Torstar has announced that it will cease publishing print editions of its StarMetro daily commuter papers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax as of Dec. 20, as part of wider company layoffs.
In a memo to staff, TorStar President John Boynton said that while StarMetro newspapers had been “editorial successes,” print advertising volumes had declined significantly in recent months “to levels below those required to make them commercially viable.”
“This decision makes us a pure digital play outside of Ontario. We are fully committed to growing and improving our roster of digital platforms and products to meet the needs of Canadians who rely on their digital and mobile devices to access news and information,” continued Boynton.
Unifor says a total of 121 staff will lose their jobs between the 73 impacted at the five StarMetro papers; the elimination of pagination and copy centre jobs at the TorStar copy centre, located at the Hamilton Spectator; several advertising-related positions at the Spectator and Waterloo Record, in addition to some staff at the Toronto Star and several smaller Metroland community papers in the GTA.
“It’s a heck of a blow to say the least,” said Paul Morse, president of Unifor Local 87-M, which represents about 50 of the staff being laid off. “The big worry that we have right now is that this ever-growing crisis that we have in local news is going to really contribute to the growth of news deserts and that’s just bad news for communities, if they don’t have a source of reliable news.”
A handful of the StarMetro staff impacted will be able to apply for 11 new digital positions, including five in Vancouver, five in Alberta and one in Halifax. They’ll provide digital and mobile-first coverage under thestar.com banner. TorStar just rebranded the suite of Metro papers in April 2018 and hired 20 new reporters as part of a commitment at the time to expanded local news and investigative journalism.
Morse told Broadcast Dialogue that the union is still trying to come to a better understanding of TorStar’s full strategy. Tuesday’s layoffs come following third quarter losses of $41 million and suspension of its shareholder dividends.
“The reality is that the revenue declines are accelerating and as a result we’re seeing these kind of dramatic staff reductions,” said Morse. “We’re encouraging the federal government to aggressively move forward, including increasing the journalism tax credit initiative. They also need to close the loophole in the Income Tax Act. Google and Facebook ad revenue is being siphoned right out of Canada.”
To avoid even further layoffs, Unifor says TorStar has indicated its desire to offer a voluntary resignation package to its newsrooms at the Ontario dailies.
“We are now at the point where the new federal labour tax credit for written journalism will not even cover one year of decline in advertising revenue,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president, in a release.
“There’s no bigger shot in the arm for Canadian media than closing the [Income Tax Act] loophole,” said Dias.
Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) President Karyn Pugliese said in a statement that last year’s StarMetro expansion had offered journalists “a lot of hope.”
“Journalists in these cities are left to fight each other for a reduced number of jobs that won’t allow nearly as many stories to be told,” said Pugliese. “Torstar calls its digital-only next steps a ‘national expansion,’ but the truth is this is just another chapter in the contraction of local news.”
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