Postmedia announces plan to move 12 Alberta papers to digital-only, layoff staff

TORONTO — Postmedia is moving a dozen of its Alberta community newspapers to digital-only formats, eyeing more outsourcing deals for printing, laying off workers and selling the home of the Calgary Herald.

The moves were announced Wednesday in an internal memo to staff obtained by The Canadian Press that describes the measures as part of a "tremendous" transformation plan geared toward managing costs.

"Businesses everywhere have been facing similar pressures from a widespread economic contraction that has intensified over the past six months. We have seen this in technology, manufacturing, and in media," said Andrew MacLeod, Postmedia's president and chief executive.

"That intensified pressure means that we must accelerate our transformation."

Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia's vice-president of communications, confirmed the changes in an email to The Canadian Press, but would not offer any specifics.

MacLeod's memo said the plan will result in an unspecified number of roles being eliminated across Postmedia over the coming months through hiring restrictions and layoffs.

"This is absolutely not a reflection on the hard work and contributions they have made to our company but rather an outcome of economic contraction that has affected so many companies globally and the inherent challenges of our industry," he wrote.

Newspaper conglomerates including Postmedia have long been struggling to deal with dwindling subscriber numbers, the rise of big tech companies that have eaten into media profits and more advertising moving online and away from print.

In recent years, Postmedia has coped by closing a number of small-town newspapers, reducing print production of some of its titles and resorting to layoffs and voluntary buyouts to manage costs.

MacLeod did not name the newspapers that will be making the switch to digital-only formats, but a dozen Postmedia titles carried notices Wednesday that told readers that their print versions would be ending. Those titles include the Airdrie Echo, Vermillion Standard, Cold Lake Sun, Peace Country News, Drayton Valley Western Review, Hanna Herald, Pincher Creek Echo, Bow Valley Crag and Canyon, Whitecourt Star, Leduc County Market, Cochrane Times and Fort McMurray Today.

MacLeod's memo said the transition will take place on Feb. 27.

His note was sent to staff hours before Gelfand confirmed to The Canadian Press that Calgary Herald building Postmedia owned was sold for $17.25 million to U-Haul Co.

The landmark brick building, which has reportedly been on the market since 2019, is in a prominent location just across the river from downtown, and is visible from the busy commuter routes of Memorial Drive and Deerfoot Trail.

Its sale comes as MacLeod's memo said Postmedia is analyzing opportunities to outsource and centralize printing "where it makes sense to do so."

The first step in that process is a Limited Partnership agreement with Glacier Media that Postmedia recently signed, his memo said.

The partnership will result in Postmedia moving its Saskatchewan printing to Estevan Printing and putting its Saskatoon building up for sale.

The company will also look to sublease a Regina property, leaving Saskatchewan-based employees to permanently adopt remote work.

MacLeod promised to provide further details around the changes to staff in a town hall Wednesday.

He said, "We know that this amount of change is unsettling but we must continue to focus on our strategy and delivering for our audiences, clients and partners."

— With a file from Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2023.

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Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press