Last week I told you about Quebecor's new webpage where the media and telecom giant responds to criticism and perceived misinformation via open letter (instead of, say, responding to journalists' queries).
Though I have issues with Quebecor's way of dealing with news about itself (particularly its apparently systematic refusal to speak to journalists from Gesca and Radio-Canada, and to a lesser extent all other media as well), I thought this was a good step forward, that maybe the company would start interacting more with people and present its side of disputes more often.
Then, a few days later came the news that Quebecor was laying off 400 people across the country. This is a cull on the level of triple-digit job cuts two to three years ago by the CBC, CTV, Canwest and Rogers. And it's about three years since an even larger cut at Sun Media decimated its workforce.
It's hard to think of a way Quebecor could spin this positively, but they could probably talk about how this will affect their business, where the cuts will be concentrated, and what will happen to the workers.
Instead, the official response from Quebecor spokesperson Serge Sasseville was "no comment". The "Quebecor vous informe" website is silent on the issue.
Canadian Press finally got he union to confirm the job cuts, half of which is through voluntary buyouts and another 100 through other forms of attrition, leaving only 100 people laid off. It's still a significant cut, but at least some will be leaving on their own terms.
Had Sasseville decided he did want to comment and answer journalists' questions, we might get an answer to why a company that just started up a 24-hour all-news network that depends heavily on the work produced by Quebecor's existing print journalists is now making significant cuts to them. We might know why a company that seems to have no trouble making money feels the need to make such significant cuts in its workforce. We might know why the previous cut of 600 jobs only three years ago wasn't good enough to bring efficiency to its operations.
But instead, we'll just have to guess what those answers are, and it's entirely possible those guesses will be wrong.
24 Heures cuts photo department
It's unclear if these cuts are part of the 400, but news came out earlier this month that Quebecor's free Montreal daily 24 Heures had fired its three photographers, eliminating its photo department, as well as a number of copy editors.
Quebecor wouldn't confirm the news initially, but news came via social media, resulting in a blog post by former 24 Heures photographer Rogerio Barbosa, who quit his job there because the paper refused to pay his expenses. He then went to the Journal de Montréal, where he was locked out along with 252 others in January 2009. The newspaper he left, meanwhile, hired three people to replace them, apparently at a higher pay.
Barbosa's blog post got picked up by Le Devoir's Stéphane Baillargeon, who put this into context: Three photographers hired to replace one months before a lockout at the Journal de Montréal. During the lockout, many photos originally taken for 24 Heures got republished in the Journal. And then months after the lockout ends, suddenly all three photographers are fired.
It makes for a pretty strong circumstantial case that the three photographers were hired for the sole purpose of replacing locked-out Journal de Montréal photographers.
Nowadays, much of the photography appearing in Quebecor papers is done by Agence QMI, wire services, provided publicity photos or writers taking photos for their own stories.
(Baillargeon's piece resulted in a reply from Quebecor's Serge Sasseville, pointing out that 24 Heures still has eight journalists, two "journalistes-pupitreurs", two editors and a designer. Sasseville said six people lost their jobs - three photographers and three editors (of whom four were permanent employees and two freelance).