Tue, 12/06/2016 - 03:12

Posted by H.G. Watson on January 25, 2016

By Aleksandra Sagan for The Canadian Press

It was another bleak day for Canadian news outlets on Monday as Rogers Media moved to trim its workforce by four per cent — or 200 jobs — while the Guelph Mercury said it would stop publishing its daily print editions this week on the heels of a B.C. newspaper closing its doors.

Rogers Media says the cuts, which will impact jobs in television, radio, publishing and administration, are part of efficiency efforts at Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B), one of Canada's largest telecom companies.

A memo to Rogers Media staff says the job cuts will begin in February and will conclude as soon as possible.

"Today's announcement impacts all areas within Rogers Media, except the Toronto Blue Jays," said Andrea Goldstein, the company's senior director of communications, in an email.

Rogers Media operates 24 TV stations, 52 radio stations, 57 publications and 93 websites.

Goldstein said "it is too early" to identify specifics about which programs or publications will be affected. She said changes will happen at all levels in the company across the country.

The latest layoffs come after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was told that half of the country's local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming.

The warning comes in a study submitted to the federal broadcast watchdog as it kicked off hearings into local and community television programming in Gatineau on Monday.

Howard Law, director of the media sector for Unifor — a union representing some Rogers Media employees — said the news of yet more layoffs in the media business is foreboding.

"We're going down the path where journalism and the coverage of news that's important for a functioning democracy is at existential risk in this country," he said from Ottawa.

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The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper also announced Monday it will stop publishing its print editions this week, impacting 23 full-time and three part-time jobs.

Meanwhile the Nanaimo Daily News, which publishes five times a week, will close on Jan. 29 after almost 141 years in business. Its website lists 10 staff members on its news team, including three reporters and a photographer.

Earlier this month, Postmedia announced about 90 job cuts as it moved to merge newsrooms in four cities to help the company trim $80 million in expenses by mid-2017. Torstar, the company that owns Canada's largest circulation newspaper, the Toronto Star, announced in January that it was laying off more than 300 production and editorial employees.

In December, nearly 130 full-time and almost 40 part-time on-air news personalities, producers and camera operators at CHCH lost their jobs. A month earlier, Bell Media announced 380 job cuts in Toronto and Montreal, mostly of production and editorial positions.

"As the bodies pile up, as we have more layoffs, less coverage of news, more closures of either television stations or newspapers, the governments are going to have to get involved in the public policy solution," said Law. "And that discussion is going to have to start soon."

Rogers did not announce plans to offer employee buyouts, but if workers come forward requesting a package "we will evaluate at that time," Goldstein said.

The company also recently announced a $5 price hike to monthly share-everything cell phone contracts for new customers and $10-$15 increases in monthly costs for new customers who bring their own devices.

"We have made these adjustments to reflect ongoing network and service investments and current market conditions impacting our industry," said Aaron Lazarus, a company spokesman.

Rogers releases its fourth-quarter results on Wednesday.

In October, the company reported a big increase in third-quarter profits. Rogers reported that profits grew nearly 40 per cent to $464 million from $332 million in the three months ended Sept. 30.

Unifor is lobbying the CRTC to require cable companies that own broadcasters, like Rogers, to spend cable company profits on programming.

This story is republished with the permission of Canadian Press. 

J-Source and ProjetJ are publications of the Canadian Journalism Project, a venture among post-secondary journalism schools and programs across Canada, led by Ryerson University, Université Laval and Carleton University and supported by a group of donors.