Nfld. & Labrador

25 people out of jobs as Western Star switches to weekly publication

Thursday marked the first time in more than 60 years that The Western Star didn't publish.

Meanwhile, Transcontinental fires back at SaltWire in legal dispute

The Western Star published for 119 years, up until Thursday. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Thursday marked the first time in more than 60 years that The Western Star didn't publish on that day of the week. 

Muriel Grant Dunphy had no job to go to in the morning, after a 17-year career with western Newfoundland's daily newspaper.

She was one of 25 employees let go yesterday, along with about 20 contract drivers and paper delivery people.

Grant Dunphy said she's still processing the news, after owner SaltWire Network announced it was making massive changes at the Western Star.

Muriel Grant Dunphy sits in front of her first full page of sports published in 2002. She no longer has a job at the Western Star. (CBC)

"It's only been 27 or 28 hours and the feedback from the community has us very touched, and they're not taking very well to the news," she said.

The paper is switching instead to a weekly publication. Only eight people will get to keep their jobs, while one journalist will move to another existing SaltWire publication.

Countersuit threatened

It was part of a whirlwind day for SaltWire, which also saw the company file a lawsuit against the previous owners of the Western Star and several other newspapers in Atlantic Canada.

The Western Star, along with many other publications in Atlantic Canada, was owned by Transcontinental Media, until it was purchased by SaltWire Network in 2017. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

SaltWire bought the publications from Transcontinental Media in 2017, and is now claiming the former owners overstated revenues and weren't open about questionable business practices in the sale.

In a statement to the Canadian Press on Thursday, Transcontinental fired back, denying the allegations and threatening a countersuit against SaltWire, claiming it had "failed to fulfil its payment obligations and is in breach of contract."

Picking up the pieces

The Western Star first started publishing in 1900, and became a daily paper in 1953.

Grant Dunphy said her 17 years of experience at the paper was about the median among all employees combined.

"Our most senior employee was let go yesterday and she's marking 43 years," she said.

The staff is upset at the lack of notice given. They knew something was coming, but had no idea it would be so catastrophic to the paper and its employees.

I want to say thank you to our loyal readers on the west coast and other places- Muriel Grant Dunphy

She said some of the drivers, who work early morning hours, were under the impression the paper was still going out on Thursday.

Grant Dunphy is also the union steward for the paper, and said they'll decide what their next steps are by next week. There could be some bumping among the eight employees that remain.

No matter what happens, it's a sad day for local journalism, she said, and for the work they did together for so many years.

"I want to say thank you to our loyal readers on the west coast and other places. We really do reach all around the world. Thank you very much for supporting us all these years."

With files from Carolyn Stokes