BUSINESS

Globe's Jim Jennings, Star's Neil Campbell new co-presidents of The Canadian Press

09/09/2011 09:19 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Two of the principal architects of a new strategic vision for The Canadian Press are taking the company's helm as co-presidents, the national news agency announced today.

Jim Jennings and Neil Campbell, emissaries of a new ownership group that includes the parent companies of the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and Montreal's La Presse newspapers, have been engaged since May in a comprehensive review of the company's operations.

The appointments are effective immediately.

The decision to appoint dual presidents to replace Eric Morrison, who left the company in June, reflects "the scale of the opportunities" that are at stake in the face of Canada's changing and challenging media landscape, CP’s board of directors said in a statement.

"Clearly, we wanted to put CP on a new footing," said Phillip Crawley, publisher of the Globe and Mail and co-chairman of the board of directors.

The company, which until last year operated as a non-profit co-operative that was owned by dozens of daily newspapers across Canada, has faced financial struggles in recent years – including the loss of some major media clients and problems with funding its pension plan.

Long a fixture in Canadian newsrooms, where it is known simply as "CP," The Canadian Press was created almost a century ago to provide the country’s newspapers with a wide selection of news reports from across the country and around the world. Over the years, the news service expanded to include a broadcast and photo service and most recently, adopted a renewed focus aimed at online news and video.

"Newsrooms, generally, are resistant to change," Jennings said.

"But if you look at CP, who was the first organization to go out and embrace video and figure out how to do it? CP did it, and CP is, frankly, still ahead of the vast majority — if not all — of the rest of the marketplace in doing it.

"The building has been caught up in a variety of other issues that have made it freeze like a deer in the headlights. We're here to try and divert the headlights and get people going again, help them move, because I think that's what people want."

The company’s board said Campbell and Jennings will continue the work they started several months ago.

"We've been reviewing just what needs to be done to turn this into an organization that is viable going forward, and doesn't get completely crushed by its pension liabilities, and is going to be on a solid footing," Crawley said.

"The fact that CP is such a well-respected creator of content is an advantage that we really wanted to put to best use."

Campbell and Jennings bring with them a collective 75 years of experience in the media business as journalists, managers and executive leaders.

"There's so much work to be done, and so many opportunities, that one person can't keep their eye on all of it," Jennings said of the decision to divide the role between two people.

Managing a business that's in a constant state of flux, with a reputation for strong journalism in both official languages 24 hours a day, plus a robust broadcast service, would by itself be more than enough for one person, he said.

"Keep all of that running, and then add things to it — acquire new content from outside sources — and run the day-to-day operations? It's impossible for one person to do."

Campbell, a former Globe executive editor whose most recent post was as director of business development for the Toronto Star, will oversee the operational side of the business. While at the Globe, Campbell played a role in the launch of globeandmail.com and was also a part of the team behind the launch of ctvolympics.ca.

Jennings, an associate publisher and general manager in the Globe's B.C. division, will preside over revenue and business development. He is a former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, has also worked as vice-president and editorial director for Thomson Newspapers and as group managing editor for Thomson Regional Newspapers in the U.K.

"To sum it up," said Campbell, "I think I'll be looking more inside and Jim will be looking more outside."

Alongside chief financial officer Sandra Clarke and editor-in-chief Scott White, the pair were integral in drafting a new strategic focus for CP, the details of which have not yet been disclosed, the statement said.

The board said the plan is designed to ensure the company — which started transmitting news across telegraph wires in 1917 — can operate as a viable business that's able to fund pension requirements while taking advantage of new revenue opportunities.

"There's also a culture around here of very high quality journalism, and delivering a very high-quality service that's based on integrity," Campbell said.

"That's our core mission; that's something that has we look at the operation, that core mission is something that we will protect, because that's what we are."

Jennings said the plan includes both a concerted effort to win back former customers as well as expanding the company's array of product offerings.

"That requires a rethink of just what the priorities are of the business, and how we go about driving growth in revenue, new customers — turning it into a business rather than running it as a co-operative," Crawley said.

Campbell, whose focus will be on the company's internal day-to-day operations, said it will be vital to CP's success that it be firing on all cylinders — strong content, an aggressive and effective sales mechanism and cutting-edge distribution.

"Everyone in the organization has to understand that we have to have all three things operating at peak efficiency in order to succeed," he said.

"That's one thing we really want to drive — we're not just a content company, we're a media company that has different but equally important components."