Toronto Star parent company Nordstar seeks bankruptcy protection for Metroland Media Group, the division that owns 71 regional newspapers. As part of a court-supervised restructuring plan under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, Metroland will move its newspaper to a digital-only format, cutting the print edition of the newspapers. Readers received their final print editions last week.
Nordstar’s flagship newspaper, the Toronto Star, is not impacted by the move. According to the CBC, the company’s six daily newspapers will continue print and online editions: Hamilton Spectator, Peterborough Examiner, St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and the Waterloo Region Record.
“The media industry continues to face existential challenges, largely because digital tech giants have used their dominant positions to take the vast majority of the advertising revenue in Canada,” the company said in a statement.
Lee Ann Waterman, vice president of editorial for Metroland Media, broke the news to readers in a letter.
“Today, Sept. 15, Metroland Media announced it will be restructuring its operations and seeking protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act,” wrote Waterman. “We are confident this restructuring will make Metroland a sustainable business moving forward.”
Waterman explained the evolution of the newspaper business since she was a journalist, noting that digital newsrooms crowded print stories, advertising dollars and newspapers shrank, and the pandemic contributed to additional revenue losses. The company lost revenue from print advertising and their flyer distribution business, and they were negatively impacted by “the stranglehold Big Tech has on digital advertising.”
According to court documents, Metroland owes creditors $74.2 million, including $16 million owed to employees, reports The Deep Dive. The company said they don’t have enough money to offer severance or termination pay.
Massive job cuts
As a result of the restructuring, Metroland will cut 605 jobs, representing about 60% of the division’s workforce. Unifor Local 87-M represents 106 of those who will lose their jobs. In a news release, the union said they were blindsided by the move. In particular, they are upset that Metroland will not pay collective bargained termination severance, voluntary departure deferred salary payments or post-retirement benefits.
“The gloves are off,” said Carleen Finch, president of Unifor Local 87-M, in a September 15 news release. “We will use every and all legal actions at our disposal to fight this inhumane treatment of our members, many of whom spent their whole careers at their paper serving their communities.”
“I can hardly express the level of betrayal we feel today,” Finch said. “After months of bargaining in good faith and reaching agreements, Metroland is throwing so many of us out of work without a word of notice. What’s worse is that the company has told us it will not pay contractually obligated severances, deferred salaries or retirement benefits such as prescription drugs that many retirees rely on.”
The media industry around the world continues to contract with smaller community newspapers bearing the brunt of revenue losses. Metroland Media is just the latest in a long list of community newspapers that have not been able to withstand the pressure of the print-to-digital transformation, the pandemic, Big Tech, or the loss of advertising revenue. This situation is particularly disheartening because hundreds are losing their jobs, and the company cannot afford to pay employees severance or even what it is already owed to them. It is hard enough to lose a job, but to do so with no compensation makes for a very hard landing.
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