CHCH has cancelled its Friday evening and weekend newscasts, with restructuring and cuts coming to the local station that will result in fewer overall hours of local news being aired.
The changes mean an end to all-day news at the station, but newscasts will return in the new format.
As of 4 p.m. Friday the station cut off its live news content and started airing pre-taped content. According to a press release, Channel 11 L.P., the entity that has created local news for CHCH since 2009 and pays the local news employees, has filed for bankruptcy.
'It's a bloodletting.' - Donna Skelly, former CHCH reporter
Romen Podzyhun, CEO of parent company Channel Zero, made an announcement about the cuts on air Friday.
"Business decisions like this are hardest because they impact the personal lives of colleagues that we care about," he said. "As difficult as it is, this decision will allow us to continue to deliver the local stories that matter most to this community."
"Starting on Monday, we will once again be airing local news again on CHCH," he said. "We are unwavering in our commitment to serve this community."
Thank you everyone for all the good thoughts. We will keep you updated.— @CHCHNews
Podzyhun's on air statement was the first concrete information about the cuts that many in the newsroom were given. Unifor media sector director Howard Law told The Canadian Press that a lawyer for Channel Zero told him in a briefing that CHCH was planning to reduce its local programming from 80 hours to 25 hours a week.
Law said he was also informed that CHCH newsroom staff would be halved.
Donna Skelly, Elise Copps, Matt Hayes among those let go
Longtime reporter and on-air personality Donna Skelly told CBC News she is among those who have lost their jobs. That list also includes well-known names such as Matt Hayes, Scott Urquhart and Elise Copps, she said.
"They will be reduced to, I think, three hours of programming a day ... Nobody was given severance," Skelly told CBC News. "There were people with 30 to 40 years of seniority. There were part timers. It's a bloodletting.
"It was devastating. There were people there that we adored. It was one of the best places to work. People whose names you will recognize — Matt, Scott — were let go. And not a penny of severance."
Reporter Melissa Raftis tweeted: "Came to #HamOnt for school, stayed for CHCH News and am I ever glad I did. Proud to call this city home. It's been great getting to know you." Photos posted online showed her leaving the station with a banker's box of her belongings.
Reporter Cindy Csordas tweeted, "I need a job."
Michael Miles, who identified himself online as a digital news producer for CHCH.com, tweeted that "after 15 years, me and 2/3rds of my CHCH colleagues have been terminated."
The Hamilton-based network started broadcasting in 1954. According to the station's website, it produced more original news programming than any other local television station in North America.
Podzyhun said that CHCH faces a "new reality" that has left it in a "untenable situation."
"While we are forced to make cuts, the core news programs and many of the faces you've come to love over the years will remain," he said.
Transitioning to a new schedule
According to a Channel Zero news release, CHCH is transitioning to a new schedule starting next week that includes both the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. weekday newscasts. Its morning show Morning Live is slated to return on Tuesday.
This comes just months after the federal government discontinued the Local Program Improvement Fund, which CHCH availed itself of.
"When CHCH was acquired in 2009 [by Channel Zero], funding support for local television was available, along with healthy national advertising revenue. That has since changed dramatically," Podzyhun said in his statement.
Many people reacted to the news on Twitter Friday:
CHCH is trending. There's a whole lotta love for #HamOnt's local news. Still waiting for an update on staff cuts.— @KyraHayesHere
CHCH has such a rich history in Canadian broadcasting and #HamOnt. Hoping the best for all involved.— @fostersarah
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger told CBC News that he plans to reach out to the chairman of Channel Zero to get some clarity on the situation.
"It's very, very concerning for our community," Eisenberger said. "It's been one of our institutions for a very, very long time. I would hope that this isn't the sign of some impending doom that is permanent."
CH says it is available to over 92 per cent of Ontario households and is seen by millions across the country each week.