Merry Christmas from Transcontinental (P.S.: You’re fired)

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.

Montreal regional manager Stéphane Vinet

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.

11 thoughts on “Merry Christmas from Transcontinental (P.S.: You’re fired)

  1. Dominique

    Last I checked Transcontinental paid $40 for freelance work. Probably not a huge part of their budget. But if you can get it for free, why not?

  2. Kevin

    20-25 years ago, back when the Chronicle was a real newspaper, my brother used to deliver it. Everyone in our neighbourhood used to pay for it because it actually contained real news. Not necessarily the nitty-gritty crime of the day, but information you were actually interested in.

    Heck, even while I was doing my BA in the mid-90s, Concordia journalism students used to intern at the Chronicle.

    Then I left the province for a decade, and the Chronicle became thinner than my weekly Canadian Tire flyer.

    Last time I bothered picking one up it ran all of 8 pages.

    WTF happened? Which idiot had the notion that going from something you paid for to something you handed out for free would actually lead to an income stream?

    1. Bonnie

      they’ve been taking interns between 1997 and now, there is even one Con. U. student coming in February… so there!

  3. Dave Stubbs

    I cut my teeth in journalism at the News & Chronicle from 1976-79, hired from radio station CFOX (R.I.P.) as sports editor to learn every element of the business from the ground up. It was a marvelous, enriching experience that sent me on my way in my career.

    I can’t imagine what the paper’s late founder, John Freeman, would think of the way the paper has been beaten into the ground by bean-counters and a company that hasn’t much of an idea what solid community journalism is all about.

    My best wishes to those being let go, and my condolences to the paper itself.

    Dave Stubbs
    The Gazette

  4. Singlestar

    The Monitor (NDG) which used to say that it was founded in 1925 used to charge, In the 50s, it cost 7 cents a week (the carrier came around for 28 or 35 cents a month)but for that you got the details of every Pee-wee hockey club standings in the local house league, a detailed breakdown of NDG Community Council activities and the results of the NDG Arts and Letters Festival, and a weekly British supplement including a full 8 or 12 page comics section.
    In later years, there were still a couple of journalists.
    Now their on-line edition has about 2 articles a week. Hardly worth clicking on.

  5. David Price

    Hi, Steve.

    I know that weekly papers are under pressure in Quebec and elsewhere in North America, and your piece here provides more evidence. It is one of the reasons that I am so proud of the Westmount Independent and NDG Free Press. Both are traditional, print-based papers with very modest websites, but they have been very well received by their target communities. In the case of the older paper (the Independent) it is nearing its third birthday and has been a clear commercial success, by achieving, among other things, weekliness (in August 2008). (The Free Press is barely a season old and has only had eight issues so far, but the reaction from readers has been great.)

    At both papers, we aim for quality much the way an editor would have in 1950, 1970 or 1990: accuracy, relevance, variety and “newsiness.”

    Maybe there is cause for cautious optimism?

    David Price
    Publisher, Westmount Independent & NDG Free Press

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    A great way to smother a community is to shut down its library and community centre and deprive the community of a good local newspaper.

    NDG’s best library and community meeting place – the Fraser Hickson Library – was shut down years ago, thanks in great part to Michael Applebaum and his friends on council. We have been deprived of decent library services for well over a thousand days now.

    At the same time, Transcontinental discontinued The Monitor in real copy, so we are grateful that it is still available online at the moment – February 1, 2010.

    Concerned citizens of NDG are aware of how vital is community news and the NDG Free Press is a very welcome new neighbour. Under the experienced editor, David Goldberg, we expect the paper will give us a window on what the borough council is up to and also provide a forum for the community to air our concerns.

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