CanWest Global Communications Corp. has replaced the founding editor of The National Post and other executives to mark the end of an era at the money-losing conservative newspaper.
Gone is editor Ken Whyte, picked by newspaper baron Conrad Black to create a national platform for Canada's right. Also departed is Post deputy editor Martin Newland, imported from Lord Black's Daily Telegraph of London to orchestrate a national newspaper war.
Matthew Fraser, The Post's media columnist and a professor of journalism at Toronto's Ryerson University, replaces Mr. Whyte. Mr. Fraser has been a strong supporter of CanWest's vision of blending editorial content across its newspaper and TV stations.
David Asper, son of CanWest founder Izzy Asper, will become chairman of the Post. At the same time, CanWest made a three-year commitment to turn around the finances of its flagship national newspaper, launched in October of 1998.
"We're not going away," said Leonard Asper, president and chief executive officer of the Winnipeg newspaper and broadcasting giant.
David Asper's executive team includes general manager Bob McKenzie, former publisher of The Standard of St. Catharines, Ont., and Michael Cooke, a transitional senior editorial adviser and editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun Times.
Peter Viner, the vice-chairman of CanWest appointed Post publisher 16 months ago, will now oversee CanWest's expansion into jazz radio. Two senior executives in sales, marketing and finance are also leaving.
The Post is expected to lose up to $25-million in fiscal 2003, about the same as last year. Only six months ago, CanWest forecast losses would be about half that. The Post has lost more than $200-million since its launch.
Last week Leonard Asper called the Post's losses "a matter of great concern" and promised that CanWest is "looking at anything and everything" to make the newspaper profitable.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Asper declined to say what changes are in store. "Today we are ensuring the proper management is in place and we've done that. And I think where we go from here is up to them," he said.
He declined to discuss any new roles within CanWest for Mr. Whyte or Mr. Newland. The two former editors did not return telephone calls.
The management changes failed to impress The Post's rivals, who say there is no financial room for two national newspapers -- The Post and The Globe and Mail -- and that the Toronto market can't support five daily publications: The Post, The Globe, the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and its free transit paper, Metro.
"So, yet another management shuffle at The National Post, and yet another 'new start.' When are they going to admit that this business model just doesn't work? It hasn't worked since Day 1, and that was in 1998, so they should recognise reality instead of piling up the losses even higher," said Phillip Crawley, publisher and chief executive officer of The Globe. "It is a failed enterprise, and it would be kinder to put it out of its misery."
But Leonard Asper stands by the paper.
"The highway of media is littered with people who said there wasn't room for a competitor. Canada needs and deserves the National Post. It's not about the Toronto market alone . . . It is a . . . well-respected and well-received, popular national newspaper."
Advertisers welcomed CanWest's three-year commitment, but doubts persist.
"I get a sense they are committed to the product but they do have to find a way to get the readers and get the buzz back. There is no big sweeping victory on the horizon," said Doug Checkeris, managing partner of The Media Company.
The Post's new management team also received mixed reviews.
David Asper, former chairman of football's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has been called a loose cannon and can be a harsh critic of CanWest reporters.
In his columns, Mr. Fraser has been a staunch critic of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, especially its policies protecting Canadian content and culture. In 1999, he said CanWest was a chief beneficiary of a favourable regulatory regime, which prompted Leonard Asper to say "he is so far removed from the industry that he shouldn't be taken seriously."
Media watchers say Mr. Fraser's views have shifted dramatically since the company's 2000 investment in the Post. In March, he applauded Leonard Asper's "bold thinking" on foreign media ownership.
"He quickly changed his tune when CanWest was writing his paycheque," one Toronto broadcasting executive said.
Mr. McKenzie, a 35-year veteran of the newspaper industry, "has a reputation as the axe-wielding guy," one former newspaper executive said.