Andrew Potter, outgoing Ottawa Citizen editor in chief, watching industry with 'trepidation'
'It's vital to the city that we have an effective newspaper,' outgoing editor says
As the Postmedia newspaper chain continues to struggle financially, Ottawa Citizen editor in chief Andrew Potter will leave journalism in February and return to academia — and he doesn't deny the industry's troubles played a role in his decision.
"I'd be lying if I said that broad concern about the nature of the business in general didn't weigh on, not just me, but everybody in it. And that's probably why I'm not going somewhere else in journalism, I'm going to academia," Potter told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, on Friday.
He also said while he's not privy to internal Postmedia financial information, he's not buoyed by public filings he reads.
"I read the same financial statements that everyone else does and I think I just wish everybody the best. It's vital to the city that we have an effective newspaper, and I'm going to be watching with as much trepidation as everyone else," he said.
His consolation, he said, has been focusing on news instead of the news business.
"I think the more I've been able to sort of focus on news, not paying attention to the market side of things or the advertising side of things ... it's been fun. It's one of the best jobs in Canadian journalism. I've been very lucky."
Potter 3rd to quit in recent months
Potter's departure from the Citizen on Feb. 29 will be the paper's third in recent months. In December, both of the paper's editorial writers — Kate Heartfield and James Gordon — left.
While Heartfield said she decided to pursue fiction writing and focus on her family, and Gordon didn't publicly announce a reason for leaving, media watchers were quick to point out that Postmedia drew criticism during the federal election for requiring all of its daily newspapers, including the Citizen, to post editorials endorsing former prime minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
Potter said he wouldn't have endorsed the Conservatives if it had been up to him, but Paul Godfrey, the Postmedia chain's owner, had every right to choose.
"I'll be frank, [Harper is] not who I would have endorsed if it was up to me. I actually had come to ... the conclusion that maybe we should just endorse locally, local candidates; that the idea of endorsing a national prime minister was maybe anachronistic ... and somewhat at odds with the way people actually vote, since you only vote for your local candidate," Potter said.
"But I also will defend unequivocally the right of an owner to endorse whoever they want and to use their pages to do that, and I think Mr. Godfrey is entirely within his rights."
As for the state of the newspaper industry and how it might be repaired, Potter didn't directly answer a question from Bresnahan about whether a Tom Kent-style government commission into media ownership is necessary. He did say he's not in favour of more public investment in the CBC, for example, and that some people in the U.S. are coming up with innovative ways of making the news business work.
"I think the more interesting experiment is what's going on in the States with billionaires — Jeff Bezos and others — getting involved, or with the non-profit models associated with places like ProPublica. I think something like that is probably more promising than putting more media on the public dollar," he said.