Layoffs include closure of StarMetro operation and cuts at the Hamilton Spectator and Waterloo Region Record

Torstar is laying off more than 100 workers and Unifor — which says the total as of Tuesday is at 121 — suggests there are more cuts to come.

On Nov. 19, news broke that the media company would shutter its StarMetro operation, resulting in cuts of 73 workers and the discontinuation of five free daily commuter papers.

 

 

Additional job losses will come from upcoming layoffs at the Hamilton Spectator, where the copy editing center is being closed, and at the Waterloo Region Record. Unifor says that it’s not over, as the company has “indicated its desire to offer a voluntary resignation package to its newsrooms at the Ontario dailies.”

 

A spokesperson for Torstar told J-Source “the combined total over the past few days is more than 100 across many departments in Torstar, including editorial, advertising, finance, IT, marketing and circulation. It includes StarMetro (73), the Star (none in editorial, though), our Ontario regional dailies and our Community News division.”

 

“This is a stunning number of layoffs,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a statement. “The financial situation for local news is going from bad to worse. Less journalists means less news coverage.”

The statement from Unifor, which called on Ottawa to respond urgently by closing tax “loopholes” that benefit American-owned tech companies such as Google and Facebook, continued on to note that the cuts followed barely three weeks after Torstar reported “dismal third quarter losses of $41 million and suspension of its shareholder dividends.” 

Of the eleven Unifor positions eliminated in the StarMetro closures, 10 are in Vancouver and one is in Toronto, the union said.

Members of the local chapter expressed their gratitude to community members in an online post.

“Here in Vancouver we are a diverse, young, somewhat idealistic group of reporters who have relished the opportunity we had to uncover and tell important stories – the kinds of stories that can incite positive change and resonate with people,” reads the letter signed by Star Vancouver reporters. “Our commitment to those goals has been the bedrock of everything we’ve accomplished over the short life of this paper.”

Final print editions of StarMetro papers will run on Dec. 20, Torstar confirmed in an email.

“We are going digital-only outside of Ontario as more and more of our commuter readers are using their smartphones, laptops and tablets to access their news on their way to and from work,” writes its spokesperson. “This trend, coupled with a corresponding decline in print advertising volumes, has decreased the need for a free daily commuter newspaper in these cities.”

Torstar will open digital bureaus to replace the StarMetro print papers in the new year, staffed by 11 journalists to begin with.

It is not yet clear how eligibility for discounted digital subscriptions for StarMetro readers, which Torstar says will be on offer, will be determined.

Tough going with digital transitions

The move punctuates a decade replete with starts and stops as the corporation tried to modernize its print operation and advance into digital spaces. Its Star Touch project famously flopped as tablet use and resulting revenues didn’t reach the heights predicted. The company spent $23 million on the failed experiment, hiring 60 employees for a dedication division in 2015, before a 2016 layoff round of 52 workers mostly from Star Touch, and another 30 job losses when the project was shut down entirely in 2017.

A few months later, Torstar and Postmedia swapped 41 newspapers and shut down many of them, axing 290 jobs in the process (mostly on the Postmedia side) in a trade the Competition Bureau has been investigating as “alleged anti-competitive conduct.” The remaining papers owned by Torstar would ultimately become part of a digital rebrand the following year.

In April 2018, Torstar hired 20 staff when it launched StarMetro from the papers that survived the swap. It intended to “rebrand and upgrade the digital offerings of its five free daily Metro urban newspapers across Canada,” reported the Canadian Press.

Two months later, another 21 workers were laid off, this time from StarMetro Toronto, as Torstar moved to centralize some operations in Hamilton.

All the while, Torstar journalists have been conducting award-winning journalism, including three National Newspaper Awards in 2019, multiple Michener citations and two CAJ awards for investigative journalism in 2018.

Local continues to contract

Media workers took to Twitter to express worry over the massive and ongoing losses to local journalism – and access to it – across the country. 

 

As the decade comes to a close with a spate of cuts to Canada’s remaining papers, some journalists, including J-Source’s former managing editor H.G. Watson, are offering their support to the workers who have been affected by the latest round of newsroom demolitions.

 

 

The situation unfolding at Torstar is among the latest of a series of impending jobs losses in Canadian news media, from the recent cuts at CBC and Bell Media, to nearly concurrent ones at Montreal’s La Presse, where 15 layoffs were announced today.

Full text statements from Torstar and Unifor follow.

Closure of StarMetro print editions/Future national expansion (John Boynton, President of Torstar)

Today we are announcing two major developments in our national expansion plan.

