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Virus affects media outlets including La Presse canadienne

Alain Saulnier, Visiting Professor, Department of Communication, Université de Montréal 
Translated from an Op-ed published in La Presse+ and on the blog alainsaulnier.blogspot.com

A look at the impact of the current crisis on Quebec media, including La Presse canadienne

We’ve lost track of time. Yet, time is passing. Unfortunately, not fast enough to put the lockdown behind us.

Other times, we have to make an effort to trace the chronology of the bad news. Rightly, we do not forget the sad news about the population and public health.

But we’ve already forgotten the bad news about the media.

Three weeks ago, the fragile company CN2i (formerly the daily newspapers of the Capitales Médias group) announced that 143 people would temporarily lose their jobs. It also suspended publishing its daily paper.

The same week, several regional weeklies laid off the few journalists who travel across Quebec, such as in the Gaspé Peninsula.

Voir Magazine followed suit with other job losses.

Then, two weeks ago, La Presse+ imposed a 10% salary cut on its 450 employees until December 31, 2021! Yes, you read that right, not December 2020, but 2021.

For its part, COGECO laid off 130 people, or 25% of its workforce. Local programming has even been suspended in some Rythme FM stations (Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke).

Again two weeks ago, Quebecor laid off 1,000 employees, or 10% of its staff, for two months. That was before the extension of the “break” period imposed this week by the Quebec government.

At Métro-Média (owner of the daily Métro), it was announced that 40% of the employees of its 26 newspapers would be laid off.

And finally, URBANIA imposed a 20% wage cut on its employees in addition to laying off six of them.

Can we talk about bloodshed?  I believe so.

An oversight, La Presse canadienne

In this sad record, we forgot to talk about one important player, La Presse canadienne news agency. There is too little public awareness that without La Presse canadienne (la PC), we can no longer provide news, seven days a week, in this country. The few media outlets that have weekend editions would not be able to publish without La PC’s support.

The agency complements well the configuration of journalists across the province. Where large and small media outlets are not present, La PC fills the gap by supplying news.

For example, several daily newspapers of CN2i (formerly Capitales Médias) rely on la PC to cover government activities in the National Assembly and the Canadian Parliament.

Even Radio-Canada and COGECO do not have journalists in all regions. How do you get local news if you live in an isolated corner of the Gaspé or Abitibi? That’s the role La PC plays.

In normal times, La Presse canadienne complements the media ecosystem in Quebec. That is no longer the case today. The agency has been weakened by the current situation.

Yet we need much more than daily live press briefings by prime ministers to be well informed. We are living in a unique moment in our history, a time when we need full information, transparency, on the ground information and fact-checking.

While some media are struggling to survive, La Presse canadienne, the agency that feeds these media, is also dying, almost by indifference.

For it must be stressed that the consequence of this media crisis is that the outlets can no longer establish partnerships with La PC. Without such contracts, la PC is finished.

Government assistance and La Presse canadienne

Many welcomed the media assistance announced in March by the federal government. However, it is clearly insufficient. The Quebec government did give the media a boost, but few noticed that this assistance excludes La Presse canadienne.

Why? I hypothesize that providing assistance to La PC would logically oblige the government to help the QMI agency owned by Quebecor, which the government would prefer not to do… I hope I am  wrong.

All actors in the media ecosystem must find a solution to the current financial impasse. This must include La Presse canadienne.

Information is the lifeblood of the war against coronavirus…and against disinformation all over the country.

Alain Saulnier, is Visiting Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Montreal. A journalist by profession, he was News Director at Radio-Canada and is the author of the first professional Code of Ethics created for all Québec journalists (Guide de déontologie de la profession journalistique au Québec).

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