Leonard Asper's Master Plan for Global Domination

The good news is his commitment to strong journalism. The bad news? He's going to make you work a lot harder

David Dias
June , 2001 | Comments (0) - Report an Error

 

 

"IT ALL BEGAN A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO," Izzy Asper tells the audience at the July press conference announcing CanWest's purchase of the Hollinger chain, "when Leonard walked by my door and said, 'I'm going out for lunch. Can I bring something back for you?' And I said, 'Yeah, would you mind getting me a couple of papers?'" The people in the audience, some of them new employees of CanWest, chuckle at the obligatory opening joke. When the laughter subsides, Asper introduces CanWest's newest CEO and, at 36, Izzy's youngest child, Leonard Asper.

Leonard rises to the lectern and begins to read the company statement, outlining his vision for the new CanWest. Now, with the purchase of Hollinger's 14 major dailies, including the Calgary Herald, The Gazette and a 50-percent stake in the National Post, Leonard says he's ready to lead Canada's largest army of journalists beyond the confines of a single medium.

Although his speech is cluttered with buzzwords, Leonard's strategy sticks to a single concept, a powerful bit of jargon that has taken hold with most of the big media players, namely "convergence." He loses himself in enthusiasm when he talks about his convergence strategy, stepping from side to side as he answers the reporters' questions. When he says "multiple media," his hands fly apart. When he says "reaggregating," they swoop back in to compact the air in front of him.

Izzy Asper watches the performance in bemused silence. Convergence, after all, was never a part of his strategy. Asper Sr. was relentlessly focused on broadcasting. When he started CanWest 25 years ago, he envisioned a television network spanning the country, a dream finally realized last year when the company acquired eight TV stations from Western International Communications.

Leonard, however, has his eyes set on a new frontier. Since being named CEO in June 1999, Leonard Asper has led CanWest on a content shopping spree, determined to transform the company from a simple rebroadcaster of American entertainment into a multimedia player. CanWest's purchase of the Hollinger assets and WIC stations adds about 2,500 journalists to Global's 443, instantly making it the largest owner of news content in Canada-content that Leonard hopes to "repurpose" for television and the Internet.

The trouble is, no one knows whether journalists can be repurposed. Can newspaper reporters be made to double as on-air announcers, creating a new and better sort of journalism and cutting costs as well? It's a risky bet. The acquisitions have swollen CanWest's debt, which in 2000 increased sevenfold to $4 billion. And that, combined with the looming economic downturn and an unproven convergence strategy, has scared off potential investors. CanWest's failure to raise $800 million in a bond issue last October forced the Aspers to renegotiate the $3.5-billion Hollinger deal, reducing it by $300 million. And besides the financing debt, CanWest's purchase of the WIC stations has finally made Global a real network, with the all-too-real burdens of producing unprofitable Canadian programming, not to mention its interest in the National Post, which is still losing money two years after its launch.

Despite assurances that the Aspers are looking to build, not trim, their empire, journalists fear CanWest's debt load will translate into future layoffs. If Izzy Asper-whose raspy baritone still resounds within the company-senses the chill of economic winter, "redundancies" among CanWest's news-gathering entities may become considerably less tolerable.

In the past, news was never a high priority for CanWest Global. Prior to the Hollinger deal, CanWest made tremendous profits by focusing on the lucrative business of rebroadcasting popular American imports, while spending less on Canadian programming and news. Friends of Canadian Broadcasting president Ian Morrison blames the CRTC for allowing CanWest Global to shirk its responsibilities to Canadian content: "If we were more naive, we would say, 'Well, why aren't they doing more for Canada? But we don't expect any business organization to be in business to do something for Canada. They're in business to do something for their shareholders and their owners."

Not only is CanWest the most profitable broadcaster in the country, the company ranks as one of the country's most profitable corporations altogether. Global has always had a knack for recognizing hit shows, like Friends, Frasier and Malcolm in the Middle, and outbidding CTV for the Canadian rights. But ratings aren't the only reason for Global's success, says Morrison. It also spends the lowest percentage of its advertising revenue on Canadian programming. According to figures released by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in 1997 CTV spent 33 percent of its advertising revenue on Canadian content while Global only spent 18 percent.

