Monday, May 27, 2024

Kevin Klein Group Buys Winnipeg Sun

 The announcement that Kevin Klein, former publisher of The Sun, former Councillor and former PC cabinet minister has purchased the Winnipeg Sun, the Portage la Prairie Graphic Leader and the Kenora Miner and News in Ontario. All related print and digital assets, employees and other associated activities of Postmedia Network related to the businesses is included in the sale to the Klein Group and its investors.

It is probably one of the most significant newspaper stories in Canada in a very long while. With this purchase, Winnipeg becomes the only other city in Canada aside from Toronto with at least two locally owned newspapers, owned by two different owners. The Free Press is owned by Bob Silver of Winnipeg and former Winnipegger and Vancouver resident Ron Stern and the The Sun will be owned by Winnipeg resident Kevin Klein. Compare to Toronto where the National Post and Toronto Sun are foreign owned, locally based newspapers, the Globe and Mail is the only remaining newspaper owned by David Thomson and the Toronto Star is owned by the Bitove Family of Toronto.

It simply is unheard of today that two competing newspapers have local ownership. Up until the 1980s Manitoba's local TV media aside from the public broadcaster were locally owned. This was true of radio stations ways back as well but this is true of neither now. In short, it is great news that both newspapers are locally owned by competing groups.

In the mix is Portage la Prairie and Kenora's newspaper which likely means a tighter focus on regional strengths. The National Post will still be a supplier content which should help, For 18 months there has been no agreement between the 37 union members at the Winnipeg Sun. New ownership will be tasked with getting an agreement for stability on that front. There are are agreements with non-unionized staff that will have to be settled but if labour issues are settled, Klein will be tasked with finding a way to make money in the news business.

Kevin Klein as former publisher knows the money side of the business. He has been providing to the content side as a columnist after his political career came to an electoral halt. One of the the things that will be interesting to see is if there is a return of sports reporters travelling with the Jets and the Bombers. The home games have reporters present but the away games have been covered from home base. This is a weakness because exclusives and on the spot coverage are suddenly lacking. 

For the Winnipeg Sun, sports and local stories, particularly crime and court stories are likely things to bring readers in. The paper, which was founded in 1980, started off as a locally owned tabloid publishing a few times a week. It was an act of faith that kept it goes before it got scooped up in 1983 by the larger national Sun chain. It adopted the corporate model of the Sun girl...or boy and the editorial comment on letters. Sports and local news became the focus and Peter Warren would contribute columns. It had its own comics section and TV and movie reviewers. 

In recent years, the Sun has lost some columnists to the Free Press and shrank its newsroom. It still puts out content but it has been in need of TLC from ownership who will both invest and somehow let the journalists pursue news, analysis and opinion. They need to fill the gaps the Free Press leaves open. Crime, city hall could all use a new perspective. It will be a challenge to reach skeptical citizens. And somehow make money on print and digital.

It seems Klein is likely to drop the local journalism initiative. The government money is needed to replace lost ad revenue. Also, the new media group is likely to apply for the digital fund supports coming from Google and the like. But more will be needed to support the business. Government ads of all kinds for announcements used to be helpful. There is no way Canada should be using Facebook when all money goes out of the country. However, the government has used media not based in the country.

Big media companies in Canada have been shutting down newspapers, radio stations and TV stations for years after stripping them down. It has seemed they are more willing to shut them down than sell them. Postmedia has owned The Sun since 2015. The Klein Group purchase The Sun and the other two papers is a welcome change.

I think there will be shockwaves across media in Canada about the purchase and what it might mean for other communities to purchase newspapers, radio stations and the like from large corporations who otherwise would just shut down these companies. I hope for success for The Sun and a healthy competition for readers with the Free Press.

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