La Presse seeking not for profit structure, pending Quebec legislation changes

Montreal-based La Presse news group plans to adopt a not-for-profit structure, if Quebec allows it to do so, the company announced Tuesday.

The structural change requires the Quebec government to repeal a provision of an act adopted in 1967 regarding La Presse’s ownership, the French-language publication said.

Power Corporation of Canada, whose subsidiary Square Victoria Communications Group currently owns the 130-year-old publication, will grant $50 million to the venture.

Under the new structure, Power Corp. would no longer own the media company or have any ties with the not-for-profit structure.

Traditional media in the country are grappling with the loss of advertising revenue, resulting in mass layoffs, publication closures and a shift to fewer print editions and more online publications.

Nearly a year ago, La Presse announced it would end its print edition in 2017 and publish only on its website and tablet edition.

The organization urged the federal government to financially support the written press through philanthropic models and direct assistance when it made its announcement.

The Canadian government indicated it would do so in its last budget, tabled in February.

The Liberal government proposed $50 million over five years to support independent, non-governmental organizations that will spur on local journalism in under-served communities.

The budget also said the government will spend the next year exploring models that would allow private giving or philanthropic support for non-profit journalism and local news.

La Presse president Pierre-Elliott Levasseur said the decision to become a not-for-profit entity had to be made.

“I don’t think there’s a person in Quebec or in the rest of Canada who’s going to give money to La Presse in the form of a donation knowing that Power Corp. is the owner,” he told a news conference in Montreal.

“So I think what we’re doing is opening the door to donations from large companies, from large donors, as well as the average citizen who understands the role La Presse plays in society.

“But if we’re unable to get support from the federal government, I think it’s going to be difficult to maintain and continue to play the role that we’ve historically played in this province in terms of our ability to continue to provide very high-quality information.”

Union spokesman Charles Cote said he doesn’t know how long the $50 million from Power Corp. will help the new venture survive.

“Our biggest worry is always maintaining the jobs and maintaining the way this newsroom works,” Cote said at the same news conference. “Today, there is no announcement of new job cuts, which is good news in itself and we appreciate that.

“There are a lot more worse-case scenarios than this. We’ve been hit with numerous crises in the past 15 years and we’ve managed to pull through, so we’re going to carry on.”

Under the new structure, La Presse will use operational profits, any government assistance and donor funds to serve its goal of producing high-quality reporting.

The not-for-profit model “is designed to be a modern approach adapted to the realities of today’s written media,” the company said.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting reacted to the news by urging the federal government to act to help save local media.

“If La Presse can’t survive as a business, most Canadian media outlets have little chance either,” Daniel Bernhard, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Ottawa needs to take meaningful action to address this crisis now.”