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Free Press says "goodbye" to columnist, "get lost" to union. And get ready for Madame Mayor??

Imagine our surprise to learn that the Winnipeg Free Press had a new editor and we didn't know a thing about it.

Right there in Monday's Business Calender was the notice for a welcoming reception for the paper's new man, Box Cox.

Where did he come from?

Reading further down, we saw he was obviously sharing the job with the former editor, Bob Cox, who is sitting on a forum on Red River College later in the week.
We hope page editor Steve Pona will offer a clarification soon on how Box and Bob intend to share duties.

The paper is big on notifications lately.

The deathly silent indifference which greeted the departure of Charles Adler from the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press was so overwhelming, that 10 days after the last dreadful column appeared, editor Bob Cox was compelled to take note of the absence in a small note to the readers.

To convince the readers that they were actually missing Chuckster's "always engaging and provocative columns" the past Saturday and Wednesday, Cox tried to reassure everyone, notably Adler, that it was because his new national radio puff-fest resulted in his accepting "a new opportunity to complement his on-air work."

The fact neither Adler nor Cox made mention of his "opportunity" when the last column ran is duly noted. Yep, no "thanks for the past year', no "sorry I repeated everything I already said on my morning show and had almost no original stories to justify the Free Press putting me to ink", no "The Black Rod was right I'm outta here."
Winnipeggers are preparing to ignore Adler's Chanukah-time return to print in the pages of The National Post, the same way they already ignore his segments on the Manitoba Evening News. The common denominator, of course, is Canwest owns both the Post and Global TV outlets.

Now instead of paying something for nothing, the Free Press can pay nothing for nothing, because they can get Adler's new column for, um, free, under an existing arrangement to reprint Canwest news stories.

And make no mistake about it, the bottom line is the driving factor in the willingness of the Free Press to unburden itself of the vastly overpriced - $450 a column anyone?- radio entertainer, and to cut each and every cost, to make the broadsheet as attractive as possible for the Asper's to finally purchase their hometown paper.

While Adler trumpets high and wide that his departure has nothing to do with moolah, the newspaper is crying poverty to its union.

That's why Adler's departure was met with zero resistance from the owners. He was a cost that could be cut. After all, they're trying to cut the commission rate paid to salesman who had to peddle the notion Adler's column upped circulation.

That's right, the newspaper that made $30.3 million in the second quarter this year- a tidy 8.7 % increase - are offering their sales staff a CUT IN PAY of TWENTY ( 20) PERCENT.

And that's not all.

They want to reduce the number of circulation managers and basically eliminate the job entirely. Management wants to limit the seniority rights of circulation workers who can now choose their shifts. They refuse to extend seniority rights to their telemarketers or to the creative services (in the old days this was the composition room) part-timers.

And in a "we couldn't make this up if we tried" moment, the Free Press is trying to clawback money from their carriers by reducing the pay for delivered items from 5c to 3c per piece.

Yessir, Stern and Silver are trying to nickle and penny the operation. Imagine that.

Now imagine the Freep is trying to squeeze every penny possible out of advertisers and you'll understand why the paper is breaking a long-standing tradition by publishing this Remembrance Day. You don't think they're hoping anybody who compares this year's circulation with last year's will be fooled by the addition of an extra day's in '05, do you?

FP Newspapers grossed $111m in 2004, up from $105m the year before. They cleared 24 million dollars. The Income Trust returned 9.8% to unit holders. (Did we mention they are saving the $50 g's they were dishing out for Cha..., oh you figured that out too.)

But they told the union the workers offer of a 2 year deal is "a non-starter", that revenues are declining and the union has to make a long-term commitment and thank you and goodbye. The paper is offering a wage increase totalling 2.5 percent over three years. The employees, having just written stories about how the CBC is getting 12 percent over 3 years, are grinding their teeth and girding their loins for battle.

But there's a subtext to the labour story. It's a prelude to something bigger, something that will only take place after the gory negotiations are over and peace is restored.

We speak, of course, of the eventual absorption of the Winnipeg Free Press into the Asper Empire. Its only a matter of time. How much longer can the Aspers go cap in hand to Bob Silver whenever they want something from the city's major daily?

The Black Rod has been trying to figure out what is behind the delay in that acquisition, and, at the same time, what is behind the Free Press smear attack on Sam Katz heading into next year's civic election . Call us cross-eyed but it sure looks like the two are connected. After all, how would it look if a prominent family bought a newspaper, just as one of the sibling owners was sniffing around a run for the mayor's chair?

This way, the paper can continue to "neutrally" promote all things Asper until after the mayoral election - for instance:

- David Asper's new Times Square wanna-be giant video screens (which happens to face Portage and Fort, and not Portage and Main). The derelicts and panhandlers across the street on Fort won't have to leave the sidewalk now to seek entertainment.

- The Museum for Human Rights which is now a $300 million dollar project and climbing, and has as many shovels in the ground as the Can-Ad hotel/waterpark project in Grand Forks, which is to say, none.

- The Governor-general comes to town? Make sure the first quote is from Gail Asper as if - nothing personal here- she is the barometer of what an "average Winnipegger" thinks of Mme. Jean.

That could come in handy on the hustings next year n'est pas? But, we've already said too much.

- 30 -

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