Copies of the Postmedia-owned newspaper National Post. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Torstar, Postmedia newspaper closures aim to cut competition: analysts

Postmedia to shut 21 community newspaper properties, while Metroland Media to close three dailies

A deal between Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. to sell newspapers to each other and close them down is designed to reduce competition and win a bigger slice of a shrinking advertising and readership pie, critics said Monday.

Postmedia (TSX:PNC.A, TSX:PNC.B) announced it will cut 244 jobs as it plans to shutter 21 of the 22 community newspaper properties it is acquiring from Torstar as well as the Metro Winnipeg and Metro Ottawa free dailies.

Torstar’s Metroland Media Group Ltd., meanwhile, said it will close three of the seven daily newspapers in Ontario it’s buying from Postmedia as well as all eight community newspapers it’s purchased, resulting in the loss of 46 jobs.

Torstar (TSX:TS.B) said one job will disappear as it buys and closes the free dailies 24Hours Toronto and 24Hours Vancouver.

“The scale of it, I think, is stunning and will be stunning for people who live in these communities who are going to lose access to, really, their local news,” said April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

More than 200 local news sources — newspapers, online publications and others — have closed for various reasons in Canada since 2008, she said, citing data she’s helped compile for the Local News Research Project.

“What they’re doing is shutting down newspapers in their immediate environs so the circulation can be taken over and the news coverage can be expanded by their existing papers in the area,” she said.

Lindgren said Postmedia, for instance, is shutting down Torstar newspapers in the coverage area of Postmedia’s Ottawa Citizen, and Torstar is buying and closing Postmedia products in southern Ontario that might compete with its Toronto Star.

The loss of local news titles will likely get worse, not better, as advertising dollars continue to migrate to online sites such as Facebook and Google, said Mitch Diamantopoulos, an associate journalism professor in the University of Regina.

“An attempt to cut costs by eliminating competition is bad news for Canadians,” he said.

Diamantopoulos said the closing of free daily newspapers isn’t surprising because some were created to block competitors, not make money. The closings suggest their publishers no longer think that’s a necessary or affordable strategy, he said.

Media union CWA Canada demanded the federal government strengthen the Competition Act to prevent such deals, which it charged are designed to eliminate competition.

Postmedia said in a release the transaction requires no regulatory approvals and is not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act.

Another media union, Unifor, called on Heritage Minister Melanie Joly to address the crisis in the newspaper industry before more papers close.

In September, Joly said she would not “bail out” the industry by enacting urgent recommendations in a report from the Public Policy Forum to free up more funding sources for local newspapers.

“What makes this particularly difficult is that it means we will say goodbye to many dedicated newspaper people,” said Postmedia executive chairman and CEO Paul Godfrey in the statement on Monday.

“However, the continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models.”

Metroland said the daily publications it will close are the Barrie Examiner, Orillia Packet & Times and Northumberland Today, while it expects to continue to publish the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and Peterborough Examiner.

“This transaction will allow us to operate more efficiently through increased geographic synergies in a number of our primary regions,” Torstar CEO John Boynton said in a statement.

“By acquiring publications within or adjacent to our primary areas and selling publications outside our primary areas we will be able to put a greater focus on regions where we believe we can be more effective in serving both customers and clients.”

The companies said the transaction is effectively a non-cash deal, as the consideration for the publications being purchased is roughly equal to that of the publications being sold.

———

Torstar holds an investment in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail and the parent company of Montreal’s La Presse.

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Two more on witness stand accuse former Chilliwack youth leader of sexual touching

BC Supreme Court justice rules similar fact evidence allowed in trial of Codie Anderson

Grand opening set for Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery at Chilliwack

Ribbon cutting ceremony with Molson brass and family members set to celebrate the official opening

East Coast comedian Ron James bringing ‘Full Throttle Tour’ to Chilliwack Cultural Centre

James is at work on the first draft of his first book, ‘All Over the Map’

Multiple accidents on Highway 1 slowing morning commutes

One accident just past 232 Street in Langley, second is just East of Bradner Street in Abbotsford

PHOTOS: Chilliwack Terry Fox Run in the rain

Wet weather didn’t dampen spirits or enthusiasm for the annual cancer fundraiser

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Bear killed in Kimberley after chasing girl, wreaking havoc on town

This particular brown-coloured bear has been the subject of many calls this summer; very food habituated, CO says

Powder the muskets, zombies are coming!

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers up A Survivalist’s Guide to a Zombie Apocalypse, Sept. 28

Petition to rename park after teen overdose victim to get hearing

With 3,500 signatures so far, organizer is thinking of closing down online campaign

Police investigate after intoxicated teens clash with security at B.C. fair

18-year-old woman arrested and RCMP looking at possible assault in Victoria-area fall fair incident

BC SPCA investigating after three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Boy overdosed on illicit anti-anxiety drug found on Kelowna classroom floor, RCMP say

Noah Mills, 8, ingested a pink powdery substance off his Kelowna classroom floor

Psychiatric assessment ordered for man accused in Salmon Arm church shooting

Lawyer tells court accused was diagnosed with psychosis hours after his arrest

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Most Read