First, effective December 20, 2019, we have decided to go pure digital/mobile outside of Ontario and so we will be closing the StarMetro free daily print publications in the cities in which they operate, namely Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax. We will close StarMetro Toronto at the same time.

This difficult decision was made after an in-depth review of options from the papers. While StarMetro newspapers have been editorial successes and have developed loyal audiences over the years, print advertising volumes have decreased significantly in recent months to levels below those required to make them commercially viable.

Importantly, more and more customers are consuming our content digitally and we will continue to serve those readers with digital products, including the Star’s mobile apps, newsletters and podcasts. This decision makes us a pure digital play outside of Ontario. We are fully committed to growing and improving our roster of digital platforms and products to meet the needs of Canadians who rely on their digital and mobile devices to access news and information.

The StarMetro free paper closure decision will affect total of 73 editorial, advertising and distribution employees, 11 of whom are represented by Unifor. We have advised Unifor representatives of the decision. The affected employees have been given written notification of this decision along with an explanation of their severance entitlements. The closure affects StarMetro employees in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax and Toronto, as well as editorial production staff in Hamilton.

I want to thank all StarMetro employees for their tireless service over the years. StarMetro has been a lively news source, with a style and creativity that reflected the dedication and resourcefulness of the staff. It’s also why, in the face of a dramatically changed media environment, it has lasted so many years. Indeed, StarMetro editions are the last free major English-language daily commuter newspapers distributed in Canada. Around the world free daily papers have been closed for the same reasons.

With these changes, we will be offering StarMetro readers discounted subscriptions for digital access to thestar.com, which will continue to feature news and information from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax for readers in those regions.

The second announcement today is that we are planning to open new Star bureaus in the coming weeks in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax staffed by Star journalists who will provide local coverage from those markets. These new bureaus will allow thestar.com to offer readers an authoritative voice, with reporting in key markets in Canada. 

Job postings for these bureaus will be available internally later today and externally on Wednesday. StarMetro journalists will be able to apply for the posts, as will journalists from the Toronto Star, our Community News and Regional Daily publications and qualified journalists from outside the company. We will keep you informed of the opening of these new bureaus.

In addition, coming soon we will be revealing a further expansion of our digital presence across Canada designed to increase reader exposure and engagement for our journalism. These future announcements will provide details of how we will extend our national coverage with new, robust digital offerings featuring local news and investigative articles that will continue to set us apart from our competitors. We will also be meeting with our advertising clients and agencies to introduce them to our further national expansion. I look forward to telling you more about it.

As everyone is aware, digital and mobile are our future. We must continue to adapt and transform our company for that digital, mobile, data-driven future in order to provide our customers with news and information where and when they want it. The changes we are announcing today are further steps on that transformation journey.

Unifor says Parliament must act to save local news following Torstar layoffs (Unifor)

The union representing Canadian journalists and media workers is calling on the federal Parliament to act quickly to save local news in the wake of dramatic financial losses and over 120 layoffs at Torstar, Canada’s second largest news chain.

“This is a stunning number of layoffs,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The financial situation for local news is going from bad to worse. Less journalists means less news coverage.”

Today the publisher of the Toronto Star, Star Metro’s in Alberta, Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax, and several news outlets in southern Ontario laid off 121 staff, a majority of whom are journalists. The terminations followed Torstar’s dismal third quarter losses of $41 million and suspension of its shareholder dividends.

The news company will cease print publication of its nation-wide chain of Star Metro commuter dailies by December 20, resulting in 73 of the layoffs. Thirty of the 73 Star Media staff are journalists, but 11 of those 30 jobs will be recreated under the Toronto Star.

To avoid even further layoffs, the company indicated its desire to offer a voluntary resignation package to its newsrooms at the Ontario dailies.

“We are now at the point where the new federal labour tax credit for written journalism will not even cover one year of decline in advertising revenue,” said Dias.

Unifor says the federal government must respond by immediately legislating the “Google Tax” on large foreign digital companies.

“The Liberals campaigned on this and I think you will see widespread support for that in this minority Parliament,” Dias said. “They should earmark that revenue to save local news.”

Dias also called on Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberals to close the loophole in section 19 of the Income Tax Act to end corporate write-offs for buying digital advertising on foreign internet platforms like Google, Facebook and the New York Times. 

“There’s no bigger shot in the arm for Canadian media than closing the loophole,” said Dias.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Nov. 19 at 9:50 p.m. ET.