Regular readers will know of my interest (some might say obsession) with the stock market performance of Canadian publishing giant CanWest.

Today it appears as though the stock as settled down considerably. I’m not going to say it appears to have bottomed out, though. I suggested that once before, when the stock was trading at 72 cents a share. Today, it closed at 58 cents.

But over the past couple of days, it’s been trading within a fairly narrow band (roughly between 56 and 60 cents), and at substantial share volumes. Today, for instance the volume was half of the average volume of about 440,000 shares. Yesterday, if memory serves, trade volume was about the same as the average volume.

But why do I care at all? I don’t have money in CanWest (or any other stock, except through my college pension plan). I know people who are employed by CanWest, including my brother, but the company’s success or failure has no direct bearing on me.

Partly, I’m following this to try and understand what’s happening not just with CanWest, but with Canadian media in general. We keep hearing that Canada is in so much better shape, economically, than other areas of the world, and that our newspaper culture here is fundamentally different, but what I’m seeing doesn’t reflect that.

Partly, too, it’s to try and figure out why the largest publisher of English-language newspapers in the country, is in a position where its stock is worth less than a cheap cup of coffee. Yes, it has significant debt, but the company made all the traditional moves mdash; renegotiating debt terms, laying off folk, cutting costs mdash; and it had no discernible effect on the share price freefall. (Down from a 52-week high of $7.50.)

I want to know, too, how much if this is cyclical and related to the economic weakness (even our politicians have stopped denying the Canadian economy is in tough times) and how much is rooted in the fundamental remaking of mass media.

CanWest has been clobbered, but other Canadian media companies are also down at least 50-60 per cent from their 52-week highs and down significantly from where their stock prices stood two years ago.

I think there’s a signal in what’s happening to CanWest about how quickly media is changing and the huge impact that’s going to have on media institutions mdash; particularly newspapers mdash; as we know them. That doesn’t mean I expect the newspapers in the CanWest portfolio (at least the majority of them) to die anytime soon.

But given the way the economy is unravelling and the deep hole that CanWest finds itself in, the options are quickly narrowing. CanWest can take itself private (taking on another great stack of debt), hope for investors to suddenly fall in love with mass media companies again, or make fundamental changes to the company (cut or consolidate titles, sever staff and produce smaller newspapers with fewer people, try to sell assets, etc.).

Even if CanWest decides that the stock woes are only a temporary signal and that what it needs to do is keep tinkering to ride it all out, I expect it means more layoffs at some point next year and the forced reinvention of the Canadian daily newspaper.

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