Tag Archives: job cuts

Posted in TV

Bell Media to lay off dozens at Much, MTV

Despite its very profitable operation overall, Bell Media is making deep cuts to Toronto-based television production and cutting up to 120 jobs. On Wednesday, we learned that dozens of those jobs will come from Much, MTV Canada and related channels, and will have a big impact on in-house productions. We already know that indie music show The Wedge is being cancelled, as is Video On Trial and Today’s Top 10s. On MTV, we’re losing 1 Girl 5 Gays, After Degrassi, Losing It and MTV News, according to reports.

The notice of layoff, posted on the Unifor local’s website, list the 72 positions being made redundant. We (and they) won’t know exactly who’s being cut until the process is completed, including bumping of people with less seniority in other classifications.

Much aka MuchMusic, the biggest of the specialty channels in the group, had a decent profit margin, but from 2011 to 2013 experienced an $8 million drop in annual advertising revenue and a $7 million increase in programming expenses, conspiring to push the channel in the red, according to CRTC figures. This despite a significant increase in the number of subscribers. It reported an average staff count of 75, though Unifor’s seniority list has 100 full-time and eight part-time people at the Much production unit.

And in a bit of irony, one of Much’s iconic shows, Degrassi (formerly Degrassi: The Next Generation) was just nominated for an Emmy for outstanding children’s program. It’s the show’s third nomination in four years.

Posted in Media

Alt-weekly death spiral spreads to Toronto

A little over a week ago was the second anniversary of the death of Mirror, the last of two alternative weekly newspapers in Montreal. That move came less than two months after the other, Hour, finally ceased production. It’s been five years since the death of ICI, and one year since Voir’s Montreal edition cut costs by going biweekly instead of weekly (it also killed editions in Mauricie, Saguenay, Gatineau and Estrie in the span of about a year).

Now, Canada’s largest city is feeling our pain. Word came out Wednesday that The Grid (a successor to Eye Weekly) is shutting down immediately after years of losing money for its parent Torstar. Thursday will be its last issue.

The shutdown leaves NOW as the only alt-weekly left in Toronto.

The Grid’s end is particularly painful for those who appreciated its award-winning design. While other papers were cutting back on the little things and going as cookie-cutter as possible to save money, The Grid put in the extra effort and created a paper that was as interesting to look at as it was to read.

Posted in Media

Postmedia outsourcing Gazette printing to Transcontinental

You’ve probably already heard this news, but just for the record, Postmedia announced this week that it is outsourcing the printing of The Gazette to TC Transcontinental Printing, beginning August 2014. (Transcontinental has its own press release.) The decision will mean the layoff of 54 full-time employees and 61 casual employees. (Transcontinental says it doesn’t need additional resources to take on the Gazette contract.)

Unlike editorial, advertising, reader sales and business office employees, which are represented by the Montreal Newspaper Guild, a local of CWA-SCA Canada, the plant employees are represented by a local of the Teamsters union.

This will also mean the same of the presses, the building and the land it sits on, with the money from it going to pay down Postmedia’s debt. Whether its vocation as a printing press remains depends on who buys it, but there isn’t much optimism of that happening. So expect that land on St-Jacques St. W. in N.D.G. to be repurposed for some industrial or commercial purpose.

Since I’m an employee of The Gazette, I won’t go much into detail about this decision. Even though I’ve never met most of the people at the plant in person, I haven’t had any bad experiences with them either. Same thing for Transmag, the Anjou-based printing plant that will put out The Gazette. I worked with them a decade ago when I was editor of The Link at Concordia University. Deadline was a fluid concept to us, but thankfully they were much more reliable than we were.

Transmag is unionized, by the way. Their current contract goes until October 2015, and the details of it are here.

Posted in Media, My articles

CBC cuts affect 10 jobs at CBC Montreal; five people let go

For three weeks after CBC President Hubert Lacroix announced cuts equivalent to 657 full-time positions at the public broadcaster, employees at the CBC Montreal office finally learned how those cuts would trickle down at the local level.

