Press

All the news that’s fit to print, and space left over for some that’s not

LINDA DIEBEL September 20 1976
Press

All the news that’s fit to print, and space left over for some that’s not

LINDA DIEBEL September 20 1976

All the news that’s fit to print, and space left over for some that’s not

Press

Any town with Jean Drapeau for a mayor, Les Canadiens for a hockey team, and Le Mob for a mob couldn’t help being a hot news centre. Certainly, Montreal’s editors and reporters have no shortage of material, which is one reason why Montrealers have no shortage of newspapers to choose from. Even after the widely predicted collapse last month of the separatist-supported Le Jour, six Montreal dailies remained on the newsstands to compete for readers and advertising revenue. Six may be too many.

Five of the survivors have lost readers in the past year, although all of them confidently predict circulation will recover. If it does, it will be largely because Montrealers are such passionate and partisan readers. Says Roger Lemelin. publisher of the respected and highly profitable La Presse: “Montrealers take great interest in their newspapers.”

In the case of Le Jour, founded and funded by the Parti Québécois and bought by 30,000 Montrealers every morning, the “great interest” of its readers wasn’t enough. Right to the bitter end, the paper ran full-page ads exhorting its readers to keep the faith. Demanded one: “Would you abandon your Le JourT’ Ultimately, Le Jour was forced to abandon its readers—as well as its staff of two dozen journalists, most of whom seemed sincerely to believe that they were producing the only paper offering Quebeckers “a full accounting,” as one of them put it. Under-financed and controversial from its birth 2Vi years ago, the paper was never given much chance to survive. But its passing sent tremors through Quebec politics as well as Montreal journalism. The final days of the paper saw its management and staff em-

broiled in a bitter confrontation. When it ceased to publish, supporters of Premier Robert Bourassa’s much criticized Liberal government could scarcely contain their delight. How, demanded Quebec Liberals, could René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois ever hope to run a province when they couldn’t even run a newspaper?

Perhaps quixotically, the company that owned Le Jour, Sodep Inc., was talking about launching another publishing venture even as the recriminations continued

to reverberate. Sodep chairman André Belanger said a weekly newspaper was under consideration, despite the fact that Le Jour managed to lose anywhere from $200,000 (the company’s figure) to one million dollars (the disgruntled journalists’ estimate).

Ironically, the chief beneficiary of the separatist journal’s demise may be its federalist competitor, Le Devoir, published by editor/theoretician Claude Ryan. Le Jour had no sooner disappeared from the newsstands when subscription orders began to pour into Ryan’s paper, presumably from Montrealers who had read Le Devoir before Le Jour appeared. Le Devoir could use the support. Its circulation reached a high of 40,000 the year before Lévesque and his colleagues launched their paper, but had slipped steadily and was recently down to 28,000.

If Le Jour's closing illustrated the problems of launching a metropolitan newspaper today, the position of the survivors showed the difficulties of keeping them going. The sharply fragmented market— Montréal-Matin columnist Jean V. Dufresne calls it “a highly selective audience (that) reads one paper or the other for very specific reasons”—is at once the Montreal industry’s strength and weakness. Most cities of Montreal’s size have only two or

three papers, offering advertisers larger numbers of readers. Both the English-language morning Gazette and evening Star lost readership in the past year. So did the French-language La Presse, MontréalMatin and Le Devoir. Only the flashy tabloid, Le Journal de Montréal, controlled by financial wizard Pierre Peladeau, gained circulation (up from 147,000 to 156,000, to lead arch-rival Montréal-Matin by 50,000).

Nevertheless, there seemed little immediate danger of any further shutdowns. The surviving newspapers could count on Montreal itself to go on generating the vast range of stories that have led reporters to call it “a newsman’s paradise.” As Gazette publisher Ross Munro puts it: “This is the most challenging city to work in—and the most competitive.”

LINDA DIEBEL