Sun Media whacks 400 more jobs

Will the last one left please turn out the lights? You kind of wonder how much longer the Sun newspaper chain will last, or how long Quebecor shareholders tell Pierre Karl Peladeau to stop with expensive, political moneylosers like Sun TV.

Nov. 29 2011, The Globe and Mail

– The Globe and Mail

Media conglomerate Quebecor Inc. is eliminating 400 jobs from its far-flung Sun Media division, Canada’s biggest newspaper publisher with dailies and weeklies across the country, a union official said Monday.

It was on Twitter where talk first emerged that the Montreal-based multimedia giant would be cutting at Sun Media, which has dozens of papers, free commuter publications and numerous weeklies in Ontario, Quebec and other provinces.

Paul Morse – president of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild, which represents workers at the Toronto Sun as well as several other Quebecor newspapers – said the cuts follow a round of buyouts at the Toronto Sun last week.

Mr. Morse said about 400 jobs are on the block, roughly half of which are to be eliminated through buyouts. About 100 employees will be laid off and another 100 or so positions will be done away with through attrition, he added.

Quebecor’s executive suite was confirming nothing, however.

“I do not wish to make any comment at the moment,” Serge Sasseville, Quebecor vice-president of corporate and institutional affairs, said in an e-mail.

One Twitter user said 20 employees had lost their jobs at the Calgary Sun newspaper, with more cuts coming in rural Alberta.

An anonymous poster on a blog for employees and former employees of the Sun chain, Toronto Sun Family, said there had been 27 layoffs in Edmonton, though the poster said they were not certain about the location.

Like other media companies, Quebecor has been squeezed by the slowing economy, which has hurt advertising revenues and eroded the company’s profits.

In its most recent quarter, the Montreal multimedia giant controlled by the Peladeau family reported a near 69 per cent drop in earnings. With a big chunk of its assets in Ontario and Quebec, the company has been particularly vulnerable to the slowdown in the manufacturing economy of central Canada.

“There have been several layoffs at the Toronto Sun, where they are shipping pre-press work offshore to India,” Mr. Morse said. A number of non-union jobs at the Toronto Sun have also been cut, he added.

The Quebecor media conglomerate owns Sun papers in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, as well as numerous other properties including the London Free Press and Kingston Whig-Standard. It launched the Sun News 24-hour news channel last year.

In Ontario, where Quebecor bought the former Osprey chain of small papers in 2007, Sun Media owns dailies from Barrie and Peterborough to Sudbury, Welland and Woodstock Sun Media also runs free commuter dailies from Montreal to Vancouver and French-language papers Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, along with websites and numerous other businesses.

The Sun chain’s last big round of layoffs came just before Christmas in 2008, with 600 jobs cut.

Pierre Karl Peladeau’s Quebecor Inc. is a holding company with more than 15,700 employees and a nearly 55 per cent stake in Quebecor Media Inc.

Quebecor media owns Sun Media, French-language broadcaster TVA Group Inc. , the Vidéotron cable TV operator in Quebec, the Canoe website and other properties.

Earlier this month, Quebecor reported a profit attributable to shareholders of $26.1-million, or 40 cents per diluted share, on $1.01-billion in revenue, down from $83-million, or $1.28 per diluted share, a year ago on $969.9-million in revenue.

However despite the overall gain in revenue, news media revenue at Quebecor slipped slightly to $235.2-million in the quarter, down from $238.5-million a year ago.

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Globe and Mail shows way in modern dailies

So, if the Postmedia group is showing the wrong way to do business, the revamped Globe and Mail is showing the right way. After about a year or so into its new format, circulation is up, higher than other dailies. The reason? Simply because the Globe has adapted its content, giving up the day to day stuff well covered by the 24 hour news channels and the web, except in such major things as Jack Layton’s death, and focusing more on commentary, background and features. It provides a double spread daily providing good depth (and great design) on a major issue and it has columns throughout. In short, it’s adopted the sports model of coverage. Since Joe Fan knows the score already, he doesn’t pick up the paper looking for a game report; he looks for the commentary and background to give the game report some greater meaning. So it is for news, now. The net gives us the day to day stuff, updated regularly. The printed page gives us something deeper and different from the net. A great combination; beats the convergence model all to hell.

National Post makes money; bleeds dailies dry

Well, PostMedia announced recently that the NP, after 13 years, was making money. It also announced that the “profit” are largely due to $17.3 million in costcutting across the chain, mostly for salaries in the dailies. I’m sure they feel real good about that across the chain; they are profitable, so they take staff cuts to prop up a “national” newspaper that wouldn’t float otherwise.

In other news, PostMedia announced again that it would start charging for users for on-line access, again following the crowd.

And in local news, I’ve let my subscription to the Leader Post lapse. I finally got fed up with paying $400 a year to read every morning what I read the day before on the web. I used to spend ten minutes a day on the L-P and eight minutes of that was on Wonderword.

Tomorrow, I’ll do something positive, and examine a newspaper model in Canada that works and should be emulated if the daily business wants to survive in the digital age.