OTTAWA – The new owner of The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper with circulation, promised on Wednesday to maintain its tradition of fighting for a liberal struggle in a news market dominated by conservative views.
However, what is less clear is the plan of the new owner to reverse the financial decline of newspapers when Canadian publishing is in such great difficulty that the government offers to subsidize newsroom salaries, including 128-year-old Star.
The beliefs of the five families that have controlled The Star for 62 years announced on Tuesday night that the company’s board approved the sale of two Toronto financiers, Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett, for around 52 million Canadian dollars, or about $ 38 million.
Like newspapers throughout North America and many parts of the world facing declining fortunes, The Star has made several efforts to adjust to the world of the first digital news delivery and advertising landscape dominated by social media giants.
The steps taken by The Star include investing heavily in editions for tablets, a step that was made just before the phone became the device of choice for reading news by consumers. Currently, The Star is in a second attempt to limit online access to paying customers. But such efforts have not improved the financial woes of the once powerful and influential newspapers.
While Mr. Bitove and Mr. Rivett has no direct experience in publishing, the new owner does have great wealth and both have a long history of successful investments in other fields.
But Christopher Waddell, a professor at the school of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, said he was skeptical about anyone’s ability to come up with a rescue plan for The Star.
“Will it be what we see in the United States when private capital groups buy newspapers?” asked Mr. Waddell. “That didn’t work very well.”
While Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has invested heavily in The Washington Post since the acquisition, other American newspapers have experienced cost cuts with substantial layoffs after being sold by their old owners.
Mr Waddell said that the sale of The Star, which would take a private public company, would remove pressure on management to produce short-term results, but that it was not a panacea. “The challenge for anyone is how you make a three to five year plan for a newspaper that will truly last three to five years.”
The Toronto Star has long been guided by pursue liberal goals, in accordance with the principles established by Joseph E. Atkinson, who became an editor in 1899 after Liberal Party agents bought a newspaper to support their cause. Mr Atkinson, who finally took control, launched a large number of crusades for various social reforms including unemployment insurance, public health care insurance, minimum wages and women’s rights.
After Atkinson’s death in 1948The Star is still openly supporting the Liberal candidate on its news page. While the practice eventually faded, the editorial position and opinion columnists generally continued to support the Liberal party.
In contrast, The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Toronto Sun all tilted to the right to varying degrees, as is the case in most of Canada which is owned by Postmedia, the parent company of The Post and The Sun.
Mr. Bitove financially supports the Conservative and Liberal parties. He said that when it came to political donations, Mr. Rivett, who until now was president of an investment company that holds shares in The Star, “is clearly more on the Conservative side.”
But John Honderich, current chairman of The Star and a trustee, said that Mr. Bitove had allayed the saints’ concerns that the newspaper could take a new political direction.
“He said this country did not need another Conservative paper and the voice of The Star and its principles were crucial for its success,” said Mr. Honderich. “I believe in him.”
The new owners will underscore their commitment to Star principles, said Mr Bitove, by appointing their deputy chairman of former Liberal Ontario prime minister David Peterson.
The idea of selling was first touched on by management of The Star earlier this year before the corona virus closed most of Canada, said Bitove.
He said that the success of his family by launching in 1994 the Toronto Raptors, the National Basketball Association franchise, made him optimistic about his ability to reverse The Star.
“Everyone looks at us as if we were insane: This is Toronto, this is Canada, we are a hockey country,” he recalled.
The Star sale, which still requires shareholder approval, includes six smaller daily newspapers in Ontario and around 70 small-town publications.
“Our championship is to keep The Star strong and effective,” Mr. Bitove. “We will be the guardians of this for the next generation or the next, anytime, 100 years.”
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