Category Archives: Business

Marois on Gesca’s case

Pauline Marois, apparently desperately looking for something to be outraged about, thought she found something in a report from the Caisse de dépôt et placement. There she discovered that the Caisse had lent money to Gesca Ltée, the company that owns La Presse.

The scandal, she figured, had to do with the fact that the former head of the Caisse, Henri-Paul Rousseau, now works for Power Corporation, the company that owns Gesca. Clearly this presented a conflict of interest.

Except, as the government pointed out, the first loan was issued before Rousseau was hired at the Caisse (by the PQ government, no less).

That revelation doesn’t entirely absolve Rousseau of the appearance of conflict (other loans were issued during his term), but one wonders if Marois would have been so critical if it involved a company that didn’t have such apparent ties to the Liberal Party of Canada.

Rogers dodgers

The cuts keep coming. Today, about 40 employees at Rogers Publishing (Maclean’s, Actualité, Châtelaine, LouLou, Canadian Business, etc.) were given their pink slips. No indication yet how that breaks down per publication.

In the U.S., the Chicago Tribune has cut 53, including the guy who was writing about the recession (they deleted his blog post saying he’d been a victim of it) (via Romenesko)

Montreal’s got talent for taking money from naive kids

A business operating under the name Talent Search America (auto-play video warning) has been fined $11,260 by the Office de la protection du consommateur for failing to register with them.

Talent Search America (an odd name since it’s based in Montreal), formed by former CJAD loud-mouth Ricky Cyr, has a somewhat dubious reputation of asking people for hundreds of dollars and offering little in return (do you recognize any of these people?). Talent agencies that ask for money up front have been accused of acting nefariously and investigated by consumer protection offices.

But this fine was for an essentially bureaucratic error. The office is not saying that TSA has swindled any of its clients, though it has received complaints.

The OPC requires companies doing business like this to get a permit which also requires a deposit. The deposit is used to pay clients in case the company goes bankrupt or otherwise swindles customers out of their hard-earned cash.

Don Macdonald’s humble goodbye

Don Macdonald holds an iPod Touch to his ear, not knowing that (a) it's still in its box, and (b) it's not an iPhone.

Don Macdonald holds his retirement gift to his ear, not knowing that (a) it's still in its box, and (b) it's an iPod Touch, not an iPhone.

Business reporter and markets columnist Don Macdonald, whose last day at the Gazette was March 6, had his final goodbye column published on Monday. In it, he notes that if this whole market situation has taught us anything, it’s that slow and steady wins the race, and convoluted market get-rich-quick schemes always eventually fail.

Macdonald left the paper to take a job at the Business Development Bank of Canada.

The newspaper shutdown has begun

The final issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday March 17, 2009

The final issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday March 17, 2009

If you follow media, you probably don’t need me to tell you that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer finally pulled the plug on its money-losing but historic print edition, and will attempt to make a go at producing a news website with a few dozen journalists. It will be a test case for other major newspapers thinking of doing the same. If they succeed in making such a venture profitable, others will surely follow. If not, others might try, or they might decide to close up shop completely.

Meanwhile, in Denver, where another city has become a one-newspaper town, former staff at the Rocky Mountain News are trying to do the same thing, even though their publisher decided not to. So they’ve made a pledge that if they can get 50,000 people to subscribe for $5 a month, they’ll start up an online newspaper.

In Canada, big papers are still here, and for the most part still profitable. But the smaller papers are dying off. Sun Media this week closed two underperforming small newspapers in Alberta, the Jasper Booster and Morinville Redwater Town & Country Examiner (UPDATE: The Edmonton Journal explores some of the lives affected by these shutdowns and other layoffs). They weren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last small newspapers to throw in the towel in this economy where even journalism students don’t read papers and journalists are thinking of some desperate ideas to keep the business model going. While the number of consumers of information is about the same, the shift of advertising dollars is not, and that’s going to put negative pressure on people like me who would like to make a living off the collection, packaging and redistribution of information.

The trends are encouraging for journalism, but not for journalists. Plz I can haz bizniss modul nao?

A few extra million

Some good news for my benevolent corporate overlords on Thursday as it announced that it has gotten $34 million as part of a settlement agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times concerning some unfinished business related to the sale of the Hollinger chain (including the Gazette) to Canwest in 2000. Sure, that money could be used to pay off debt, but I’m thinking it should be invested in bonuses to a low-level employee who could really use it. *cough*

Speaking of the Sun-Times, its management has abandoned a plan to outsource copy editing and layout outside the country, after rumours circulated that they would fire 30 workers and have an unnamed firm in Canada or India take up the work. Had they gone with Canada, the work would have probably been taken up by Canwest Editorial Services, a company in Hamilton that does work for Canwest papers as well as many clients worldwide.

H&R Block tries social media marketing

The big wigs at H&R Block have apparently heard that social media marketing is the new thing, so they’ve apparently hired some kids to shoot videos of themselves going places as part of a campaign called “Refund Road Trip”

The one-minute “webisodes” (20 seconds of which are text intros, teasers or ads for H&R Block) are on their website at and on YouTube, where they’ve gotten a massive modest pathetic view count ranging from 348 views to three views (plus about 800 for the trailer).

