Advice to CanWest: Kill ‘the Pest’ and save the rest

A satisfied National Pest founder Tubby Black, in happier times, steams past a delighted Tom Olsen, today Premier Ed Stelmach’s press secretary, on the wrong side of the picket line during the Calgary Herald strike. Plus ca change; plus ca la meme chose.

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

— Proverbs 16:18

The National Post – described by the Reuters news service in a dispatch this morning as the “flagship” daily of the CanWest newspaper chain – will cease to publish a Monday edition for the next nine weeks in a desperate and doomed effort to stay afloat.

Flagship? Plague ship more like!

The National Post is the rot at the core of the former Southam newspaper chain’s financial troubles, at the heart of the sinking company’s $4-billion debt and the $1.4 billion it lost in the last three months for which it reported. The Post should be closed for the sake of the remaining viable community dailies in the chain, papers like the Edmonton Journal that, despite many faults, still do good work.

There will be no such luck for the few sluggos still toiling below decks at CanWest, of course. That there won’t is proof enough that, just as the Good Book tells us, Solomon was a wise man: Pride goeth before destruction.

The Post was Conrad Black’s prideful baby, created “in happier times” as a personal hobbyhorse for the millionaire publisher and international neocon blowhard, who now deservedly languishes in a Florida jailhouse. It largely succeeded in its goal to remake Canadian journalism through the relentless application of right-wing snake oil and outright propaganda, sad to say.

But the cost was high. From Day One it was a bloodsucking leech on the other papers in the Southam chain, hoovering financial resources and local scoops into its esurient maw. We were all served cake in the pressroom of the Calgary Herald the night the first edition appeared – a few of us suspected even then there was hemlock in the sweet vanilla icing!

It is a true irony that by sucking the life out of the other Southam papers, the Post sowed the seeds of its own destruction, now coming to a rotten fruition. Ironic, because its very raison d’etre was to spread the false gospel of the omnipotent free market. It is failing because there is only a limited market for such tripe. Conrad and his acolytes would no doubt have it this is because Canadians are fools with insufficient faith in the wonders of the market. The reality, of course, is that most of us can count – if only on our fingers and toes – and are confident to trust the evidence of our eyes and noses.

Of course, the Post’s owners blame the recession – also an ironic creature of the far-right policy nostrums they encouraged – but that is only the poisoned icing on their cake.

The Post was Izzy Asper’s prideful stepchild, likely the principal reason he cast his eyes on the Southam papers in the first place, continuing the degradation of the renamed CanWest empire to its present pathetic state, brought low by bloggers on the Internet, most of whom couldn’t spell CAT if you spotted them the C and the T!

This is an irony, too, for it wasn’t the quality of the bloggers’ efforts so much as the sophomoric bloviations of the Post’s influential stenographers that drove Canadian readers to the Internet. There was no market for this trash.

And the Post, I suspect, will be straw that breaks the financial camel’s back for the elder Asper’s heirs, who will continue to publish its drivel even as “the Pest” constitutes a deadly menace to their remaining viable enterprises.

As noted, the owners cite the recession for their troubles and publish long screeds promising the newspaper business will be around 100 years from now. Perhaps this is so, but not for any of the foundering newspapers in the death grip of the National Post!

So, pridefully, the Post will for now stop publishing one day a week, and so begin the death of a thousand cuts. This move, Reuters reported, aims to trim expenses, but there can’t be much left to trim with 560 experienced hands throughout the chain forced over the side in recent months.

Other CanWest papers are said to be considering similar extreme measures to save a few pennies. It is only a matter of time before one of them becomes an all-Internet effort for the few months it takes for extreme unction to be administered. But all this amounts to cutting away the healthy bits to save the malignancy.

No one wants to read the Post. It can hardly be given away in airports and hotel corridors. The real answer for CanWest is to swallow its pride and close it. They could use the millions saved to publish better community daily newspapers, for which there is still hope.

3 Comments on "Advice to CanWest: Kill ‘the Pest’ and save the rest"

  1. Cliff says:

    I feel about the Post’s fall much as I did about the collapse of Ezra’s Western Standard; that it’s a wonderful example of the market forces they so worshiped in action.

    In the marketplace of ideas, the noxious soup of selfishness, relentless attacks on the social contract, xenophobia and wing nut ranting of both the Post and the Standard aren’t a financially sustainable paradigm for a successful newspaper or magazine in Canada.

    They both may have had an a effect on the elite consensus but never enough draw for the public at large to stay afloat.

    I submit that this is very good news.

  2. Emdubya says:

    Excellent insight on the CanWest collapse. Funny how the media refuses to report much on the collapse of the media. It’s kind of like the phenomenon of realtors who still insist that there is no better time to buy than right now.

    And isn’t it bizarre how the papers refuse to change their game when it’s so blatantly obvious that their strategy is a losing one. Focusing on local content is probably a good idea – it’s been of middling quantity and quality for some time now, and is always buried behind 10 pages of AP wire stories. Hell, maybe focusing on local content is a terrible idea but at least it would indicate that the management of newspapers is at least thinking and trying to find a way out of the stinking pit they’re in.

  3. The Mound of Sound says:

    Fairfax Financial has written off its holdings in CanWest. Not written down but wholly written off. When a company holds a 20% stake in another, it’s curious that it would declare the asset worthless before CanWest is formally dead.

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