Metro Winnipeg stops publishing after Postmedia, Torstar swap

Winnipeg Metro is closing its doors after two Canadian media giants swapped ownership of more than 40 community newspapers, including the Manitoba paper.

Media giants trade community papers, 22 to stop publishing, including local free commuter daily

Metro Winnipeg will not be publishing any more papers, staff said Monday. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

Metro Winnipeg is closing its doors after two Canadian media giants swapped ownership of more than 40 community newspapers, including the Manitoba paper.

Metro Winnipeg staff have confirmed the Winnipeg office was closed as of noon on Monday and it will not be publishing any more papers.

Postmedia acquired Metro Winnipeg from Torstar with plans to close the paper and 21 others across the country, the companies announced in a news release on Monday morning. 

There were 12 full-time and 15 part-time employees at Metro Winnipeg, Torstar said. 

Postmedia is buying 24 community newspapers and two free commuter dailies from Torstar, and at the same time selling 17 newspapers — 15 community papers and two big-city free commuter dailies — to Torstar.

"The continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models," Postmedia chair Paul Godfrey said in the news release. 

Torstar will close 13 papers in the wake of the deal.

Across the country, at least 244 jobs will be lost at the newly acquired Postmedia papers, and 46 full-time and part-time employees at the Torstar outlets.

No money exchanged

"By acquiring publications within or adjacent to our primary areas and selling publications outside our primary areas, we will be able to put a greater focus on regions where we believe we can be more effective in serving both customers and clients," Torstar CEO John Boynton said in a news release. 

There was no money exchanged in the deal, as the papers "have approximately similar fair values," Postmedia said.

Bob Hepburn, director of community relations and communications at the Toronto Star, said he couldn't comment on the profitability at Metro Winnipeg, but "few free daily newspapers are making any money and in some cases, they are losing a significant amount of money." 

"We sold our properties because of their poor financial performance and their declining positions in a rapidly evolving media landscape. Also, their geography made operational synergies more difficult," he said in an email to CBC News.

Metro Winnipeg made its debut on the city's streets in 2011. It  targeted a young, metropolitan readership — age 18 to 49.

At the time, the publisher said the paper would bring a "fresh urban perspective" to news reporting.

The closure of Metro Winnipeg is reminiscent of when the Thomson-owned Ottawa Journal and the Southam-owned Winnipeg Tribune closed on the same day in 1980, says Paul Adams, associate professor at Carleton School of Journalism and Communication. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

The closure also means the Winnipeg Free Press, one of two daily newspapers left in the city, will have to lay off a few people at its Steinbach printing plant because it was contracted by Metro Winnipeg.

"I'm always disappointed when I see newspapers close but I'm not surprised," said Bob Cox, Winnipeg Free Press' publisher and chair of News Media Canada, which represents over 800 papers in every province and territory across the country.

He said it's the largest closure of newspapers on a single day in Canadian history, but added it's likely just a precursor to more papers closing in the future. 

"Something needs to be done," Cox said, adding the federal government should step in.

He's not looking for the government to "bail out" the newspapers, Cox said, but to "help us transition to the future."

Particularly in smaller communities, Cox said there are no other options for people to get local news. 

"If the government doesn't get involved now, it may be too late," he said. 

Competition Bureau investigating

The Competition Bureau will be reviewing the transaction, a spokesperson told CBC News in an emailed statement.

"Under the Competition Act, transactions of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in any market in Canada," the spokesperson said. 

The closures are reminiscent of when the Winnipeg Tribune and Ottawa Journal were shut down in 1980, said Paul Adams, an associate professor at the Carleton School of Journalism and Communication. 

After the papers both closed on the same day, the Royal Commission on Newspapers, also known as the Kent Commission, was created to address allegations of collusion by owners Thomson and Southam.
Michele Hazell, left, and Loraine Nyokong say they are disappointed Metro Winnipeg had to close. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"It was kind of a cabal between the two largest media chains in the country to rid themselves of vexatious competition. They basically got together and said 'I'll kill my newspapers if you kill yours,'" he said.

"Who suffers? It's obviously the news consumers who suffer, as well as the people who work there."

Adams, who is originally from Winnipeg and previously worked at CBC and the Globe and Mail, said the media companies likely swapped and subsequently closed the papers to get rid of competition for advertising dollars.

'Hope that's been snuffed out'

The Metro audience didn't want a lot of in-depth news coverage, Adams said, but instead wanted to have a sense of what was going on in their community and the world without having to pay.

"The question is what is going to happen to young news consumers like them. Are they going to now migrate to online news?" Adams said. 

Research suggests younger people may have a lower propensity to pay attention to news and also have lower civic engagement, Adams said.

While some research out of the United States has shown that's changing, particularly since the election of Donald Trump, Adams said Metro's readers may "just fall further out of the news circuit."

"The Metro papers were in a sense one of the hopeful signs that maybe as traditional media shrunk, there would be new opportunities, new jobs and new sources," he said.

"Meaning for the consumer of news, for the ordinary Winnipeg citizen, that they would have more reporters competing with each other and digging up more stories and producing more accountability for their politicians and the people that run their cities.

"In that sense, this is a little bit of hope that's been snuffed out."

'A loss across Winnipeg'

Walking near the Metro Winnipeg downtown office on Portage Avenue, Michele Hazell and Loraine Nyokong said they were shocked to hear the paper had shuttered. 

"It's kind of sad. I had no idea. It's great, you get to pick it up downtown and you get to know what's happened locally," Hazell said. 

How the loss of Metro Winnipeg will impact how you get information

5 years ago
Duration 1:19
Metro Winnipeg is closing its doors after two Canadian media giants swapped ownership of more than 40 community newspapers, including the Manitoba paper. Metro Winnipeg staff have confirmed the Winnipeg office was closed as of noon on Monday and it will not be publishing any more papers.

"I'm surprised and I think it will be a loss across Winnipeg," Nyokong added

Kenneth Thomas said he would often grab the Metro when he picked up a coffee downtown. 

"It's going to be very impactful not having it," he said. "Now we are in a technological age, phone and all that stuff, but it's still not the same as having a hard copy."