Without substantial support from the City of Montreal, Métro Média is threatening to lay off half of its newsroom staff in the coming weeks.
Owner of the digital and paper editions of the Métro newspaper and some twenty local newspapers on the island of Montreal and in Quebec City, the company does not have the necessary income to pay all of its staff until its transition digital is completed.
Métro Média employs some 40 journalists, including about 30 in Montreal and a dozen in Quebec.
“Half the newsroom is at risk. I’ve never cut into the newsroom since I’ve owned this business. It’s at the heart of what we do,” exclaimed Metro Media President and CEO Andrew Mulé.
“Today, my hand is being forced. I can’t afford to support her anymore. »
The media company had already made some layoffs in January.
“These are problems that we saw coming for 18 months,” he said. Today, we talk about it out loud, publicly, because the lack of mobilization and leadership in the City of Montreal means that the local press, defender of Montreal democracy, is on the verge of bankruptcy. »
This cry from the heart is launched a few days before the entry into force, on May 17, of the municipal by-law which restricts the distribution of circulars and advertising items to citizens who expressly request it.
This regulation, announced in April 2022, signed the death warrant for the printed neighborhood newspapers, which were distributed in the hated plastic bag.
“From April 2022 to November 2022, revenues fell 51.27% compared to 2019,” says Andrew Mulé. On May 17, we move on to another percentage. It’s going to get even worse, with the total loss of our door-to-door distribution. »
The cautious transition from paper to screens, which was to be financed by print advertising, was disrupted by the announcement of the administration of Valérie Plante.
Formed by the City of Montreal, an advisory committee chaired by Andrew Mulé recommended three avenues to support local newspapers.
The first, one-time support for the digital transition, materialized in October 2022 with the announcement of a $2 million program, which pays a non-refundable grant of $85,000 to eligible newspapers.
This transitional measure was to be relayed in the longer term by two permanent components. The committee requested the publication of public notices and municipal calls for tenders in local newspapers and recommended the creation of a municipal information booklet inserted in these newspapers.
“They took it seriously and they deployed ad hoc support in a big way, to make sure we could survive the time it takes them to develop a permanent program, to allow us to evolve in this urgent transition. , recognizes Andrew Mulé. Unfortunately, since then, nothing has progressed. »
He believes he has fulfilled his part of the bargain.
In six months, Métro Média has recruited 50,000 subscribers to its newsletter. Its revenues from digital sources have been growing by 30 to 40% per year for the past three years, estimates the president of the company.
“We spent 3.5 million on digital transformation, for an SME, that’s a lot of money. We put everything in, we pledged everything, we trusted the City. Today I wake up with lots of promises and no action. »
He regrets that the municipal administration has not responded concretely to the steps he has taken since January.
“We’re constantly pucking on this file and today, if I speak to the public, it’s because I no longer have the luxury of waiting for someone to take the ball and show leadership to arrive at the solution. The roadmap has been given and it is clear. »
For its part, the municipal administration recognizes the challenges of the local press.
“The City of Montreal is committed to supporting local media, which it supports both by purchasing advertising space and by helping them transition their business models, particularly to digital; and this, even if this support is beyond the usual competences of a municipality, “said Catherine Cadotte, senior press officer for the mayor’s office and the executive committee, by email.
“The City of Montreal and the boroughs will also continue to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in local media through the purchase of advertising space, as they have been doing for several years, in addition to broadcasting news in these canals. The City now systematically integrates local newspapers into its distribution strategies. »
The City points out that the Business Montréal line set up in the spring of 2020 can support stakeholders in this transition.