This week, I met with Shelagh Kinch, the Quebec regional director for English services, who laid it out for me: 10 positions are being “affected” by the cuts, and at this point it looks like five people will be leaving the CBC as a result.

I explain it all in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

The changes break down as follows:

  • Management is being restructured, eliminating the job of news director. Mary-Jo Barr has been let go. Helen Evans will be in charge of both news and current affairs, while Meredith Dellandrea will be in charge of non-daily programs (like Cinq à six, À propos and Our Montreal) and have “a major role” in the CBC Montreal website. “Helen has an extensive background with us,” Kinch said. “She’s probably produced every one of those programs for us. She also has very strong leadership skills. I need somebody that people are behind and people want to work with.”
  • Two retirements won’t be replaced: journalist Ivan Slobod, who left in September after 30 years at the CBC, and Sally Caudwell, who produces Radio Noon.
  • The two part-time jobs producing Cinq à six and À propos are being replaced by one full-time producer. Tanya Birkbeck, who produced Cinq à six, will stay at the CBC as a news reporter. Sophie Laurent, who produced À propos, is out of a job. Frank Opolko will take over producing both jobs.
  • Web development is being centralized in Toronto, and a local developer is being made redundant. The person in that position will be able to apply to the Toronto job, Kinch said.
  • A communications officer position is being made redundant. Catherine Megelas is the unlucky one. She said in a Facebook post that it was “a super shitty day” the day she was told. Redundancy means that the union will try to find another job for her to fill, a process that could take up to 90 days.
  • A late-night camera operator is being reassigned.
  • One arts reporter position is being eliminated. Pierre Landry, the arts reporter for Homerun, is the only one who’s on contract, so his won’t be renewed past the end of June.
  • One position, described as a reassignment, that CBC said it couldn’t give any details on. (UPDATE: It’s anchor Andrew Chang, who’s taking up a new job at CBC outside of Montreal)

The departures will be staggered over the summer, as contracts end, notices are given and alternative jobs explored. But by September, the changes should have taken effect.

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Posted in TV

CTV Montreal parts with sales manager

Updated below with information from Ecclissi.

Tony Ecclissi gives a presentation about CTV Montreal's fall lineup on June 13. He won't be sticking around to see it on air.

Tony Ecclissi gives a presentation about CTV Montreal’s fall lineup on June 13. He won’t be sticking around to see it on air.

Tony Ecclissi no longer works for CTV Montreal. In what general manager Louis Douville qualified as a “simple re-structuring,” the position of General Sales Manager has been eliminated.

“Martin Poirier will take over the National Sales Manager portfolio and I plan on announcing a Retail Sales Manager in the near future,” Douville wrote to me in an email when I inquired about Ecclissi.

People emailing Ecclissi are now getting an automated reply that reads “Please note that Mr. Antonio Ecclissi is no longer with the company,” followed by contact information for Poirier and Douville, who’s handling local sales for now.

Ecclissi’s LinkedIn page, which has been updated to reflect the end of his three-year tenure at CTV Montreal, lists his profession as “Media Advertising Specialist.”

“There has been some restructuring as you know as a result of the Astral purchase,” Ecclissi told me. “Myself along with the Sales Managers at CTV Ottawa (Dan Champagne) and CTV Vancouver (Lynne Forbes) are the latest casualties who were let go last week. I was General Sales Manager and responsible for both the National Sales Team and the Local sales team.”

Tony Ecclissi

UPDATE (Sept. 4): CTV Montreal has split Ecclissi’s former job in two, naming former TSN 690 GM Wayne Bews as retail sales manager and senior account executive Martin Poirier as national sales manager.

Posted in Media

Quebecor cuts 360 jobs, shuts down 24 Hours in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton

Triple-digit job cuts in major media companies seem to have become so commonplace these days. It’s not even the first time it’s happened at Quebecor Media (500 job cuts last fall, 90 cuts at TVA last month, 600 jobs in 2008).

On Tuesday, the company announced it is reducing its workforce by 360 jobs through “restructuring initiatives”, and killing half its 24 Hours free daily network of papers. Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary, where Quebecor’s Sun Media also produces paid dailies, will no longer have 24 Hours newspapers. The last editions of those papers will be Aug. 2.

