The end of a wire service

SHONA MCKAY January 28 1985

The end of a wire service

SHONA MCKAY January 28 1985

The end of a wire service

United Press Canada (UPC) employees found it difficult to retain their objectivity on one major story last week. The reason: UPC made news when The Toronto Sun announced that UPC’S rival, the Canadian Press (CP) would absorb the smaller wire service on Jan. 31. But UPC’S 54 employees were among the last to know that Canada’s second wire service was about to disappear. Declared Toronto bureau chief Kenneth Becker, 38: “We started tracking the story down after outside journalists began calling. By the afternoon we had learned that it was true.” Shortly after 4 p.m. executive editor Robert McConachie confirmed the sale and told UPC’s nationwide staff that the Toronto Sun Publishing Corp., which owned 80 per cent of UPC—United Press International (UPI) held the remainder—had sold the six-year-old company to CP for just under $1 million.

The announcement that CP, a co-operative owned by 102 newspapers with a staff of 550, would be the only wire service in Canada drew an initially muted response from many news organizations. The Globe and Mail, for one, published a 12-paragraph story on page 9. But in Ottawa, federal anticombines investigators began examining the takeover: the Combines Investigation Act makes it a criminal offence to create and operate a combine or monopoly to prevent or lessen competition. Meanwhile, a promise of new jobs at CP (and several at The Sun) lessened some of the initial shock at UPC’s closure. Declared Becker:

“Still, we all felt a bit like a baseball player who hears on the radio that he has been traded.”

For their part, some media observers harshly criticized the takeover. Said Peter Desbarats, dean of journalism at the University of Western Ontario in London: “Although UPC was a small, struggling operation that in many ways could not compete, it gave Canadians an alternate perspective. I consider it a tragedy when any voice is lost.”

Still, many publishers, including Clark Davey of the Montreal Gazette, argued that the takeover was a positive development. He described UPC’s coverage as “pretty spotty,” adding, “It is extremely expensive for a small wire service to provide significant Canadian content.”

Indeed, The Gazette decided to drop UPC’s service this March, and The Toronto Star stopped using UPC last December. Those twin blows, said Sun publisher J. Douglas Creighton, prompted the sales negotiations with CP. And UPC, which serviced 90 newspaper clients, never matched the 68-year-old CP, which also supplies 600 radio, television and cable TV outlets through its affiliate, Broadcast News Ltd. In a letter distributed to UPC staff members last week, Creighton wrote: “ The Sun and UPI combined to start an alternative news wire with Canadian content with the hope that someday it would make money. On Jan. 31, 1985, that dream will officially die.”

-SHONA MCKAY in Toronto.