A prominent local businessman and philanthropist says he’s offered to buy a stake in the Montreal Gazette as the newspaper faces deep staff cuts.
Mitch Garber says he informed management at Postmedia, which owns the paper, that he would be interested in assembling a group of Montrealers to buy a minority or majority stake in the publication.
Garber, who was CEO of PartyGaming Plc, non-executive chairman of Cirque du Soleil and is a minority owner of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, says he hasn’t heard back from the owner.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Garber says his inbox is full of interested Quebec-based executives and investors who want to save the paper and have it locally owned and run.
He says having a group of local owners could help galvanize community support when it comes to attracting advertising and subscribers and ensure the survival of the city’s only English-language daily newspaper.
In January, Postmedia announced it would be cutting 11 per cent of its workforce of 650 employees, but sources at The Gazette have reported it will be hit particularly hard, with reports that 25 per cent of its remaining staff could lose their jobs.
Global News reached out to Postmedia but did not hear back before this article was published.
- House of Commons denounces claim Christmas stat day is ‘systematic religious discrimination’
- Report shows $141M spent in Alberta for ‘The Last of Us’ TV show
- U.S assassination plot indictment validates Trudeau on India: ex-CSIS heads
- Close to 80% of Canadians believed at least 1 conspiracy theory in recent poll
Garber’s offer was welcome news to groups like Friends of the Gazette, made up of politicians, business people and Anglo-rights activists who are trying to save the newspaper.
“I think it’s very admirable, and it shows there are businesspeople in our community who value the Gazette,” said Côte Saint-Luc Borough Mayor and Friends of the Gazette member Mitchell Brownstein.
English-rights activists say with Anglo rights getting eroded with Bill 96, the entire community should worry about the demise of the Gazette.
“It’s an English language institution, another one that is disappearing, and it’s important because we will be losing an important voice for the community,” said Eva Ludvig, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. “It would be not only an economic loss in terms of jobs, but a loss to the English-speaking community, creating a major gap in its ability to reach out and act as a bridge to Francophones in Quebec.”
The Gazette has faced a steady stream of layoffs for years now. It stopped publishing print editions on Sundays and Mondays. It is often filled with stories from across Canada. Media experts say the cuts could effectively kill the paper.
“A 25 per cent cut makes it very difficult for a newspaper to continue operations, because you have a small newsroom and you just can’t cover local news,” said Christopher Waddell, professor emeritus at Carleton University’s School of Journalism. “It becomes less relevant to the local community and there becomes less need for locals to buy the paper because there isn’t much in it.”
The group trying to save the paper is lobbying the government for help. They say it’s been difficult to get through to Postmedia, who seems unwilling to let go of the Gazette, because it’s still a profitable newspaper.
“We need to keep putting pressure on Postmedia,” said Jonathan Goldbloom of the Friends of the Gazette.
“We need to convince them they need to reduce the cuts they are proposing and they should be working with us to see how we can strengthen the newspaper.”
In a post on Twitter late Thursday afternoon, Garber expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support for the newspaper and the need for local ownership.
He also indicated he hadn’t yet heard back from Postmedia, but the ball was now in their court.
“The message has been loudly received at @postmedianet,” Garber wrote on Twitter.
“What impact it will have I don’t know. The owners know where to find me. I’ve got no further comment.”
Waddell, for his part, cautions that taking over a newspaper is not an easy task.
“If Postmedia wants to sell it, good, but whoever is going to buy it needs to realize they are stepping into a pretty difficult situation and it won’t be an easy or quick fix,” Waddell said.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, Andrew MacLeod, president and CEO of Postmedia, clarified that he received an email from Garber but that a scheduled call did not go ahead, so he couldn’t comment on his statements.
MacLeod stressed that none of Postmedia’s properties are for sale, but in theory, the company would look at anything that made sense for the business. He added that it would be complicated to divest a publication from the network because there are shared services between each paper.
“So to extricate one element of that you have to recreate all those services in the entity,” MacLeod said. “It’s not an easy process … It would have to be a very serious credible offer and then we would have to consider it.”
Postmedia announced Thursday a community advisory council would be established to “help strengthen the sustainability of the 245-year-old newspaper.”
— with files from The Canadian Press