That leaves three: Montreal and Toronto, where Quebecor says the large mass transit systems warrant the continued publication of a free daily, and Vancouver, where there isn’t a Sun Media paid daily.

Quebecor is also pulling the plug on eight community newspapers:

  • L’Action Régionale Montérégie (Québec)
  • The Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario)
  • The Midland Free Press (Ontario)
  • The Meadow Lake Progress (Saskatchewan)
  • The Lac du Bonnet Leader (Manitoba)
  • The Beausejour Review (Manitoba)
  • Le Magazine Saint-Lambert (Québec)
  • Le Progrès de Bellechasse (Québec)

There’s some blah-blah-blah about investing in new technologies where the young people are at these days, but the job cuts make it clear that those investments won’t involve many people.

The news comes just after the editor of the Toronto Sun was left jobless.

Posted in TV

Rogers shuts down CityNews Channel

Citing “evolving viewer habits and the global structural shift in advertising,” Rogers announced it is shutting down Toronto all-news channel CityNews Channel effective immediately. It also announced that it would no longer be producing OMNI programming in Alberta, where it has two over-the-air stations in Calgary and Edmonton, and it is killing its English-language South Asian newscast.

The cuts affect 2.5% of the Rogers Broadcast workforce, or 62 full-time jobs.

CityNews Channel launched in 2011 as a local Toronto all-news channel (the announcement of its launch was exactly two years ago). Its main competition was CP24, ironically a channel that was previously run by City but that went to CTV when CTV bought CHUM in 2007. It sold City to Rogers but kept CP24 for itself.

The channel has struggled in ratings, doing worse than even Sun News Network (though that channel is a national one).

OMNI’s Alberta stations, CJEO Edmonton and CJCO Calgary, were licensed as a regional system in 2007, and Rogers had proposed 29 hours a week of local and regional programming. But that proposal was not turned into a condition of licence, and their current licence, which expires in 2015, has no provision for local programming, ethnic or otherwise.

They stopped producing regional daily newscasts in 2011, and now they have no original programming at all.

We’ll see if the CRTC has something to say about the complete lack of original programming when those licences come up for renewal.

Statement from Rogers 

Statement from Scott Moore, President of Broadcast, Rogers Media, regarding CityNews Channel and OMNI Television:

“Today, we made changes to the company’s television strategy to reflect evolving viewer habits and the global structural shift in advertising.

“Moving forward, we will focus our broadcast news resources in Toronto on 680News and CityNews on City, and as a result, have ceased operations of CityNews Channel, effective immediately.  Given the changing marketplace, programming changes have also been made at OMNI Television: the English-language South Asian newscast is no longer being offered and production operations in Alberta have ceased.  We remain committed to ethnic programming and will deliver news in four other languages, as well as continue to air programming in more than 40 languages.

“Today’s changes impact 2.5 per cent of the company’s broadcast workforce.  While difficult, these changes enable us to continue to focus our efforts where we know the market is growing, while helping us to effectively manage our costs.”

Posted in Media

Canadian Jewish News to close

From their website:

With great sadness, I have to announce that The Canadian Jewish News will cease publishing its printed newspaper with its June 20 edition.

I never dreamed that I would be writing this. No nightmare of mine envisioned it.

For some time, we have known of the ravages that printed newspapers and magazines have been experiencing across the world. The digital age, in which news and commentary are retrieved instantly on smartphones, on computers and on all kinds of new devices, has overtaken the printed word. For the most part, the attractions of printed paper are welcome experiences only for an older generation and appear to be destined to be things of the past. Added to this that much of the world believes that news and commentary should be free.

Newspapers depend for their existence on advertising. It is their lifeblood. Growing numbers of advertisers are no longer convinced that they will get responses to what they pay for in printed publications. Add to that the economic situation in effect over the past few years has left little monies for advertising.

While we were alert to what was happening around us, we hoped that The CJN, with its “niche” attraction, would not be like others, and that our print edition would survive and flourish. We made substantial operating changes, which we thought would assist. After careful analysis, we have concluded that they do not.

