New Brunswick

Sale of Irving-owned N.B. papers bad news for local content, industry watchers say

Buyout by Ontario-based media giant Postmedia does not bode well for community-based journalism in the province, say those who have been watching the industry for years.

Postmedia's buyout of Brunswick News prompts speculation about job losses, and possible opportunities

Brunswick News sold three dailies and six weeklies to Ontario-based media giant Postmedia Network Inc. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

The sale of New Brunswick's Irving-owned newspapers to an Ontario-based media giant does not bode well for community-based journalism, say those who have been watching the industry for years.

"The devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don't know," said Julian Walker, a former journalist and author of Wires Crossed, which examines media concentration in New Brunswick. 

Postmedia Network Inc. announced Thursday night that it will buy three dailies and six weeklies from Brunswick News. 

Michael Camp, a professor of journalism at St. Thomas University who once worked for the Irving papers, said it's a sad day for journalism in the province. 

He's doubtful that Postmedia will maintain all of the current publications. 

"The question will be how much local journalism will there be?" Camp said. 

St. Thomas University journalism professor Michael Camp said it's a sad day for journalism in the province, especially for small communities. (CBC)

He particularly laments the loss of local news in communities served by weeklies. 

"I regret very much that we're losing this local news presence," he said.

"I also feel badly for the people who will be displaced from their jobs. And I wonder about the future of journalism in New Brunswick."

As for the three dailies in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, Camp isn't sure what the future holds.

"Postmedia would be wise to maintain at least the façade of local news for those three operations," he said, noting as well that "there's nothing to be gained from changing them all to one name."

Walker isn't sure all three city papers will survive either. But he suggested that maybe they shouldn't. 

"Ultimately, one good daily might be better than three poor ones," he said.

If they were to move to one daily, Walker said it shouldn't necessarily be one Postmedia daily. 

He would like to see a fully independent digital newspaper for the whole province, "with a very independent stance, a very Maritime form of journalism, which has a great tradition."

He noted that there were more than 40 small newspapers in New Brunswick around 1900, "and they have all withered away to a very few, and a lot of them are on shaky ground."

"Whether all three survive, I don't know," Walker said. "What I do know is that quality is needed, hard-hitting journalism, and journalism which doesn't look over its shoulder before it writes a story." 

Erin Steuter, a professor at Mount Allison University who studies the news media with a special interest in New Brunswick news, agrees.

She said it might be the silver lining in the sale. 

"We have been poorly served in the print media under Brunswick News, and there have been people who have tried in an entrepreneurial way to create an alternative, and they have been shut down extremely aggressively through the law and through competitive business practices." 

Steuter suggested that a window could now open for those with "an interest and a hunger for local news" to expand what is already here and struggling, or to create something completely new. 

The Kent Commission

The concentration of media ownership has long been criticized in New Brunswick – even going so far as the Royal Commission on Newspapers, popularly known as the Kent Commission. It began in 1980, and although the Irvings were not the sole impetus for the commission, they were definitely a part of it. 

The Irving ownership of newspapers dates back to the 1930s, when K.C. Irving briefly owned a small newspaper in Saint John before selling it. 

It wasn't until 1944, however, that he really got into the newspaper business. That's when he bought New Brunswick Publishing, which published the Telegraph-Journal and Times-Globe in Saint John. In 1948, he bought the two dailies in Moncton – the Times and the Transcript. 

Camp said the Irvings have always been an easy target for those criticizing their monopoly of New Brunswick newspapers.

"Everybody had an opinion about it," said Camp, who believes the "conflict and the distortion in the news coverage was less than ... was normally portrayed." 

One monopoly for another

But is trading in one monopoly for another any improvement? Probably not, said Steuter.

"I think it's worse to go to the central-Canadian monopoly from the local monopoly," she said. 

The local monopoly has a certain commitment to their home province and to their neighbours, and Steuter doubts Postmedia will have the same local loyalty. 

"So we are probably going to see things get worse." 

Steuter said it's possible to predict what will likely happen in New Brunswick based on Postmedia's track record elsewhere. 

She said Postmedia is "overtly in support of conservative governments, tends to not provide critical coverage of labour issues or environmental issues, and also has a track record of closing down a lot of the papers they buy and merging the content. So we're going to see some consequences pretty quickly." 

Erin Steuter is a professor at Mount Allison University who studies the media and has a particular interest in New Brunswick media. (Jeremy Boorne/Submitted)

Steuter said Postmedia will likely want to streamline operations and can easily fill publications with national and international content, which they already have. 

That, she said, will mean less local content. 

"Whether it actually comes down to closing the city papers and having one New Brunswick paper, that is very possible and that is within the track record of Postmedia when they do take over."

She said Postmedia is likely to shut down New Brunswick's community weeklies, "because that is what happens when they buy community papers – they very quickly shut down and consolidate and everybody gets the same news, regardless of the circumstances in their community.

"This is big news for New Brunswick," said Steuter. 

A press release from Postmedia said the company would not be granting interviews on Friday. 

Interview requests sent to Brunswick News employees, including publisher Jamie Irving, were either turned down or not returned on Friday. 


Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at