Is Torstar bid favored to buy Canwest newspapers?

A quickening is apparent within Canada’s biggest newspaper conglomerate, long mired in the slough of despond. Beleagued Canwest LP is comprised of the remnants of some once-venerable FP publications, some once-venerable Southam publications and a whole bunch of small newspapers that once served their communities. Other than the relatively new National Post company flagship, mostly these were accumulated by a company controlled by Conrad Black (still embroiled in legal appeals while he serves jail time in Florida), then sold, cut to the bone and run into court-ordered creditor protection by Canwest’s Asper family, who took on massive debt to become media moguls.

Bankers are expected to review the final bids for the chain next week,  reported the Globe and Mail. It added that a bid for Canwest’s newspaper group that includes Torstar Corp. is emerging as the favourite of a field of five remaining contenders for the company. The Globe story speculated that other bids might rely heavily on debt — but the deep pockets of Torstar’s backers, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., would allow it to offer cash, making it the favoured bidder.

Should its bid win, Torstar would be the operator of Canwest’s 11 broadsheets, including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal and Vancouver Sun, said the Globe. It briefly noted speculation that the chain’s 35 community papers would be put up for sale.

Would a renewed chain, financed by Fairfax, be primarily a for-profit business,
with editorial decisions aimed at maxing the audience eyes it could sell to
advertisers? Would the chain morph into some version of the socially-motivated Toronto Star?

It would be ironic if the Toronto Star were to take over Canwest’s newspapers — especially the National Post — which for the past decade have arguably produced some of the most ideological “right-wing” slanted newspaper writing in Canadian history. The Star itself is steeped in the social conscience of founder Joseph Atkinson; despite business challenges and changes it has long operated under the Atkinson Principles. These include: “promotion of a strong, united and independent Canada; social justice; individual and civil liberties; community and civic engagement; the rights of working people and the necessary role of government.” The specter of Toronto Star influence must be anathema to National Post staffers of a neo-liberal bent.

The bigger question, of interest to all Canadians, is the calibre of journalism the newspaper chain would produce.