Sat, 12/20/2014 - 19:21

Posted by Rhiannon Russell on November 21, 2012

Former Toronto Sun editorial page editor Rob Granatstein laments Sun Media’s 500 job cuts, saying they have “crushed local newsrooms.” The Sun, he argues, seems to be “ceding any advantage” it had as a local newspaper to its competitors.  

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By Rob Granatstein

The call came while I was standing in my in-laws kitchen in Calgary, a few days before Christmas. On the other end of the line, Sun Media vice-president Glenn Garnett ran through the list of people who would be losing their jobs at the Toronto Sun and across the country. This wasn’t the first round of Christmas cuts.

I wasn’t on the list that time. I would be soon – though my case was a little different.

Still, layoffs at Sun Media have morphed into a stage where it almost isn’t news any longer. That said, I still find it shocking – every time. This time, on Nov. 13, it was 500 jobs, not all from the newsrooms, but still it’s taken another enormous toll. It’s also the second round of cuts in less than two months.

The one that hit me the hardest was my friend and 34-year Toronto Sun journalist Lorrie Goldstein. He’s been one of the faces of the Sun for decades, a mentor to me and dozens of reporters and editors at the Sun and beyond, the guy who hired so many of the talented people who have come through the offices at 333 King St. E., a writer synonymous with the paper.

And then gone. Thanks for coming out. Just like photo editor Jim Thomson, who worked at the Sun as a teenager, a guy who dates back to the pre-Sun days of the Toronto Telegram.

But this isn’t the same Toronto Sun any longer. That goes for Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, too. The cuts have crushed the local newsrooms. When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters, according to people in that newsroom, unless staff is reassigned. That’s flat out ridiculous. The Sun will rely even more on its columnists to generate the news going forward. The editors have no idea how they will fill their weekend papers.

Page layout will no longer be done in Ottawa, Winnipeg or Edmonton, I understand. Pages will now be drawn up only in Calgary and Toronto. A number of local comment sections have gone from one editor to none. At the smaller community papers Sun Media owns, editorial staff in each newsroom is down to just about the spiders as more and more work is centralized.

The heart of local newspapers used to be the “local” part. The Sun seems to be ceding any advantage it used to have to its competitors.

Across the country, from Edmonton to Ottawa and the small papers in between, publishers abandoned ship or were pushed overboard. Employees across the chain are doing the math to see if taking a buyout makes sense this time. Everyone’s wondering who will be next. Fantastic young talent – people who would be looked upon as the future of an organization – are now looking for work.

It has become a place where you can’t build a career if you are a young – or maybe not-so-young – journalist.

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A realist also looks at it through a business prism. The papers are still profitable, but like all of us from the newspaper world, the loss of advertising, classifieds, plus giving the content away for free on the Internet, it’s hurt us all. The Sun continues to hold on to The daily freebie, 24 Hours, and dump money into TV with the Sun News Network – ventures that baffle the staff as people and spending gets cut everywhere else.

Sun Media was at the leading edge of centralizing newspaper production. They put together teams to produce shared national pages for News, Sports, Lifestyle, Entertainment and Comment. That move cost a lot of jobs, but it also made sense. Why were six editors across the country putting their own headline on the same Peter Worthington column? Why is everyone handling a story about Israel or the best Christmas turkey recipe? Why not do it once?

At Postmedia, we’ve followed suit with a similar setup. It makes sense. Let the local papers concentrate on what’s most important to local readers. It’s what you learn in your first month of journalism school – people care most about what hits closest to home.

But the Sun’s gone away from that now, too.

I tired very quickly of former Sun employees – especially the blog set up by a former Sun staffer – who pined for the good ol’ days, or thought you could turn back the clock. The business has changed too much, the Sun had to change, adapt, become a digital player, focus on what it does best, not just be like it was 40 years ago.

The paper remains a dominant player in Sports – Baseball Hall of Fame columnist Bob Elliott scooping everyone with his story on John Gibbons being named manager of the Toronto Blue Jays this week is yet more evidence of that. The Sun will focus on what it does best. It will continue to pump out “on brand” stories about government spending and the richest sports package anywhere.

But the strain is showing. When the latest victims are finally shown the door after their notice period, a lot of the “Toronto” will be gone from the Toronto Sun.

As someone who spent 17 years at the paper, who learned the business there, it makes me terribly sad. There has always been an incredible amount of talent in the Toronto Sun newsroom, and across the country. There still is. We continue to subscribe because my six-year-old loves reading the Sports section every morning, with the big pictures and colourful layouts.

But you can’t cover a city the size of Toronto with the newsroom the Sun will have going forward. They seem to find a way after every downsizing, but I’m not sure the Sun can fight the shadows any longer.

Rob Granatstein is the senior producer of Canada.com. He spent 17 years at the Sun as a reporter and then Editorial Page Editor. Follow him on Twitter @robedits.

 

 

 

Related stories: Sun Media to cut 500 jobs, add more paywalls

Sun Media cuts: Toronto Sun editor James Wallace responds

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