Rumoured for weeks, the axe fell Wednesday at Canwest Global Communications. And it fell hard and sharp. It was announced that 560 jobs would be eliminated in the media company's newspaper and broadcasting businesses. This after an estimated 200 had already been lost in the last few years. Read the Canadian Press report here and the Reuters take on the downsizing here.
CEO Leonard Asper made the announcement Wednesday, stating $61 million will be saved through these cuts. Predictably, a finger was pointed in the direction of the CRTC, which late last month turned down the request made by the Winnipeg-based company and other broadcasters for a slice of the carriage fee booty, an estimated $300 million windfall for Canada's Big Three.
That's like blaming the referee for too many men on the ice. Canwest spent their way into this mess. Nobody forced them to pay Conrad Black $3 billion to get into the newspaper business and another $2.3 billion to buy up a whack of specialty channels, with money leveraged from a (shudder) U.S. investment bank. It is a wonder they didn't go on a U.S. real estate buying spree. This is a company caught up in a Global financial collapse, in every sense of the word.
Call it bad luck or bad timing, but if somebody named Asper offers to blow on your dice, walk away from the craps table.
What will this mean in terms of on-air programming? According to today's announcement, 210 broadcasting jobs and 350 publishing positions will be affected. Look for sharp cuts to the news division, including the elimination of Global's Morning News show in Toronto. Starting at the end of January, CH Morning Live with Bob Cowan and Annette Hamm, will be substituted in Toronto.
Eighteen people, including on-air personalities, were reportedly let go in Victoria, B.C.--a region where Global has long been dominant. A further 23 jobs have reportedly been eliminated at CHBC News in Kelowna, B.C. Even mighty Global Vancouver is shedding four news staffers.
There are cuts at CHCH in Hamilton, too, including a reported 12 union jobs and two non-union positions. Entertainment reporter Kate Stutsman and anchor/reporter James McDonald are out of work. The noon news goes from 60 to 30 minutes. Several shows, including CH Straight Talk, CH Niagara Express, Sportscope and At Home, are being eliminated. The changes will all take place by Dec. 1.
Not on the list are my pals over a CH's Live @ 5:30, which is a relief. That community needs a voice, needs some local connection, and Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly provide all that and more.
But where will this all end? What of the ambitious slate of shows in development at Canwest Global announced just last week? Is Lawyers, Guns & Money really a new Global drama--or an exit strategy?
As for the newspaper division, ay carumba. There are rumours--circulating for years, granted, but louder than ever--that the National Post is for sale, that other publications might buy it and cannibalize the Financial Post section. The problem there is that The Globe & Mail doesn't need it and The Toronto Star--battered by the same meltdown in ad revenue and sharp rise in paper costs--just isn't in a buying mood. This is death by a thousand paper cuts, with no bounce in TV revenues to stop the bleeding.