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La Presse looks to a not-for-profit model

A screen capture of La Presse's tablet taken from a CTV News report.

It tried literally stopping the presses in December 2017, but La Presse newspaper found that didn’t cut it, business-wise, in today’s disrupted climate. Now its parent company wants to cut it a $50-million cheque and send it out in the world as a not-for-profit newsroom.

From Canadian Press via CTVNews.ca (“La Presse plans to adopt not-for-profit structure, if Quebec legislation changes“):

The structural change requires the Quebec government to repeal a provision of an act adopted in 1967 regarding La Presse’s ownership, the French-language publication said.

Power Corporation of Canada, whose subsidiary Square Victoria Communications Group currently owns the 130-year-old publication, will grant $50 million to the venture.

Under the new structure, Power Corp. would no longer own the media company or have any ties with the not-for-profit structure. …

La Presse president Pierre-Elliott Levasseur said the decision to become a not-for-profit entity had to be made.

“I don’t think there’s a person in Quebec or in the rest of Canada who’s going to give money to La Presse in the form of a donation knowing that Power Corp. is the owner,” he told a news conference in Montreal.

“So I think what we’re doing is opening the door to donations from large companies, from large donors, as well as the average citizen who understands the role La Presse plays in society.

“But if we’re unable to get support from the federal government, I think it’s going to be difficult to maintain and continue to play the role that we’ve historically played in this province in terms of our ability to continue to provide very high-quality information.”

Union spokesman Charles Cote said he doesn’t know how long the $50 million from Power Corp. will help the new venture survive.

“Our biggest worry is always maintaining the jobs and maintaining the way this newsroom works,” Cote said at the same news conference. “Today, there is no announcement of new job cuts, which is good news in itself and we appreciate that.

“There are a lot more worse-case scenarios than this. We’ve been hit with numerous crises in the past 15 years and we’ve managed to pull through, so we’re going to carry on.”

Under the new structure, La Presse will use operational profits, any government assistance and donor funds to serve its goal of producing high-quality reporting.

From Nieman Reports:

“If you keep accumulating loss, if revenue keeps falling, that’s not a sustainable basis no matter what the ownership structure is,” said Ed Greenspon, the former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail and the author of a comprehensive report last year on potential paths for the Canadian journalism industry. “It’s not a solution to the problem, but it buys a little more time for management to figure things out.”

“La Presse has been taking risks and trying new things. I can’t imagine this [decision] happening with other newspapers chains, but it demonstrates to me a willingness to rethink everything in order to survive,” said Erin Millar, CEO and editor-in-chief of Vancouver-based journalism startup Discourse Media.

“This is good news,” she added, “if La Presse is smart about what they do with this opportunity.”

La Presse’s team had been exploring options for funding from the Quebec government for more than a year, Levasseur wrote in his letter, but officials were more receptive to giving money to a nonprofit than a privately owned company. (Millar said, though, that based on her conversations with federal government representatives, she doesn’t think the ownership structure was the obstacle. “My impression is that the hesitation of the federal government to come bail out a player like La Presse is related more to an unwillingness to create a subsidized press that can’t survive without the federal government’s support,” she said.)

The Canadian government included in its latest budget $50 million over five years to help local news groups in “underserved communities.” Fifty-five percent of Canadians are in favor of additional government funding to keep local news organizations up and running, according to a poll from earlier this year.

“We heard pleas at virtually every roundtable to ease the conditions in Canada for entry of philanthropy into journalism,” Greenspon wrote in the report on Canada’s media industry last year. (Current Canadian tax law doesn’t consider journalism a charitable cause, which limits would-be donors from writing off contributions on their taxes. ) But, he noted, “we do not see philanthropic funding as a panacea.”

“Organizations like La Presse are increasingly looking at new revenue…They’re becoming creative, not necessarily innovative,” Greenspon told me Wednesday. “I think it was a very socially minded move by [the Desmarais family], who obviously want to exit their losses in the newspaper industry and [are giving La Presse] a lifeline. It doesn’t guarantee their future, but it gives them a chance.”

La Presse certainly isn’t the first newspaper publisher to try the nonprofit route. The Guardian and New York Times both launched philanthropic arms last year. The Globe and Mail is trying to follow suit: its publisher and CEO, Phillip Crawley, has asked the Canadian government to allow his organization to create a separate foundation “that would enable us to give a tax receipt to donors wanting to support quality journalism,” Crawley wrote in an email.

Wed, May 9 2018 » Main Page, Media