Former staff reflect on big cuts to three iconic women’s editorial brands this week

Just one week ago, Murissa Barrington and the editorial team at Style at Home and Canadian Living magazines were celebrating the fact that their online engagement had just about doubled within the last year. They had more page views, a solid contributor roster and their social media following was growing.

“We had been doing really well in the digital department,” said Barrington, who was the digital assistant at Canadian Living and Style at Home. “Things were really starting to pick up steam.”

However, on Feb. 19, as many as 28 staffers were laid off at sister publications Style at Home, Canadian Living and Elle Canada, according to Barrington’s posts on social media Tuesday.

Canadian Living and Style at Home’s editorial functions will be moved from Toronto to Montreal, where Groupe TVA –  the publications’ parent company – is located, said Véronique Mercier, the vice-president of communications at Groupe TVA, in an emailed statement to J-Source. Elle Canada will remain in its Toronto office. TVA explained that falling ad sales, subscriptions and sales influenced the decision to cut costs and move Canadian Living and Style at Home operations. 

“In the context of the magazine industry undergoing numerous worldwide changes, TVA Publications had to reconfigure its internal structure,” said Mercier. “This decision will allow TVA Publications to continue to offer its readers and its advertisers high-quality brands that perform well in Canada.”

Commenters on social media and former employees have said they’ve heard anywhere from three to five staff remain at Elle Canada. However, Groupe TVA said it will not disclose specific information about staffing changes at each publication. 

“This internal reorganization will have no impact on the quality of the editorial content,” wrote Mercier. “We will continue to offer our readers and our advertisers high-quality brands.”

The media giant acquired Canadian Living and Style at Home in November 2014, and holds 51 per cent of shares in Les Publications Transcontinental-Hearst Inc, which is the publisher of Elle Canada and Elle Quebec magazines.

“TVA Publications reaffirms its vision of conserving paper magazines while it continues the development of brands within its other media platforms,” said Mercier.

With such small teams overlooking the production of these magazines, Barrington believes the quality of these publications will suffer.

“Those women who worked on the magazine did an incredible job, they were so dedicated to it,” said Barrington. “I can’t fathom how they could possibly continue on that level without having those same people. How do you preserve the quality of a magazine when you’re getting rid of the people who made the magazine of quality?”

Laura deCarufel, who was the executive editor of Elle Canada from 2013 to 2015 and is currently editor-in-chief of the Kit, has spent 15 years working in the magazine industry. She has watched it change drastically, and in many cases, not for the better. Much of the problem is because important decisions about allocating money are being made by people who don’t really understand the value of print, she said.

According to deCarufel, there needs to be more investment in print, especially since many companies and brands are focusing on advertising in digital spaces. As a result, traditional media sources with limited resources are struggling to secure funding.

The periodical publishing industry lost $284 million in revenue between 2015 and 2017, according to Statistics Canada data released in January, mostly due to a continued reduction of advertising revenue,

“We’re in this weird position right now where everybody thinks that if they talk about print, they sound like a dinosaur,” said deCarufel. “To me, print actually feels a lot more relevant than it has for a long time, in terms of possibilities for storytelling and what you can do there.”

The tighter budgets also mean that editorial content in print publications suffers, as editors invest most of their energy in online content, rather than focusing on print.

“There needs to be more from the editorial end – this is not specific to the TVA publications. In general, as editors, we need to think of what we can do in print that we can’t do anywhere else,” said deCarufel. “How do we make print feel special, so that when you pick up a magazine, you’re having an experience that awards you for doing so? I think we’ve fallen away from that.”

In order to succeed as a print publication, said deCarufel, it is important to provide a “top-tier experience” for the reader that truly makes a case for print, as the readers will always know the difference when a magazine truly cares about creating quality content in a print format, versus one that is simply regurgitating the same type of content over and over again.

Though evolving with the times is important, which includes constantly changing content strategy, deCarufel believes that publications must always put the reader first.

In TVA’s case, they were grappling with few resources and investments and facing a situation where putting the reader first was very difficult.

“The shake-up there is so sad for the industry as a whole and devastating for the very talented people who lost their jobs,” said deCarufel, “but more than anything, it’s the reader who loses.”

Disclosure: The author of this post is currently an intern at the Kit.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 3:48 ET on Feb. 22, 2019 to note that Groupe TVA has declined requests for specific information about how many positions have been affected.