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  • Winnipeg and Manitoba the low-key part of Postmedia purchase of the Sun

    10/7/2014 11:40 AM

    There is lots of excitement - mixed with lots of bad jokes - about the purchase of all the Sun newspapers by Postmedia.

    "This is the biggest news since you cornered the covered wagon market. #AmishBusinessTycoon," one Tweeter commented shortly after the announcement yesterday.

    Regular readers of this blog know I do not share such pessimistic views about the newspaper industry.

    Personally, I think Postmedia's purchase of all English-language Sun properties is a bold bet on the future of Canadian newspapers and their substantial reach into the lives of people across the country.

    The changes will be felt all the way to Winnipeg, though our city and province were pretty much an afterthought in all of the news coverage of the sale.

    Most people don't follow who owns what media, so I offer this blog to explain what is happening here in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

    The Winnipeg Sun, along with papers such as the Portage Daily Graphic, Kenora Daily Miner and News, and several community newspapers in southern Manitoba will be owned and operated by Postmedia.

    The company has committed to continue operating the Sun papers.

    In other major markets, such as Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, Postmedia intends to combine resources and operate two or more papers in the same city.

    That won't happen here because Postmedia does not own other papers here.

    The Winnipeg Free Press is owned by FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership (FPLP), which also owns the Brandon Sun, Steinbach Carillon, and all the free distribution Canstar community newspapers in Winnipeg.

    FPLP is controlled by Ron Stern and his business partner, Bob Silver, who hold 51 per cent of the company privately. The rest - 49 per cent - is part of FP Newspapers Inc., a publicly traded company that owns securities entitling it to 49 per cent of the distributable cash of FPLP.

    The Free Press has a long and close relationship with Postmedia.

    Postmedia sells national advertising in print and digital for us and it provides editorial content and other editorial services. We used to print the National Post in Winnipeg, but the paper discontinued publishing here several years ago.

    We expect there to be changes, but we do not know what they may be.

    Postmedia must get federal regulatory approval before the sale can close and that could take a few months.

    At that time we will know better what the lay of the land is for newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba.


  • Winnipeg journalist blazed trail for female newsroom managers

    09/23/2014 2:40 PM

    You should always thank the person who gave you your first real job in your chosen field.

    So it's with some regret that I read of the passing of Shirley Sharzer, a Winnipegger who made a difference in journalism in Canada.

    The Globe and Mail ran a detailed account of her life that is worth reading, another great story of a Winnipeg-born talent better known in Toronto for what she accomplished than in her home city.

    Born Shirley Lev, she grew up here and started as a newspaper reporter in 1945 at age 17. She eventually worked for the Winnipeg Free Press, married, had a family and then moved to Toronto.

    There she worked at the Toronto Telegram, Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, among other stops in her varied career. She climbed the management ladder in newsrooms where men ruled the roost in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

    She was the associate managing editor of The Globe and Mail in the spring of 1983 when a young student at Carleton University appeared before her as a candidate for the newspaper's summer intern program.

    She noticed that I was wearing a bow tie, and probably thought it was so that I stood out from the other keen journalism students. In fact, it was the only tie I owned.

    Whatever the reason, she offered me the position and it launched me on what is now a 31-year-career in newspapers -- and counting. I have no idea what might have happened in my life if she had not hired me.

    Countless journalists in Canada can tell the same story, because Shirley Sharzer hired many student interns, and mentored many young journalists through their first days and months in a big-city newsroom.

    I had not spoken to her since that summer in 1983, and never did properly express my gratitude. Thanks Shirley.



  • Broadcasters want to force you to pay for news

    09/15/2014 9:22 AM

    Imagine being forced to subscribe to, and pay for, the Winnipeg Free Press, if you want to look at any other newspapers or magazines.

    Ridiculous? Of course. But it is exactly like what Canadian TV providers are asking the federal broadcast regulator to put in place.

    The CRTC is holding hearings that will help determine what rule changes it makes for how TV signals are distributed -- and how you pay for them.

    Both the CBC and CTV networks have told the CRTC that the business model for local TV stations is broken and that the way to fix it is to force cable and satellite companies to pay for their signals -- and, by extension, have consumers pay for those signals. The situation is outlined well in this Globe and Mail article.

    The broadcasters want over-the-air transmission ended, so the only way you will get their signals is through cable or satellite. And they want carriage of these signals to be mandatory.

