BCE Inc. is cutting 1,300 positions — about three per cent of its workforce — and closing or selling nine radio stations as the company plans to significantly adapt how it delivers the news.
The eliminated positions include a six per cent cut at Bell Media.
Bell says the job cuts are in response to unfavourable public policy and regulatory conditions that it can no longer wait out.
The plan entails “moving to a single newsroom approach across brands, allowing for greater collaboration and efficiency,” said Richard Gray, vice-president of news at Bell Media, in an internal memo distributed to staff Wednesday morning and provided to The Canadian Press.
Bell executive vice-president Robert Malcolmson says the company’s media branch can’t afford to continue operating with its various brands such as CTV National News, BNN, CP24, its local TV news stations and radio channels operating independently of one another.
“It’s a consolidation of news gathering, news delivery,” Malcolmson said.
“We are combining the news production function in a horizontal way so that you have one common platform that is serving news to the relevant outlet from one management team.”
Set to shutter are:
- Winnipeg’s Funny 1290;
- Calgary’s Funny 1060;
- Edmonton’s TSN 1260 Radio;
- Vancouver’s BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410;
- Vancouver’s Funny 1040;
- London’s NewsTalk 1290.
Bell Media is also selling Hamilton’s AM Radio 1150 and AM 820, as well as Windsor’s AM 580, to an undisclosed third party, subject to CRTC approval.
Management positions are being slashed by six per cent, according to the company. There will also be 20 per cent fewer executive roles in the company compared with 2020.
An internal company memo on Wednesday says staff affected by cuts would be informed this week.
Around 30 per cent of the positions being eliminated are current vacancies that won’t be filled.
“It’s devastating news, said Unifor media director Randy Kitt in an interview with CBC News. “Those are real jobs and real people that are tied to that.”
He says the cuts affect unionized and non-unionized employees and will leave Canadians less informed.
“News and local news is essential to our democracy,” he said. “They won’t know what’s happening at city hall. They won’t know what’s happening in the halls of government.”
In an open letter, Bell Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic says Bell Canada expects to lose more than $250 million in legacy phone revenues per year, while its news operations incur $40 million in annual operating losses.
“To succeed in today’s challenging economic, regulatory and competitive environment and be ready for what comes next, we need to accelerate our shift away from how telecom and media companies have operated in the past,” Bibic said.
Changing media landscape
Magda Konieczna, an associate professor of journalism at Concordia University says the days of companies making money off providing the news are gone.
“The media was supported by a very rich advertising market, and they were providing civic news because of the prestige that came with it,” she said in an interview from Montreal. “Today, Google and Facebook have basically eaten that ad market. There’s no advertising dollars left for journalism.”
She says if there is agreement that journalism continues to be essential to democracy, then new ways outside of the corporate model need to be developed to produce it.
In the U.S., she says, there’s been a growth in philanthropically-funded journalism — “folks in communities starting new news organizations that are more suited to the needs of communities that are supported by foundations concerned about local democracy.”
In Canada, where there are fewer rich foundations to provide that kind of support, Konieczna says government intervention has helped, “through tax credits to existing news organizations to help them hire journalists and through money to hire new reporters into existing news organizations through the local journalism initiative.“
‘Broke press is not a free press’
Malcolmson lamented the process around two pieces of legislation designed to help Canada’s struggling media sector. While Bill C-18 would require companies like Google and Meta to pay Canadian outlets for news content that appears on their platforms, he said it could be for naught if the companies follow through on threats to restrict or block news links on their sites in response.
The other, Bill C-11, aims to force platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute a percentage of their Canadian revenue to Canadian production, but Malcolmson said it’s not going to solve the “fundamental problem” that popular American content is being “withheld” from appearing on Canadian TV by major streaming platforms.
In a tweet, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the “sad news” about Bell’s layoffs served as “yet another example of why bills C-11 and C-18 are necessary.”
“A broke press is not a free press, and big tech needs to pay their fair share,” the minister said.
In the U.S., the media industry has announced more than 17,000 cuts so far this year, the highest year-to-date on record, according to the May 2023 Challenger Report, which tracks layoffs. The second-highest year-to-date for the sector occurred in 2020, when 16,750 cuts were announced through May.
As part of Bell’s shift to a more streamlined newsroom across its brands, Gray said CTV National News executive producer Rosa Hwang is no longer with the company, effective immediately.
David Hughes, Ramneek Gill, Sophia Skopelitis and Jonathan Kay will take on expanded roles within the news division as the company moves from a “vertical” to “horizontal” management structure.
CTV’s foreign bureaus in London and Los Angeles are set to close, with all positions based in those locations eliminated, while its Washington bureau “will be scaled back to focus more fully on important news from the U.S.A. and the impacts on Canada,” said Gray.
Meanwhile, CTV’s National News team is adding videographers to four new provinces, including immediately in St. John’s and Regina, with others to come later this year in Fredericton and Charlottetown.