The long, painful and inevitable death throes of The National Post — at least in its present form — seem near an end.
In Toronto, a court spent most of Friday (October 30) mulling a request from CanWest Global Communications Corp. to roll The Post, along with its other newspapers, into a new corporation separate from CanWest TV holdings.
The accounting strategy is to free up the newspapers from the colossal debt of the company’s TV arm, now around $4 billion.
Grant Robertson has an engrossing story on the failures of debt-laden CanWest in the current ROB Magazine. You can read it here.
The papers, market leaders in major cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Montreal, are all money-makers although all are bearing wounds of the recession, and the fragmentation of media markets caused by the Internet.
But the National Post is a different animal. Launched by Conrad Black in 1998, it was meant to provide a Toronto outlet for his cross-country chain of former Southam newspapers.
It also shook up Canadian journalism. Espousing a frankly right-wing bias, it brought excellent analysis and features to readers at a time when the dominant Globe and Mail was about as dreary and predictable as a newspaper could get.
From day one, the advent of the Post forced the tired Globe to wake up and reinvent itself. To its credit, it has done so, brilliantly, and is now a far superior paper to what it was eleven years ago.
The Post has never turned a profit. It lost $60 million in 2001 and is said to now be losing a million and a half a month. It owes CanWest’s parent holding company $139 million.
The big mistake of the Asper family — first the late Izzy Asper and now son Leonard — was to fund their acquisitions via debt. Now, carrying a debt load that its reduced earnings can’t handle, CanWest’s future is bleak.
Will it get so bleak that there’ll be no solution but to stanch the losses of the National Post by killing it off? And would that be enough to save CanWest from a take-over by bottom-feeders? Probably not.
A solution short of shutting down the Post completely would be to resize it as business daily, like its predecessor the tabloid Financial Post. Some potential buyers are said to be weighing this possibility.
But a successful newspaper needs to find a multi-layered audience. The Toronto Sun has done it with a weird three-way mix of heavy sports, tons of ads from electronics retailers, and crazy right-wing columns and editorials. It’s worked for the Sun, because none of these three demographics gives a damn about what else is in the paper.
It seems to me Canada isn’t big enough — especially while we’re recession-ridden — to support two national newspapers. The Post has become what I call a “broadsheet tabloid” — a paper printed in the traditional large size format of a serious newspaper, but with big headlines and sensationalist content that is better suited to a tabloid. And the two don’t mix.