We are pained to have to make this decision. We know the role that The CJN has played in the community for the past 42 years. Notwithstanding our editorial integrity and a cadre of superb writers, we face an evolving society, a different readership and changed demands.

If The CJN is to be a vibrant part of the future, it will only be as an enhanced and expanded digital edition. That is our hope. However, The CJN will disappear from your mailboxes and the newsstands.

We appreciate the loyalty of our subscribers and advertisers. As importantly, we appreciate our committed staff – some 50 people – many of whom have worked for the paper for so long and with the greatest dedication.

Reality dictates to us that “for every thing there is a season….”

Donald Carr, President

The Canadian Jewish News

CJN, which competes with the Jewish Tribune, has editions in Montreal and Toronto.

More coverage from the Globe and Mail, National Post and Canada.com, plus a blog post from Mike Cohen.

UPDATE: A follow-up from editor Mordechai Ben-Dat and President Donald Carr on the efforts to keep CJN alive, including the Save CJN campaign.

Posted in Media

Why OpenFile failed

It was early 2010, and the state of journalism was bleak. The effect of the global recession was around its peak, advertising revenue was low and looking like it would never return (it did eventually bounce back a bit). Some fantastic people were out of work (briefly, anyway). Montreal lost two radio stations and at least one online journalism experiment. Jobs were disappearing nationwide.

So media watchers in Canada met with hope and some skepticism a new venture by journalist Wilf Dinnick. He proposed something called “community-powered news”, a structure that would marry the democracy and people-power of crowdsourcing and the reliability of professional journalism. Unlike many startup news websites, it promised to pay freelance journalists competitive rates.

It got a lot of attention, from American media watchers like PBS MediaShift and the Nieman Journalism Lab, as well as Canadian media like the National Post and the Globe and Mail. Earlier this year, its founder was named J-Source’s Newsperson of the Year.

And yet, the skepticism continued. For one thing, there didn’t seem to be an obviously sustainable source of income. And despite all the hoopla, there weren’t many major stories being broken by this project. Occasionally, a quality freelancer would put out something that turned heads, but a lot of the stories seemed to be little different from what you’d find on any other local collaborative blog. It got a reputation as a website that Storified the news rather than reported it. For every interesting story about an important issue, there was lots and lots of curation, re-reporting what had been reported elsewhere.

Not that curation is a bad thing. But we already have a blog that curates local news. And lots of people go straight to newspaper websites for their news, or follow what they see on Twitter or Facebook. While I think curation makes a lot of sense for blogs about specific topics, doing it for generalist local news makes less sense because most local media try to match each other’s big stories anyway.

The system

When it launched, OpenFile promised to change the way people think about how news stories are created. It proposed that its workflow differ from mainstream news organizations in two major ways:

  1. Story ideas would originate from users, not assignment editors. People would be able to add comments while the story was being developed.
  2. Stories would never be “finished” – they would continually evolve, with back-and-forth between the journalist and the public

In hindsight, neither of these ideas worked out very well. The first was based on the idea that there would be a steady supply of new story ideas from readers, stuff that the big mainstream media wasn’t interested in reporting on. OpenFile failed to build enough community engagement that would encourage people to bring their ideas to them. Instead, what few original ideas people would come up with would either be shared on social media, fed to individual journalists or shopped to the largest media outlets.

The second part failed in part because OpenFile employs freelancers, and freelance journalism isn’t really compatible with stories never being done. And in practice OpenFile followed up on stories much in the same way mainstream media does, by writing separate follow-up stories. In other cases they would update the original stories by writing updates on top of them, but those stories always ended up difficult to read because they no longer had a narrative flow.

OpenFile also promised to be more local, right down to the street level. That sounds cool, but there’s a limit to how hyperlocal you can get before you narrow your audience to a handful of people.

Hope

Now, don’t misinterpret me here. I liked OpenFile. They republished a few of my blog posts (and paid a small fee for that privilege, even though I never quite got how that was a good use of money). I even wrote an original story for them last year about a dangerous intersection (a year later, nothing has been done about it). I was encouraged to contribute more, but I didn’t mainly because I had other outlets for professional reporting, in addition to this blog. I wasn’t really sure what kind of stories I could write for them.

