'Freeps' may keep it in the family
By Donna MacMullin
Ownership of The London Free Press is up for grabs and it looks like employees at the paper will put in their bid just in time for the showcase showdown.
The newspaper gave up its status as one of the last independent daily newspapers in Canada when the Blackburn family announced their decision to sell in January, after 144 years of ownership. Friday is the deadline to submit a bid to purchase the paper to Blackburn Group Inc.
A news conference is being held this morning at the London City Press Club where speakers will present views on the advantages for the community if ownership of the paper is held at least in part by employees.
"Local ownership provides incentive for the newspaper to keep in touch with community events rather than being controlled by a larger conglomerate outside the city," said David Spencer, acting dean of journalism at Western. "It can be dangerous when one corporation owns everything."
Spencer said it is a recent trend in media that larger conglomerates take over independent entities. "I have no axe to grind with corporate ownership but [the paper] does need a contravening force and this is one way of doing it."
Dan McDonald, vice-president of Makin' Headlines Ltd., the communications firm for The London Free Press, said employees at the paper are very close to putting together a credible bid. "Now it's just a matter of getting the signatures on paper."
McDonald would not speculate on the number of bids expected from large media conglomerates but stressed the benefits of employee ownership.
"From an editorial, marketing and sales standpoint, the decision to stay in London would be better for the community," he said. "Then the paper would not be part of a larger consortium where they would have to march to the drum of a larger group based outside the city."
McDonald said the ideal situation would be for employees of the paper to be included in outright ownership by a consortium where they will have about 10 per cent of ownership themselves.
"There will be some restructuring [of positions] within the paper regardless of which bid will be accepted," McDonald said. "When purchased by whomever, there is no doubt there will be jobs lost."
Spencer said once the bids are submitted the board of directors of the Blackburn estate must decide which bids are viable. "From there it all depends on what happens behind closed doors," he said. "Because the tone has been set [for employee ownership] there may be community resentment if [the newspaper] is not sold locally."