Toronto Sun editor-in-chief James Wallace responds to Rob Granatstein’s lament on Sun Media’s 500 job cuts, saying that that the cuts to editorial are hardly “gutting,” (though they aren’t made without pain) and that Sun’s restructuring comes in response to “an industry caught mid-evolution between old traditions and new realities.”

Toronto Sun editor-in-chief James Wallace responds to Rob Granatstein’s lament on Sun Media’s 500 job cuts, saying that that the cuts to editorial are hardly “gutting,” (though they aren’t made without pain) and that Sun’s restructuring comes in response to “an industry caught mid-evolution between old traditions and new realities.”

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

Job cuts at Sun Media gut local news, argues former editor

 

By James Wallace

The Toronto Sun has lost or parted company with many fine journalists over the years, including Rob Granatstein.

We’re going through a difficult time in that regard right now.

However, Rob’s off base in his blog titled “Job cuts at Sun Media gut local news” posted on the Canadian Journalism Project.

Though his heart may be in the right place, he presents a misleading view of the restructuring currently underway.

The thrust of Rob’s piece deals with the impact of 500 job cuts across the Sun Media chain.

A hard number that needs context Rob didn’t supply.

It’s difficult and disappointing for those impacted and a challenge to the newspapers and Sun Media agencies losing good people that now must do more with less.

Our goal is to position ourselves to compete better in difficult market conditions, not only in our newspaper operations but also on our digital and television platforms.

Rob wrongly suggests this restructuring has “crushed local newsrooms,” fundamentally undermined the Toronto Sun’s ability to cover local news and dashed career hopes for young journalists who want to work here.

That grossly distorts actual impacts on our newsrooms and journalists.

Across our five urban Sun tabs, we are collectively losing fewer than three reporters or managers per newsroom.

Across our 36 dailies and 200 weeklies, excluding production changes, editorial cuts average less than one person per newsroom.

That’s hardly “gutting.”

But it’s not without pain.

Rob wrote specifically about the loss of Lorrie Goldstein from the Toronto Sun newsroom. Lorrie’s been the conscience and a big part of the soul of this paper for decades.  I was one of the young journalists Lorrie hired back in 1989. He’s been a friend and mentor of mine as well. Parting, I assure you, wasn’t easy.

Except Lorrie’s not exactly gone. He’ll continue to write for us every Sunday, as he has done for years, in a new role and relationship with the Sun.

Nor are we abandoning local news coverage as Rob suggests.

He writes: “The Sun seems to be ceding any advantage it used to have to its competitors.” And: “When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters.”

“… the ‘Toronto’ will be gone from the Toronto Sun.”

That’s wishful thinking on his part, maybe – though his “victims” reference is inflammatory and unfair.

We have issued layoff notices to several reporters in Toronto. We’re also working hard with our union to mitigate those losses through enhanced buyout packages for those staff that wish to bridge to retirement or pursue new opportunities.

We’re doing our best to retain our young journalists and regardless of outcome, wouldn’t be foolish enough to cede local news coverage to the competition.

Rob correctly recognizes “there has always been an incredible amount of talent in the Toronto Sun newsroom… There still is.”

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He’s right on that score.

We’ll move our talented journalists around. We’ll do some things differently. We’ll adapt and find ways to continue offering our readers news and perspective they won’t find anywhere else.

Just like we always have.

So how, exactly, are we being impacted by the 500 job cuts.

Some of the losses are coming from the production end of our newspapers. We’ve centralized printing for some papers and are  centralizing the production of newspaper pages.

That part of the industry has been subjected to constant technological change for decades. When I started, compositors cut and pasted stories, headlines and photos onto waxed flats.

That job’s been done on computers for a long time though increasingly, in our chain and most others, by editors working in centralized production shops that specialize in newspaper design and production efficiency.

Toronto has become one of those hubs for the Sun tabs, Calgary another. (Postmedia has also created a large page mill in Hamilton and reduced production staff at its papers as that facility grew).

But the overwhelming majority of staff impacted by Sun Media’s current restructuring are on the advertising side of our business.

While hardly solace for those folks, soft North American advertising conditions combined with an intensely competitive newspaper market (and one increasingly impacted by digital) has made newspaper restructuring a harsh reality for all media companies.

So we’re also doing some things differently on the advertising side of our business and creating a more efficient sales structure to better position our company to thrive and compete in this difficult climate.

As others are doing.

Consider the following paragraph:

“While the changes we have been making are about creating the company we need to be, it also means changing the way we have done many things in the past. While some areas are expanding, some roles across our operations will be eliminated. The only way we can be competitive is to create a new company that leverages its history and moves aggressively into the future.”

That’s from a memo issued by Post Media president and CEO Paul Godfrey this past May when the company Rob now works for made what some media characterized as “drastic cutbacks” to its newspaper operations – including newsroom jobs.

We're an industry caught mid-evolution between old traditions and new realities – between newspapers and the eventual digital technologies that deliver the news.

We’re leaner than we’ve been in the past, but more efficient and the fundamental job we do – scrutinizing government, offering perspective on the world around us and, at the Sun, sticking up for the little guy – remains as important and valid as ever.

Change has always been part of our industry and it’s at the heart of everything we cover. Those who let it dishearten or overwhelm will falter and ultimately fail.

Meanwhile, it’s great to hear Rob’s still a subscriber.

Gives a body hope for our business.

 

 

James Wallace is editor-in-chief at the Toronto Sun. He's been a columnist and reporter at the Sun, Osprey Media, the National Post and Brandon Sun.

 

Related storiesSun Media to cut 500 jobs, add more paywalls

Job cuts at Sun Media gut local news, argues former editor