Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The end of The Canadian Press as we know it?

Concentration of media ownership in Canada is about to get even tighter. The Canadian Press, a cooperative of Canadian newspapers that have shared stories since World War I, is poised to become a for-profit news agency owned by CTVglobemedia (owner of the Globe&Mail), Torstar (owner of The Toronto Star) and Gesca (owner of Montreal's La Presse).

This is huge - a turning point for CP, which was abandoned by CanWest three years ago and more recently, last year, by Sun Media, which started the QMI Agency as its own news service.

It's also inevitable.

The triumvirate of buyers includes two players - the Southam newspaper chain (now owned by CanWest) and Torstar - who experimented with sharing news production back in the late '80s, with an eye to dropping CP. Southam insiders wanted to pull out of CP and start its own news service long before the Southam newspaper chain was bought by Hollinger (Conrad Black's media enterprise) and later by CanWest. The cooperative contract called for Southam to feed its news stories to CP and pay CP to use the CP feed. Southam felt like it was paying for the privilege of providing the majority of the stories. That sentiment never changed and CanWest pulled out in 2007.

If the deal goes through, it means Canadians will have even fewer sources to turn to for a different take on news - the majority will come from three sources: CP, QMI or CBC. I wonder how this will impact CP's distribution of stories from the Associated Press, a cooperative of American news media.

Yet even before the defections CP was struggling and this may be the only way it can survive. CP had to get permission from Ottawa to delay some payments for its pension plans last year because the plans were running a $34.4 million deficit.

The turmoil in the news industry may be about to get even rockier.

Go here for analysis from the Canadian Journalism Project.

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