BONOKOSKI: The future of newspapers has its ever-changing challenges

Ink-stained wretches like myself who worked the front lines when newspapers in Canada were a licence to print money did not have the pay grade to see the end beginning to form.

But neither, apparently, did the CEOs.

The Internet, at the outset, looked interesting but harmless. The sophistication of today is a high-end Ferrari compared to the lowly Ford Pinto that first caught our curiosity.

In the newspaper game’s golden years, which were the 1970s to late 1980s, the best-paid employees often worked in the advertising department and had the lock on all the city’s car dealerships

That’s how cars were sold back in the day. Through print ads.

But not anymore, The Internet has been killing newspapers off. Political cartoons and works of art declaring the truism that newspapers are the pillars of democracy don’t cut it anymore.

Wednesday’s Ottawa Sun, for example, was only 24 pages, half the size of yesteryear’s smallest newspaper, usually Monday’s.

A few years ago, pre-Internet, $60 million wouldn’t get a sniff.

Now, throw in a COVID-19 pandemic, and newspapers are becoming reminiscent of a punch-drunk boxer getting pummelled yet trying not to hit the canvas until after the bell rings.

But how many more blows can newspapers take?

On April 15, Postmedia’s community newspapers were closed because of COVID-19 related hits on revenues.

The struggle, of course, is to keep the lights on at Postmedia during tough financial times, worsen by the COVID-19 outbreak that has ad revenues tanking even more, and journalists working from home on the online product as well as configuring pages for transmission to the press hall to print the day’s edition.

That’s what happening right now at the National Post and the Toronto Sun, as well as every newspaper across the country.

The upside? You’re reading this, are you not?

That, alone, is a tribute to so-far-so-good.

And a 24-page newspaper is certainly better than none.

I do not know how many hundreds of my colleagues have received the pink slip over recent years. And hundreds is no error.

The experience and wisdom lost is irretrievable.

Personally, I also don’t know how many times I’ve been fired, and then rehired months later on a contract basis. Three times maybe, but no benefits, no vacation, no sudden out-of-country assignments like when money was no object and there was no online maw to feed 24/7.

In the United States last week, the big news in the newspaper business was the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management reeling in what’s left of the bankrupt McClatchy publishing company that operates 29 daily newspapers in 14 states, has an average weekday circulation of 1.6 million and a Sunday circulation of 2.4 million.

But what is Chatham going to do with McClatchy, the No. 2 newspaper chain in America, since hedge funds have never been particularly kind of newspapers?

As Ken Doctor writes for Nieman Lab, the competition New Gannett, while considered a fortress, has had its own CEO troubles in the battle to survive and prosper.

“New Gannett dispatched its operating CEO Paul Bascobert after a ten-month cup of coffee,” wrote Doctor. “And with as much as $7.5 million in a goodbye package.

“That’s $750,000 per month in severance — easily enough to pay 100 journalists for a year in a company still laying off and furloughing.”

Here at home, the battle to acquire the Toronto Star came to an end at the weekend with an improved and accepted $60-million bid from NordStar Capital, topping a $58-million offer from Canadian Modern Media Holdings.

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