Photo courtesy Postmedia and Torstar
Photo courtesy Postmedia and Torstar

It was a somber day for Canadian journalism: dozens of papers are closing and around 290 people are losing their jobs, after Postmedia and Torstar announced a deal on Nov. 27 to buy and sell several publications.

Postmedia is acquiring 22 of Torstar’s community newspapers in eastern and southern Ontario, as well as two free dailies: Metro Winnipeg and Metro Ottawa.

Postmedia will close all of those papers, except for the Exeter Times-Advocate and its weekly edition, the Exeter Weekender. The other papers will be closed by mid-January, according to a press release.

Meanwhile, Torstar acquired 17 publications from Postmedia—and is immediately closing 13 of them.

The closures include three daily community papers: the Barrie Examiner, Northumberland Today and the Orillia Packet & Times.

A total of around 290 people will lose their job from the Postmedia/Torstar closures, said Bob Hepburn, the Toronto Star’s director of community relations and communications.

These include 46 people from the papers Torstar acquired, he said, who will all be offered severance packages. From the papers Postmedia acquired, 244 employees are affected, said spokesperson Phyllise Gelfand in an email. They all received termination packages on the 27th, she said.

Torstar is also shuttering the eight weekly papers it acquired, including the Bradford Times, Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin, Fort Erie Times, Innisfil Examiner, Niagara Advance, Pelham News, Inport News (Port Colborne) and Thorold Niagara News.

It’s also closing two free dailies, 24Hours Toronto and 24Hours Vancouver. Torstar will continue operating only four of the papers it got: the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and the Peterborough Examiner.

The papers Postmedia is closing include Belleville News Brant News, Central Hastings News, Frontenac Gazette, Kanata Kourier-Standard, Kingston Heritage, Meaford Express, Metro Ottawa, Metro Winnipeg, Nepean/Barrhaven News, Norfolk News, Orleans News, Ottawa East News, Ottawa South News, Ottawa West News, Our London, Quinte West News, St. Lawrence News, St. Mary’s Journal-Argus and St. Mary’s Weekender, St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News, Stittsville News, Stratford City Gazette, West Carleton Review.

Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey said in a press release that declining ad revenues mean most of these papers don’t have sustainable business models anymore.

“What makes this particularly difficult is that it means we will say goodbye to many dedicated newspaper people,” said Godfrey in the release.

“However, the continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models.”

The closures will have financial benefit, while “maintaining those operations that are sustainable and support Postmedia’s strategy,” the company said in the release.

Torstar CEO John Boynton said in a press release that the deal will allow them to operate more efficiently.

“By acquiring publications within or adjacent to our primary areas and selling publications outside our primary areas we will be able to put a greater focus on regions where we believe we can be more effective in serving both customers and clients,” he said.

In a statement, the Canadian Association of journalists called the deal “cynical and destructive” and said the closures will mean  “countless stories will go untold.”

“Postmedia and Torstar pretend to support thriving local news, and advocate for more journalism when they testify at parliamentary committees,” said association president Nick Taylor-Vaisey in a press release. “But they’ve proven once again that cutting newspapers, and destroying media diversity in cities both big and small, is routine business.”

The properties Postmedia sold to Torstar are about the same in value as the properties Torstar sold to Postmedia, so no money changed hands, said Postmedia spokesperson Phyllise Gelfand.

In a press release, Postmedia says the 41-paper swap is not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act and no regulatory clearance is required to close the transaction.

However, the federal government’s Competition Bureau says it’s reviewing the deal.

“While I cannot speak to the specifics of a Bureau review for reasons of confidentiality, under the Competition Act transactions of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in any market in Canada,” said Senior Communications Advisor Jayme Albert in an email.

“The Competition Act allows for a one-year period following the completion of a transaction during which the Commissioner may bring an application to the Competition Tribunal challenging the transaction.”

This deal will result in $5-7 million a year in savings, the press release said.

James Turner, now a journalism instructor at Red River College, was Metro Winnipeg’s first news reporter when the paper opened in 2011.

Turner said he was “shocked” to hear the paper was closing.

“My feeling was…the paper was doing pretty well. It had built a considerably good following by a core number of people in Winnipeg and was always well-regarded for what it was,” said Turner, who worked at Metro Winnipeg for roughly nine months.

When Metro Winnipeg first started,Turner said it was exciting to see a newspaper open that seemed to focus on a “younger” demographic. Metro Winnipeg covered some of the more niche issues around Winnipeg city hall and transportation, he said, and had good arts and environmental coverage.

Turner said he fears for the loss of so many papers, particularly those in smaller communities.

“You lament the loss of those eyes on institutions. City halls, courthouses…it’s never good, especially in a smaller community,” said James

“It’s terrible for smaller places like that to lose their news coverage, and also places where the citizenry can raise issues and have reasonable debates.”

In a press release, Postmedia president and COO Andrew MacLeod said the “growing strength of digital giants has caused seismic shifts in the allocation of advertising revenues — putting all media companies under massive pressure.”

“Our digital strategies are showing promising signs but we must take all possible actions in order to give these new initiatives time to grow momentum while managing the decline of legacy revenue streams and their associated costs.”

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