Group prepares bid for National Post
Offer to include Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen
Last Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010 | 10:43 PM ET
A proposed bid for three Canwest newspapers — the National Post, Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen — is about strengthening local newspapers, members of the group involved said Monday.
A group says it's preparing a bid to buy the National Post, the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)The group was spearheaded by Montreal media figure Beryl Wajsman and includes former senator Jerry Grafstein and former Global TV executive and Montreal Star editor Raymond Heard.
The group is backed by six wealthy unnamed investors who were concerned about the future of local news, Wajsman said.
He said they are especially concerned about preserving the Montreal Gazette — the only remaining English-language daily in the city.
"They want profits on their money, but they'd make a lot more money if they considered putting their money into real estate," Wajsman said.
The group declined to provide further details of their plan.
"We are in the diligence process and will be releasing more details of the plan in due course," Grafstein said on the CBC's The Lang & O'Leary Exchange.
He did say the proposal would not involve taking on excessive debt, such as the type that watchers say crippled Canwest when it bought the former Southam newspaper chain in 2003.
"If you use excessive leverage, you're not giving your franchise an opportunity to make money," Grafstein said.
Increasing the focus on local news also makes good business sense, Grafstein said.
"If you look at the history of newspapers in North America or elsewhere, all newspapers started really as strong local newspapers, and when they lost their contact with their local communities they weakened," he said. Grafstein also promised new approaches to carrying newspaper content online to attract younger and specifically female readers.
"I'm not insane," he said. "My business background would demonstrate that [but we know] you have to approach the media in a new way because there are new forces in play."Former senator Jerry Grafstein says Canwest's operating model needs to be improved by increasing the focus on local news. (Canadian Press)
Union welcomes bid
The group’s interest in the newspapers was welcomed by the union representing employees at the Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen.
"We welcome anybody who believes in quality journalism, quality local journalism, local involvement and basically says, unlike the rest of Canada, you don’t have to run a newspaper only if you own a large chain," said Arnold Amber, director of the Communications Workers of America Canada.
In general, Amber said, newspapers are not doing poorly.
In the last quarter, the Canwest newspaper division had an operating profit of $70 million, Amber said.
Canwest Global Communications placed many of its media properties under court protection from creditors last year and announced last week an auction process for buyers interested in its newspaper and television assets.
Each of the leaders in the bid announced Monday has played a prominent role in Canadian media. Grafstein was a founder of Citytv in Toronto, while Heard worked as editor at the London Observer News Service and has roles at Global and the Montreal Star. Wajsman is editor of the Montreal weekly the Métropolitain and hosts a radio show.
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