The Aspers, however, argue that those statistics are misleading. In Ontario, CTV owns several stations with separate news operations, whereas Global repeats its signal from one station in Toronto. Since, in 1997, Global didn't have nearly as many news departments as CTV, it couldn't be expected to spend as much on news. In a November 1999 letter to the Financial Post, Leonard wrote, "[Mr. Morrison] is omitting the fact that most of that excess is in news and sports, while Global in the same year spent more as a percentage of its revenue on Canadian drama than any other broadcaster in the country."

The CRTC seems to agree. "Oh, the old Ian Morrison spin!" laughs commission spokesman Denis Carmel. "Let's not compare apples and oranges. In the past, the requirements asked from CanWest Global were fewer than CTV. There's a critical mass at some point where you can invest in programming and have it spread out through your operation. Global had eight stations. CTV had 25 stations. If you have eight stations, it's difficult to have a national news organization."

But Morrison isn't convinced: "I don't think it's the amount of stations you own. It's the amount of advertising revenue. None of the arguments holds up. They're all just hogwash to try to camouflage that they have a very successful business model that has allowed them to spend less than others."

Even breaking news doesn't merit interrupting one of Global's highly rated imported programs, says Antonia Zerbisias. The Toronto Star's TV critic says CanWest is notoriously cheap on news coverage. While Global has run American news programs like 60 Minutes and 20/20 for years, the broadcaster has never mounted an equivalent of W-Five or the fifth estate. Asked whether Leonard Asper's convergence strategy changes the equation, Zerbisias responds, "I doubt that Leonard's vision is much different from his dad's. It's just more up to the times. I think Leonard is just as ruthless and business minded, and I very much doubt that his dad is giving him total free reign."

Zerbisias, however, may not be giving Leonard the benefit of the doubt. While he certainly still must answer to his father, who at 68 has spent 25 years building the company, Leonard has played an important role in shaping Izzy's attitude toward convergence. And for the time being, he has convinced his father that CanWest needs to move aggressively on the Internet. Izzy's still somewhat skeptical, though, says Global president Gerry Noble: "Izzy has basically said, 'Show me. I'll invest, provided there's a return.' But Leonard's driving." In any case, Leonard Asper will someday be the unquestioned boss at CanWest, and there's no doubt he senses a new media order on the horizon.

ON THE PHONE, LEONARD RUSHES THROUGH HIS answers, always rephrasing, always searching for the best words, though he seldom pauses to consider them. Consumers in the future, he says, will be inundated with media choices-scores of television and radio channels, several newspapers, countless websites. In order to rise above the clutter and retain some of that fragmented market, CanWest will have to own a multitude of media outlets, all cross-promoting themselves. Global news anchors will direct their viewers to the National Post, which will direct its readers to Hollinger's website, Canada.com, which in turn will direct its viewers back to Global.

Another reason for CanWest's rush to acquire content producers has been international competition. For the last decade or so, competing media companies have been buying content to distribute exclusively through their channels. This has sometimes had the effect of starving rivals for popular programming. When Rupert Murdoch, for example, made an investment in CanWest's competitor in Australia, the Seven Network, CanWest's Ten Network suddenly found Fox's shows unavailable for rent. Leonard says owning the content is the only way CanWest can protect its supply. That's why, for the last few years, CanWest has been steadily amassing a library of programming, boosting its production capacity and seeking alliances with studios.

CanWest's content acquisitions have included Fireworks Entertainment, which has recently signed such big names as Keanu Reeves and Cameron Diaz to star in upcoming films, and a 20-percent voting stake in Alliance Atlantis, which it has since sold for an $8-million profit. CanWest has also purchased a 20-percent stake in Internet Broadcasting Systems, which specializes in news production on the Net, and a 32-percent interest in Medbroadcast.com, which provides health information to consumers. And with the Hollinger purchase, CanWest has acquired Canada.com, the country's third-most-popular website, plus a host of other sites.

Like other media conglomerates, CanWest is prospecting for the cyber gold rush to come. When the technology that makes websites profitable becomes available, Leonard figures CanWest will be ready to stake its claims all over the Canadian new media landscape. That's how he can get away with seemingly contradictory claims-a wealth of synergies in news production for shareholders without firing any journalists. The synergies he's referring to have little to do with redundancies between Hollinger newspapers and Global news. Firing journalists might save CanWest money in the short term, but it will only limit the company's ability to produce content, which goes against the Aspers' strategy. Leonard's more interested in the potential synergies resulting from a network of media outlets cross-promoting and sharing a central reservoir of content.

