On Friday, the West Island Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles, the two Transcontinental-owned weeklies covering the West Island, each had two full-time editorial employees – an editor and a reporter.
On Monday, they may have none.
Layoffs announced just before Christmas of the papers’ reporters (Raffy Boudjikanian for the Chronicle, Olivier Laniel for Cités Nouvelles) took effect on Friday. Technically they’re not permanent, but for an indeterminant period. But Boudjikanian doesn’t expect to return to the job and is now unemployed. Laniel was a temporary worker, replacing a reporter on maternity leave.
Hearing about the job cuts and their own demotions from editor to sole reporter (and sole journalist), Chronicle editor Albert Kramberger and Cités Nouvelles editor Marie-Claude Simard told their employer on Christmas Eve that they would refuse their demotions and wouldn’t work for their papers if they were expected to do so solo.
Their superiors “seemed shocked to get the news”, Simard said, and they have been holding meetings this week with the union to discuss the matter.
Whether those meetings will go anywhere is another matter. A decision could be weeks away, and the demotions take effect on Monday.
As far as Kramberger is concerned, unless some stunning reversal on the employer’s part takes place, he’s already worked his last shift at the Chronicle, and he’s looking for another job.
Wayne Larsen, who was also demoted from editor of the Westmount Examiner, saw the positive side of his new role and is expected to stay on.
The emptying of the Chronicle is particularly distressing. Only five years ago, I spent a week there as an intern, and it had a skeleton staff, but still a staff. News reporters, a sports reporter, an editor and a photographer. The Chronicle was a perennial winner at the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards, mostly because they had more resources than the other papers.
Now they’re all gone.
Transcontinental might choose to hire a new reporter at each paper, perhaps some kid straight out of university or a laid-off journalist who’s desperate to make ends meet. But the loss of institutional memory would be huge. They would end up as shadows of the shadows they once were.
With the Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles on their last legs, a void opens up for West Island community coverage. The best of what’s left is the weekly West Island section of The Gazette, which has four full-time editorial employees and relies on the resources of the larger paper. Beyond that, there’s little. Unlike Westmount or NDG, there’s no mom-and-pop paper running out of someone’s basement trying to compete with the big guys. Even The Suburban hasn’t really reached out to the West Island yet.
Transcontinental may have seen this as just two layoffs, but they’ve essentially abdicated their responsibilities to the West Island.
Now, who will fill that void?