Canada’s only Italian-language daily newspaper is being rescued from bankruptcy by former Liberal cabinet minister Joe Volpe, who will serve as publisher of the Corriere Canadese as it tries to win back tens of thousands of readers who once turned to its pages for Canadian news written in their mother tongue.
The Italian-born Mr. Volpe – who served in the House of Commons from 1988 to 2011 – recently joined with several investors to buy the paper after its parent company, Multimedia Nova Corp., was placed into receivership and had its assets sold to pay debts. He hopes to start printing at least 10,000 copies a day by November with a staff of 10, and believes the paper could be insulated from a tough advertising market because of its niche appeal.
The move also puts the paper in the hands of a Liberal stalwart, which could throw a wrench into the governing Conservative Party’s long-standing tradition of appealing directly to ethnic groups by giving exclusive interviews to newspapers catering specifically to their interests.
“A few community-minded entrepreneurs were hearing a lot of regrets about the demise of the paper and wanted to see if something could be done,” Mr. Volpe said in an interview. “So it became a bit of a challenge – stop complaining and put your money where your mouth is. And I’ll put up my reputation as well as see if we can do something good in the community.”
Mr. Volpe – who served as minister of human resources and skills development and also as minister of citizenship and immigration during his time at parliament before losing his seat in 2011 – wouldn’t say how much the investors paid nor comment on the paper’s previous financial condition other than to say “whatever they were doing is verified by the position they found themselves in.”
The investors are buying a 58-year-old paper that was once a household staple, but had seen its influence and readership decline steadily over the years from a peak readership of close to 60,000, mostly in Toronto and Montreal. It also published a weekend edition in English, which Mr. Volpe and his group of investors also hope to revive.
In recent years, Corriere Canadese received most of its funding from the Italian government, but the $3-million handout was cut in half under austerity measures in 2010, a cut in revenue that contributed to its parent company’s ultimate demise.
Mr. Volpe said the revived paper would survive on subscriber fees and advertisements, and wouldn’t pursue whatever funding may still be available from the Italian government which once considered it important to fund Italian newspapers around the world to promote the country’s language and culture and keep emigrants engaged in their homeland.
“Sometimes you die because of underfunding,” he said. “But sometimes you drown because of overfunding. That money from the Italian government skewed their focus, it’s the same thing you see with a lot of these local community papers that rely on Canadian government and get dependent. They don’t do much work.”
There aren’t any reliable statistics on the success of ethnic newspapers compared with English-language competitors. However, The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied newspapers targeted at African-Americans in a recent study and found they face the same advertising and subscription pressures, despite their niche appeal and coverage of issues largely ignored by the mainstream media.
The papers Pew examined face many of the same issues as Corriere Canadese: Ethnic clusters have largely dispersed over the decades making it difficult to reach subscribers, and advertisers have found more precise ways to target coveted readers online.
Mr. Volpy maintains print has a future, however, saying that while the paper will look to expand its online presence, he’s putting his faith in newsprint. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten involved with my money and the reputation,” he said.
The paper isn’t the only revival of a Multimedia Nova publication. The Town Crier chain of newspapers was purchased by employees in the same auction and will resume publishing this month in a smaller distribution area.
“I think we’re in a much better position to control our destiny than we were,” said Jennifer Gardiner, a long-time employee at the chain of community papers who is part of the new ownership team. “We were busting our butts, but we kept disappointing readers and advertisers because of diminishing page counts and distribution problems.”