    So if you watch TV, you will pay for local channels. There will be no other way of receiving them and you won't be able to get a TV service without them. No more free TV.

    This means forced payment for all the programming on networks like CBC and CTV, and in effect forced payment for local news programming. Local TV stations in Canada do almost nothing except news and current events programming. Otherwise they are transmitter stations for nationally programmed shows.

    A local TV broadcast licence used to be called a "licence to print money." An owner had a spot on the limited airwaves and few competitors, if any. Advertising dollars rolled in to pay for everything. That's no longer the case as audiences have fragmented in the universe of unlimited TV channels.

    The situation is not unlike what has happened to newspapers, where new digital media have taken away traditional revenue streams like classified ads.

    Some newspapers are now asking readers to pay for digital access as well as print copies. But none would ever dream of asking a regulatory body to force consumers to sign up.

    But's that the solution proposed by broadcasters. Force every TV viewer to pay. The CRTC should see the argument for what it is -- a way of broadcasters getting back into a comfortable position of having a lucrative stream of revenues, guaranteed.

    Taxpayers might expect that the CBC, at least, would continue to be free. But the CBC sees no problem asking for both its public subsidy and these viewer payments. A CBC executive likened it to VIA Rail, which gets a federal subsidy and still charges for tickets.

    It's not the same, for the simple reason that people can choose to take VIA Rail, or not, and they do not have to take the railway if they want transportation.

    TV viewers have already had experience with forced funding of local programming. The CRTC established the local programming improvement fund that collected money from cable companies to fund local programming in markets of fewer than one million people. All Winnipeg TV stations got money from the fund, which took in more than $100 million a year from cable subscribers.

    That program ended as of August 31 this year. The CRTC should leave it that way, and require broadcasters to adapt to changes in markets in ways that don't include forced payments by all TV viewers.



  • Banana peels and other organic material overlooked in recycling

    09/3/2014 10:15 AM

    I'm waiting for the day when I see a sticker on a mailbox saying: "No Bananas, Please. Save Our Planet."

    You see, organic material is one of the biggest contributors to residential waste that goes to landfills in Manitoba. Yet it is often overlooked while people focus on other things that are not going to the dump.

    Like newspapers. The most recent statistics show newspapers are recycled at a higher rate than any other material in Manitoba -- 97.5 per cent of newsprint that enters the market is recycled. That's an amazing success story.

    Paper overall has a recycling rate of 92.5 per cent. The next most successful substance is glass, at 70.8 per cent.

    Yet there persists among some the preception that paper is an environmental problem.

    It's visible, high profile, and people generally don't know what happens to it.

    Plastic bags are in a similar situation. They make up a minuscule part of the waste stream yet often are targetted by well-meaning authorities. Plastic bag use has fallen by 46.7 per cent since 2007 in Manitoba and half of the remaining retail plastic bags that go into homes are re-used for tasks such as collecting other garbage and picking up after your dog.

    Why is any of this important? As Free Press writer Bruce Owen reported last week, the provincial government is developing an ambitious plan to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Serious discussion of this initiative requires some knowledge about what is really contributing to waste.

    Manitobans send more garbage to dumps per capita than almost anywhere else in Canada. And a lot of it is stuff you don't think about.

    Between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of waste material sent to landfills is organic material -- all those banana peels, carrot tops, corn husks, grass clippings, dead leaves, etc.

    Most places in the province don't collect organics. The City of Winnipeg has taken some steps, such as regular collection of yard waste, but does not yet have a comprehensive plan.

    Then there are all the other contributors to waste. About half comes from the industrial, commercial and institutional sector. About 20 per cent comes from construction, renovation and demolition.

    I have to provide full disclosure here. I sit on the board of Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba, the industry-funded agency that operates a province-wide recycling program for packaging and printed paper. Business that put packaging, including bottles and cans, and printed paper into the consumer market have paid for 80 per cent of municipal recycling programs since 2010.

    MMSM has done a great deal of work to improve recycling programs. As we take the next step towards reducing our waste, it's important to know what's already being recycled and where we should be looking next.


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About Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

"Rejoined" is a better word for it, because Bob first worked at the newspaper as a reporter in January 1984. He covered crime and courts for three years before getting restless and moving on to other journalism jobs.

Since then, his career has spanned four provinces and five cities. Highlights include working in Ottawa for the Canadian Press covering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien during his first term in office, and five years at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, first as national editor and later as night editor.

Bob grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but has spent most of his adult life in Western Canada in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton.

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