Newspaper giant Torstar will shut down StarMetro Vancouver and its four other free dailies across Canada on Dec. 20, company president John Boynton announced today in an internal email.
The closures will mean 73 employees will be laid off, 30 of whom are journalists.
Torstar plans to hire 11 journalists for “new bureaus” in the cities as it makes a “pure digital play outside of Ontario.”
On April 10, 2018, Torstar rebranded its Metro papers as StarMetro with much fanfare. The corporation hired 20 journalists, many of whom were early in their careers.
“At a time when other news organizations are retreating, Torstar… is marching forward with an investment in daily journalism that serves this city and its citizens,” announced Catherin Bradbury, then the editor-in-chief and vice president of StarMetro national. (Bradbury left the company in March 2019 to become a senior director of daily news at CBC.)
The expansion would mean “more original local reporting and in-depth investigations, the kind of journalism our readers want and deserve,” she said then.
The five StarMetro bureaus — in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax — produced stories for their respective free print daily newspapers and the Star website. StarMetro stories occasionally appeared in the print edition of the Toronto Star and there were collaborations by journalists in different cities.
New team, new name, new possibilities; very fired up about this new future. with @Lapinbun @Nuttallreports @jwints @Mui24hours @JenStDen @wanyeelii @TessaVikander @alex_mckeen @mdgmedia @JennyPengNow @ainscruickshank @davidpball @CSeucharan! Pick up your copy today!! pic.twitter.com/RJYet7gQ5v— Perrin Grauer (@PerrinGrauer) April 3, 2018
“The StarMetro expansion offered a lot of hope,” said Canadian Association of Journalists’ president Karyn Pugliese in a news release. “Reporters who’d lost their jobs found new homes, and young reporters became voices for their cities. And they were only just getting started.”
Boynton said the “difficult” decision to close StarMetro newspapers was due to a significant decline in advertising revenue that left them no longer “commercially viable.”
“Indeed, StarMetro editions are the last free major English-language daily commuter newspapers distributed in Canada,” wrote Boynton. “Around the world free daily commuter papers have been closed for the same reasons.”
In its latest quarterly report, Torstar reported a 12-per-cent drop in revenue and a $41-million loss. The corporation also reported it expects to receive $4.5 million in taxpayer subsidies this fiscal year from the government’s controversial news media fund.
Pugliese highlighted the irony of Torstar calling the announcement a “national expansion.”
“The truth is this is just another chapter in the contraction of local news,” she said. “Journalists in these cities are left to fight each other for a reduced number of jobs that won't allow nearly as many stories to be told.”
The 73 StarMetro layoffs also include its editorial production staff in Hamilton.
Torstar also announced layoffs at its southern Ontario papers the Hamilton Spectator and Waterloo Region Record, making a total of 121 layoffs announced today by the company.
What StarMetro journalists are saying
Well that’s that, folks. We’ve all been laid off at @starvancouver. Big love to all my colleagues in the newsroom today. I’m in shock and processing all of this while away from newsroom and on vacation. #cdnmedia #journalism— Tessa Vikander (@TessaVikander) November 19, 2019
Look, today is a difficult day for all of us. But honestly, the way our colleagues across this industry have supported us is incredible. Thank you to everyone who reached out. It has made today bearable 🙏— Jesse Winter (@jwints) November 19, 2019
Painful day today. Thankful for the platform the @TorontoStar has provided for me in the last year and a bit, and all the friendships I’ve made here in Edmonton because of this opportunity. This city is a gem. Its people are a gem. And I hope its stories will continue to be told.— Nadine Yousif (@nadineyousif_) November 19, 2019
Hard news for all my pals across the country at the Star. Don't regret my decision to move out here one bit. Thanks to everyone who told me their stories over the last 1.5 years. I'm still working until Dec 31 so I'm going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off. #ableg— Kieran Leavitt (@kieranleavitt) November 19, 2019
I’m sure everyone’s read this by now, but at the end of the year Star Metro — in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax — is closing down. So, uh, I guess if you see a journo job opening, send it our way? It’s been an honour working with my colleagues across the country.— Rosa Saba (@RosaJSaba) November 19, 2019
Now that I’m done crying I just wanna say My Star Edmonton crew is my favourite people. They are my best friends! My family! (Okay I’m crying again) this is sad! But it is what it is. #yeg— Kashmala Fida (@KashFida) November 19, 2019
Tough day, and I’m still processing. Thanks to everyone for all the kind words. I couldn’t have asked for a better newsroom to cut my teeth in. This work is a calling, and my team is my family. I’m so proud of all the work we did. pic.twitter.com/HfC8cfBMoC— Hamdi Issawi (@hamdiissawi) November 19, 2019
What Canadian journalists are saying
At the beginning of this decade there were 36 newspapers publishing at least five days a week in B.C.— Justin McElroy (@j_mcelroy) November 19, 2019
With StarMetro shutting down, there will be just five, operated by three publishers:
The Vancouver Sun/Province
Kelowna Courier/Penticton Herald
When journalists lose their jobs and papers shut down, the only ones who gain are people trying to hide truths from the public. If you are a reader, keep reading and following the news. If you are a journalist don’t lose faith. What you do matters. #localnews— Peg Fong (@NewsPegReports) November 19, 2019
The shut down of @starvancouver is a terrible loss. Its incredible team of reporters have been setting the pace, breaking stories left and right. How many important stories will now go untold? If I was signing the cheques, I'd hire the lot of them, they are that good— Ian Young (@ianjamesyoung70) November 19, 2019
So many times I've opened the pages of @starvancouver and thought 'Damnit, why didn't i think of that' ... feisty, talented crew that deserves to be elevated, not treated like this— Douglas Quan (@dougquan) November 19, 2019
Caring about Canadian media means you are just in a state of constant heartbreak.— H.G. Watson (@HG_Watson) November 19, 2019
This is catastrophically bad. The StarMetro teams have been doing some of the best work, anywhere. I shudder to think what the news environments will be like in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax without them. https://t.co/CeehHwBqCs— Emma McIntosh (@EmmaMci) November 19, 2019
This is wretched news. Star Metro newsrooms in the last 18mos were one of the brightest new lights in our country's news scene. Hungry, sharp journalists who were kicking ass and being smart on major regional stories. https://t.co/TWgW3VKaBj— Jason Markusoff (@markusoff) November 19, 2019
Disclosure: The author of this story wrote 12 stories for Metro’s Vancouver paper, before the StarMetro rebrand.