Updated with comment from Bell Media and Unifor.
Staff at CTV News departments across the country were called into mandatory meetings on Thursday, and told that they’ll have to tighten their belts a bit more.
I don’t have specifics or numbers (see below), but the headline is that journalists will be transformed into “videojournalists” who do not only their own reporting but also their own camerawork, editing and even writing for the web.
As a result, editors and cameramen will be offered buyout packages or laid off. Layoff notices have been issued in Montreal and Toronto, I’m told, but not everywhere. In Montreal, 15 jobs are being cut and an unspecified number of online jobs added.
CTV bills this as them “innovating” because they’re “expanding our digital news presence” and points out that they are also adding new jobs.
This is a significant project that will require enhanced training as well as job reclassifications for some members of the news team. While we will be creating a substantial number of new digital news positions, some traditional roles may be impacted by the changes. We cannot yet offer a specific number of how many, if any, departures may result.
There is some confusion about changes in our Montreal team. As part of the digital news expansion, we were required to notify Unifor that 15 existing union job classifications in Montreal would be eliminated. However, a similar number of new positions will be filled to support the enhanced digital focus of the newsroom.
CTV News already employs some videojournalists (there are four at CTV Montreal), and they’re used at other networks as well, notably Citytv, which relies almost exclusively on them. Reporters shooting their own stories is more feasible with today’s equipment (some newsrooms are experimenting with reporting using iPhones), and obviously saves on human resources. But more time spent on the technical elements of producing stories means less time on the journalism behind it.
Plus, while younger journalists who are trained on shooting and editing out of school will easily adapt to the new reality, training more veteran journalists will be more difficult, and some might choose to simply retire early or find new jobs.
Because of various union rules, these layoff notices may spark a process of bumping, where less senior workers in jobs not affected by the layoffs get replaced by those being laid off (if those workers prove they can do the job they’re bumping into). So younger workers in these newsrooms will be feeling very nervous over the coming weeks.
And while CTV’s statement suggests it will save jobs, the reality is that the people affected will have to apply for them and be accepted for them. That’s not a given.
Unifor, which represents unionized workers at CTV, issued a statement:
“Today’s announcement from CTV of its shift to ‘digital-first’ airing of local news stories on the Internet was inevitable,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “Retooling local news for digital is necessary and, hopefully, a successful business plan because local TV is being starved for advertising revenues and anything that brings in a bigger audience and more ad revenue is welcome.”
The stations affected by restructuring include the CTV1 stations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Bell has told journalists and field technicians to expect a mix of retraining, layoffs, and new “digital” jobs, with a net reduction of staffing.
Dias cautioned Bell Media of its responsibility to guide news staff through the technological changes in job responsibilities, as it is expected that some journalists and field staff will need to acquire new digital skills.
“We are going to ensure no media worker is left behind,” said Dias. “Bell knows us pretty well and they know we mean it.”
Dias is also urging the federal government to accelerate its four-year long review of Canadian broadcasting in the Internet environment, scheduled to continue into 2020. “There are obvious actions the CRTC and the federal government can take to strengthen Canadian programming,” said Dias, referring to the CRTC’s own “Harnessing Change” report on Internet-broadcasting issued in June 2018.