Reports that the Irvings had given up their New Brunswick newspaper empire have suddenly proven premature with the appointment of Jamie Irving as Executive Chair of the Postmedia Board of Directors.
The American-owned Postmedia chain that dominates the Canadian (and now the New Brunswick) newspaper industry announced last week that Irving will take over as the Board’s Executive Chair on January 1st. He will also serve as a senior adviser to Postmedia’s President and its Chief Executive Officer.
Irving joined the Postmedia Board in April after the company bought the Irving-owned Brunswick News which publishes a string of papers in the province including the Moncton Times & Transcript, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal and the Fredericton Gleaner.
For Mount Allison Professor Erin Steuter, neither Postmedia’s purchase of the New Brunswick papers nor Jamie Irving’s elevation to Board Chair status are welcome news.
Steuter, who has studied the Irving media empire for more than 20 years, wrote in an e-mail to Warktimes that while some had hoped that Jamie Irving’s background (he has a journalism degree from Columbia University) would be good news for the development of professional reporting at the Irving papers, it didn’t always work out that way after he became publisher of the Telegraph-Journal in 2004.
She points, for example, to a series of unprofessional incidents including a false report that Prime Minister Harper had pocketed a communion wafer at a state funeral and the firing of a student intern for reporting criticisms of New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham. To read a CTV news report on both incidents, click here.
Steuter also points to former Saint John Mayor Ivan Court’s complaint that Irving and senior Telegraph-Journal editors threatened, during a private meeting, to continue the paper’s negative coverage of municipal politics unless the city agreed to lower taxes and replace the city manager. To read a CBC report on that incident, click here.
After the New Jersey hedge fund Chatham Asset Management acquired a two-thirds stake in Postmedia in 2016, the newspaper chain cut costs by closing papers across Canada, laying off hundreds of journalists, cutting the salaries and benefits of those who remained and centralizing its news operations while paying its top executives millions of dollars in bonuses.
It also began directing its journalists to write and report from right-wing or “conservative” points of view. For details on this move to centralized editorial control, click here.
“When the news media are owned by a capitalist enterprise,” Steuter writes, “the voice of the corporate world speaks loudly and alternative business models are ridiculed or ignored.
“The Irving papers regularly make the case for big business to own and operate the natural resource sector at a profit. They actively lobby for the government to cut deals that are in the best interests of industrial actors, without due consideration of the costs to communities and the environment.”
Meantime, the Globe and Mail reported last week that “the company Mr. Irving will soon steer is trying to make a difficult transition to build a sustainable digital business as revenue from print advertising and circulation declines.”
According to the Globe, Postmedia lost nearly $17 million dollars in the most recent financial quarter, but its digital revenues rose by $2.4 million.
For a comprehensive look at Jamie Irving’s early career, click here.