It was a year of major upheaval and change for the industry. J-Source rounded up the biggest journalism and Canadian media stories of 2013—from the so-called “Crackgate” saga to Sun News Network losing its bid for mandatory carriage to the cancellation of five newspapers’ Labour Day print editions.
By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor
It was a year of major upheaval and change for the industry. J-Source rounded up the biggest journalism and Canadian media stories of 2013.
The saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford seems to have taken a life of its own. It all started in May when Gawker broke the story of a video in which the mayor allegedly smoked crack cocaine, after which the Toronto Star followed up with a detailed investigation. But the video disappeared, leaving many questions about the veracity of the story. Shortly after that, The Globe and Mail came out with its own investigation about the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, and his alleged drug connections. The Fords categorically denied the Star’s story, and the industry was thrown into a loop with journalists both defending the Star’s actions and arguing that it hadn’t met acceptable standards of journalism. In September, the Ontario Press Council held hearings to assess if the Star and the Globe’s reporting met the standards of ethical journalism and eventually ruled in their favour. But a sense of vindication for many reporters truly came when Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said the Ford video did in fact exist. Needless to say, this is one story whose ramifications will extend into 2014.
2. Cancellation of five newspapers’ Labour Day print editions is a “dose of reality”
When The Globe and Mail and four Postmedia Network newspapers cancelled the publication of their Labour Day editions, it shocked industry experts, both in Canada and abroad. Robert Picard, who heads the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, called it a first but said the decision follows a trend toward fewer print editions and is likely to be copied by other publications. The move gave readers a sharp reminder that advertisers—not subscribers—still rule the show.
3. Canadian Media Guild data show 10,000 job losses in past five years
In the past five years, media job losses nationally have reached about 10,000, according to preliminary data compiled by the Canadian Media Guild. Of this number, the print sector lost nearly twice that of the broadcast sector—6,000 jobs versus 3,700. Compare those figures to this interesting analysis from the Vancouver Sun’s Chad Skelton, who looked at Statistics Canada data that showed that there no fewer journalists today than there were 10 years ago.
4. Upheaval at Postmedia Network
Postmedia Network continued to face loss losses this year in earnings—nearly $36 million in the fourth quarter—and the media company said in October it doesn’t expect any improvements next year. To bring expenses into line, the company outsourced the printing of the Calgary Herald to Transcontinental—but that hasn’t gone so well, with home delivery missed on at least two occasions—and announced the sale of its B.C. printing plant for the Vancouver Sun and The Province. It also got rid of some real estate: it recently sold its Windsor Star and suburban National Post properties in favour of becoming anchor tenants in downtown locations in Windsor and Toronto respectively. In June, Postmedia also decided to sublease two floors of its prime downtown Vancouver location. And in a move that surprised many in the industry, Postmedia eliminated the role of publishers at its 10 dailies in favour of regional managers. Nothing, however, got employees as riled up as Pacific Newspaper Group president Gordon Fisher’s memo, in which he asked his staff to consider what they’re doing to make sure the company survives. Rumours flew that Postmedia would merge its Vancouver papers or fold one of them, and PNG went into damage control mode. Even as Postmedia engaged in cost-cutting measures to make up for advertising revenue shortfall, its employees incurred U.S. and international roaming charges in excess of $100,000, with some individual users racking up bills of $10,000. Needless to say, they got a scolding memo.
5. Downsizing at Sun Media
It was a rough year for Sun Media staff. First came the news that Sun Media was chopping 360 jobs in July, along with closing eight publications and three free dailies. Then, just before the holiday season, the company axed another 200 jobs, one-quarter of which were editorial. The next day, Sun Media sold 74 Quebec dailies to Transcontinental for $75 million. Its total workforce is now 3,800, of which roughly 1,000 are editorial positions, compared to 5,000 employees in 2012.
6. Toronto Star reporters get mandatory training after newspaper publishes false allegations about MPP
Toronto Star reporters got mandatory training on fairness and due diligence after the newspaper published false allegations that Ontario MPP Margarett Best vacationed in Mexico while on medical leave. Queen’s Park reporter Richard Brennan wrote the story based on “little more than a Facebook photo” that was posted on Best’s Facebook page in April. However, the photo was taken in 2008. The newspaper issued a rare apology in May on its front page, citing an “egregious lapse of the Star’s standards,” and retracted the story.
