Nfld. & Labrador

New owner of Telegram, other newspapers says there's no shutdown plan

The head of the company that bought 13 N.L. newspapers Friday says he wants put to rest any apprehension that workers may have.

Saltwire Network CEO says purchase of 13 N.L. newspapers is a 'growth' opportunity

The St. John's Telegram and other TC Transcontinental properties have been acquired by Halifax-based Saltwire Network. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

The head of the company that bought the St. John's Telegram Friday, as well most other newspapers in Newfoundland and Labrador, says it's business as usual for workers in this province. 

"To tell the stories of Newfoundland and Labrador better to people who live there, and to share across the network, we see as a tremendous opportunity," said Mark Lever. president and chief executive officer of Saltwire Network, a newly formed company that is also buying all of TC Transcontinental's media properties in Atlantic Canada. 

Mark Lever is president and CEO of Saltwire Network, the new company that now owns all TC Media operations in Atlantic Canada. (Mark Lever/Twitter)

Friday's deal means that Saltwire now owns both of Newfoundland and Labrador's daily newspapers — in addition to The Telegram, it now publishes the Western Star from Corner Brook — as well as 11 weekly newspapers and three printing plants.

In all, Saltwire's new assets in N.L. involve about 325 employees. 

Lever's family-owned business's primary asset is Halifax's Chronicle Herald, where staff have been on strike for more than a year. 

But despite that labour dispute, Lever said Friday's purchase should not be seen as ominous. 

"There's not a plan to shut down," he said.

"This is a growth story, I can't stress it enough."

He said the newly acquired papers in this province fit into the company's plan to grow the business and engage audiences.

​In St. John's, about 70 to 90 unionized employees work at The Telegram, mostly at its production centre on Austin Street. The company has also bought the Telegram's older press on Columbus Drive. 

"We've accepted those collective agreements so it's business as usual for them as well as our non-unionized employees across the businesses that we've acquired today," Lever told CBC News. 

'Almost immediately' asked for concessions

Lever's company has been embroiled in a long-running labour dispute with unionized workers at the Chronicle Herald, where striking members of the Halifax Typographical Union have been on the street since January 2016. 

Union local president Ingrid Bulmer describes Lever as a tough and demanding negotiator who asks for a lot from his employees, and that only time will tell what his plans are for operations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"His track record. He started at the Herald and almost immediately came to the union and asked for concessions," she said. 

"Every other year, there were deep layoffs, in 2009, 2014.  So, what would make us think that he's going to maintain all these other papers and not treat them the same way as he has the Chronicle Herald?"

Saltwire also owns the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, where unionized workers have been on strike for 15 months. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

But Lever is quick to allay concerns of N.L. employees who may be thinking labour strife in Halifax could spill over to the corporate tone in this province.

"We will do our best to communicate with all employees that might have apprehension about this deal," said Lever. 

"We want to have them understand where we hope to take this business. And I'm confident that over time people will understand that this is a good deal for them, as we feel it's a good deal for them, as we feel it's a good deal for the business."