Home > Industry stuff > What the hell is Bob Doull up to?

What the hell is Bob Doull up to?

May 3, 2012

Unless you work for him, or have worked for him in the distant past, you may not know the name Bob Doull. But quite slowly over recent years, Robert W. Doull has been amassing a strange collection of community papers around British Columbia. And yet, it’s hard to get a sense of his real objective.

So, with that said, I’m going to put out what information I’ve collected and see if anyone can make sense of it all. (I would love it if Bob emailed me to explain his grand designs to this blog’s readers).

Here we go:

The former cartoonist of the Banff Crag and Canyon has the most info about Doull’s backgroud here.

Among the highlights, according to that writer: Doull started as a writer at the (left-wing) Georgia Straight. He later became general manager of (the right-wing) Alberta Report before he started buying papers in 1987. First under the name Black Tusk Holdings, and later as WestMount Press, Doull built a chain of 21 papers, mostly in the Rocky Mountain area of B.C. and Alberta.

The cartoonist praises Doull for “believing in quality newspapers” and turning both the Crag and the Canmore Leader into award-winning publications.

Doull is quoted in an American Journalism Review article in 1996 as saying:

“We take the long view . . . If we lose credibility with readers, it will do us more harm than good in the long run.” And: “During the recession, we didn’t cut any positions. We had a higher level of benefits than provided by union shops… We have to keep people we value.”

In 1998, Doull sold his chain to a subsidiary of Sun Media, according to the cartoonist. He then disappeared for a bit.

In 2005, he was involved in something called the Christian History Project. According to Kaye Corbett of the Vernon Daily Courier, when the project ran into trouble, Doull blamed a “moslem” for destroying records and setting the company back $700,000.

Corbett wrote:

Islamic terror has reached Canada, at least on paper, and at least in the mind of newspaper publisher Bob Doull.

As president and CEO of the Christian History Project, Doull has been forced to lay off about 50 people and the planned 12 volumes of the $3-$5-million project, ‘The Christians — Their First Two Thousand Years’ has ceased publication after only six volumes. And he identified a former technician of destroying or retrieving all the records, including the volumes of work from outstanding artists and writers, plus all the customer records from the expensive computer system, based in Edmonton, Alberta.

Doull, who is publisher of a number of community newspapers in British Columbia and Alberta, said that ‘B’, a member of contact center administration for the project, was either a Moslem or connected with Moslems in halting the massive publishing undertaking.

…..

While Doull placed the blame on a “Moslem,” the former executive editor of “The Christians”, Paul Stanway pinpointed that ‘B’ was not a Moslem, but a “beer-swigging Anglican.” When informed of Doull’s assessment of the situation, he said, the project had suffered financial woes with “overspending” before the computer problems. Stanway is the former editor, and now columnist, with the Edmonton Sun.

Doull informed me that ‘B’ had been questioned by Edmonton police, but had been released, and it’s not known where he might be.

In 2006, the project was declared dead. (Kaye posted his columns were posted on the Internet in 2007, hence the date at the top of the post).

In 2006, Doull founded Corvus Publishing and later bought and sold the Abbotsford Post).

In January 2010, Doull (as Corvus) bought the Columbia Valley Pioneer. It was controlled by a company first called Abel Creek Publishing, of which Doull was the president. Now it’s controlled by Misko Publishing Limited Partnership. Doull is the president of that company.

Here’s what the Pioneer wrote about Doull when he bought the paper:

Corvus Publishing was founded in 2006 by Robert W. Doull of Penticton. “I felt that the large chainswere harming papers by attempting to standardize allaspects of their decision-making and stripping jobsout of small communities,” Mr. Doull said.

He explained that the initial concept of Corvuswas based on three principles.

“Firstly, the future of print publishing lies in adedication to quality product with opportunities for the staff to be creatively challenged. Secondly, employees need to be treated respectfully with full responsibility for their own work. Finally, local papers need tobe locally managed,” he said.

Corvus is a full or partial owner of six other news-papers – one on the Sunshine Coast, three in theOkanagan, and two in northern B.C.

