with the Suburban was reading the letters to the editor section, all of which praised Wajsman’s editorial the previous week, how much of a visionary he is etc… Real objective.

    If media outlets tend to be more about ego than bottom line, then I guess you can’t go wrong with Wajsman. He’s one of the most egotistical people I’ve ever seen in the media. I’d be surprised if the Gazette’s newsroom wasn’t a little wary about the thought of him at the helm.

    But I guess it’s not really in Fagstein’s best interests to be anything but welcoming to this consortium, being an employee of The Gazette and all. At least he’s still getting his paycheques, unlike the many Gazette freelancers who are never going to see a penny of the money owed to them for work over the past few months.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I won’t be an employee of The Gazette when this deal goes through, unless something changes.

      Reaction to Wajsman at the paper is mixed – some don’t take his bid seriously, others think he’s a megalomaniac, and others think he can’t be worse than the Aspers. The truth is that other than his political leanings (and it’s unclear if he would be in a position to impose those on the paper if this deal happens), it’s not clear what would happen if Wajsman, Heard and Grafstein become the new owners. Maybe they would be benevolent dictators, willing to fund a professional newsroom in exchange for an editorial page where they can say what they want. Or maybe they would continue budget cuts and scrape beyond the bone to make money off what will be a huge investment for them. Nobody really knows for sure.

      Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          My contract ends at the end of the month. It’s not related to the creditor protection filing or the sale of Canwest LP, but it will take effect long before any sale is finalized.

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  6. Mary

    For me, Beryl Wajsman’s involvement is worth worrying about, but what about Ray Heard? He toted water for the Aspers throughout the era of the national editorials, defending the indefensible when it came to their bullshit, self-interested Winnipeg-written screeds. A guy like that is committed to restoring The Gazette as a local paper? Like they say in journalism, don’t tell it, show it.

    Reply
  7. lemarin

    As a Franco West Islander, I can tell you that I am very worried to what this extreme Angryphone will do to Montreal’s only English-language daily. The Suburban borders on hate-speech on a regular basis, not only in its editorials but in the entire paper, from the coverage to the letters. It certainly wasn’t pleasant to see on your front porch.

    Reply
  8. Michael Tutton

    Do you think in all of this that some papers/websites might consider bringing The Canadian Press back in some way? What might it do to become a part of these outlets again?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Anything is possible. Some people think that dismantling Canwest News Service and resubscribing to Canadian Press would be good for the papers. I’m not so sure it makes sense from a business standpoint.

      Reply
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