Why 48 Layoffs at the Toronto Star is a Loss for the City
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Why 48 Layoffs at the Toronto Star is a Loss for the City

Forty-five newsroom staff will be laid off.

Photo by Petmutt from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Petmutt from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

In news that surprised no one in the world of Toronto media, the Toronto Star will lay off 48 employees–including 45 in the newsroom.

The reasons are straightforward. Advertising revenues are down significantly as more money goes to Google and Facebook, and the value of each page continues to decline. Star Touch, the Star‘s big bet on a tablet app to turnaround their fortunes, has not delivered the audience management hoped for. Readers, accustomed to getting their content for free, are reluctant or unwilling to pay for subscriptions. All of these problems are well known, and unfortunately they are not easily solved.

The Star‘s problems are not unique to the publication and are not solely caused by its management, political stance, or the quality of its journalism.

The layoffs reflect the way of the world in the industry, and, as John Oliver rants in his ubiquitous video, this is a cost all of us bear.

Moreso than any of the other major dailies, the Toronto Star is a local news institution. They employ more journalists dedicated to the city than the Globe, Post, and Sun–perhaps more than all three combined. Other publications (like Torontoist) frequently build on the original reporting that the Star funds and publishes, and their extensive investigative team breaks important stories.

That’s true when it comes to carding, ORNGE, the Rob Ford saga, and more.

As a local institution, the Star has its flaws and makes mistakes. Various people and Twitter Eggs were happy to heckle the paper as it made its announcement yesterday. After all, it has bungled stories on HPV vaccines, unnecessarily singled out “Somali” involvement in Rob Ford’s crack use, and, like every paper, has a columnist or two who specialize in inducing facepalms.

Thinking of these criticisms, it is easy to be cynical and dump all over the Star and say that they deserved this. It is tempting–and true!–to say that Star Touch, where many of the layoffs will come, was a questionable use of limited resources, and this is a predictable and unfortunate outcome. It is also tempting and true to say that the Star, and many of its competitors, relies on too many stories like “Shirtless Trudeau Sighting” to boost increasingly meaningless page view metrics and that these Taboola-level stories do not fulfill their mandate or build towards a long-term strategy.

While those criticisms are useful to think about how journalism can be better (or profitable!), it loses sight of what Toronto lost in yesterday’s announcement. Forty-five newsroom employees is about the equivalent of the award-winning Texas Tribune, slightly less than the Pulitzer-winning ProPublica, or three to four of Canada’s top general interest magazines combined. That’s a lot of stories that go untold, and the city is worse off for it.

Journalism can be flawed and messy, but when done well–and the Star frequently provides valuable reporting–it informs us, holds institutions accountable, and shapes a better city. That’s worth supporting, and it’s why it’s a loss for all of us.