Q&A: Paul Godfrey, the CEO who’s presiding over the Postmedia newspaper chain’s rapid decline
Paul Godfrey has earned millions while gutting newsrooms and closing papers across Canada. He says he’s trying to save journalism. It’s not working
You’ve taken flak for cutting thousands of jobs across the Postmedia newspaper empire, including some 800 full-time positions in 2016 alone, while taking home an annual salary of roughly $1.7 million. Is that criticism fair?
No. The board knew my track record and asking price. Plus, there are not many people in Canada who can run a newspaper chain. Look around. The Star can’t find a publisher or president. The job is hard and full of heartache.
Last fall, as many of your employees were being denied cost-of-living wage increases, you accepted a $900,000 retention bonus. How did you explain that series of events to them?
No one asked. If they had, I’d have told them that we did a global search for investors and only one company, Chatham Asset Management, stepped forward. They handed over $100 million but first wanted assurances that key employees, me included, would stay. Did I feel awkward about the bonus? Yes. But how would staff feel if we shut down and there were no severance deals at all?
The optics were not ideal.
I agree. The optics weren’t pretty. When I walk past my staff now, they probably whisper, “There’s that evil guy.” But they don’t understand the full picture.
It’s called a retention bonus. Would you have quit if not for it?
Not necessarily. I don’t know.
When Postmedia bought Sun Media, you promised the Competition Bureau that you wouldn’t combine newsrooms. Then you did just that. Were you lying?
Not at all. We expected advertising to stop its free fall. It hasn’t.
You’re in the middle of another round of job cuts. At what point are you diminishing the print product so much that you’re hastening its decline?
It hasn’t happened yet. Are our papers as good as they used to be? No, but they haven’t become unacceptable.
Given the rise of fake news, don’t you agree the press is more important than ever?
Absolutely, but if we hire more staff, we’ll be out of business in three months. Advertising, which has fallen off a cliff, constitutes 80 per cent of our revenue, and we can only hike the price of the paper so much.
You’ve extended your contract to 2020. How did you convince the board that you, at 78, are the one to lead the company into its digital future?
I’m not a digital guy, but I surround myself with smart people and learn by osmosis.
Let’s assess your progress: Mac or PC?
No, but my sons forward tweets about me. Some of them are very ugly.
iPhone 7 Plus. I need the big screen.
Latest Netflix binge?
House of Cards. Mostly I watch Jays games, the news, and movies with my grandkids. We saw Sing recently. I loved watching their faces as much as I did the movie.
You’ve appealed to the federal Liberals for financial help. As a long-standing Conservative, was it difficult, ideologically, to ask for a subsidy?
I’m asking for the same breaks they give the film industry.
I don’t mean to throw stones, but why should taxpayers prop up a product in which they’ve already demonstrated limited interest?
You could say that about the opera, ballet and symphony.
You forced your papers to endorse Harper during the election, which can’t have endeared you to Trudeau.
No, but he respects alternative opinions.
Your election edict sparked a nasty spat with Star chair John Honderich. Care to add anything to that dialogue?
No, I just want to know who peed in his Corn Flakes.
I’ll take that to mean you two haven’t made up?
I never see him. Look, it was the Star that called Postmedia a cancer. I don’t know why Honderich is so angry; I wish him nothing but good health.
You’ve said you don’t want your last job to be a failure. What would that look like?
Going out of business. I’ve had a good run, but I want one more extra-base hit, even if it comes in the bottom of the ninth with two out and two strikes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.