On Thursday morning, La Presse editor Guy Crevier sent out a mass email to all employees saying in no uncertain terms that, unless the union agreed to $13 million in concessions, the newspaper would be shut down on Dec. 1.
Within minutes, the email was forwarded to other news outlets all over the place (including Fagstein), the first news stories appeared within two hours, and the union quickly organized a press conference to respond.
Stories with the basic facts are all over the place:
- Rue Frontenac, which has a copy of the email
- Argent, which has a whole package of stories on the subject
- The Gazette
- CTV Montreal
- Journal de Québec
- Le Devoir
- Canadian Press
- Agence France-Presse
- Associated Press
- Projet J
- Marketing Magazine
- Le Monde
and, of course, La Presse itself.
The big question now becomes: Is this a bluff? There are reasons to think it might be, and reasons to think it might not.
It’s a bluff
- They’re going to shut down a newspaper just before the Christmas advertising season, when newspapers are the most lucrative?
- Aside from shutting down the Sunday edition, La Presse hasn’t made very serious efforts to reduce costs. It still has things like foreign bureaus that newspapers twice its size would consider luxuries. Normally newspaper shutdowns follow years of cutbacks of increasing severity.
- This is a union negotiation tactic – and employers tend to exaggerate the dangers ahead when they’re in negotiations for a new contract.
- La Presse and Cyberpresse are vital to other newspapers in the Gesca chain. Shutting them down would do huge damage to those papers as well.
- Flagship papers like La Presse (and the National Post and Journal de Montréal) tend to have sentimental support from big media owners, even when they’re losing money.
- The political fallout from such a decision would be enormous, especially in an environment like Quebec.
It’s not a bluff
- Advertisers get really scared at stuff like this. They probably won’t buy ads for after Dec. 1 until they know the paper is still going to be around (and there won’t be a lockout).
- Management has agreed to have a third party look at the paper’s financial situation, which will no doubt confirm that it’s losing money hand over fist.
- Gesca isn’t stupid enough to try a bluff like this without following through.
Right now my gut feeling suggests that “it’s a bluff” is more likely.
But it’s not my job that’s on the line.
UPDATE: Patrick Lagacé doesn’t know what’s going on (just like I don’t know what’s going on at Canwest – being an employee of a media outlet gets you some inside information, but only on the small scale). Talks are on behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, locked-out Journal de Montréal workers (remember them?) are calling for Quebecor to release the Journal’s financial information like La Presse is doing.