Metroland Media Group declares bankruptcy, moves to online-only model

Over 600 employees laid off, more than 70 weekly newspapers cease publication

TORONTO – Hundreds of people have lost their jobs and more than 70 weekly newspapers will cease publication after Metroland Media Group announced on Friday it is declaring bankruptcy.

The move to an online-only model involves laying off 605 employees – close to two-thirds of the Metroland workforce – including 68 journalists.

“Metroland has faced substantial declines in both print advertising and the flyer business over the past several years, to the point where the community newspaper business is no longer viable in printed form,” states a Sept. 15 press release from the company.

“We simply don’t have the financial resources required to fund large, sustained operating losses indefinitely.”

Newspapers in and around Wellington County that will no longer be published include the Erin Advocate, Guelph Mercury Tribune, Orangeville Banner and Georgetown Independent.

Metroland, which is owned by Toronto-based publisher Nordstar Capital, will continue to publish six daily newspapers, including the Hamilton Spectator and Waterloo Region Record.

The Toronto Star, also owned by Nordstar, is not part of the bankruptcy filing and will also continue to operate in both print and digital formats.

Advertiser not impacted

The Wellington Advertiser is independently owned and will not be impacted by the Metroland announcement.

“Clearly this is a sad day for the newspaper business,” said Advertiser owner/publisher Dave Adsett, also chair of News Media Canada.

“Hundreds of employees have lost employment and dozens of communities have lost a local voice. The past few years have created a perfect storm for Metroland, whereby expenses have surpassed revenue.”

Adsett added the Advertiser will make every effort to assist advertisers affected by the Metroland changes.

“As I have often said, we are fortunate to do business in a county that supports strong local journalism,” he said.

“This isn’t the case everywhere, as evidenced by these closures.”

No severance for workers

Metroland officials say of the 605 layoffs, 104 are unionized employees, including all 68 journalists. The rest are non-unionized.

The company says the employees will not receive termination or severance pay because “the company does not have sufficient funds” to pay them.

“Affected employees will have the opportunity to file a claim in the course of the restructuring process for the amounts that they are owed by Metroland,” the company stated.

Unifor, which represents 104 of the workers, issued a statement on Sept. 15 in which union officials say they are “disgusted and deeply offended” by the Metroland announcement.

“This is devastating. Devastating for these media workers. Devastating for local news. Devastating for the communities who depend on that local news and devastating for the fabric of our democracy,” stated Lana Payne, Unifor national president.

Unifor officials say Metroland has violated a memorandum of understanding it signed with the union in May after the company and union merged 13 collective agreements into one.

According to Unifor, the memorandum stipulates “there will be no loss of bargaining unit jobs up to and including [Dec. 31].”

“This announcement will throw some families into a desperate situation,” stated Carleen Finch, President of Unifor Local 87-M.

“We are determined as a union to help workers navigate their next steps, especially in light of the cruel and careless way the employer has dumped this on their laps.”

What happened?

Metroland has attributed the bankruptcy to a number of factors, including “changing preferences of consumers and advertisers,” declining advertising and flyer revenue and the role played by tech giants in that decline, as well as the more recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” states the Metroland release.

“The decline of the print and flyer distribution business was significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by the reduction of flyer usage both by readers and advertisers as a marketing vehicle.”

The statement adds Metroland “has determined that in order to survive as a going concern, it must end its weekly paper and flyer businesses and convert to a digital strategy.”