Postmedia’s acquisition of the Sun Media newspapers has some in the news business concerned about a loss of competition in the news business, and a loss of job opportunities for journalism students.
Under the terms of the takeover, which was announced Oct. 6, Postmedia would be responsible for approximately 30 per cent of Canada’s print news, with major local dailies such as the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, and Ottawa Citizen and their respective competing Sun publications operating under one flag.
The deal is subject to review by the federal Competition Bureau, a requirement that one expert believes could be a problem for Postmedia.
“I don’t think [the Competition Bureau] will say its fine as it is,” said Christopher Waddell, associate professor and Carty Chair of Business and Financial Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“The most likely decision is they say the takeover is okay, but they force Postmedia to sell off some of the papers that they’re buying from the Sun.
“The Competition Bureau won’t be looking at the editorial content of the papers,” Waddell said.
“They’ll be looking at whether the takeover gives Postmedia too much control over advertising in [a given] community so that it could, in effect, set the advertising rates that everyone else has to pay.”
Janice Paskey, associate professor of journalism at Mount Royal University, agreed with Waddell that it would be tough to defend the deal in front of the Competition Bureau.
“News and good reporting are fundamental to our democracy,” Paskey said.
“I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to the notion in Canada that how stories are covered matters. A variety of perspective matters.
“What traditional news and media organizations did was offer a variety of perspectives. I was saddened to hear about the prospect of more media concentration in Canada.
“I think it will limit discussion and perspectives in the news.”
Paskey added that she believed the deal would have a positive effect on independent and not-for-profit media, citing The Tyee, Desmog, and the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“These organizations do great work challenging government policy,” said Paskey, pointing to student media as another beacon of hope for journalism.
The outlook for some students, however, is somewhat bleak.
Amanda Siebert, news editor of SAIT’s student newspaper, the Weal, says that with all the corporate deal-making, she doesn’t see working for a newspaper as a secure job anymore.
“At one point in my life I thought I wanted to work for a newspaper,” Siebert said.
“But now that I see things are changing so drastically, I’m more inclined to work as somebody’s communications representative or photographer.
“I feel like a lot of that is also mirrored by students in my class.”
Beyond the prospect of an unstable job market, Siebert says she most fears the reality that Waddell predicts.
“It’s always nice having the option to pick up the ‘alternative’ paper,” Siebert said.
“I feel like some people who are less news-oriented are going to pick up the Sun or the Metro. The Sun is not the greatest for content but some people read it for the Sunshine Girl and it caters to a different market.
“I feel like if it was just one newspaper maybe people would be less inclined to read the news.
“They’d say, ‘Now they’ve taken over so I’m not going to believe what they say because it’s all biased.’”
I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to the notion in Canada that how stories are covered matters. A variety of perspective matters. – Janice Paskey
Waddell doesn’t see that becoming a problem.
“News organizations [that are] getting people to pay for news by setting up paywalls have discovered that people still want to know what’s going on in their communities,” he said.
“Increasingly, the distinction that gets made between print and broadcast is blurring and is no longer relevant.
“If you look at the National Post, or the Globe and Mail, there’s a tonne of video on their websites. If you go to the CBC or CTV, there’s a tonne of text and stories on their websites too.
“People may gravitate from a printed product to an online product, but I think local news organizations like the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, will keep on doing a lot of local news.”
For details on the deal and its history, check out this story from the Financial Post.