Well, I saw this coming three years ago, but I never saw the players. I always thought TorStar would get the old Southam chain, a jewel that it chased through the 1970s and 1980s with the help of the Desmarais family.
It's not a done deal, partly because Paul Godfrey has lowballed the price. Canwest needs new owners and senior managers, people who are the best in the business. Right now, the newspaper chain is owned by people who think in the mode of Canada's dying CRTC-protected monopoly TV business, in which ''content'' is bought cheaply and spread across the country. That business model simply does not work in newspapers.
Canwest papers are under-staffed. Apparently, they have, with a few notable exceptions, toxic work environments.
Canwest papers can win back readers if they are properly capitalized so that some profits go back into the newsroom. Right now, huge amounts of money is being taken from these papers to pay the Aspers' debt for purchases such as Alliance-Atlantis and the newspaper chain itself.
People simply don't cozy up to the stricken and the living dead, which is how most Canwest papers seem these days. While North American papers in general have rolled over, taking comfort in the excuse of the Internet, Canwest papers have been especially lame. Meanwhile, the best European papers and news magazines, which are far superior to North American journalism, are doing just fine. The reason? People really do care about the news and are sick of being talked to like simpletons. European papers are also in the business of selling real news and analysis, not advising on yuppie lifestyle.
(Maybe we'll cross the Rubicon when every Canwest columnist who gets pregnant stops writing about their marvelous experience as though it's the first time it's ever happened to anyone, and as though any of us give a shit.)
Meanwhile, The National Post and the CBC (yes, you're reading this right) have made a deal to share financial and sports news. Certainly the oddest deal in modern Canadian media, and a bad one for the Canadian public. With all the cross-ownership deals (TorStar owns part of CTV-Globemedia which also owns CHUM, Canwest still owns a TV network, a chain of newspapers and much of the trade magazine business in Canada) there are too many media managers sleeping in each others' beds.