Can you have a newspaper without journalists? Transcontinental certainly seems to think you can. It announced that the 22 community weeklies in the Montreal area, which include the West Island Chronicle, Westmount Examiner and papers that cover various boroughs in Montreal, will be cut down from 23 to 12 journalists. That’s about half a journalist per paper.
The CSN union got angry about this and sent out a press release on Monday, which prompted stories from the FPJQ and Projet J. La Presse’s media columnist used it to lament the decline of newspapers in general. Everyone seemed to agree it was sad news.
And it is, for the people who are losing their jobs, plus those who may have had some connection to these once-respectable papers that have since been left to rot into empty shells for advertising.
The two journalists at the Chronicle (Marc Lalonde and François Lemieux), and Toula Foscolos, who is the news director for the Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, will survive the cuts, Foscolos tells me. Union rules dictate that those with less seniority will get the boot. That means part-timers like Morgan Lowrie, who had been doing most of the reporting for the Examiner and will be looking for a new job in a few weeks.
What the papers will look like after these cuts is unclear.
According to the FPJQ, the remaining journalists won’t even really be journalists. They’ll be community representatives, tasked with desperately filling the space available the cheapest way possible. The papers will lean harder on free content from citizens, people with axes to grind or things to promote, and businesses who want free advertising.
The point of no return is long gone. Does anyone still read the West Island Chronicle, or the Messager LaSalle, or the Courrier Ahuntsic? Now there will be even less of a reason to do so.
It’s a shame. But if Transcontinental had any shame, it would have let these papers shut down with some dignity many years ago.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post said there was just one journalist left at the Chronicle. There are actually two. It also failed to mention Morgan Lowrie, who is among the cuts.
UPDATE (May 7): Projet Montréal plans to present a motion to city council denouncing the cuts. It’s an entirely symbolic move that will change nothing, but I’m sure the laid-off employees appreciate it.