Postmedia Network has laid off five parliamentary bureau staff and the remaining four staff members and manager Christina Spencer will join the Ottawa Citizen’s national political desk. Meanwhile, the Citizen is offering buyouts to its editorial staff. 

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

Postmedia Network is downsizing its parliamentary bureau and had laid off five parliamentary bureau staff.

Three political reporters—Mike De Souza, Andrea Hill and Tobi Cohen—as well as planning and production editor Rhonda Cunning and librarian Kirsten Smith were laid off.

In an internal memo, Postmedia said manager Christina Spencerwhose new title is politics executive producerand the remaining four staff members will join the Ottawa Citizen’s to create a “strong political desk based out of the Citizen.”

Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice-president of communications, told J-Source the political desk will not physically move offices, although the staff will become part of the Citizen’s newsroom.

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“This continues on the transformation path that we’re on to cut costs and finding the right number of people at our newsrooms,” she said. “Unfortunately it means layoffs like we had today.”

Spencer told J-Source on Wednesday that Postmedia News has cancelled its summer internship programs for this year. “I have been spending yesterday and today emailing student applicants to let them know the political bureau has cancelled its summer program,” she told J-Source in an email. Ottawa Citizen editor-in-chief Andrew Potter said his newspaper will not be hiring more interns as a result of the political desk joining his newsroom. “Our interns have already been hired and I haven’t been given a budget to hire.”

Meanwhile, the Citizen is asking its staff to take buyouts, although Gelfand said the company does not have a specific target in mind for staff departures.

It’s unclear what this downsizing will mean for the prestigious Michelle Lang Fellowship. Fellows currently spend six months working at Postmedia’s parliamentary bureau in Ottawa and another six months at the Calgary Herald. Spencer told J-Source in an email that the current fellow will not be affected, but it’s unclear where the fellowship will be housed for the next term. 

Last month, Postmedia laid off several National Post employees in Toronto, including social media editor Jeremy Barker and sports editor Jim Bray and outsourced a classified sales call centre in Calgary—which employs 48 people—to a U.S. company. Since it started a three-year restructuring program to cut costs by 15 to 20 per cent, Postmedia has made cost savings of approximately $87 million, or 12.5 per cent of operating costs since July 2012. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Rhonda Cunning's name.

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.