When asked where the synergies between Global and Hollinger will be found, Leonard is remarkably candid: "If we get a licence for, say, Your Money, which is a personal finance channel we've applied for, we have so much content for that channel that it's already paid for." Where will that content come from? "Well, it's from the business writers, the business section of the newspaper, the business section of Canada.com or all the various creative talent that we have inside."

While Leonard's strategy suggests that journalists of the future will have to be more versatile-he imagines a world of reporters with on-screen presence who can write for the Internet, television and newspapers-he assures journalists that CanWest isn't planning layoffs. In fact, CanWest is looking to invest in news: "We believe there are significant revenue opportunities, not cost-cutting opportunities. The Hollinger assets are run quite lean already. We didn't look at this and say, 'Boy, this is a fat organization, and therefore we can make some changes here.' What do we know about the proper complement of journalists in a newsroom?"

But there's a more ominous reason for CanWest's recent interest in news. While Leonard understands the Internet's potential, he also understands the threat it poses to the Canadian broadcasting industry. Indeed, Leonard is preparing CanWest for the collapse of Canadian broadcasting as we know it.

Today, Canadian broadcasters make their biggest profits from wrapping local advertising around popular American programming. They get away with this because Canadian laws protect them from American competition. But on the Internet, where all media is in direct competition and every outlet is just a click away, no regulation will protect Canadian broadcasters. "I think it is a possibility, and a real one," says Leonard, "and therefore we are preparing as if it will happen and building our own library and factory that is able to produce world-class, quality television, so that we won't be dependent on anybody else like a Fox or Warner Bros. should they decide that the Internet will be their distribution vehicle."

If American networks were to broadcast their shows on the Net, Global and CTV would no longer be able to bid for the Canadian rights. In a sublimely ironic twist, Global and CTV would have to become more like the CBC, which already spends a lot on news and Canadian programming, if they wanted to survive on the Internet. "As I say, that day is a very long way off," Leonard continues, "but in recognition that that day may be here...enter Fireworks Entertainment, which is our vehicle for creating our own X-Files, our own The Simpsons, our own The Practice."

Newcomers like CanWest, however, will never be able to compete with Hollywood studios. Although Fireworks Entertainment has shown some success with the critically acclaimed Caitlin's Way and more commercial programs such as Relic Hunter, Fireworks has never had to compete head-to-head with the likes of Friends, The Simpsons or Frasier. If Canadian broadcasters are pushed out of the entertainment business, news then becomes one of the only reliable ratings winners for local advertisers.

A simple analogy can be found in the print media. While Canadian magazines struggle to compete with a glut of American titles, newspapers continue to attract wide audiences, unhindered by the threat of American competition. Newspapers, says Leonard, are "a more protected form of programming-not by regulation, but by consumer demand. Entertainment is a bit more fragmented, whereas news is not going to be something that American services focus on."

As a result, news production has recently become a priority. Not only have the Aspers purchased the largest newspaper chain in the country, but as part of the benefits package to push the WIC deal through the CRTC, Global will introduce a national newscast based out of Vancouver and a Calgary news bureau. A national public-affairs program is also in the works, and Global will be looking to create new programs with the raw information Hollinger provides. "Global will lever off the powerful and very comprehensive source of news from the papers," says Leonard. "There's a massive store of talent within the newspapers that I think will make our electronic and TV news services much stronger."

And if last year's Globalization of the WIC stations is any indication, journalists can expect to see further investments in news. "We've never been number one in news," says Leonard of CanWest's traditional TV operations. "We've always been second or third place, and so one of the things that attracted us about WIC is that it had stations that, while they were not performing well in prime time, they were leaders in news, and we wanted to gain some knowledge, lever off their expertise to become successful."

One of those newsy WIC stations was CITV, now Global Edmonton. After Global took over, Leonard assured employees that local news would be bolstered, not cut. He appears to have made good on that promise. Tim Spelliscy, the longtime news director at CITV in Edmonton, says Global has provided funds to expand news and upgrade the set. "We're all adding and hiring. There's a ton of jobs opening right now." The station, which already airs six hours of news a day, is considering adding even more news on the weekend. "Global has said quite clearly that the future of the television stations out here is going to be news and local news, and that's what they're building around."

