|'We're here to praise the Post, not to bury it,' Leonard Asper tells paper's staff|
Friday, May 02, 2003
CREDIT: Yvonne Berg, National Post
Matthew Fraser, a columnist for the National Post since its launch and a professor at Ryerson University, has been named editor-in-chief.
CanWest Global Communications Corp. has made a three-year commitment to the National Post, its flagship newspaper, while shaking up senior management by shedding the top two editors, the publisher and senior sales, marketing and finance executives.
David Asper, the son of CanWest founder Israel Asper, and brother of CanWest chief executive Leonard Asper, has become chairman of the newspaper -- a role once filled by Conrad Black, who launched the daily in 1998.
Bob McKenzie, former publisher of the St. Catharines Standard, has been named general manager of the Post, assuming all the duties of publisher and reporting to Bob Calvert, senior vice-president of operations at CanWest Canadian Media.
Matthew Fraser, a media columnist for the Post since its launch, and a communications professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has been named editor-in-chief. He replaces Ken Whyte, the newspaper's editor since its inception.
"The Asper name is on the line," Leonard Asper said in a speech to staff in the Toronto newsroom yesterday, where it became clear that the business end of the Post will be more fully integrated with the company.
CanWest, a broadcaster, bought a half interest in the Post in 2000 along with Lord Black's national newspaper chain. CanWest took full control of the Post a year later.
Yesterday, Mr. Asper told employees that CanWest, which paid $100-million for a 50% interest in the Post, is risking tens of millions more even though the "easiest thing to do" would be to shut down the paper, which is on track to lose about $20-million this year.
"We're here to praise the Post, not to bury it," he said, adding that the paper's success is a "top priority" for the company as it pursues a convergence strategy.
"Our new management team is embarking on a three-year plan that will complete the integration of the National Post -- both as a newspaper and as a business unit -- into a strong, contributing asset for the company," said CanWest's chief operating officer, Rick Camilleri, and David Asper in a note to staff.
The changes were necessary "as we move forward with a more integrated business model," added Leonard Asper.
The Post's advertising sales force will be further integrated with CanWest Media Sales, which sells advertising for its Global Television Network, its chain of daily newspapers and other newspapers on a commercial client basis.
CanWest also has a national news desk in Winnipeg, which operates CanWest News Service. The news service has the largest news bureau in Ottawa and about a dozen national writers across the country, as well as bureaus in London, Washington and freelance correspondents elsewhere in the world. The news service also generates and exchanges news stories and features for its own papers and dozens of other papers throughout Canada and North America.
Mr. Asper said the Post's editorial content will be "tweaked" rather than overhauled, and its columnists and small 'c' conservative stance will be maintained. Sections such as Saturday Post and the Financial Post will be built up, rather than scaled back, he said.
Mr. Asper said Mr. Fraser has the "full, unanimous" support of CanWest. "We have a terrific stable of editors. In the end, [Mr. Fraser's] relationship with the Post and his knowledge ... pulled him into a position where we felt he was the right person."
Rumours have swirled in recent weeks that the Post would be shut down or drastically reduced in size and scope because losses have not been trimmed as quickly as the Aspers hoped when they took control from Mr. Black about 18 months ago.
Shortly after that, about 130 employees were cut from the payroll, unprofitable circulation was cut back, and coverage of arts, sports and Toronto was scaled back to help reduce annual costs by more than $40-million.
Average weekday circulation of the paper fell to 243,000 from a high of 327,108, and much of the coverage was reinstated in an effort to stop the slide and reach circulation of 275,000.
The latest circulation figures are expected to be released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations next week, but Mr. Camilleri said the figure stands at about 255,000.
"Unfortunately, the success we've had to date is not enough," Mr. Asper said, adding that yesterday's changes herald a new push to gain non-traditional readers and advertisers.
"It's not a retrenchment of content as was done before."
The Post competes with The Globe and Mail nationally, and with the Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun in Toronto.
Competitors, whom Mr. Asper referred to as the "Axis of Snivel," have expressed doubt that there could be four profitable papers in the city. Mr. Asper responded that now-profitable Global TV got the same reception in the 1970s, as did News Corp.'s Fox network in the United States in the 1990s.
Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of Hollinger International Inc.'s Chicago Sun-Times -- who was among the Post's first senior editors -- will come on as an advisor to the paper during the transition, CanWest said.
Peter Viner, who was publisher of the Post from December, 2001, and is former vice-chairman of CanWest, will return to CanWest to lead a fledgling radio division.
Mr. Whyte, deputy editor Martin Newland, and Peter Leupen and Alex Panousis, the heads of sales and marketing respectively, have left the company.
"We express our appreciation and thanks to Ken Whyte, Martin Newland and those members of the senior team who will also be leaving the company, for their sterling contribution in building the National Post from scratch into the powerful and authoritative national voice it has become in five short years," David Asper and Mr. Camilleri said in the note to staff.
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