Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CHCH has a buyer!

Toronto's Channel Zero will buy Canwest's CHCH-TV in Hamilton and and CJNT-TV in Montreal, assuming the company gets the green light from the CRTC.

Channel Zero owns Moveiola and Silver Screen Classics, a couple of digital specialty channels, as well as some "adult entertainment" channels.

There's apparently no buyer yet for the other three local TV stations Canwest is trying to unload by the end of this summer in Red Deer, Kelowna and Victoria.

In Hamilton, it looks like they plan to keep on the existing staff and run news all day until 8 pm, after which they will show familiar, if not first-run, movies. Think Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey.
It sounds quite a bit like the proposal originally floated by CHCH employees interested in mounting a community bid for the station. In fact, in an article in CARTT.ca, Channel Zero says they will be relying on the existing CHCH crew to pull off the new format.

In Montreal, where the licence is for a multicultural channel, they are talking about running foreign movies and "multicultural music videos."

Channel Zero seems bullish about local TV. At least somebody is. Funny that we haven't heard another word out of Shaw since they announced they were paying $1 to CTVglobemedia for the local stations in Windsor and Brandon.

Today's sale also seems to represent a move away from big media conglomerates.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A tale of two Globes and their attack on employees on both sides of the border

Dear Media Employees Everywhere (especially those at the Globe and Mail ... our thoughts are with you this crucial weekend):

Don’t be bullied – and that’s what’s happening to you as I write this. Unionized workers at Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, are just the latest in this industry to be intimidated beyond belief into deeply concessionary discussions.

Like media employers everywhere, Globe management (CTVglobemedia Inc.) is using the economic and media crises to claim they “need” a huge list of concessions, whether or not those concessions relate to the problem at hand. In the forced “final offer” delivered today to unionized employees after talks broke down, management says it intends to move to a two-tiered pension system: current employees have a choice between the good pension they’re in (defined benefit) or move to a defined contribution (RRSP-like) plan. New hires would have no choice: they get stuck with the DC plan. There are cuts to salary scales for new employees and a freeze on pay for two years.

My advice: don't buy it. Say no to the management offer. This kind of systematic pillorying of media employees will do nothing to save our industry. It’s eroding what content still exists and will likely drive the best and brightest away. It’s also selling out our next generation of employees (possibly your own kids, siblings, cousins) if yet another defined benefit pension is bargained away. Don’t make long-term/permanent concessions in a climate of day-to-day uncertainty. The climate will change, one way or the other, and you won’t be able to get back what you’ve lost.

Our Guild colleagues at the Boston Globe said no. The owners (New York Times Co.) threatened to *shut the newspaper down* if employees didn’t accept deep, deep concessions – to the tune of $20M. The Guild was the only Boston Globe unions to defy the threat when members narrowly rejected the first deal put to them, which would have cut salaries by 8.3%

Did the world end or the paper close? No.

The threat to close the paper was withdrawn. But in true bully style, the Boston Globe then imposed a 23% wage cut, yet another tactic to wear the employees down. Union and management went back to the table, and management announced the Globe is up for sale. Read the letter sent by Dan Totten, the Guild’s president, upon that news. Since then, another deal has been reached. The good news is that it’s slightly better: wage cuts of only 5.94%. But overall concessions are still in the $10M range.

What a brutal way to position the paper for the market, instead of working together on the changing media environment in a civilized way. As Totten said in another letter, “sharing the pain is not the New York Times way”.

The Boston Globe case is not a good-news story. But it is a demonstration that people can say no, and they should…sometimes over and over again. The future of this industry is at stake.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Newspaper finds new life under local ownership

From south of the border comes a hopeful story of a newspaper emerging from the depths of conglomerate ownership, debt and thinning content.It's the Portland Press Herald in Maine, where a new chapter is unfolding.

When former owners Blethen Maine Newspapers put the paper up for sale a year and a half ago, employees thought the paper would be added to the list of US newspaper closures.

Then along came Richard Connor, from Bangor Maine. He bought the paper and bucked a trend, opting not to drop sections, stop Sunday papers or make other cuts to content the way so many media owners are dealing with this economy and the changing media environment.

Connor and the union that represents employees at the newspaper, the Portland Newspaper Guild, sat down and worked out a new arrangement over the past few weeks under what is known as Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Employees agreed to take a 10 percent pay cut in return for a 15 percent stake in the company. And they get two seats on the company Board.

Last week, just before Guild delegates from across North America met in Washington, the "new" Herald tribune hit the stands.And here's the really good news. The paper has *added* sections and editorial pages, says Guild president Tom Bell. That's a result of the greater degree of consultation between management and employees, because of the ESOP agreement.

