Power Corp. sells French-language regional newspapers, keeps Montreal La Presse

MONTREAL – Power Corp. has sold all of the French-language regional newspapers in Quebec operated by its Gesca subsidiary to a new media company headed by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon..

The value of the deal announced Wednesday wasn’t disclosed.

Groupe Capitales Medias has purchased newspapers in Quebec City (Le Soleil), Trois-Rivieres (Le Nouvelliste), Ottawa-Gatineau (Le Droit), Sherbrooke (La Tribune), Saguenay (Le Quotidien) et Granby (La Voix de l’Est), along with their websites.

However, the insurance and investment conglomerate (TSX:POW) will continue to operate its flagship Montreal La Presse.

The sale comes five months after Quebecor’s Sun Media announced the sale of its English-language newspapers to Postmedia for $316 million, and about a year after Sun Media sold 74 weekly newspapers in Quebec to Transcontinental for $75 million.

Cauchon told a news conference the buyers want to maintain “a strong regional press,” but the former politician wouldn’t say if the deal will lead to job cuts among the 530 employees.

He said it was important to get the newspapers out of Gesca.

“It is an open secret that the regional media, within the framework of Gesca, would probably have had problems. They were just a little part of their business model.”

Cauchon said the negotiations with Gesca were “long and difficult” and came amid declining readership of print media. While regional newspapers have done better than urban dailies, he said no decision has been made about moving the papers to digital platforms.

Claude Gagnon, who has headed the regional newspapers for Gesca since 2009, becomes president and general manager along with remaining president and editor of Le Soleil. Managers at each daily will also remain unchanged.

Gesca president Guy Crevier said the sale of the regional papers will allow the company to concentrate on developing and commercializing La Presse+, a digital version of the newspaper available on iPads and other tablets at no charge.

Many details remain unanswered, including who is funding the purchase and will a former politician respect the autonomy of newsrooms and journalists, says University of Ottawa communications professor Marc-Francois Bernier.

“It’s a big change…and a period of uncertainty for all journalists, advertising employees and manager in the daily regional newspapers,” he said in an interview.

Bernier said the newspapers being sold have deep roots in their communities and may not have accepted just being a section in La Presse+.

The union representing the acquired newspapers and the Quebec journalism federation welcomed the sale, saying there appeared to be a lack of interest by La Presse towards the other dailies.

Note to readers: The is a corrected story. An earlier version included Shawinigan as one of the newspapers sold.