Free Press employees make bid to buy paper
By Donna MacMullin
"Let's try to keep at least one jewel in the crown and build a tradition on it."
These were the sentiments expressed by David Spencer, Western's acting dean of journalism, at a news conference held yesterday to discuss the possibility of a employee bid to buy The London Free Press.
Community members, employees and representatives from the press were all on hand at the forum, eager to listen to the rationale behind an employee-led purchase of the newspaper, which went up for sale in late January.
Today marked the deadline for submission of a bid to Blackburn Group Inc., current owners of the paper. The group is also expecting bids from large media corporations.
The possibility The London Free Press could belong to a large corporation has raised considerable concern among members of the community who fear a loss of independence will have a detrimental effect on the focus of the paper.
"There would be no national advertising sold out of London, they would probably not print out of London and there would be more homogenization of content in the newspaper," he said, adding the number one priority of employees of the paper is to instead retain a community-oriented focus.
"People who participate in the economy of this city should at least take part in the community of this city," Spencer added. "[Consolidated ownership] would dictate how ad lines affect news, as opposed to how the news affects the ad lines."
John Matsui, a former editor and writer for the newspaper, said it would be a shame if employees weren't given every opportunity to bid. "I believe The London Free Press is a very unique publication one that the London community is well served by," he said.
Matsui said the employees committee is also requesting the Blackburn Group give them the latitude to make their bid more feasible in competition with corporate bids. "It's a monumental task to come up with tens of millions of dollars and a five-week time line is not a level playing field," he said, adding some of the major newspaper companies were informed of the sale of the paper before it was publicly announced and were therefore given an advantage.
Matsui said out of the 380 employees at the paper, almost all have been contacted and more than 90 per cent have agreed with the bidding action. "They purchase shares between $5,000 and $10,000 each, depending on their salary and the amount is later deducted from their payroll over a period of three years," he said, adding employees expect to be able to place a bid over $30 million today.
Bill Brady, senior vice-president of the Blackburn Group, said the employee-led bid will be given equal consideration to other offers received by the group. "The employees have demonstrated great vigor. Their offer will be considered with others as a bonafide bid."
"It would be a fitting legacy to pass on the torch of the independent newspaper to the employees," Matyas said. "It's an attractive business and the reason for this is because the staff put it there."