Canadian Press goes private: analysis

The sale of the non-profit Canadian Press to a trio of private companies may give the news service a much-needed influx of money to back its cutting-edge approach to news, writes Kelly Toughill. Or it might kill the company’s ability to innovate altogether.

The Canadian Press is Canada’s most innovative news organization.

Its sale could free it to be even more flexible and creative, or force it into a corporate mold that kills its tradition of innovation.

The non-profit cooperative has led the way in Canada in adapting to the Internet. It was one of the first to embrace multimedia reporting, handing its journalists video cameras when many newspapers were still struggling to post text to the web.

More recently the Canadian Press has moved into niche marketing, setting up its news feed so that it can service tiny clients who are interested in just one subset of a subject. This niche journalism may be the future of media, as users move toward organizations and news feeds that are tailored to their particular interests.

Under the old system, wire services had just a few news feeds loosely grouped by geography and subject. You could subscribe to the world, Canada or a region. You could pick up lifestyle, business or entertainment. Today the Canadian Press has dozens of metatags built in to its computer system, so stories can be sorted by keywords such as “telecom” or “disaster.” The metatag system means that the news can be sliced into thousands of different feeds.

The Canadian Press already has clients that are not really news organizations. The wire service has the capacity to feed news directly to government offices, for example, and to business groups.

The privatization plan could free the wire service to be even more innovative in how it approaches clients, one source suggested. Under the existing system, the cooperative has to treat all of its members more or less the same way. Under a corporate model, it could strike different deals with different outlets and agencies.

The Canadian Press has also formed a partnership with an Australian company to set up secondary editing services for media groups in Canada. Expect more alliances like that under the new corporate model.

“A lot of times, people think ‘making money’ is a dirty phrase,” executive editor Gerry Arnold told J-Source.

“But if you don’t make money, you don’t have jobs.”

No one is willing to speculate about the profit level the new investors expect from the privatized Canadian Press, but one source suggested not much.

The new investors are also the media companies most dependent on the news created and distributed by the cooperative: Torstar, CTVglobemedia and Gesca, owner of La Presse.
They are likely to put that need ahead of profit – at least for the time being.