Nevertheless, I certainly appreciated how OpenFile paid freelancers properly for their work, and the opportunities they offered to good young journalists.

When I first heard a rumour last week that the whole project would be shutting down soon, I was disappointed but not surprised. Now that they’ve announced a not-shutdown, I’m more confused than anything else, wondering why they need to suspend operations for such a short amount of time, and whether this isn’t just that last gasp of desperate hope that gets shot out before an organization in denial finally bites the dust. I hope not.

But I do think that OpenFile, if it continues, needs to really think about its business model and ask itself what it’s doing. If it’s a user-generated news site, that’s one thing. If it’s a general local news site, that’s another. But it can’t go up against the big guys by trying to do the same thing, and it can’t put all its hopes on the possibility that someone will file a fantastic idea that it can pounce on.

The best way for small media to make a difference is to find a niche and own it. To be the go-to source for … something. OpenFile needs to find something it can be good at, something that other media isn’t doing, and focus on that. Maybe then it can be truly successful. But trying to apply a new model to a generalist news site won’t work if you’re not producing enough generalist news.

Here’s hoping OpenFile can find its purpose before Wilf Dinnick loses any more money on this venture.

And here’s hoping that journalists like Dominique Jarry-Shore and Sarah Leavitt can find other sources of income if they can’t just go back to OpenFile in “a week or two.”

UPDATE (Oct. 1): J-Source has a story about OpenFile, in which Dinnick hints that the new OpenFile would involve increased user participation, but otherwise doesn’t offer much detail about its future.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Bell to convert TSN Radio to French

Well, this is a shock.

As part of its acquisition of Astral Media, including CJAD, CHOM and CJFM in Montreal’s English market, Bell Media has decided that rather than sell one of the four English stations it would own here, it is going to keep all four of them but convert one to French.

As such, Bell announced Tuesday that it has applied to the CRTC to convert CKGM (TSN Radio 990) to a French-language all-sports station named RDS Radio 990. (Actually it would be RDS Radio 690, since the station is moving to that frequency.) Bell expects the switch to happen by Jan. 1, 2013, though that’s dependent on how fast the CRTC makes a decision. It says it is prepared to make the change within 120 days of the CRTC’s decision.

The CRTC’s competition rules require that a common owner control no more than three stations in a market of fewer than eight commercial stations (English Montreal has five), and no more than two AM and two FM stations in a market of more than that (French Montreal has eight). Since neither Astral nor Bell have a French-language AM station in Montreal, converting the station to French would allow them to keep it.

TSN Radio 990, formerly The Team 990, has always struggled as a low-rated station, but there was a feeling over the past few years that it had finally found a niche that worked after various other failed attempts at different formats.

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Posted in Radio

Radio Canada Irrational

Radio Canada International is, essentially, dead.

The last broadcasts of the service on shortwave ended Sunday night. (You can listen to some of the final transmissions here and here.) Its budget has been cut by 80%, its Portuguese and Russian services are gone, two thirds of its staff has been let go, and the huge transmission site in Sackville, N.B., sits unused, to be sold or torn down eventually.

The video above is Marc Montgomery, host of the daily program The Link, at the end of its final broadcast on Friday. As you can see, he gets quite emotional at the end, explaining why cutting RCI is a mistake.

While most Canadians have probably never heard of it, RCI isn’t for them. As Montgomery explains, the shortwave service in particular is capable of reaching people who don’t have Internet access or whose Internet access is blocked or filtered. With an online-only service, third-world countries that restrict foreign media online won’t have access to it.

Does that matter? Do people in third-world countries really listen to RCI in the first place? Maybe not. Maybe RCI has outlived its usefulness, and its shortwave service was mostly just a hobby for lonely ham-radio types who like to tune up noisy distant stations broadcasting in single-sideband AM. In that case, it might as well be shut down completely.

I’ve seen enough media outlets go online-only as a result of budget cuts to know that complete shutdown of RCI is, at this point, inevitable. Few people will listen to it because it’s harder to access and has so little original programming, and that will be used as justification down the line to pull the plug completely.

