What has already been a terrible year for the Canadian journalism industry got worse earlier this week when free Toronto weekly The Grid announced it was ending its three-year run, both in print and online.
Screencap via Twitter.
What has already been a terrible year for the Canadian journalism industry got a little worse this week when the free Toronto weekly The Grid announced it was ending its remarkable three-year run, both in print and online.
“Well, we gave it our best shot,” the paper tweeted Wednesday. “After 162 issues, this Thursday’s issue of @TheGridTO will be our last. We are shutting down immediately.”
In total, 22 jobs will be lost, including journalists, designers, production, and sales staff.
“The media landscape continues to be impossible for a start-up,” publisher and editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull told the Toronto Star in an interview.
The online outpouring of support from readers was overwhelming.
"This is so upsetting. I love this paper more than any publication in Toronto," a reader wrote on The Grid’s Facebook page. "This is actually the best paper Toronto has ever had," read another comment.
But for all the lament, it’s hardly a mystery what killed the award-winning paper. Print advertising is in a steady decline and online ads make up only a tiny fraction of what’s been lost. News organizations across the country are facing the same problem, and until more outlets find a way to make money on journalism, there will be more closures and more layoffs.
Most newsrooms have already been cut to the bone, and each contract negotiation brings new risks. At the Toronto Star, the union fought hard to prevent a two-tier pay scale and the Globe and Mail is currently in the midst of union negotiations over pay and whether journalists should be forced to write advertising copy. Management already have a fence in place around the newspaper’s headquarters in case of a lockout, which quickly spurred an entertaining parody Twitter account where the fence is personified.
Even the publicly funded CBC, which is being starved by the federal government, must find 657 people to can over the next two years, not to mention a host of other changes that by 2020 will shrink the broadcaster’s staff by 25 percent and cut back on news and documentary production.
In many of these cases, the cuts are surprisingly short-sighted, especially when the parent companies are often billion-dollar behemoths like Bell, Shaw and Rogers, all of which announced some recent cuts to their news divisions despite making fistfuls of money selling us cable, internet, and wireless service.
Even TorStar, parent company of the Toronto Star and The Grid, made $173.5 million in profits last year, so if they really wanted to keep it alive they could have.
What makes The Grid’s demise particularly alarming is that, as many media folks observed, the weekly did everything right from a reader’s perspective. It was brilliantly designed and had a solid writing staff that often provided the best commentary on what was happening in the city, especially during Mayor Rob Ford’s various trainwrecks. It was smart without being smarmy, and hip without being condescending. If The Grid couldn’t sustain itself despite a loyal following, what hope do other papers have?
But perhaps more importantly, The Grid was an important part of the journalistic pipeline in Toronto, where most Canadian media companies are based. Many people who now work at more pedigreed outlets got their starts at The Grid, or at its predecessor Eye Weekly. Now there’s one less place where young journalists can cut their teeth, one less place starving freelancers can pitch their stories.
It’s also one less source of information for readers. People will eventually find a way to finance journalism again, either through advertising, subscriptions, or patronage (if you’re a billionaire, holla at me!) but in the meantime, millions of stories will go untold. That’s the real shame.