Yesterday, the big news out of the Toronto Star was the dozens of jobs the company intends to slash as it looks to outsource some of its print production in the face of declining revenue. But tucked away at the end of a paragraph in a memo from the union that represents Star employees was the fact the company is also looking at contracting out its radio room, in an attempt to cut costs.

Yesterday, the big news out of the Toronto Star was the dozens of jobs the company intends to slash as it looks to outsource some of its print production in the face of declining revenue. But tucked away at the end of a paragraph in a memo from the union that represents Star employees was the fact the company is also looking at contracting out its radio room, in an attempt to cut costs.

Toronto Star director of communications Bob Hepburn confirmed this in a phone call with J-Source. “That is one of the options we’re looking at,” Hepburn said, speaking on behalf of publisher John Cruickshank, to whom the request for comment was originally made. “We’re looking to cut costs around the editorial area and that’s one of the areas that we’re focusing on.”

Hepburn would not comment on specifics, saying the company has indicated it is open to proposals from the union. Things will become more clear in the coming weeks as those talks happen, he said.

The Star’s radio room is staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week by post-secondary students who work part-time on 8-hour shifts. There are two programs per year: one in the fall/winter and one in the summer. Radio room reporters monitor emergency scanners, television, radio and online news as well as social media, filing breaking stories and updates for the website as well as reporting stories for the newspaper.

The Star describes the radio room, saying it has “proven to be excellent preparation for summer programs at the Star, other dailies and websites.”

As Adrian Morrow, a Queen’s Park reporter for The Globe and Mail and former radio roomer, said on Twitter yesterday: You’d be hard-pressed to find many newsrooms without journalists who spent some time cutting their teeth in the radio room.

This seems to hold up, as The Globe’s media reporter Steve Ladurantaye rounded up the reaction to the radio room news and provided a quick list of some names that have passed through what is known at the Star as the Box.

In a memo to staff yesterday, Star editor Michael Cooke wrote about how proud he was about the newspaper’s track record of hiring and developing outstanding young journalists. “As a matter of record, more young journalists have been hired in the past three years than in the previous decade or longer,” Cooke wrote. “Look around the newsroom — skilled, talented, new journalists embracing the present and devoted to the Star's future, alongside the ranks of the lions that helped build the modern Star.”

When asked what impact contracting out the radio room would have on the Star’s ability to continue to develop young journalists, Hepburn noted that the Star’s internship program will not be affected. “We value [the radio room and the intern program] as ways to develop young journalists,” he said. “We do hire a lot of students who come through both of those programs.”

Stuart Laidlaw, unit chair of the union at the Star, which is part of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Local 87M, told Ladurantaye in an interview for The Globe yesterday that if the Star lost the radio room, it would hurt its ability to develop talent in the future.

“It’s a big part of how many writers get discovered,” Laidlaw told Ladurantaye. “It is a real incubator – you get to test drive a young reporter for a few months at a relatively affordable rate. It would be a great loss to the Star, not just in terms of breaking news, but for the future of the paper as well.”

It's unclear as of now what a contracted-out radio room would look like—if it would be outsourced to another media outlet or to another company.

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The Star has hired its radio room interns for the summer 2013 program already, and the news prompted concern for the future of the program—and their summer employment.

Hepburn explained when asked about the timeline, given the fact the summer students have been hired, that the talks between the company and the union would take place in the coming days and weeks. He would not comment on what would happen to the students who have been hired if the radio room were to be contracted out.

As noted yesterday in the news about the Star’s desire to contract out print production services to Pagemasters North America, the company will listen to any proposals given by the union to mitigate potential job losses.

In 2010, the Star made similar proposals to contract out production, but ultimately accepted a union proposal that saved nearly three dozen jobs—until now, anyway.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

 

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