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.