BUSINESS

Turning the page after Hollinger

Conrad Black’s ex-partner Peter White faces a new challenge

MARTIN PATRIQUIN January 28 2008
BUSINESS

Turning the page after Hollinger

Conrad Black’s ex-partner Peter White faces a new challenge

MARTIN PATRIQUIN January 28 2008

Turning the page after Hollinger

Conrad Black’s ex-partner Peter White faces a new challenge

MARTIN PATRIQUIN

Conrad Black is going to jail. So is his former lieutenant, David Radler. It’s an ignominious end for two men who once ruled over some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers. But for the third member of the famous partnership that created the Hollinger empire, life has taken a very different turn.

With his purchase of the Quebec ChronicleTelegraph, a Quebec City English-language weekly paper, Peter White has quietly reentered the business that made.the trio rich and infamous. White was the man who bought the Sherbrooke Record, along with Radler and Black, back in 1969, and later steered Ravelston, Black’s holding company, to its heights in the 1980s and ’90s. He is often regarded as Black’s ideological match, minus the bluster and tendency toward hubris. And now he’s out on his own again, albeit in the familiar surroundings of Quebec’s English-language media.

Billed as North America’s oldest newspaper, the Chronicle-Telegraph has published almost continuously, under several names, since 1764. This cachet far outstrips its circulation, however. With roughly 1,800 subscribers, it is hardly the London Daily Telegraph or even the Sherbrooke Record, for that matter.

White says sentimentality, not his business sense, drew him to the quirky paper that

began publishing five years after the British victory at the Plains of Abraham. Its offices were also housed in a wax museum, and until recently, the paper was run out of the former owner’s basement. “I bought it because it was there,” White said from his home in the Eastern Townships. “I think it’s great owning the oldest newspaper in North America and to see what we can do with it.”

The bespectacled White, who remains in close contact with Black, has employed a method learned in his Hollinger days: buy low, cut costs and exploit every possible asset. In the Chronicle-Telegram’s case, that means its archives

stretching back over 240 years, he says.

This might seem like a precipitous fall for a man who was once a senior exec in one of the world’s biggest newspaper chains, but White doesn’t really need the Chronicle-Telegram. He emerged from Hollinger’s wreckage with his reputation and personal fortune intact. Still, White has been a friend and fierce defender of his former partner, through a time when many of Black’s former allies either carefully distanced themselves or turned against the former press baron outright.

To this day, White says Black was a victim of an overly zealous prosecution team, and expects that he will eventually clear his name. “He’s fighting hard still and he’s very optimistic about his chances on appeal, and I would agree that at the very least the appeal on the obstruction of justice charge should be successful.” And, despite Radler’s public betrayal of Black, White refuses to say a bad word about the man: “Nobody knows what really happened apart from those two men. I put a great deal of credence in what Conrad says, but I’ve never spoken to Radler about it.”

And really, White has plenty of other things to occupy his thoughts these days. A former staffer in Brian Mulroney’s PMO, he remains active in politics, serving as president of both his local federal Conservative and provincial Action démocratique du Québec chapters, where he has been a recruiter of sorts charged with bringing anglophones to Mario Dumont’s right-leaning party. He recently acted in a musical (he played a judge with a ferocious baritone) and races Laser sailboats on Brome Lake during the summer. He plays a lot of chess, and was, until recently, the proprietor of two ski hills, Glen Mountain in the Townships and Mount Norquay in Banff.

White has installed a publisher at the Chronicle, New Brunswick-born Pierre Little, to overhaul the newspaper, including a revamp of its website, a return to the newsstand and a new emphasis on ad sales, all without alienating the paper’s well-worn and devoted subscribers. They are a hearty, if older, bunch: roughly 10,000 English remain in Quebec City, a fact reflected in the Chronicle’s headlines—“Seniors housing project cautiously moves a step forward”—and its abundant obituaries. Still, White hopes to drastically cut the number of printed copies in favour of Webonly subscriptions, which are sold for the same price as the paper version. He

SENTIMENT, NOT BUSINESS SENSE, PROMPTED WHITE TO BUY THE TINY QUEBEC ‘CHRONICLE-TELEGRAM5

says the website averages about six new subscriptions a week, mostly from expats, as well as recent American arrivals to the city.

The new venture has him as characteristically bullish about the paper’s future as he is about Conrad Black. The Chronicle is near a deal, he says, that will revolutionize the way newspaper archives are accessed and read. There is likely another musical in the cards, and sailboat races to organize. Oh, and he wants Mario Dumont to be the next premier of Quebec. It’s going to be a busy year. M