Postmedia isn’t very good at making money. Nearly every year, Postmedia announces massive losses, more layoffs and more local newsrooms closing under their supervision. What’s shocking is that Postmedia gets to act like this is business as usual while the federal government is subsidizing them through the $600 million media bailout.
Postmedia columnists love to shriek about Canada’s deficit, which is set to hit $343 billion this year. Oddly enough, they’re noticeably less vocal about their organization’s active contribution to the deficit. According to a report in the Tyee, Postmedia expected between $8 and $10 million in subsidies from the government last year.
A reasonable person might think that under these circumstances, Postmedia would be a little bit embarrassed about their compulsive need to remind Canadians about the deficit. They might also think an organization receiving a substantial amount of subsidies from the government would be able to hold off on cannibalizing its own newsrooms. This person would be wrong.
If Postmedia’s goal is to grow their organization and improve the media landscape in this country, they have failed miserably. And since we’re the ones paying to keep the bloated carcass of Postmedia afloat, is it too much to ask for a little transparency? I want to see the amount of money being paid out to Postmedia executives, editors and columnists above a specific income level. I think a Sunshine List for subsidized media organizations is only fair.
The Sunshine List is a searchable database of public sector employees in Ontario that make more than $100,000 annually. Similar lists are published by other provinces under different, less fun, names. Colleges, universities, hospitals, school boards, municipalities, government ministries and more workplaces are required to disclose the names of employees that qualify. Some argue that the Sunshine List is an invasion of privacy, but it also provides a semblance of accountability, which at this point seems necessary for Postmedia.
All subsidized Canadian media should disclose the salaries of their highest earners. However, as the largest newspaper chain in Canada, and because of its undying love of pointing out the dangers of deficits, I’m going to give Postmedia extra attention. Here’s why a media Sunshine List would be good for Canadian journalism, and the country as a whole.
Postmedia Hasn’t Used The Funds Properly
The 2019 Federal Budget states that, “A strong and independent news media is crucial to a well-functioning democracy,” adding that the media plays a “vitally important” role in helping citizens make informed decisions about important issues. Postmedia closed at least 15 local papers this year. I don’t see how anyone could interpret shutting down newspapers as something that helps citizens make informed decisions about important issues.
Perhaps the bailout money is going to their all-star stable of columnists. In 2011, for example, National Post columnist Christie Blatchford was reported to have been making more than $250,000.
Maybe it’s being used to retain Toronto Sun veteran Joe Warmington, who inexplicably managed to conjure fake Drake lyrics and used them to make a hamfisted point in a widely-mocked column that was later retracted with an apology as well.
Putting this in perspective, when Postmedia shut down 15 local papers earlier this year, they initially permanently laid off 30 people (with another 40 being cut later on), which points to another massive issue in local news: Skeleton crews of underfunded, overworked journalists make up the majority of small market newsrooms.
A lack of bodies in a newsroom directly affects the quality of work these papers can put out. If they aren’t given a reasonable budget for personnel, these local papers are being set up to fail.
Disclosing the salaries of the highest paid Postmedia employees would at the very least give us a better idea why, despite receiving millions of dollars in subsidies, the newspaper chain felt the need to close more newsrooms.
Their Financial Situation Is Probably Never Going To Get Better
Notable cottage enthusiast and (soon to be former) National Post Opinion Editor Matt Gurney said it best in a recent Twitter thread: “Economically, we are fucked.” With their current model, Postmedia is probably never going to get to a point where they won’t need government assistance. They have become a burden for all of us.
And what exactly is Postmedia’s motivation to improve their fiscal situation? It seems like any time they post too big of a loss, they liquidate another group of small market newspapers that they picked up at some point in the last few decades. Shutting these papers down and laying off those employees has had no effect on their bailout subsidies.
The Sunshine List would demand a level of accountability from Postmedia that isn’t asked for by the media bailout. It might not turn the ship around for Postmedia, but it will at least prevent them from acting with complete impunity, shutting down newspapers while keeping highly-paid employees on the payroll.
It Would Be Funny
Listen, 2020 has been rough for everyone. It’s important to find ways to make ourselves laugh in these trying times. So, I think beyond everything else I’ve said in this column, a media Sunshine List is a good idea because it would be funny.
If the places we worked at received $8 to 10 million in subsidies from the government and continued to post losses, there’d be a column in the Toronto Sun, Calgary Herald or National Post demanding to know why. This would be a fun thing to do to a failing newspaper conglomerate that demands efficiency from everyone except themselves.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government won’t aim to curtail spending until the pandemic is over. When that’s the case and austerity comes fast and hard for social programs in Canada, I think we’d all benefit from a look at Postmedia’s finances. I don’t want to see the federal government make harsh cuts to get themselves out of debt, but if they’re coming, a Sunshine List would help us know if Postmedia’s subsidies should be near the top.
A media Sunshine List could also protect the one valuable thing Postmedia has: reporters. There are some great reporters there, and despite everything else you could say about the bloated, fiscally unsustainable company that employs them, they do important work. Journalists that hold the powerful to account, or inform small communities about local issues, should be protected over everything else at Postmedia.
If we could see how much money was being wasted on columnists, executives or a certain member of the “Intellectual Dark Web” working on a “secret project,” maybe the ensuing public scrutiny would offer an incentive to retain more reporters.
Let the public take a look at where Postmedia’s media bailout money is going. If the columnists on the Postmedia payroll actually care about the deficit as much as they claim to, they should support a media Sunshine List as well.