Postmedia began handing out layoff notices to 54 employees today at the Vancouver Sun and Province, including 29 journalists.

"Today is going to be a tough day for all of us," wrote Unifor Local 2000 president Brian Gibson on the union website. "For those that receive notice today just know we are all so very sorry."

Plans for the layoffs were first announced two weeks ago and come on the heels of 38 additional buyouts at the newspapers in January.

According to Gibson, the Pacific Newspaper Group division of Postmedia made $18 million in profit last year while five Postmedia executives received $2.3 million in bonuses. 

'Democracy is at risk'

Local journalism instructors were dismayed by the layoffs.

Peg Fong, an instructor at Langara College and former employee with the Vancouver Sun and CBC Vancouver, says the cuts will exacerbate the problem of fewer and fewer journalists covering issues that impact the lives of local people.

"Journalism is going to be gravely impacted here locally, provincially and nationally because of the loss of these journalists," she told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

Peter Klein, founder of Global Reporting Centre and instructor at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, agreed.

"[The Sun and Province] used to have a couple thousand people, and they were the eyes and the ears of the public," he said. "They went to city council meetings, they went to police briefings. A lot of things happen in a city… there are issues that need monitoring.

"I worry that we just don't have those reports who are following those beats and developing those sources. It sounds like a big statement, but democracy is at risk."

Klein also feels there was what he terms a "disturbing" number of people applauding the layoffs.

He says it's part of a wave of anti-journalism sentiment that has fewer people than ever trusting the fourth estate.

"Part of that is some journalists screwing up and not doing their job, but a lot of it comes from the [media] companies," he said. "Postmedia … they're a profitable company, their executives are making huge amounts of money, and yet they do this. I think the public is looking  like, 'what's going on here?'"

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Layoff notices handed out at Vancouver Sun and Province