Many people have been trying in vain to find some way to keep RCI going. Sympathetic stories have been written about their demise. Politicians have been conscripted into the cause. A rule mandating a shortwave service has been found and subsequently eliminated by the government. A protest has been organized with a few people showing up. Attempts are being made (unsuccessfully) to have the federal government set RCI’s funding aside from the rest of the CBC. The RCI Action Committee, started the last time the CBC tried to gut the service, is actively pushing these activities and chronicling with regret the dismantling of the service on Twitter.

But they’re all in vain. The damage is done. Any groundswell of public support will eventually fade. People will forget. The CBC isn’t going to go back on its decision and the government isn’t going to force them to. The latter will point out that it sets the parliamentary appropriation and leaves the details on how to spend it to the public broadcaster. The former will point out that its budget situation has forced it to make difficult decisions and that things like local news and current affairs programming matter more to average Canadians than an international shortwave service.

So while it’s nice to hear that RCI won’t disappear quietly, the best we can do is honour the service and regret that it’s now gone. CKUT’s International Radio Report, which aired Montgomery’s signoff in its entirety, itself got emotional talking about RCI’s shutdown on Sunday (MP3).

The CBC News Network program Connect and CBC Radio program Dispatches also aired their final episodes this week. The final episode of Connect is here, with a retrospective starting at the 36-minute mark. The final episode of Dispatches is here.

Posted in Media

Quebecor shuts down Mirror

Well, this one’s kind of a shocker. Mere weeks after Communications Voir finally pulled the plug on the struggling Hour, Quebecor has responded not by positioning Mirror as the dominant alternative weekly for anglo Montreal, but by simply shutting it down. Thursday’s issue is its last.

Like Hour, staff were not told of the shutdown until after the fact, so there’s no goodbye message. Quebecor says the shutdown will result in seven layoffs, plus two people being moved to other parts of the company. The paper was also a source of income for many freelancers, and (along with Hour) gave many journalists their first professional bylines.

For those employees, and regular freelancers, the news hit hard, especially when coming from a corporate giant like Quebecor.

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Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Blue Monday at The Gazette

It’s annoying when big news happens on your day off.

There was an email to all staff shortly before 3pm calling for a meeting about something “important”. I was at home, enjoying my first day off in a while,  so I couldn’t come in to attend.

I got most of the news first on Twitter, particularly Steve Ladurantaye of the Globe and Mail. Postmedia is engaging in another round of deep job cuts, which include “more than 20″ at The Gazette.

Eventually, we got the memos from the president of Postmedia and the publisher of The Gazette, the contents of which are being widely reported (see links below). But a lot is still unclear.

The job cuts are being described as “layoffs”, though it’s too early to say that. Voluntary buyouts will be offered, and if enough people take them, layoffs won’t be necessary. Despite all the rounds of job cuts at the paper in the seven years I’ve been there, no permanent union jobs in the newsroom have been forcibly cut.

People have asked me if I’m on the “list” of people being laid off, and the truth is no such list exists yet, and whether this ends up with me eventually losing my job is something I just don’t know. If it comes to layoffs, I’m No. 105 on a newsroom union seniority list of 107 (which also includes photographers, columnists, reporters, designers, clerks and other newsroom employees), so my chances of being bumped out of a job is high higher. Looking at that list, 63 of the 107 have more than 20 years of seniority (which is adjusted for part-time workers and those who take leaves of absence). Only seven (including myself) have an adjusted seniority of less than five years. It’s a simple reality of work in a union environment where hiring has been rare recently because of the industry’s struggles.

More details will come out as the decisions from higher up trickle down to the department level, and later when we know who is taking buyouts. But whether it results in layoffs or not, the result will be a blow to the paper. National and world news stories, which are no longer being edited in Montreal, may not even be selected by local editors, though that’s still unclear. The amount of space devoted to editorial content (stories and pictures in all sections) will be reduced 35% (though I’m told this is just during weekdays). Virtually all More editing for print will be done by editors at Postmedia Editorial Services in Hamilton, Ont.

