|By Bram Lebo - Publisher | January 16, 2014
In early December, I got a call from a man who had been trying to do business with me for over a year. We had discussed partnership in The Highlander; I didn't need a partner. We had discussed helping him with his other papers in the GTA; I wasn't interested in working outside of the county.
But this time, he had a surprise. He had bought the Echo and Times (and Bancroft This Week and Barry's Bay This Week) from Sun Media. Would I like to put The Highlander into the group and be partners?
Like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time: bring the Sun papers back to local ownership and the Echo and Times back to their roots serving Dysart and Minden Hills.
Turns out, it wasn't.
Essentially the issue was that the Echo and Times (and Bancroft This Week and Barry's Bay This Week) had not been assembled in Haliburton for years. Many steps in the process had been split up among various parts of the Sun empire, in several locations, directed by people not part of the Haliburton or Minden teams.
It was as if someone had purchased a car dealership and then assumed they could build cars, not realizing the assembly line was somewhere else.
Normally in these types of deals, there would be contractual arrangements to ensure a smooth transfer of the critical systems and data necessary for the operation: client lists, ad bookings and ad management software, design software, accounts, templates, supplier contracts, subscriber lists, route delivery instructions and much, much more. I was assured these would all be taken care of and, since I had not dealt with Sun directly, assumed they would be.
They were not.
So for the last four weeks, we had been trying to reconstruct these data and systems, without which papers cannot be produced and revenue cannot be generated. In some cases we had some assistance from Sun, but in many we did not. We didn't even have the fonts and design elements – Sun apparently owns them – which is why the Echo and Times look so strange this week. One by one, the Sun Media systems used by Echo and Times staff to do their jobs were shut off.
With help from the Echo, Times and Bancroft staff, The Highlander team stepped up to fill the gaps. Our production manager, Heather Kennedy, went from creating one paper per week on her own to six with the help of two people. That doesn't add up, and she logged four weeks of double shifts to prove it. By the end, I walked into the production room in the Echo building late on Monday and Tuesday and watched as The Highlander staff put the Echo and Times to bed – they knew we were to split but insisted on fulfilling their obligations, both as professionals and to Echo and Times readers; they would not allow the papers to be late.
It was clear I had made a serious mistake in not insisting on due diligence, and fortunately we had included a provision in our contract that allowed me to unwind the transaction. It was an easy decision, because I believe the alternative would have put all of the papers at immediate risk.
I would like to thank our local businesses who have had to put up with missed ads – The Highlander will make good on them – and readers for their patience as they had to watch their papers flounder over the last few weeks. I'd also like to thank the employees who pitched in to try to make it all work and McLaren Press who somehow got everything printed and delivered on time. Most of all, I'd like to thank Cheryl, Heather, Walt, Ashley, Mark and Matthew, the most outstanding group of people I've ever had the privilege to work with.
Looking forward, I do know that the new owner is committed to community newspapers and to ensuring staff are well-treated. They have additional resources that can help the other papers get running smoothly. And now that we're back on our opposite sides of the street, I hope Jenn and Chad return to the Echo and Times; Lois Rigney was right – their departure was a significant loss to the community. She was also right that competition and a diversity of voices are good things; I was never comfortable with all the papers under one roof and our advertisers didn't seem to be either.
With time and effort, and your understanding, all of us at all of the papers will soon be back to what we're here for: serving this community.
Thank you for your support.
BRAM LEBO is the publisher of The Highlander and prefers Dysart to his hometown of North York. In the spare time he doesn’t really have, he enjoys reading, fishing, DIY projects, and cooking big batches of stuff. Talk to him about politics, architecture and design, fishing, his nieces and nephews, and his worrisome love for his coffee machine