7. Ryerson Review of Journalism cuts down to a single issue
Since the RRJ was founded in 1984, it has published two issues a year with only a few exceptions. In March, publisher and chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism, Ivor Shapiro, said the magazine, which has always been in the red, will be reduced to a single issue. The news prompted dismay from many journalists—many of whom have graduated from Ryerson’s journalism program.
8. York University serves libel notice to Toronto Life
York University said it gave a notice for libel to Toronto Life and Katherine Laidlaw, the writer of an article alleging that its campus has become a “hunting ground for sexual predators.” The article, titled “Fortress York,” appeared in the October issue of Toronto Life and asks “why there are so many rapes at York U.” The York Federation of Students accused the Toronto magazine of sensationalizing the incidents, and the university’s student newspaper wrote an editorial slamming Laidlaw’s “bullshit narrative.”
9. Vancouver Sun’s supposed handling of Amanda Todd coverage raises ethical questions
The Vancouver Sun won the 2013 Jack Webster Award for Best Reporting of the Year in Print in November for its coverage of Amanda Todd—who committed suicide after posting a video detailing how she had been bullied. But a Huffington Canada blog post by Todd’s mother, Carol, describing how the Sun’s stories allegedly came about raised eyebrows in the journalism community. Carol Todd said the Sun’s reporters allowed her to read articles before publication, a claim she later retracted and the Sun categorically denied after several days of silence. But the controversy was already exploding on social media with many journalists weighing in on the ethics and optics of the situation.
10. Shocking amount of talent leaves The Globe and Mail with buyouts
Close to 64 employees took buyouts at The Globe and Mail in May. It’s the number, and the deluge of simultaneous exits, that produces a sense of a generation passing, wrote former Globe staff Dan Westell. “The list reads like a managing editor’s dream team. Decades of experience—each—with some award winners but more importantly, journalists with a sense of perspective and balance that I have come to believe is a key attribute of a good news organization.”
11. Toronto Star cuts jobs, outsources print production to Pagemasters
The Toronto Star told staff in March that it intended to cut jobs and outsource print production to Pagemasters North America in the face of revenue challenges. Also on the chopping block was the Star’s radio room program, where many young journalists jump-started their careers reporting on stories breaking over police, fire and emergency scanners. The union saved the intern program, but at a cost: a 32 per cent pay cut for the interns. In response to the cuts, the union asked its members to go on a byline strike in support of their axed colleagues.
12. CRTC denies Sun News Network mandatory carriage
Canada’s broadcast regulator is seeking feedback on a proposal that would ensure all Canadian national news services have a spot on the dial. It was a last-minute save for Sun News Network, whose parent company, Quebecor, said if the channel was denied mandatory carriage, it would be a death sentence, as the network lost $17 million last year. In another twist, CTV News reported then Conservative senator Mike Duffy lobbied the CRTC on Sun’s behalf for mandatory carriage. SNN denied that report.
13. CBC botches getting CRTC licence for new Saskatoon show
The public broadcaster failed to get the necessary CRTC regulatory licence for a new Saskatoon morning radio show it has intended to launch in April and only realized its mistake three days prior to the launch. Despite the planning goof-up, the Saskatoon show had been in the works for almost five years, ever since CBC undertook a country-wide study looking at underserved markets. CBC believes Saskatoon is ripe for expansion: it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, it has the youngest median age and there’s a lot of growth in the industry and business sectors.
Not all stories are serious, but they can definitely leave an impression. Take, for example, this stunner of a video showing a Fox News anchor who says Canadians are “not great at television.” Or this adorable cat that made it clear to a CBC Edmonton cameraman that it wanted its 15 minutes of fame and this amazing pun-filled goodbye video from a laid-off St. Catharines Standard paginator. The year’s “oops” moment goes to the Chronicle Herald in Halifax for misspelling its name in an article announcing it had won several Atlantic Journalism Awards.