Métro is no more.
Saying it pained him to do so but he had no choice, Andrew Mulé announced late Friday afternoon that the activities of Métro Média, including the free Métro newspaper, community newspapers in Montreal and Quebec City, and the journalmetro.com website, are being suspended.
Unless some magic saviour steps forward to rescue them, this means the end of the last free “daily” newspaper in Montreal (24 Heures still exists but no longer in print format), the last Metro-branded newspaper in Canada, and the jobs of dozens of journalists doing hyperlocal news.
In his note to readers, Mulé says the pandemic was hard but the “devastating” blow came from Montreal’s decision to no longer allow the distribution of the Publisac flyer bag, which Métro used to distribute its community papers. Between paying more for Canada Post to distribute the papers or doing without print advertising that still represented a significant part of their budget, they couldn’t make the numbers work.
It wasn’t for lack of trying to create a new business model. Two years ago Métro redesigned the print product, redesigned its website, redesigned its mobile app, and adopted a 100% local strategy.
Mulé also turned over every stone trying to get funding, but hit a brick wall this week.
The legacy of the former Transcontinental papers
Métro Média was born in 2018 with the purchase of the Métro daily newspaper and community papers in Montreal and Quebec City from Transcontinental, which decided a year earlier it didn’t want to be in the print media business anymore and put all of its papers up for sale.
Of the 93 publications Transcontinental put up for sale that day (92 in Quebec, plus the Cornwall Seaway News, though the number is a bit fuzzy because it includes things like weekend editions and monthly inserts separately), all but four were eventually sold. But I count only 46 of them still publishing. That’s just less than half.
Of them, 20 are owned by Icimédias, 12 by Médialo (formerly Groupe Lexis Média), and five by Gravité Média.
For other former Transcon papers, it’s not much better:
- Three papers on the Côte-Nord sold in 2014 and were immediately shut down, though a paper in Chibougamau that was sold before the rest is still running.
- Papers in eight communities in Saskatchewan sold in 2016, only for the new owner to announce a year and a half later he’s exiting the business and shutting down what he couldn’t sell. I can find traces of only three of those papers still publishing.
- 27 newspapers in Atlantic Canada sold to Saltwire Network in 2017, only for them to be merged, consolidated, or just shut down. Of the 27, only nine still exist in a print format (Cape Breton Post, St. John’s Telegram, Charlottetown Guardian, Annapolis Valley Register, Summerside Journal Pioneer, New Glasgow’s The News, Tri-County Vanguard, Truro News and Valley Journal Advertiser).
A lot of nuance can be added to this tally. It doesn’t take into account new publications (whether print or online) that spring up to cover communities, for example. But it’s a good indication that the situation is bleak for print news media, whether large or small.
The transition to … whatever will be the new way we get news in this world may require steps like this. But those steps are painful. They mean the loss of institutions and many people doing good work who now have to find some other way to make a living.