La Presse+ to become a non-profit news organization
Published Tuesday, May 8, 2018 11:06AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 8, 2018 9:01PM EDT
One of Quebec's largest newspapers is going non-profit.
La Presse, which stopped printing paper editions on Dec. 30, 2017, is now going to become a non-profit organization under a new ownership structure.
The almost 500 members learned of the new corporate structure Tuesday morning and many were surprised at the news. They were also excited, since it seemed to indicate that management was thinking ahead about ways to save the company.
“We were fearing job cuts,” said journalist Karim Benessaieh. “Clearly this is much better news.”
The French-language newspaper started shifting towards an all-digital format in 2010, and abandoned Monday-to-Friday print editions in 2016, encouraging readers to use its tablet-based app La Presse+.
Today, the free app has a large readership: 260,000 people connect for an average of 40 minutes every day.
However over the past decade the advertising world has changed substantially and two companies, Google and Facebook, collect 80 per cent of all online digital ad dollars spent in Canada.
This concentration of advertising revenue has led to the collapse of many magazines and newspapers across Canada, along with layoffs of journalists in print, radio, and TV news.
The president of La Presse, Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, said the change is needed because "the traditional business model of print media is completely broken."
Levasseur said the owners of the newspaper approached the provincial and federal governments more than a year ago to see what could be done.
“They understand the important contribution that written media plays in a healthy democracy, but they're not willing to help rich families or rich companies or newspapers that are held by rich companies or rich families,” he said.
In order to deal with this problem the owners of La Presse, the Desmarais family, decided to spin off the media operation into a new non-profit company, where all revenue would be used to produce quality journalism.
Power Corporation is going to create an initial $50 million fund, but the non-profit will also hope to get contributions from large donors, citizens, and several levels of government.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly would not commit to any funding.
“As a government, I’ve said it many times. Our position is we want to support the media sector but at the same time we want to respect the independence of journalism,” she said.
Carleton University journalism professor Christopher Waddell applauded La Presse’s decision and said other newspapers may have no choice but to follow that lead.
He points out that studies show only 10 per cent of Canadians said they would pay for news online.
“The rest say they see news everywhere and they don't see why they should pay when they can get it for free everywhere else,” said Waddell.
A date for the transition has yet to be announced, since it depends in part of the repeal of legislation passed in 1967.