After somewhat of a lull in seemingly endless cutbacks in news media labour in Canada, tides appear to be turning in the early weeks of 2023.
iPolitics and Queen’s Park Briefing saw a succession of departures on Feb. 8, as reporters and their editor-in-chief announced their dismissals or resignations.
— Jessica Smith Cross (@jessiecatherine) February 9, 2023
Along with some of my truly amazing colleagues, I too have been laid off. I’m on mat leave and was looking forward to getting back to the @QPbriefing team this year. While I let this news sink in, I’ll say the last few years working at Queen’s Park were some of my favourite. https://t.co/Tw1hUA5NTD
— Sneh Duggal (@snehduggal) February 8, 2023
I have quit @QPBriefing.
I’m not happy about it. I resigned on a matter of principle.
Hit me up if you want to hire me, I’m eventually going to need some guala.
— Charlie Pinkerton (@CharliePinkerto) February 8, 2023
I've been laid off ✌️
hmu with freelance stuff I suppose!
— Jack Hauen (@jackhauen) February 8, 2023
I too have been laid off and echo everything @jackhauen said. My editorial colleagues at QPB are incredible reporters and editors, and better people. @MapleLeafs you now have yourself a third line playmaking centre. Unless a journalism company wants to hire me. That’d be dope. https://t.co/VQpeeHyCUK
— Aidan Chamandy (@AidanChamandy) February 8, 2023
The day before, an editorial row unfolded as ownership attempted to intercede in a story before publication.
“We couldn’t continue to do our jobs with the way they were interfering in that story,” a former QP Briefing reporter told J-Source. “We all immediately said ‘that’s not OK’ and threatened to quit unless ownership backed off and we had a discussion about where editorial lines and independence are. They didn’t back off and continued to demand changes.”
Jordan Bitove assumed full ownership of Torstar and its assets like the Toronto Star and Metroland Media following his “divorce” with partner Paul Rivett, who purchased the company with him in 2020 under the banner of NordStar Capital. Rivett retained iPolitics, which Torstar had acquired in 2018, and QP Briefing.
Jessica Smith Cross and Charlie Pinkerton announced their departures on Feb. 8. Given the dissolution of the parent company’s former partnership, others had been led to believe layoffs may be imminent, so stayed on, if momentarily.
They did, in fact, learn Wednesday — the day arbitration concluded — that their positions had been eliminated. Among the layoffs was a reporter who had been on maternity leave.
On Thursday, Pinkerton quote tweeted his initial announcement that he’d “resigned on a matter of principle” with a link to a story about Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s ties with Greenbelt developers published by Global News.
"In January, the premier’s office received an inquiry about the party, which seemed to trigger a conversation between the premier’s office and the integrity commissioner, months after the actual event took place."https://t.co/eQ5A2wXWwJ https://t.co/fzvXYSLify
— Charlie Pinkerton (@CharliePinkerto) February 9, 2023
“People already assume too easily that they’re being lied to because of their perception of news owners’ and news outlets’ biases and interests,” Smith Cross wrote in her resignation letter, reported the Toronto Star. “I don’t want iPolitics to prove that cynicism right.”
“Editorial staff were provided an opportunity to edit and amend the story to have it meet the strong ethical and professional standards we require,” publisher Laura Pennell told the Star.
A version of Pinkerton’s story was published by the Toronto Star on Friday afternoon.
The iPolitics/QP Briefing falling out is at least the third major newsroom staffing breakdown of the year.
On Jan. 24, J-Source learned Postmedia intended to cut 11 per cent of its editorial staff — a gut-punch for its already scant news operations, staffed with limited resources at the local level.
Staff were asked not to leak information from today’s Postmedia town hall, where cross-company cuts are being announced https://t.co/6Ah0NcZgUm
— J-Source (@jsource) January 24, 2023
The union is still waiting on specifics of editorial jobs cuts:https://t.co/T0QDGgVD6L
— J-Source (@jsource) January 31, 2023
A week later, it was announced that the Windsor Star’s printing plant would close, with the resulting loss of 77 mailroom positions (including full time and part time).
Postmedia said two weeks ago that there would be 81 editorial layoffs (which constitutes more than 11 per cent of its editorial staff), though the final number of workers affected may be lower pending the conclusion of the voluntary layoff period and bumping process, a union source told J-Source.
Media watchers, however dismayed, may not be altogether surprised when Postmedia slashes its vastly diminished newsrooms. The hedge-fund owned corporation, which has accepted millions in labour tax credits and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy payments in the spirit of sustaining local journalism, pays its CEO astronomical bonuses while gutting core services.
— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) January 24, 2023
Analysis followed, including by Toronto Star journalist Richard Warnica, who offered a reflection on the pitfalls of legacy approaches to the local news business.
For most of my career, large national chains in Canada and the U.S. have gone all in on a strategy to maximize national audience and minimize local costs.
— Richard Warnica (@richardwarnica) January 26, 2023
Amid corporate media’s struggle to modernize in economic and editorial agility, over the past few years bright spots have emerged across Canada in the form of new models, replete with the ability to distribute news efficiently, unencumbered by print-based overhead, and a focus on audience.
World-weary from a career in or around journalism and with the sentiment they’re here to do it differently, news startups have engendered some optimism about the future of local news and the industry’s ability to better serve communities with investigative, hyperlocal or niche journalism.
It’s that positioning that has ignited fierce criticism of Overstory Media Group and its founders, tech entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson and former Daily Hive editor Farhan Mohamed.
Layoffs are unfolding at Overstory Media Group's Capital Daily in Victoria, including journalists and its managing editor.
Overstory launched in 2021 with the announcement of its goal to hire 250 journalists and start 50 publications by this year.
— J-Source (@jsource) January 30, 2023
On Jan. 30, four of seven staff at its flagship publication, the Victoria-based Capital Daily — managing editor Jimmy Thomson and journalists Brishti Basu, Shannon Waters and Jolene Rudisuela — learned they’d been fired without cause.
The next day, staff at Overstory, which launched in 2021 with fanfare and a goal of creating 50 outlets and 250 jobs by 2023, announced that they’d voted to unionize, igniting accusations that the company ousted its Victoria team to forestall or retaliate against the drive to organize.
A significant majority of eligible employees at Overstory Media Group have voted to unionize with @cwacanada1.
We are taking this official step together, in solidarity, to make our workplaces and our roles within them strong, sustainable, and equitable.
Our statement: pic.twitter.com/QAzCWnxsPo
— OMGuild (@OMGuild_) January 31, 2023
By midweek, circumstances had … devolved.
When asked why the staff were terminated and if they knew about the union efforts, Wilkinson responded they were aware and the firings were unrelated. “No,” tweeted Mohamed, who later told The Tyee “that he had been aware of the union drive, though the company has denied it played any role in the cuts.”
Overstory Media Group bosses respond to a question about whether or not they knew staff, who announced they’d voted to form @OMGuild_ the day after four workers were let go from @CapitalDailyVic, were organizing to unionize pic.twitter.com/WvEAjzrGLJ
— J-Source (@jsource) February 2, 2023
Overstory’s Mohamed published a statement in which he denied that the company had made cuts in reaction to the union organizing and that they were made to recover from overly optimistic projections.
— Farhan Mohamed (@farhanmohamed) February 2, 2023
Articles from Ricochet and Press Progress detail staff’s disappointment at the direction of the company they joined, which had espoused a commitment to community and had treated its now depleted Victoria publication as a standard bearer. Down the line, staff said, the company began pushing for lighter-weight pieces that seemed antithetical to their founding purpose.
Reactions to reactions of coverage and owner tweets ensued.
Free Idea: Ricochet should hire Jimmy and his team of real journalists to ensure that absurd, biased, opinion pieces masquerading as reporting like this don't get published.
This is riddled with inaccuracy, innuendo and malice.
Our statement here: https://t.co/atIAdmYr3x
— Andrew Wilkinson (@awilkinson) February 2, 2023
Everything I reported is accurate and sourced in triplicate, as we both know.
If you have a factual correction or complaint about any of our content you can email editor [@] ricochet dot media.
— Ethan Cox (@EthanCoxMtl) February 2, 2023
One of the reasons I started @OverstoryMedia was because I felt most journalists weren’t very good at business, and they should focus on everything but that.
Now my thoughts have changed.
Many journalists don’t understand business. But worse? They don’t care to.
— Farhan Mohamed (@farhanmohamed) February 2, 2023
This is backwards. The problem is people who delude themselves, thinking they have the secret sauce to make news profitable. It’s hard & you have to move slow. The outlets that have done that (Canadaland, Politics Today, Narwhal, Halifax Examiner, Logic) are run by journalists.
— Arshy Mann (@ArshyMann) February 3, 2023
CEO of Canadian local journalism start-up insulting journalists after his newsrooms unionized: https://t.co/NXt0HF2RAW
— Luke LeBrun (@_llebrun) February 3, 2023
Many businessmen don't understand journalism. But worse? They don't care to.