Several months later, Doull bought several papers: Kamloops This Week, Prince George Free Press, and the Merritt Herald. The Prince George Citizen reported that the Free Press is now operated by a company listed as Prince George Publications Limited Partnership while KTW and the Free Press are operated by Thompson River Publications Limited Partnership. The Citizen said the companies controlled 10 papers. KTW editor Chris Foulds said not much change had taken place over the first two months under the new bosses:

“Regular readers of Kamloops This Week would never know we had been sold by Black Press to Thompson River had we not announced it in the newspaper and online at kamloopsthisweek.com.

And, that is because, from an editorial point of view, nothing has changed.

Our staffing remains the same (that is to say it remains skeletal, which I am fond of continually reminding my boss!), as does and the pursuit of news and stories.”

Chris also did some speculating:

“Doull also bought Black Press’s Merritt Herald and Prince George Free Press newspapers as part of the deal, which may or may not be connected to a July deal that saw Black Press buy a number of newspapers in the Kootenays from Glacier, which happens to own the Kamloops Daily News.”

Doull is listed here as also controlling the Invermere Valley Sentinel and Oliver Chronicle. No date on that document, but of note, Kamloops This Week is listed as being owned by Black, which obviously dates it to pre-Oct. 2010. It lists the papers as “Independent (or via Black Press).”

In 2011, Doull got back into the alt-weekly game by purchasing both Edmonton weekly publications: Vue Weekly and See. He then merged the two fter declaring that “the market no longer supports two alternative weeklies.” The new, merged Vue is operated by Postvue Publishing Limited Partnership.

An Edmonton Journal article on the sale (in which Doull says the existence of two alt-weeklies was originally premised on a dispute) has some revealing nuggets.

First, and least revealing, the Journal article says Doull owns 13 papers in B.C. Can someone fill in the rest for me?

Doull also said he wanted to keep both paper’s staffs.

Then there’s this, in which Doull speaks, apparently, about chains of alt-weeklies:

“We’ve always agonized about that,” said Doull, who operates 13 community newspapers in B.C. “At what point do you become a chain? I live in Penticton and operate out of my basement. I’m the sole director of the company, so I’m responsible for the decisions. In that sense we’re independent. But you’re never really independent. You always have banks, shareholders.”

So now we know what Doull headquarters looks like.

On April 26, 2012, the Jasper Fitzhugh reported that it had been sold to Bob Doull, president of Aberdeen Publishing.

So what’s the game here? I honestly have no idea.

Doull’s papers in Kamloops and Prince George still use Black Press websites and Black Press regional copy. But in Invermere, his Columbia Valley Pioneer competes against a Black paper. On top of that, there is a rumour floating around that Doull may have some deal with Glacier Media. If such a deal exists, no money has changed hands. None of the Limited Partnerships listed above are mentioned in Glacier’s financial filings. As a public company, Glacier is required by law to declare investments in other companies. (Private companies, like Black Press, are not traded publicly don’t have to list their investments.)

I’ll just note that, from the outside, Doull seems to take hands-off ownership to a strange extreme. That, obviously, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whatever his beliefs may be, he’s not writing editorials for his mismash of papers.

Do you know more? Email me at bclocalreporter@gmail.com or leave a comment.

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  1. May 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  2. Independent forever
    May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    This is everything that is wrong with the BC newspaper industry. It is filled with a bunch of fat cats living off of government subsidies who spend more time and energy sniffing out and destroying competition and maneuvering than producing quality news. Pull the subsidies and watch these big players cease to exist! No more triple standard ad pricing for “local”, “corporate” and “government ads”, no more mail subsidies, just the real market.

    • Anonymous
      May 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Hey now, say what you will about David Black, but the man is certainly not fat.

  3. Old Ed
    May 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I have said for many years that the newspaper ownership business is like a very interesting card game. If you know how to play the game, chances are you might one day own a competitor’s paper and they might own one of yours!

    I am glad to see that Bob is still in the game.

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