Wanderings – Cuts and closures hurt people the most

If you work in the journalism industry in Canada, or consume news in Canada, the last two weeks have been incredibly tough. First there was word that the Glengarry News in Alexandria was printing its last edition on September 13. This was followed by the September 15 announcement that Metroland was spinning into bankruptcy, axing 605 employees and terminating the print edition of 70 weekly newspapers.

In Eastern Ontario, Metroland is shuttering the print editions of the Smiths Falls Record News, Perth Courier, Kemptville Advance, Arnprior Chronicle-Guide, and the Renfrew Mercury. The 70-plus weekly newspapers will move to an online-only news delivery.

Other print titles that may be known to readers include the Oakville Beaver, Mississauga News, and the Orangeville Banner. One of my first paid stories early in my career was at the Oakville Beaver, while I was in college.

In closing these print operations, Metroland is also closing its flyer distribution division. One-third of those axed by Metroland worked in that division.

Of the 605 jobs lost, about 70 are journalists: the rest are in production, advertising, distribution, printing, and layout. There is no layoff package for these employees, not even two weeks notice. The company going into bankruptcy means those people are out of a job, their pay, and have to get in line as creditors to get anything from the bankruptcy proceedings – if they’re lucky.

Any large-scale job loss in an industry is bad, but there has been little good in the news business the last 15 years. Financially, many news outlets traded traditional advertising for clicks at one-tenth the revenue, and giving the news away for free. A mistake for sure. It doesn’t take long to realize that if you are giving away milk, no one is being paid to tend to the cows. You can’t make money that way.

I am bothered by the way that Metroland parent company NordStar Capital has handled this. The company’s leadership didn’t wake up last Friday to the realization that it was losing so much money that they’re done. Surely employees could have been properly compensated for the job losses. Losing your job sucks but it happens. Losing your job and without even a last paycheck, the words I’d use to describe this can’t be printed in this column.

I’m disappointed with some of the reaction to the closure of these 70 print newspapers. Some said good riddance to “biased” newspaper reporters – claiming that journalists publish fake news. This claim of fake news and media bias in reporting is utter rubbish.

The journalists who have lost their jobs cover community events, local councils, school boards, and what happens in communities. These are community newspapers, not the New York Times. The majority of those who are losing their jobs work behind the scenes producing the print editions. I don’t understand how anyone can gleefully relish the misfortune of others. Shame!

There is a stigma which is unfortunate in newspapers about subsidies. There are subsidies in media already, for printing, for using mail to send newspapers, and more recently to subsidize jobs in certain areas of coverage. In the last five years, that amounts to $900 million in Canada, total. That includes some COVID-19 funding. None of those subsidies were tied to editorial content, or pro-government reporting.

Stellantis and LG will receive between $5-15 billion in subsidies and incentives to build a car battery plant in Ontario; Volkswagon will receive $16.3 billion for their battery plant in Ontario. The two projects will create about 1,000 jobs each. Approximately 7,000 people work as journalists in Canada. There are about as many people left working in print, radio, television, or online production. That’s about 14,000 people in all. Less than a billion dollars over five years to support 14,000 jobs, is a lot less than $31.3 billion to create 2,000 jobs.

I honestly don’t know what the solution is for the broken media industry as it exists today. What I do know is that in the fall out of business decisions and uninformed partisan rhetoric, it’s always those who do their job who ends up suffering the most.

This column was originally published in the September 20, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader. A print-first weekly newspaper that is still printing print editions!