When you start seeing journalism as a product to market vs a fundamental arm of democracy then that is a problem.
— Cara McKenna (@CaraMcK) February 3, 2023
I understand emotions are running high, but these emails I got from one Canadian journalist (who ran a story on us) is INSANE.
Regardless of what anyone's done, this is no way to talk to someone.
"I'm going to be mean but fair" – am I supposed to take you seriously after that? pic.twitter.com/FvVA1EbZsZ
— Farhan Mohamed (@farhanmohamed) February 2, 2023
Our managing editor @jwsthomson has been deeply involved in shaping not just the award winning article cited here but almost every CapDaily story, especially the ones that’ve had a lasting impact.
— Brishti Basu (@brish_ti) February 2, 2023
By the end of that week, the sparring continued, as media workers and others continued to push back at Overstory owners over their handling of Capital Daily and the fallout of them having tried to just tweet through it.
I think it's fair to say this is not how anyone should be tweeting about former employees they just laid off. Poor, poor judgement on display.
— Emma McIntosh (@EmmaMci) February 3, 2023
The company had previously cut back operations, including the cancellation of its podcast Decomplicated and layoffs at B.C. Lower Mainland newsletter Burnaby Beacon.
I've been thinking about this all day. When @DecomplicatedCa was cancelled and the team was laid off, we were just getting started in our careers. It was a devastating blow. To see this happen to so many of my talented colleagues is demoralizing. https://t.co/dyBJ47xZDC
— Rumneek Johal (@rumneeek) January 30, 2023
I want to think that Canadian media is better than this. But I'm reminded time and time again at how bleak this shit is. Hoping all of the other journos who were laid off land on their feet.
— Rumneek Johal (@rumneeek) January 30, 2023
Last September, Overstory bought the assets of storied Vancouver alt weekly the Georgia Straight, whose former owner went bankrupt and dumped staff, who’d toiled to keep the presses rolling pending a sale and were owed back pay.
A similar scenario unfolded at Toronto’s Now Magazine, where staff and contributors also languished and were owed money by proprietor Media Central, which owned the publication for a two-year period. The digital assets were acquired in January by Gonez Media Inc, owned by former CP24 broadcaster Brandon Gonez, who’d left the news station and launched his own YouTube show.
“We want to bring a fresh, modern perspective to an important city publication that we all know and love,” said Gonez, in a press release.
Gonez had previously garnered media attention for his viral use of Jamaican Patois on air and his ability to connect with audiences who rarely see Black representation on the news in Canada.
The acquisition elicited mixed reactions. Some balked at the reality that former aggrieved workers wouldn’t recover their wages owed; others celebrated Gonez’s rise and success, both as a young journalist with a burgeoning independent enterprise and as a Black media owner.
A magazine like NOW is pivotal if Toronto wants to be the world-class city it aspires to. But NOW returning without paying ex staff left a bad taste in my mouth. I wrote about it for the @globeandmail. https://t.co/k0B7qSvVy5
— Graham Isador (@presgang) January 18, 2023
That tension was explored in a Jan. 31 column on CBC Arts.
“This internal conflict stems from being a Black writer who sees the minimal spaces where Black cultural politics can be reported on. Gonez went from working at one legacy publication to owning another one, now possibly filling an everlong void,” wrote journalist Huda Hassan. “There’s something compelling about such a story in Canada’s complicated media game. But representation politics is not enough. The new Now will need to show us what its values and principles truly are. Until then, I’m not sure it’s fair to cast them off yet.”
dear Toronto TikTok (TorontoTok? T.O. Tok? 6ixTok?). let’s talk about how things went down at NOW Magazine before and after Gonez Media. . . . #toronto #torontotiktok #torontotok #totok #6ixtok #6tok #nowmagazine #nowtoronto #torontolife #torontoculture
As time passed, former staff have not been swayed.
“I wish I could describe the tears that went on in editorial settings where people were faced with the decision of leaving the company to take (Employment Insurance) because they just, they couldn’t stay on,” said former editor Radheyan Simonpillai in a TikTok. “They couldn’t survive trying to hold this magazine up. And the people who continued to stay on, they continued to stay on in order to secure this sale, to secure this brand, to do all this stuff. The only comfort they had being this promise that they were going to get their wages back eventually.”
Simonpillai and others have lamented the direction the publication seems to be taking.
the 6buzz-ification of now…
— k. (@kelseyxadams) February 3, 2023