On the website, visitors are encouraged to enter a contest (for a whopping $5,000!) where they put together maps of their proposed road trips, where they do the responsible thing and blow their hard-earned money playing tourist.

To me it seems kind of silly in this recession environment to be encouraging people to spend tax refund money on unnecessary trips instead of retirement savings or paying down debt, but those things just aren’t as fun as taking an RV and going across the country.

I mention this (and sadly give H&R free publicity) because the Refund Road Trip makes a stop in Montreal. The videos of the Montreal portion of the trip start at Episode 24 (which is on YouTube but hasn’t been posted to the H&R website yet).

After that you can see the fun of hauling luggage up stairs, putting on makeup and walking around taking pictures.

My favourite though is Episode 27, in which “Cassidy” (who knows/cares if that’s his real name) walks out of an apartment next to Café Chaos on St. Denis and somehow ends up on an OC Transpo bus holding a copy of Ottawa’s 24 Hours daily before the sun comes up. That’s some fast walking!

Rearranging the deck chairs on the media’s Titanic

Some news today from Canadian media as they struggle to keep afloat:

Canwest still ticking

Canwest, which faced a huge debt-related deadline today, got another extension – this time to April 7. It also said it would not make a $30.4 million debt payment scheduled for Friday, taking advantage of a 30-day grace period before lenders start demanding all of their money back. The rest of the release includes a lot of news which sounds kind of good but I don’t understand.

Everyone is understandably nervous about Canwest’s future, including some independent television producers for Canwest’s cable channels who have halted production and are holding their breath.

UPDATE (March 12): DBRS has responded to the delay by lowering Canwest’s credit rating from CCC to C. Canwest Limited Partnership, which is the branch The Gazette falls under, is rated slightly higher because it has more manageable debt.

Quebecor pulls out of CP

The bigger news is that Quebecor, the huge media company that owns Sun Media and the Journal de Montréal/Québec, gave notice to Canadian Press that it plans to pull out of the news-sharing cooperative effective in June 2010 (CP requires a year’s notice before membership is suspended – Sun Media could always change its mind, though that’s probably unlikely). Sun Media is CP’s largest member since Canwest pulled out of CP in 2007. Despite that and the “millions” of dollars that won’t be paid each year, CP is downplaying the significance of the pullout, saying it is restructuring itself to become a for-profit operation, which will allow it to sell its services with more flexibility.

Since pulling out of CP, Canwest and its newspapers (including the Gazette) have relied on competing wire services including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, New York Times News Service and PA SportsTicker, in addition to beefing up its internal Canwest News Service by adding national and international bureaus. Sun Media has already started beefing up its parliamentary bureau in Ottawa and launched its Agence QMI wire service, which notably has been used to provide content for the locked-out Journal de Montréal.

Apparently the notice happened in December, but the news was leaked to the public through a memo to employees by Quebecor head Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

UPDATE: Steve Proulx notes that CP said as recently as a year ago that it was confident Quebecor wouldn’t pull out.


The Source by Bell

The Source outlet in Eaton Centre downtown

Bell Canada, which apparently has lots of money to spare, has decided to buy up The Source, the overpriced electronics retailer which used to be Radio Shack and whose parent company went bankrupt in November.

Coverage from, well, everyone: Globe, Star, CBC, Forbes, WSJ, Reuters, Digital Home

Bell says it plans to use the outlets to hawk Bell merchandise like Bell Mobility cellphones (once the exclusivity contract with Rogers ends this year) and Bell TV satellite service.

The deal seems to make perfect sense, as both companies offer crappy product, have horrible customer service, charge way too much and yet survive because people who don’t know any better recognize the brand.

Any bets on whether Bell will fix the many fundamental problems with The Source’s business model?

Canwest debt deadline extended to March 11

Canwest’s looming debt repayment deadline, which was such big news it made the New York Times, has been extended to March 11, the company announced less than an hour ago.

Canwest remains optimistic that it can renegotiate the $112-million chunk of its $3.7 billion debt, and emphasizes that its assets are profitable despite the media and economic crisis.

Employees, while certainly interested in the financial health of their parent company, are somewhat detached from the situation. Even if Canwest were to declare bankruptcy (which isn’t a given even if it defaults on its loan), the newspaper would still go on, at least in the short term.

Goodbye, Rocky

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

The Rocky Mountain News published its final paper this morning. Its owner shut the paper down after no offers were made to buy it. Though the paper’s employees were given less than a day’s notice, they put out a video commemorating the Rocky, which includes interviews with employees. It’s worth a watch despite its repetitive soundtrack.

More coverage from the New York Times and OJR, which seems to think (somewhat naively I think) that someone else could profit off this by starting up a new online-only news source. Poynter also has some analysis of why the paper had to shut down (and couldn’t just go online-only).

What’s truly sad, though, is that this won’t be the last newspaper closing this year. We’ve barely scratched through the tip of the iceberg.