In My Opinion: Closure of Metroland’s weekly newspapers shows that bad ownership is the biggest threat facing Canadian journalism

Alan Shackleton is the editor of Beach Metro Community News.



The word brutal was the one used most often on Friday regarding the closure of 70 Metroland community newspapers, including the Scarborough Mirror, North York Mirror and Etobicoke Guardian in Toronto. But as the shock has worn off, I now think the correct word to describe it is “evil.”

On Sept. 15, Nordstar announced that its Metroland Media Group was seeking bankruptcy protection and immediately ending the publication of its weekly print newspapers – 70 of them in communities of all sizes across the province. Metroland will continue to publish the daily newspapers it owns including the Hamilton Spectator.

Friday’s move put 605 people out of work. A lot of them are journalists I know well, but many also worked in the advertising, administration and distribution departments.

Where I believe this becomes “evil” is with the revelations that the company will not be providing severance or termination pay to those who have lost their jobs. Many of them, who have who devoted not just their professional careers but their lives to those local newspapers, are also finding out their pensions may be in jeopardy.

Not surprisingly, since the company is seeking creditor protection, it says it has “insufficient funds” to pay out its responsibilities to its employees and to others it owes money. Well that explains the bankruptcy, but not how Metroland Media Group got to that point.

I’ll tell you how I think they got to that point: They did not care one bit about the business they were in.

What has happened at Metroland isn’t about leadership being incompetent or making strategic business mistakes that had tragic consequences. They just didn’t care.

They didn’t care about local journalism and the residents of the communities those papers served.

They didn’t care about their employees.

They didn’t care about their advertising and flyer customers.

They didn’t care to look for new, different, or local owners who might have been interested in saving their community’s newspaper.

When I first heard the news about Metroland last Friday I saw a report that mentioned an “existential threat” facing media companies somehow having something to do with the bankruptcy. An “existential” threat? Really? What does that even mean? It means nothing because it’s nonsense.

This all about moving money, who owes who how much, what’s the interest rate on the debt and who is paying out on this loan or that loan and who are they paying it to. And sometimes both sides of that equation are the same person or company. None of that has anything to do with running a newspaper company does it?

The way I see it, the biggest threat to the future of Canadian journalism is not Facebook or Google, it’s bad ownership.

So you know, I worked for 27 straight years at Metroland (from 1989 to 2016) and was the editor of the Scarborough Mirror for 14 years. You also need to know Metroland wasn’t always the disaster it now is.

There was a time when Metroland operated far removed from the influences of the Toronto Star and its executives even though they owned the company. Most of the papers had their own publishers, editors and reporters dedicated to the communities they served. At the time I left that was starting to fall apart, but it was before the Star’s original owners sold the company.

I feel not just sad for my many former colleagues who have done such good work and believed so strongly in the importance of local journalism over the years; I’m also angry at the ownership that did this to them.

And I count myself extremely lucky to be here at Beach Metro Community News.

We are still a newspaper and we still believe in serving our community with the best local news coverage, information and advertising opportunities we can provide. We are a non-profit run by a community board made up of local volunteers.

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Thank you Alan for caring and mentoring a new generation of journalists and local news staff who also care. There is hope thanks to professionals like you. Love the Beach Metro. Keep up the good work!

Thanks for the insight. I came across your article as I was searching why I did not receive the scarborough mirror for two consecutive weeks now. It dawned on me that it was part of the metrôland. I still hope that Scarborough itself will resurrect and become like your newspaper. I am long time resident of Scarborough and it is a big lost to not have a community paper that provides us information on what is actually going on in our community. All the best to you.

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