How to save National Post

On September 17, 2001, I was fired from my position as senior writer at National Post. I was just back from holidays, and not a little shocked. But many others were sent packing that day, too, almost one-third of the entire newsroom staff. At the meeting to inform all of us, Editor Ken Whyte praised our skills and said that no more talented group of journalists had ever been assembled. Then they told us to go back to our desks where we would find that email and other computer access had also been terminated. We had two hours to gather up personal effects and vacate the premises. “If we’re so wonderful,” I asked, “why are we being treated like common thieves?” There was no answer.

After the meeting I thanked Ken for the opportunity to work for him and told him he was destined to be the finest journalist of his generation, a comment quoted in a column the next day by Christie Blatchford, who later left and was hired back. The only other high profile hire since 2001 has been Andrew Coyne. Ken has indeed done well and now runs an entire division at Rogers. I’ve done just fine, too. I don’t have a day job anymore – not unusual after almost 30 years in journalism – and instead have been focusing on my books. Since 2001 I have written seven books including a just-completed ghosting job for a memoir by Donald S. Macdonald, a Trudeau cabinet minister and the man who chaired the Royal Commission that lead to free trade with the U.S.

National Post, launched in 1998, was a bold experiment. I was part of the initial crew because proprietor Conrad Black bought The Financial Post, where I worked, and rolled it together with other staff he’d assembled. For a while it was a glorious place to be. Ken Whyte’s leadership style was “let a thousand flowers bloom.” At one point we had more readers in most major markets than The Globe and Mail.

For the last decade, with the exception of the aforementioned hires, National Post has been on a money-losing downward spiral. Every few months more employees are let go as revenues plummet. The paper is but a shadow of what might have been. I thought it would have disappeared long since. Paul Godfrey is the latest CEO hired to save National Post and the remains of the Southam chain at what’s now called Postmedia Network Inc. He’s halfway to finding another $180 million in savings so it can survive. I wish him well.

In the last year the company lost $154 million so neither prosperity nor profitability seem close at hand. Yet Godfrey received a 50 per cent year-over-year increase in annual compensation for 2013 to $1.7 million, even though he didn’t reach all his performance targets, according to the Management Information Circular released Wednesday. He was also paid other compensation of $151,338, an amount that included entertainment expenses of $79,742. Here’s my respectful two-part suggestion to Paul Godfrey: Turn back your $579,000 bonus and start paying for entertainment from your own pocket. Take the resulting $660,000 you saved the company and hire half a dozen excellent journalists. You never know, they might produce breaking news stories that attract readers and drive new revenue. As a strategy, don’t you think it’s worth a go? You’ve tried everything else.

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