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Toronto Star to pay new digital journalists less than print writers

The Toronto Star announced it will hire eight digital journalists who will be paid less than other journalists in the newsroom and it is considering another round of editorial buyouts. The newspaper also laid off 11 full-time page editors and eight staff in the circulation department.

The union said it is most concerned about the digital hires, which it said would result in a two-tiered pay system, with digital-only reporters paid approximately $200 less per week than an entry-level Star reporter. 

"Some of these jobs, we don't have a problem with... like the video assistant who will be responsible for cutting video," said Dan Smith, vice-chair of the Star union. "But whether you're writing for web or whether you're writing for print, that's the same journalism... and they should be paid the same."

According to a memo sent by editor-in-chief Michael Cooke and managing editor Jane Davenport, the Star will pay the digital journalists "market-based salaries," comparable to what they say can be found at Huffington Post, Facebook, Rogers, Canadian Press and Bell Media.

"Simply put, this means that new digital jobs cannot be rated on print business legacy rates of pay," the memo said. "Digital revenues -- as important as we think they will be for our future -- are still out-paced by print revenues 9-to-1." While management has only announced these eight digital hires for now, it said it hoped to make more in the future pending a discussion with the union.

Liz Marzari, Unifor unit chair at the Star, said the union is "incredibly disappointed" with the Star's plan. Digital reporters will be paid $961 weekly, while an entry-level reporter is paid $1,169 weekly and at the top rate, earn $1,679 weekly, Marzario told J-Source.

"However, these new positions won't have wage increases according to seniority," she said. "We're going to continue talks with management but we're prepared to take legal measures, if necessary."

The newspaper appears to be prioritizing digital over print in its hiring strategy.

When management first proposed these digital hires in March, publisher John Cruickshank told J-Source that by creating a separate digital team, new hires to that team would be shielded from layoffs that need to be made in other editorial departments.

With this latest round of layoffs, the Star laid off the last of the full-time page editors at the newspaper. The work of two editors who handled digital and print copyediting at night will be outsourced to Pagemasters North America.With only two part-timers remaining at the Star, it's unclear which sections they will be responsible for, or how the duties of the 11 laid-off staff will be redistributed.

The memo also indicated that the Star is exploring another round of voluntary departures and graduated retirement opportunities for newsroom staff, the details of which will be likely announced next month.

"Specifically, we want to avoid instances where people leave as a result of layoff only to have vacancies for which they might qualify open up later in the year as a result of voluntary departures, or miss opportunities to apply for digital roles for which they might qualify," the memo said.

"These changes to structure and staffing will be difficult and in some cases painful to navigate as a newsroom, but the Star will emerge stronger and better prepared to deal with our present and handle our future."

Tamara Baluja is associate editor of J-Source, where this article first appeared.

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