Media landscape in Victoria changing at top levels

CHEK-TV and the Times-Colonist install top management

Viewers and readers might not notice much difference when they flip on CHEK-TV or pick up the Times Colonist newspaper.

But both media outlets have made big changes at the top recently, one slightly more controversial than the other.

CHEK has a new president, but Roy Gardner is a familiar face, a man who spent 15 years with the station in the 1970s and ’80s. He replaces John Pollard, who helped a group of employees, along with other investors, buy the station from CanWest Global Communications in 2009, averting its closure.

At the Times Colonist, David Radler, former partner in the Hollinger newspaper chain with convicted fraudster Conrad Black and a man who served jail time himself for fraud, has been brought in as acting publisher. He replaces Bob McKenzie, who retired last week after 46 years in the business.

Radler, who has 40 years’ experience overseeing dailies, is known as an operations specialist, a man with a history of trimming jobs to shore up the bottom line of a publication or company, said David Black, associate professor of communication and culture at Royal Roads University (no relation to the Black Press co-owner of the same name, or Conrad Black).

Despite media reports Radler has no plans to make job cuts at the TC, Black worries what his installation – however temporary – might do to morale at the daily.

“From what I know of the Hollinger story, they were into lean organizations,” he said. “You may see some of those incremental changes that allow newspapers to outsource and cut costs.”

Gardner takes over a uniquely independent company – one of only two in Canada – that is not linked to any corporate news organization, a factor Black said leaves them fighting an uphill battle for viewership.

CHEK board member Levi Sampson said, however, that the community believes in the CHEK brand and model.

“I think our staple is our news. People watch CHEK-TV to see what’s going on in their backyards and their neighbourhoods,” he said. “But we’re also going to continue to provide the best programming we can, and that’s why you bring in a guy like Roy Gardner, who has a wealth of knowledge (about the industry).”

The veteran TV man brings experience in the ebbs and flows of the business and brings a fresh perspective to the board, Sampson said.

In general, Black said, revenues for network television have remained fairly constant in this country, pointed out Black, while newspaper revenues have not.

The way readers consume information is becoming increasingly integrated, he added, with many people turning to online news and entertainment sources.

He noted that the Times Colonist, in a mid-sized market such as Victoria, faces readership and business challenges not only from online sources, but from community newspapers such as those published by Black Press.

And the question remains whether Greater Victoria can support two TV stations, with CTV 2 generating its own following in the region and beyond.

Both CHEK and the Times Colonist share the problem of a small advertising base in this market and the strength of Victoria being highly educated and relatively affluent, Black said.

Despite being in a market with a high concentration of media – and a highly competitive one – creatively, the two properties are in a beneficial place, he said.

“We have Victoria punching above its weight with respect of being a place of media innovation in Canada.”

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