WHEN LEONARD ASPER SAYS HE WANTS TO transform CanWest Global into the number-one news network in Canada, it's hard to take him seriously. While Global has always been the place to find your favourite sitcom, Canadian news is still dominated by the other two networks. If Leonard's plan seems audacious, though, it's certainly no more audacious than what his father accomplished, turning a small station in Winnipeg into a network to rival the CBC and CTV.

In 1974, Izzy Asper's political career was over. He had been the Liberal leader of Manitoba for a while, but after being pummelled in an election by Ed Schreyer's NDP, Izzy was looking for something else to do. He and his executive assistant at the time, Peter Liba, decided to go into business together, buying the equipment of a bankrupt station from North Dakota, KCND, and setting it up in an empty supermarket building in Winnipeg. They switched the call letters to CKND, and the seed that would eventually grow to become the Global Television Network was planted.

While building his network, Izzy earned a reputation for being a shrewd businessman. He built Global's success on the strategy of reviving ailing stations by cutting costs, reducing staff and cashing in on the most popular American imports. As a result, critics of Global have accused the Aspers of catering to advertisers without much regard for the programs aired on Global. When Izzy Asper says that "TV stations are gigantic advertising machines there to be filled with product" and that employees are "in the business of selling soap," he does nothing to appease those critics.

Last year, Global news in Ontario changed its format in an effort to cater to a wider audience and compete with CFTO in Toronto. Consultants who had worked for CFTO were called in by management to boost ratings. As a result of those suggestions, Global news started to focus on more crime and entertainment, less politics. Management decided to invest in a helicopter to provide faster live coverage, while hiring attractive women from CFTO to read the news. Global's employees started calling the station GFTO.

As news became fluffier, Global's former Queen's Park reporter, Robert Fisher, became more and more frustrated. Within the company, he voiced his disapproval, and when his annual contract came up for renewal in September, Global declined. "Obviously, there was a decision that I didn't fit in," says Fisher, "and some of that may be that I was too old or too expensive or perhaps the kind of anchor who would not wear the grass skirt and flower leis on the final episode of Survivor."

To compete with CFTO, Fisher says Global's strategy has been to "out-helicopter them, out-cleavage them." He remembers feeling sick to his stomach the night after the MTV awards: "When I started at Global in 1988, I don't think that the second story on the six o'clock news would be that Britney Spears had stripped down to this see-through outfit with a G-string."

Global president Gerry Noble gets peevish when Robert Fisher's dismissal is mentioned: "Robert Fisher wasn't fired, and make sure you get that right in your story." Noble says Global was justified in passing on Fisher's annual contract because the ratings for his political panel show, Focus Ontario, weren't up to par. And he defends the changes Global has made to its newscast: "Why would we want to copy the CBC? Our audience wants to know what their local news is, what happened at the corner store, what happened at the school, what's happening down the road. That's what they want to hear about."

Noble isn't the only one who gets defensive about Global's reputation for pandering to the masses. There's a whole institutional sensitivity surrounding the topic. With 45 percent of the equity and 86 percent of the voting rights, the Aspers run CanWest more as a family company than a corporation. Decisions that would normally be made around a boardroom table are, at CanWest, sometimes made around the dinner table. That personal attachment has made the Aspers sensitive to criticisms directed at Global. Currently, Izzy is suing film producer Robert Lantos for $7 million after Lantos, at a Ryerson awards banquet in 1998, made some unflattering remarks about the Aspers' commitment to Canadian programming.

Leonard, too, has shown an acute sensitivity to criticisms of CanWest Global. Last July, he hired reporter Brenda Dalglish to investigate the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an organization that has been highly critical of Global and the Aspers. "I was led to the conclusion that what they were looking for was some type of financial trail between CTV and us," says Friends president Ian Morrison. "They might actually believe that CTV is bankrolling us to cause them trouble with the CRTC." Morrison fears the Aspers' sensitivity to criticism may lead reporters working for Hollinger to censor themselves. (Interestingly, the National Post refused to sell the Ryerson Review of Journalism reprint rights to photographs of Leonard Asper, for unspecified reasons.)

National Post media columnist Matthew Fraser, who now works for the Aspers, was often critical of them in the past. In response to one of Fraser's columns, Leonard once wrote a furious letter demanding Fraser's head: "He is so far removed from the industry that he shouldn't be taken seriously, but nevertheless the national platform you have provided to him to pick his petty fights is something we would ask that you reconsider."

