When was the last time you read a community weekly from Transcontinenal Media? When was the last time you learned anything interesting from it about your neighbourhood that you couldn’t get from the borough newsletter?
Most of the on-island community papers are pathetic – many don’t even have a full-time journalist – but others have been giving it the ol’ college try despite their tiny budgets.
Those budgets, though, are about to get smaller.
On the Friday before Christmas, just days after the latest earnings report showed good news for the parent company, journalists at Transcontinental-owned weeklies across town got the news that their services would no longer be required starting Jan. 8. Among them are two on the West Island: Raffy Boudjikanian of the West Island Chronicle and Olivier Laniel of Cités Nouvelles. It’s unclear at the moment (even to them) if these are temporary or permanent layoffs.
Normally, the downsizing of two journalists wouldn’t be a big deal, but these newspapers are running on a skeleton staff as it is. What was once a newsroom of three now becomes a newsroom of two.
One of those is the editor, who will now become a reporter. Albert Kramberger at the Chronicle, Marie-Claude Simard at Cités Nouvelles and Wayne Larsen at the Westmount Examiner. This appears to also be the case chain-wide. Their salaries will remain essentially the same or have slight reductions, depending.
The exact nature of the measures taken by Transcontinental is not absolutely clear. According to Benoit Leblanc, president of the Syndicat de l’information de Transcontinental, they affect a dozen employees, three of whom have definitely lost their jobs. Another vacant position is being eliminated.
As for Transcontinental, it’s not talking to the media. Stéphane Vinet, the Montreal regional manager for Transcontinental Media who is responsible for weekly papers on the island, did not respond to a request for information.
His name, meanwhile, is being spoken along with unkind words by some of the journalists involved.
Those who spoke to me asked me to not to name them for fear of reprisals. So I offer them anonymity even though the entire pool of editorial staff at the three newspapers mentioned above is less than a dozen. One journalist was angry, saying Transcon “declares journalists are obsolete for their ad rags” and that this was a retaliation for union grievances. Two others shrugged and accepted the cost-cutting as a fact of life, and that they’ll just find other sources of income.
It’s easy to say (as I did above) that these newspapers are garbage and this is just the continuation of their suicidal death spirals. Looking back just a decade, many of these newspapers looked a lot different, they were well connected with their communities, they didn’t just copy-paste press releases or use the same stories as their neighbours.
But there’s still just a little bit of journalism coming out of these papers, and that’s where they’re cutting. Laniel last week compiled a list of salaries for West Island mayors. Boudjikanian has been following the case against a snow plow company that hasn’t delivered on its promises. Neither of these can be replaced by a press release.
The cuts also mean an end to paid freelance work, what little is left of it anyway. Unpaid contributors, of which there are unfortunately many, will not be affected. Since, you know, they’re unpaid.