In an effort to cut costs, Sun Media is combining resources at its small Ontario dailies (which formed the Osprey Media chain that is now part of Quebecor). It’s being described as “synergy”, but it basically means replacing local jobs with fewer, lesser-paid jobs at larger production centres.
Among the changes:
- The Sarnia Observer has moved its print operation to the London Free Press, and is using more syndicated Sun Media content in its paper (including Journal de Montréal medical columnist Richard Béliveau)
- The Sault Star has laid off three employees in its pre-press operations, which are being moved to a central (non-unionized) Quebecor facility in Barrie.
- The Kingston Whig-Standard has laid off nine employees in its production department and seven in advertising. Some of that work will be taken up by Barrie.
In each case, jobs that were considered technical rather than editorial in nature are being replaced by a centralized operation that can be more efficient and work with fewer people. But the worry is that the people doing these jobs now have no connection to the papers and don’t care about the quality of what they put out. The fact that union jobs are replaced by non-union jobs with less pay and no benefits only makes that problem worse.
It’s also touching aspects of editorial too. As the Observer article points out, the papers are taking advantage of “synergy” by running national columns rather than local ones wherever possible. The Sun and Osprey chains are even copying whole pages (taking advantage of their similar layouts) from each other, and outsourcing layout work to a centralized location (which is how the Journal de Montréal is still functioning despite a lockout of 253 workers).
If this sounds familiar, a similar strategy is at the centre of stalled contract talks between my union and Canwest, which has centralized its customer service call centre, is centralizing some layout and copy editing work, and started printing standardized business pages in its major dailies.
I think some centralization (even of editorial work) makes sense, and I understand the need of these companies to reduce costs, but there’s a fine line between outsourcing a technical job to a company that specializes in that work and removing parts of what give local papers their identity, which go beyond just what names appear in the bylines and what you get in the police blotter.
In the end, it will be the subscribers who decide whether or not any cut goes too far.