Fraser dismisses the letter as mere posturing: "None of this is meant in a vicious way. He's been mad at me now and then, yeah. But that letter predates their ownership of the paper, and now that they own the paper, I'm not fired." Fraser is an old acquaintance of the Aspers and says that Leonard would never have written such a thing if he were an owner of the National Post at the time, and he certainly wouldn't act out on his anger. "I don't think anybody could accuse Leonard of having a big ego."

DAVID KROFT, A LAWYER in Winnipeg, remembers growing up with Leonard. Izzy Asper and David's father, Guy Kroft, would often bring young Leonard and David along to Liberal functions. "We were probably taken some place and given a few doughnuts and told to hand out flyers," says Kroft. The two children would often play a game where they would pretend to be their distinguished fathers, conferring upon each other the laughable importance of adulthood. "I would call him Izzy, and he would call me Guy." In the summertime, their families vacationed together at Falcon Lake, where David and Leonard would terrorize the other cottagers on their little power boats. Kroft remembers a horribly out-of-tune piano on which Leonard would play anything from rock anthems by Canadian bands like Styx and Rush to Broadway musicals: "He and I must know every word to Jesus Christ Superstar."

Although Leonard admires his father and shares his drive, Kroft says he's not as single-minded or ruthless as Izzy. Despite his position of power at CanWest, Leonard is a very down-to-earth person. "When we go out to dinner, discussion isn't about acquisitions," says Kroft. "We still come back to the same silly, boyish jokes we always used to laugh about and the things we were infatuated with. Leonard just doesn't present on a lofty level. He can rise to the occasion, but you're at ease when you're with him."

"Somebody once referred to him as the thinking man's hoser," says Leonard's older brother, David. "He plays hockey, and we throw the football around and cheer for the Winnipeg Bombers." David describes Leonard as a man with a love for sports and music, but a mind for business. His training for the chief executive position started long before anyone suspected his ascension. About 10 years ago, the Aspers as a family had to decide where CanWest was going. "Izzy put it to the three of us," says David, "as to whether we were interested in trying to carry on the majority ownership of the company in the family. We all said yes." So David and Gail left their law practices and Leonard went straight into the business after getting his law degree at the University of Toronto and articling for a year. While Gail became corporate secretary and David went into operations and programming, Leonard worked on corporate development, studying future directions the firm might take.

In the process of learning the business, Leonard was sent to Toronto to work in virtually every department of Global Television, including the news department, where the now-disgruntled Robert Fisher had a chance to talk to him about his news philosophy. "He and his dad are very different broadcasters, and my personal experience with Leonard has been that he cares a hell of a lot more about news than his father did," says Fisher. "His father was a programmer. You know, give me The Love Boat, give me L.A. Law, give me the X-Files, because it makes me money. Leonard obviously wants to make money as well, but I really, truly believe that there's a commitment by him to news programming."

Fisher says Leonard was one of the few people within CanWest's management to support Focus Ontario, and he believes Leonard may have intervened to keep it alive for over 12 years: "People are going to say, 'Fisher's off his rocker! He's been unemployed too long.' But I believe he will make the difference. I think there's a different philosophy there."

In 1994, Leonard was promoted to vice-president of corporate development at CanWest, and in 1998, he was named chief operating officer. So when Izzy asked his children who should take on the position of CEO, they decided that Leonard was best suited for the role. "Leonard has a much more deal-oriented, corporate-development, strategic-minded kind of approach," says David, "and so that lent itself best to the kind of position that CanWest Global is in."

Investors, however, haven't shown the same confidence in Leonard's strategic abilities. Since reaching a brief high in September, CanWest's share price plummeted to a five-year low, from $21 to $12 in just a couple of months. Shareholders are annoyed by the fact that CanWest, known for its cautious deal-making and consistent profits, has entered the stagnant newspaper industry, burying itself $4 billion in debt at the outset of a recession. The price of newsprint has been steadily rising for over a year, and the ad market is expected to slump. Business writers, who have a genuine stake in the folly of their employers, point to the failed convergence schemes of the past. Media synergies are overrated, they insist, citing excessive prices that media moguls have paid for content providers that can't be profitably merged.

