20 Years: The National Post’s supporters, detractors, insiders on the paper’s founding and it’s impact.
The reasons my associates at the time and I founded the National Post 20 years ago were a combination of commercial and public-spirited motives. By then, we had bought the Southam, Sifton, Unimedia and many of the smaller Thomson newspapers, and owned 58 of the 105 daily newspapers in Canada. These holdings included all the daily newspapers in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan, and both daily newspapers in Vancouver, the principal daily newspapers in Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Windsor, Victoria, the daily English language newspaper in Montreal, the leading English newspaper in Ottawa as well as the French newspaper in that city, and the second newspaper in Halifax.
This position naturally led to a widespread imputation to us, and to me personally, of trying to mould public opinion in Canada and push and bully office-holders into policies we favoured, or that could be of particular material benefit to us. That was not, in fact, how we managed our business, but as I discovered in other spheres, public perceptions as created by the media, and facts are frequently completely disconnected. My late, distinguished senior partner, John A. McDougald, used to say that critics, especially media critics, mistakenly assume that people in positions of some wealth or influence behave as they themselves would in those positions.
Our practice was to invest in product quality, and build circulation and advertising on the back of that. We transferred to the principal Canadian titles the policies we had implemented in the resurrection of the London Daily Telegraph from insolvency. It had an aging readership and was a newspaper that carried only news and sports, and little finance, features, or interesting comment. We turned it into the most respected and profitable general newspaper in Europe with a daily circulation exceeding one million and an enviable demographic.
Readers in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver, in particular, will, I think, recall the sharp improvement in the quality of the principal newspapers in those cities, starting in 1996. The late Neil Reynolds as editor, and Russell Mills as publisher, carried out their mandate from us to transform the Ottawa Citizen into a “newspaper worthy of the capital of a G-7 country.” They made it a newspaper for all of us, and all Ottawans, to be proud of, and its circulation, advertising revenue and profit rose.