I’m not in a position to criticize the decisions of upper management at Postmedia, who have to deal with a substantial debt load and declining revenues. There are plenty of pundits not employed by this company who can do that. But whether or not it’s the right decision, it’s still sad. It’s a blow to seasoned workers who may feel more pressure to retire early or face a newsroom with declining morale. It’s a blow to young workers like myself. And it’s a blow to people looking for jobs (people like Adam Kovac), who have just seen their slim prospects here get even slimmer.

Coverage

UPDATE: I’ve clarified a few items above where I made statements about things that will happen that I’m told are still not clear. Don’t put too much emphasis on the details, which still have to be worked out. We know there will be more centralization and fewer local jobs, but how that will play out exactly still has to be determined.

Posted in Media, Montreal

The end of Hour (for realz)

I wrote a brief story about Hour’s demise for The Gazette. You can read it here.

The final issue of Hour Community - Vol. 20, No. 18, dated May 3-9, 2012

Hour died a year ago. But now they’ve made it official.

Word leaked out Wednesday night that Communications Voir was pulling the plug on Montreal’s second English-language alternative weekly newspaper, 13 months after a purge that saw everyone associated with the paper lose their jobs or regular freelance cheques. The paper was renamed Hour Community, got a new editor in Kevin LaForest, and crawled along with even less content and advertising than before. Near the end, the paper was embarrassingly thin, with few ads that weren’t from the government or from Voir itself. Its content consisted of little more than a column from Anne Lagacé Dowson and a handful of music and restaurant reviews.

On Thursday, Hour Community publishes its final issue.

The war was long over. In the end the question wasn’t about whether the paper would recover and compete with Mirror again, but whether it could pick up enough advertising by default that it could continue operating while spending peanuts on content. It’s perhaps fortunate for the journalistic industry that the answer to that second question was “no”.

The final columns from LaForest and Dowson are online. Neither makes mention of the finality of the issue. LaForest said he heard of the decision only late Wednesday afternoon. Dowson called the news “sad” on Twitter.

“We gave it our all,” LaForest wrote to me, “but, as you wrote a year ago, I guess there’s just no room for two anglo weeklies in Montreal.”

It was an anomaly that in a place like Montreal there would be two English-language alternative weeklies but only one French-language weekly, ever since Ici closed in 2009. Though LaForest and Dowson tried to breathe new life into the crippled publication, it was just a matter of time until it too was shown the door. When one paper has eight articles and the other has 42, it’s not even a contest any more.

Hour will be remembered as a place that acted as a breeding ground for many journalists and writers, from Josey Vogels to Linda Gyulai.

Now the question will be: Will Mirror profit from this and get a boost in advertising and readership that ensures its continued success, or is this another step in the death march of this form of media?

Also being terminated are the Saguenay and Mauricie editions of Voir. In the cases of the Saguenay Voir and Hour, the news came out via Twitter messages from staff. For the Mauricie paper, it came out only after the fact.

There has been no comment from Communications Voir aside from this statement, which gives no source. It blames the advertising market for not doing enough to support the papers. Former Hour editor Jamie O’Meara disputes that, putting the blame on management that just didn’t care about Hour once it was clear it had lost the war against Mirror.

A petition has been started to convince Voir to change it mind on the Saguenay edition. It has 300 signatures online.

Coverage

You’d think this would be a pretty big story, but … it’s not. Of the three local anglophone newscasts, only Global even mentioned Hour’s demise, and that was a brief apparently based on the Gazette story. (It also posted it on its website.) But aside from some blog posts and a very small number of stories, the shutting down of a newspaper in Montreal was given little attention.

That’s sad.

UPDATE: Saguenay Voir’s Joël Martel gives a proper goodbye column online, since the news came too late to make it into the paper. Now Martel is trying to use social media to help him find his next job, and has released a YouTube video and started up a Facebook campaign to help him.

UPDATE (May 22): Voir has also shut down sister paper Ottawa XPress in similarly noncommunicative fashion. Coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Quebecor doesn’t inform when it doesn’t feel like it

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).