Three of Canada’s largest media companies are the mystery investors poised to take over Canadian Press.
Torstar, CTVglobemedia and Gesca could own the cooperative by the fall, if union negotiations go well.
At a time when many are focused on new non-profit models for journalism like ProPublica, Canada’s non-profit news agency is about to turn corporate. The decision to privatize was announced months ago, but the names of the investors only leaked out this month.
“The people stepping forward represent some of the best journalists in Canada, executive editor Gerry Arnold told J-Source.
Terry Pedwell, president of the Canadian Press branch of the Canadian Media Guild, also praised the potential deal.
“This is the largest contingent of our existing members,” he said of the investors. “They are a good fit with our culture.”
The Canadian Press was founded 93 years ago by newspapers that wanted to share stories. The co-operative began generating its own copy a few years later, during World War I. Today the agency employs 275 journalists and sends text, audio and video feeds to print and online media, television, radio and private news services.
In recent years the agency has won respect for its innovation, but it has also struggled financially. Canwest pulled out of the cooperative in 2007, and the Sun newspapers pulled out this year. Less than half the cooperative’s revenues come from newspapers and it faces more than $30 million in unfunded pension liabilities.
It is the pension problem that has driven the sale, and the pension problem that could derail it.
The privatization plan was a condition of a pension bailout negotiated with the federal government several years ago. The new investors have demanded the pension plan be restructured. Under the existing plan, all employees are guaranteed a specific benefit when they retire. The investors want the plan changed so that new employees won’t be guaranteed a specific retirement benefit, but will be guaranteed specific pension contributions from the employer. The changes are similar to pension reforms at several major media organizations in recent years.
The union contract expired last year.
Both Arnold and Pedwell predicted that the privatization will be good for the journalism and the employees of the Canadian Press.
“This won’t change the journalism that we produce,” said Arnold.
“We have rigorously high standards of quality and independence that will go forward. At its core this is about protecting jobs. If we didn’t do anything, we would be in dire straits.”
Representatives of the investors did not return calls for comment.
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