I hope this is the beginning of a new way of doing business in our industry: local ownership, emphasis on content despite a tough economy, and a partnership between union and management.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The cuts are sinking in, Part II

In a follow-up to the post that appeared here on May 27, I've written a longer piece for the Guild's newsletter G-Force about the impact of the cuts across our union. No job classification has been spared. It is really not clear how the continuing work will be done once the dust settles. What is clear is that our media employers are losing lots of bright lights: both those whose skills and creativity built the industry and those just starting out whose energy and enthusiasm might be lost to us forever.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Free TV: CTV gets it wrong

I shouldn't be, but I am surprised at how badly some journalists cover our own industry. I know some are "edited" by their corporate bosses. On Friday night, CTV got the story of the U-S transition from analog to digital TV all wrong. And in this case, you have to wonder if there's a reason why.

Reporter Tom Walters’ piece left people with the impression that the switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting in the United States means the end of antennas and over-the-air television. He called it the End of an Era.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – at least in the United States. There, all the major broadcasters have invested in making the switch to digital, and signals are still being beamed to TV sets right across the country, for free. The only difference is they’re digital signals now, which means they’re clearer and sharper signals. All you need is a converter box to receive them (which the U-S government helped people buy, by handing out millions of dollars worth of coupons), or a new TV. And a good antenna really helps.

So, in the United States, you can still get a wide range of TV signals in most places, for free.

In this country, broadcasters are refusing to make the transition, which is due to take place officially in 2011. Only the biggest cities west of New Brunswick can get digital TV over the air. And broadcasters have no plans to change that.

There’s a great story on cbc.ca that gives an overview of the transition in the U-S and the lack of transition in this country. Now, any wonder why CTV, which has already written off the idea of providing free over-the-air digital TV, would air such an incomplete story?

By the way, my union, the Canadian Media Guild, thinks all Canadians should have access to free TV, even after the digital conversion in 2011 and has provided original research about this to the CRTC. It’s been an uphill struggle.

Walters ended his piece with the Canadian broadcasters’ line (read: excuse): that only 10% of Canadians rely on over-the-air signals for their television, while the rest get cable and satellite, so the digital conversion will mean nothing. He didn’t mention that up to 10 million Canadians will be cut off from having the option of getting free TV in Canada after 2011, because of decisions that CTV and other broadcasters are making now. Would have been a better story, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shakin' all over

Former CBC producer (and Guild member) Nick Fillmore has written a good piece on the shake-up at the Globe and Mail for rabble.ca . In case you haven't heard, Editor in Chief Edward Greenspon got the boot last month in favour of John Stackhouse, who had been editor of the paper's Report on Business section.

It's not clear why the change was made, but Fillmore makes a case for what needs to change (but probably won't) in terms of how the Globe covers the news.

Now we wait a few more days to see if there will be a shake-up in the executive suites at Canwest.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another wedgie for the CBC

The CBC is a classic wedge issue for the Conservatives. Even talk of privatizing it is a morsel of red meat to throw to the hungry base. It's an easy stunt to try to shore up that deep blue Conservative brand in the heartland, especially when polling suggests the brand is starting to fade. It also deflects attention and energy from the growing national consensus that the public broadcaster is under-funded and should receive more money each year from Ottawa to provide the kinds of media services that simply don't get offered by commercial media.

So it's not that surprising that the National Post is reporting today that CBC is indeed on the list of assets the government might sell off:

CBC, Via Rail flagged for possible sale
The federal Department of Finance has flagged several prominent Crown corporations as "not self-sustaining," including the CBC, Via Rail and the National Arts Centre, and has identified them as entities that could be sold as part of the government's asset review, newly released documents show.
In its fiscal update last November, the government announced that it would launch a review of its Crown assets, including so-called nterprise Crown corporations, real estate and "other holdings." Finance Department documents, obtained by Canwest News Service under the Access to Information Act, reveal that the review will focus on enterprise Crown corporations, which are not financially dependent on parliamentary subsidies.
Such corporations include the Royal Canadian Mint and Ridley Terminals, which is a coal-shipping terminal in Prince Rupert, B. C.
But the documents also reveal that the government will consider privatizing Crown corporations that require public subsidies to stay afloat. "The reviews will also examine other holdings in which the government competes directly with private enterprises, earn income from property or performs a commercial activity," states a Finance briefing note dated Dec. 2, 2008. "It includes Crown corporations that are not self-sustaining even though they are of a commercial nature."
In the briefing note, the Finance Department identifies nine Crown corporations that fall in that category, including Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the CBC and Via Rail.

What's not yet clear is if there's anything more to the story than the boost it provides for the Conservative fundraising machine. Has anyone heard anything more substantive