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Paul Godfrey, current executive chairman of Postmedia Network Canada Corp., will step down at the end of the year as Jamie Irving succeeds him. Mr. Godfrey is photographed at the Post Media offices in Toronto, on April 15, 2019.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Jamie Irving, a scion of the wealthy New Brunswick family, will take over as executive chairman of Postmedia Network Canada Corp. PNC-A-T at the end of this year, as board chair Paul Godfrey prepares to step down after a dozen years in the newspaper publisher’s top ranks. Postmedia publishes the National Post, Calgary Herald and Montreal Gazette among many other titles.

Mr. Irving joined Postmedia’s board in April after the company, which is Canada’s largest owner of newspapers with more than 130 titles and websites, acquired Brunswick News Inc., the media arm of the Irving family empire, for $16.7-million. That signalled the family’s exit from media, but Mr. Irving’s new role extends its influence in newspapers.

In one sense, Mr. Irving’s new role marks a changing of the guard for Postmedia, which has been shaped by Mr. Godfrey since he was named its founding CEO in 2010. After nearly a decade as chief executive, he became executive chairman in 2019, then non-executive chair of the board at the end of 2020.

Yet Mr. Godfrey, who is 83, isn’t walking away from Postmedia – after his current contract runs out on Dec. 31, he will serve as a paid special adviser to the board and CEO Andrew MacLeod. That could include anything from doing advocacy with government to introducing new writers to Postmedia newspapers, he said.

“I felt that moving on from the chair would give the ability to have another set of fresh new eyes, but also I’m going to be there doing a lot of the same things that I’ve done in the past,” Mr. Godfrey said in an interview. “I realize a lot of people are going to think this is a retirement. I’m not retiring.”

Mr. MacLeod said the adviser role is expected to involve Mr. Godfrey “giving us his perspective,” and added: “We have access to him, it’s as simple as that.”

The company Mr. Irving will soon steer is trying to make a difficult transition to build a sustainable digital business as revenue from print advertising and circulation declines. In its most recent financial quarter, Postmedia lost $16.8-million as print revenues fell, excluding the impact of the Brunswick News acquisition. But digital revenue increased by $2.4-million, or 8.9 per cent.

Mr. Irving will have an operational role supporting the CEO in certain areas of the business in addition to his board duties. As one example, he brings experience in delivery and packaging at a moment when Postmedia is trying to build a parcel delivery business to add a new stream of revenue.

“He deeply and genuinely cares about this sector,” Mr. MacLeod said in an interview. “Having the executive chair title allows me to utilize him, and allows him to lean into certain files from an operational perspective, and I think that’s valuable for us.”

Previously, Mr. Irving worked for two decades at Brunswick News, taking over as publisher of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal when he was just 27 years old. He was most recently vice-president at the company. He is also chair of the industry association News Media Canada. And his family is one of the wealthiest in Canada, known for its extensive industrial holdings in forestry, oil and shipbuilding.

On Mr. Godfrey’s watch, Postmedia made moves to expand its reach, including the Brunswick News deal and the 2015 acquisition of the Sun Media newspaper chain. He also helped engineer a swap of 41 newspapers with rival publisher Torstar Corp. in 2017 that attracted scrutiny from the Competition Bureau, though the watchdog eventually closed its investigation without taking action.

For most of its existence, Postmedia has struggled financially under a heavy debt load assumed when it was formed out of the bankruptcy of CanWest Global Communications Corp. The newspaper chain has repeatedly slashed costs, sold real estate and cut staff over a period of many years.

“Look, it’s no secret that what used to be newsprint companies are facing lots of challenges,” Mr. Godfrey said.

When Postmedia acquired Brunswick News earlier this year, it also renegotiated its debt burden, extending the repayment dates on $255-million worth of debt in return for issuing shares to the holders of those notes.

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