Bob Bek, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, says that despite CanWest's $400 million in annual interest payments and another $100 million in operating costs, the immensely profitable CanWest will be able to shoulder the burden: "We've done a scenario analysis that shows that even if the economy hits a brutal recession, one that we haven't seen in our lifetimes, CanWest still probably generates about $600 million. So, you've got a decent buffer there."

Bek does, however, acknowledge that Leonard's plan to converge newspapers and television is questionable: "Leonard obviously believes that one plus one equals three. I would argue that one plus one equals more than two, but does it equal three?" While there are synergies to be found between newspapers and television, Bek says the Hollinger deal may be more about survival than convergence.

"I don't believe these guys are introducing any new way of approaching the market," says Bek. "I think what they're doing is setting the stage to adapt to the market." With the consolidating media landscape and the potential of broadband Internet, Bek says CanWest's traditional business of rebroadcasting American imports is at risk of being marginalized. Imagine for a moment a portable flat-screen device through which you can freely connect to whatever medium you choose: news, e-mail or the latest episode of Friends. Such a device could be adopted as rapidly as the cell phone, turning the entire world of media on its head.

This might sound like science fiction. But as Nortel Networks and Sierra Wireless work together to develop high-speed wireless modems, telecommunication companies around the world are in the process of licensing the frequencies that will make the portable Internet a reality. When Canadian advertisers lose the privilege of wrapping their ads around Hollywood's most popular shows, CanWest will be positioned to dominate the only game left in town: news.

By that time, Canadians in 13 cities will click to their local newspapers in the morning, and alongside the print, they will find much-improved Global news footage. The cost of personnel will rise, but the cost of production will drop. There will be more journalists, but fewer technical people, as CanWest takes advantage of technology that will eliminate many of their jobs. Already, CanWest is developing a station-in-a-box technology that will allow Global to reduce its tech staff by a third. One day, high-speed Internet will spell the end of expensive satellite hookups, and portable devices will end Hollinger's reliance on newsprint.

In the meantime, however, journalists are going to have to undergo a frightening transition. While Leonard seems to understand the importance of news, reporters may find living up to his vision next to impossible. In a January speech to the Canadian Club of Winnipeg, Leonard said that "in the future, journalists will wake up, write a story for the Web, write a column, take their cameras, cover an event and do a report for TV and file a video clip for the Web." While these new chores may be introduced in the guise of "opportunities for journalists," it won't be long before they become requirements.

For a look into Hollinger's future, consider the Orlando Sentinel. The Florida paper's owner, Tribune Co., which also owns the Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and 22 television stations, has been a leader in converging its news operations, and Leonard often holds it up as a model for CanWest. At the Sentinel, Keith Wheeler, the deputy managing editor for multimedia, coordinates the work of an online editor, photo editor, graphics editor and local news editor.

When a story breaks in Orlando, reporters can be required to submit drafts throughout the day for Tribune's websites, appear on Tribune's television channels to update the story and still write a longer version for the next day's newspaper. Although nobody gets paid any extra for having his work repeated throughout Tribune's news operations, Wheeler doesn't think that's a problem: "If you got a reporter that comes back into the newsroom at two o'clock to write his report, and we say, 'Hey, listen, we need you to do something for television,' it's based on one report. 'Hey, listen, we need you to do something for radio,' it's still based on that one report."

The major advantage of linking TV stations and newspapers, says Wheeler, is that it expands the television network's operational force: "Let's say you have a television newsroom that only has 16 reporters. You add to them the 350 editorial staff that I have here and you see how much you've expanded their production, their capabilities, their resources. Here at the Orlando Sentinel, we have 19 photographers, and all 19 have a digital video camera, so these are 19 people from whom I can also get video of a story that maybe the television station isn't covering."

Canadian journalists are bound to see that kind of cooperation between Global and CanWest's newspapers. "What we would hope," says Leonard, "is that journalists would take the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond simply writing for a newspaper and start to work with us on writing for television, maybe even writing for an information program."

While journalists may not welcome the imposition of such "opportunities," if CanWest's purchase of Hollinger and its recent investments in news are any indication, it would seem that Leonard Asper understands that news, traditionally a weakness for CanWest Global, is going to have to become its strength, since that's one of the few places where Canadians will be able to assert themselves. "Going into the future," says Leonard, "when we have to look at what content will be winning content, we think that people in the end will always care about their news."

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