'It would have been so easy if
the Journal had played dead'
Whether or not Thomson Newspapers Ltd. and Southam
Inc. are guilty of collusion in the simultaneous closings of two of
their newspapers this summer, the man who was the executive editor of
the Ottawa Journal for
less than a year is sure of one thing. The Journal's biggest
fault was that it simply didn't fit into the Thomson scheme of things,
despite starting circulation gains, Jim Rennie says.
Journal's circulation had gone from 59,000 in September,
1979, just before the paper was redesigned, reorganized and moved to
morning publication, to 77,000 last July. But Rennie says his total
contact with his new employers since FP was swallowed by Thomson last
January, consisted of a less-than-10 minute visit last April by Thomson
vice-president Brian Slaight and Richard Malone, a former Globe and Mail
publisher who supported Thomson in the takeover bid of FP.
"They had no intention of ever dealing with the
Ottawa Journal," Rennie says. "What they were really trying to avoid,
in my mind, were the astonishing circulation gains the Journal was making."
When Thomson shut down the Journal Aug. 27,
improved circulation was acknowledged. But the new owners said the
advertising wasn't there. In fact, Ken Thomson described the paper as a
"licence to lose money," a play on the famous quote of his father when
he bought Scottish Television, calling it "a licence to print money." Thomson said he had been looking for a buyer
for the Journal
since the time FP was sold. There were no takers.
Rennie points to a standard newspaper theory that
circulation will usually lead the advertising share of the market. But
no matter, Thomson just didn't want to see the Journal's gains, he
"We were flabbergasted by them (circulation gains)
and we kept pounding this at them. The circulation comes into line and
the advertising dollars follow...there's no other newspaper anywhere on
God's earth....that does it any other way.
"And Thomson was becoming aware of these things
and it had to be that they didn't want to know about them. They weren't
interested in coming in and saying: Hey, we got the circulation going.
Now what can we do to bring this advertising along a little faster.
They never did that and anybody with any interest would have.
"If they didn't do that, and recognize the
circulation gains, it had to mean one thing. They had the deal in their
pocket all along."
It would have all been so easy, Rennie says, if
had played dead. Thomson could have simply cited the economics and shut
the paper down. "Quite frankly, we screwed up the whole goddamn
Now a circulation growth of more than 25 per cent
will have to be explained away. And no doubt the Kent commission, and
possibly federal anti-combines investigators, will be curious for the
answer, says the man FP hired to save the Journal.
At the time of the paper's switch to morning
publication, it had been given three years by the former owners to hit
90,000-circulation, the magic number for its survival. It was projected
to lose $5 million this year.
"The deal would have been absolutely sound as a
dollar if the Journal had
gone (under by itself). But they couldn't do it....The Journal, despite
itself and despite its ownership, was damn well making it. There wasn't
one month when circulation went down."
While the anti-combines investigators have talked
to several ex-Journal
staffers, they had yet, at time of writing, to talk to Rennie. He said
he had plenty to tell them.
"I'm satisfied that in a generation the Thomsons
and the Southams will have bought nothing because sooner or
later—if we are a free enterprise country—some
people will come along and start small and they'll compete against the
Thomsons of this world. They're not doing themselves any big favor.
"Even in their own cities with one newspaper,
they're not as successful as they could be. They're just plain crummy
newspapers and they're giving away market gains to the radio and
Published in Sources Winter 1980/81
Sources, 812A Bloor Street West,
Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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