Morale described as ‘grim’ at Globe and Mail newsroom in lead-up to voluntary buyout offer
Staff expressed concerns about morale at a Globe and Mail town hall Wednesday at which the paper announced it would be cutting $10-million a year from its labour budget.
Rumours of layoffs circulated in the days and weeks leading up to the meeting where voluntary buyouts were offered with a May 29 deadline, Mason Wright, unit chair for Globe members of Unifor 87-M, told J-Source.
“I think there’s a fair amount of concern about work-life balance and being able to produce the kind of content that our readers and subscribers would expect,” said Wright, of both the staff’s current job security and what the work conditions will be like following the upcoming departures.
Employees already feel spread thin, said Wright, and until the period for voluntary resignations has concluded, it is not clear how many positions will be cut.
Toronto-based journalist Sean Craig first broke the news of what had transpired in the town hall on Twitter, followed by a report from Canadaland’s Jaren Kerr.
The Globe & Mail held a town hall with staff today. The paper is offering a voluntary severance program, giving staff three weeks to decide if they wish to take it. Management didn't give a headcount for how many they're aiming for, but cuts will likely come across all depts.
— Sean Craig (@sdbcraig) May 8, 2019
Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley suggested staff should focus on the quality of work rather than number of employees when an editor said: “‘Morale is grim, and how are we expected to produce the same quality of journalism?'” Wright said.
With a staff of what he said consists of approximately 250 journalists, Crawley told J-Source he expects the Globe will not have trouble maintaining high-calibre work.
As other costs have gone down, labour costs have held steady, now representing 36 per cent of the overall operating budget up from 25 per cent in 2011, said Crawley. While digital subscriptions are growing – the Globe, according to Crawley, has about 110,000 digital subscribers, nearly matching print – advertising revenue has steadily declined, an industry-wide trend.
“I pointed out that last Friday night at the National Newspaper Awards, I presented the award for the best investigation to a reporter from the St. Catharines Standard who announced on the stage that they used to have 49 reporters – they now have five,” said Crawley, describing Grant LaFleche’s win for All the Chair’s Men, which was also announced as a 2018 Michener finalist earlier this week.
“He won the top award, beat the team from the Globe and Mail, among other people, and was able to work on that for 18 months to investigate the Niagara Parks Commission.”
In response to Crawley’s comments, Wright said, “he cited that as an example of, I guess, what I would say is a mantra among cost-cutting operations, which is ‘do more with less’ … I think it’s easy to pick out single examples but as an entire body of work, it’s much harder to make the same argument.”
This marks the fourth time voluntary buyout the paper has offered since 2009, The Canadian Press reported.
“I don’t think he sees what people on the newsroom floor see, whether that’s because he chooses not to see it or because he believes in a different story, I can’t really say,” Wright told J-Source. “The mood on the floor doesn’t seem to concern him really.”
The collective agreement outlines that staff on new ventures such as Cannabis Pro, the Globe’s newsletter product launched in advance of legalization last year, are subject to different policies around union rules like employees with seniority bumping junior employees from jobs.
But while determinations about layoffs will not be final until after the voluntary severance deadline, projects like Cannabis Pro are unlikely to be affected by labour cuts since it’s “outside of our normal operational costs,” said Crawley. “It’s a new venture that we’ve got to give it time for it to get established and get working as the whole industry of cannabis gets established,” adding that while print advertising revenue has declined, changes such as a reduction in costs associated with printing and distribution, as well as investment in data analytics tools, have positioned the organization well.
“We’re stronger now than we were three years ago,” said Crawley. “My job is to ensure that in three years time, we’re stronger than we were today.”
Crawley said that in the “first 24 hours since the town hall, we’ve had quite a list of people” say they want to accept the buyout offer.
The news of the cuts come barely six months after the Globe narrowly avoided a strike amid negotiations over pension and gender-pay equity issues.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on May 10, 2019 at 9:12 a.m. ET to clarify that the Globe and Mail’s labour costs haven’t increase but currently represent a larger proportion of the overall budget.
Steph Wechsler is J-Source’s managing editor.