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Memo: The Canadian Press and COVID-19

The Canadian wire “not optimistic” it will qualify for federal business assistance measures, seeking alternative initiatives from provincial and federal governments as cash flow tightens Continue Reading Memo: The Canadian Press and COVID-19

The following memo was sent to staff on April 3, 2020 from Canadian Press president Malcolm Kirk.

To all CP/PMNA (Pagemasters North America) staff:

As we near the end of the third week of our remote deployment, I want to update you all with some shared information and thoughts on where we are.

First, thank you all for your vital help in making this transition to keep everyone safe and the business running. I know it was not easy or always seamless, but together we got it done. It is critically important you stay safe and we continue our work.

There is no way to ignore the realities confronting society today and confronting every business in the world. Obviously, we are not immune to these forces. 

The elimination of virtually every sporting event means there are no results to report, and that means almost no sports agate for our PMNA desks to handle. We have seen a sharp revenue drop in our commercial assignments business. Custom content work – material that is invariably part of a client’s marketing strategy – has also slowed down.

Amid the backdrop of a sizable number of layoffs, wage rollbacks and the cessation of print editions in the past two weeks, it also won’t surprise you to learn that many wire clients are looking for payment holidays and suspension of billings. Advertising revenues, already in a decline before the crisis, have dropped dramatically for many of our customers, which means cash flow is tightening for everyone. 

You may have heard the federal government has announced business assistance initiatives in recent days. We are assessing our eligibility for these measures. Candidly, we are not optimistic that these programs will be very helpful to CP in the immediate term simply because of the eligibility requirements.

We are pressing Ottawa and the Quebec governments on these and other possible initiatives that could support our sector and CP specifically. 

This is not intended to be an alarm, but rather to give insight into how this crisis manifests itself in our world. There’s little doubt there will be more. We are in contact with our clients, with governments, and we will be prepared by watching our own financial position and planning a variety of contingencies – just as we planned and executed the transition for staff to work from home.  

It is important to remember the positives, though – and we have many.

We know use of our content has increased dramatically through this crisis. Our clients and Canadians are relying on our journalism more than ever. We’ve even added a daily COVID-19 newsletter for our news and monitoring customers.

Technology doesn’t just allow us to do our day-to-day work remotely. It allows us to push forward with important initiatives that will be the backbone of our editorial and commercial mission for years to come.

For example, work on the new digital asset management system and image archive continues. So, too, with the new content management system, the successor to JIMI. Editorial working groups involving staff across the country are doing important work with our IT team and our technology partner Sourcefabric to bring the new Superdesk platform to CP.

Thanks to the energy and commitment of our teams, we hope to make major headway on both of these projects in the second quarter.

And the Local Journalism Initiative, the federally funded program to create local reporting positions in areas of thin coverage or under-covered beats, is up and running well. CP is the editorial partner for this program. We oversaw the build of the content portal for the dozens of journalists hired at news outlets across Canada, and we will now provide the editorial governance of the program in the months ahead. 

Thousands of new stories will be created by LJI reporters, and given the current circumstances for local media, their contributions couldn’t come at a more critical time. These stories will be distributed on the wire in their own separate category.

I am pleased to say CP was recently awarded two LJI grants for reporting positions in Quebec – one to report from the communities in Estrie and Montérégie region south of Montreal, and another to cover Indigenous communities in northern and western Quebec. Postings for these positions will go up soon.

So, among the uncertainties, there is reason for optimism.

Allow me to return to where I started – your well-being and safety. We are probably going to measure this period of our history in months, not weeks or days. We all need to think about what will work best for each of us to be healthy, happy and productive.

Working from home may create new challenges for many of us, and we must manage the strain that can bring. For full-time staff, you may want to consider taking a vacation day once or twice a week to focus entirely on family or children, or just to disconnect and refresh. Your circumstances may have you wondering if a reduced-hours work week or work day could be managed and how that could work. 

Everyone’s situation is unique and we are open to discussing your circumstances and ideas to help you and your family. Do not hesitate to speak to your supervisor or contact Human Resources.

The legacy we stand upon today defines our standards. Just over 100 years ago, CP was created to keep Canadians informed through the Great War, the first global crisis faced by a young Canada. And the Spanish flu pandemic quickly followed and the need for news and information didn’t abate.

A century later another global crisis sweeps up Canada as well and CP’s work is more important than ever. We have changed and evolved with Canada – PMNA, as an example, adds a valuable array of services to offer our clients. Together, we are here to rise to the occasion, to fulfill our mission.

Your work under trying circumstances has been exemplary, I thank you one and all. Please take care of yourselves, your families, and one another. 

Malcolm Kirk