MONTREAL - It could be a dark 125th anniversary for North America's biggest French-language broadsheet newspaper.

Montreal's La Presse paper, which has won plaudits for its in-depth and consistent coverage of international and national issues, is threatening to cease operations on Dec. 1.

A spokeswoman told The Canadian Press in an interview that staff were informed Thursday that management and the union have three months to reach an agreement on cutting costs.

Caroline Jamet, vice-president of communications for the paper, says employees will need to contribute to that cost-cutting -- otherwise, both the paper edition and its online version would be shut down.

La Presse, founded in 1884, could not afford to maintain its day-to-day activities under the current business model, she said.

"There would be a suspension of activities of La Presse and (the online edition) Cyberpresse if there's no agreement by Dec. 1," Jamet said.

"We've developed a strategy to permit La Presse to migrate towards a new model and have agreements in place with financial institutions for new financing," Jamet said.

"All that's left is the part of the employees, it's the only part left to complete the equation."

But she expressed optimism that a deal can be reached -- raising the question of whether the publicly delivered threat was more a harbinger of impending doom or a negotiating ploy.

La Presse is, by far, the biggest French broadsheet on the continent.

On international news, it expends resources to produce in-depth reports from all over the world. Closer to home, it covers Canadian politics extensively and frequently scoops its competition on local and provincial stories.

Like other media, and especially newspapers, it has been pounded this year by plummeting advertising revenues and the global recession.

In a drive to cut costs, La Presse stopped publishing its Sunday edition earlier this summer.

The last Sunday edition was published June 28.

At the time, publisher Guy Crevier said he hoped to reduce the newspaper's costs by $26 million, including $13 million in concessions annually from unions.

La Presse is the flagship newspaper of Gesca Ltee, a wholly owned division of Power Corp. (TSX:POW).

The National Post, which belongs to CanWest Global Communications Corp. (TSX:CGS.A), cancelled its Monday edition for nine weeks, beginning on June 29.

Jamet said the company is confident it can come to an agreement with its 700 employees -- and added that three months offers plenty of time to do it.

Jamet said key concessions would be the end of the four-day work week at the paper, plus job cuts.

"We're talking about 100 job cuts," she said.

But Jamet said some employees have said they would likely leave voluntarily if faced with the prospect of a five-day work week, which would lessen the number of job cuts.

These have been brutal times for the newspaper business.

In Canada, the Halifax Daily News shut down its operations last year.

Montreal-based Transcontinental (TSX:TCL.A), which owned the Daily News, replaced the paper with another tabloid -- a free daily called Metro. The closure ended a 30-year battle between the Daily News and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

The St. John's Telegram, another newspaper owned by Transcontinental, stopped printing its Sunday edition last September.

One major U.S. newspaper has already folded this year and several others are seeking bankruptcy protection.

Last spring, the cash-strapped New York Times Co. threatened to shut the doors on the prestigious, 137-year-old Boston Globe.

The Times bought the Globe, once considered one of the most profitable papers in the U.S., for a record $1.1 billion in 1993.

Elsewhere this year, Scripps Co. permanently stopped the presses of Colorado's oldest newspaper, Denver's Rocky Mountain News.

On Tuesday, Freedom Communications Holdings Inc., the company that owns The Orange County Register in California, and dozens of other newspapers, became the latest publisher to seek bankruptcy protection.

Other major newspaper companies that have filed for bankruptcy protection include the owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and another respected Boston publication, the Christian Science Monitor, stopped daily publication in favour of online news.

The Post-Intelligencer shut down its print edition without even trying to work things out in bankruptcy court.