Postmedia-Sun merger 'foolishly' accepted by Competition Bureau, prof says

A Carleton University journalism professor and media ownership expert says Canada's Competition Bureau "foolishly" accepted Postmedia's proposal to buy the Sun chain, which led to several newsroom mergers and 90 jobs lost on Tuesday, including 12 in Ottawa.

'Basically they have shot themselves in the foot at precisely the wrong time,' professor says

Dwayne Winseck, a Carleton University journalism professor and director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, says the Competition Bureau "foolishly" accepted Postmedia's acquisition of the Sun newspaper chain. (CBC News)

After 12 people from the Ottawa Sun were laid off Tuesday due to a merger with the Ottawa Citizen newsroom, a Carleton University journalism professor and media ownership expert says Canada's Competition Bureau "foolishly" accepted Postmedia's proposal to buy the Sun chain.

Under the new regime announced to Postmedia staff Tuesday, Sun and Citizen reporters will work together to cover news and a central rewrite desk will alter the stories for different brands and platforms.

Newsrooms are also being merged in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. In all, about 90 staff positions were eliminated.

"The idea that you're going to generate stuff out of a centralized content mill and somebody's going to tweak it and kind of lather over a little layer of political ideology on top, and that's going to [satisfy readers], I don't buy it," said Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton's School of Journalism and Communication and director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

"That's pretty thin gruel, and we might just be kicking the can down the road for another couple of months," 

Winseck was a guest on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday.

'Loading up the bottom line with debt'

"This has already come stunningly fast on top of the Competition Bureau's approval of this deal. We're inside of a year, and the Postmedia group, [CEO Paul Godfrey], made promises up and down to the Competition Bureau that they were going to run two separate newspapers," he said.

"And the Competition Bureau, foolishly in my estimation, accepted this."

Postmedia announced Tuesday the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun newsrooms will merge. The newspaper chain also laid off 90 employees in several cities, including 12 Ottawa Sun employees. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)
Winseck said the bureau has "never had much of a strong spine when it looks at mergers and acquisitions in this country," and that it's been "particularly weak" in telecommunications and media decisions.

But along with the bureau, Winseck also lays blame at the personal hubris of media moguls "loading up titles" under corporate banners.

"They have been out there consolidating, going through one deal after another, and they have been loading up the bottom line with debt. And they've had to basically service this debt at extraordinarily high interest rates on extraordinarily high levels of debt, and that basically takes resources away from producing good, quality journalism, precisely when we need it," he said.

'Competition in journalism ... drives it'

Chris Hofley, who was a sports reporter at the Ottawa Sun before being laid off Tuesday, said the longstanding competition between the Sun and the Citizen helped both papers and served their audiences better.

"I think a lot will be lost. I think that competition in journalism, like in most industries, is what drives it," Hofley told Ottawa Morning Wednesday.

"We're fierce about the competition, we love it. That's why a lot of us get up to do this job. You want to see if you can beat whoever it is to the big story, and want to do it better, and that's what makes journalists better ... having that competition right around the corner."

As for the new combined newsroom, Hofley said it's hard to imagine it.

 "I don't think it would be fair for me at this point to judge it too harshly, but I think anyone who's been in this business — or anyone who is even a regular reader of the Citizen or the Sun — knows how different they are as newspapers. ... So it's hard to picture one combined staff providing content to both of those [papers]," he said.