Sun Employees Quietly Protest Quebecor Cutbacks

It’s getting uglier.  The Toronto Sun Family Blog has been reporting some interesting developments in the latest battle between Sun employees and Sun Media’s parent company, Quebecor.  According to a January 26 posting, reporters and photographers in various departments of The Toronto Sun all did something unusual that same day.  If you read that particular edition of the newspaper, you may have noticed it.
 
What am I talking about?  The lack of personal bylines.
 
Reporters in the news, sports and entertainment departments all agreed to remove their names from their published articles for that day.  (Their individual email addresses, however, were clearly seen at the bottom of most of the pieces, so readers still knew who wrote the articles.)  In their place was this generic credit:  “Toronto Sun Staff”.  Photographers went the anonymous route, as well.  Whenever a photo from a Sun photographer was seen in the paper, it was credited simply as “Sun Photo”.
 
How many Friday readers noticed this, of course, is hard to know for sure.  One wonders if any of them realized that it was a union protest.  According to remarks posted on The Toronto Sun Family Blog by former Toronto Sun City Desk Editor (and union representative) Brad Honywill, “The purpose of the byline strike was to protest the continuing downsizing of the newsroom by Quebecor and to honour those people who worked their last day on Thursday.”  Essentially, these actions were taken in order to convey solidarity and support for the most recent Sun staffers who’ve had their livelihoods stripped away from them for no good reason, which includes former TV Critic Bill Brioux and ex-Assistant Money Editor (and union representative), Maryanna Lewyckyj.
 
To me, reading these bland credits looked like mistakes, like something was not quite right.  I’m not sure it succeeded.  It may have been too subtle.  As John Cosway of Toronto Sun Family noted, “[T]here were no words in the paper to explain the protest and SONG [Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild] didn’t explain the withdrawal of bylines and photo credits in a press release. (Not that we could find.)”
 
It’s a sad state of affairs when this is the way the newsroom publicly reacts to the latest round of job cuts.  Where are the angry columns from longtime pundits?  Why no special comment from the editors?  Where are those brave souls willing to spill their guts online?  In other newspapers?  On Television?  On the radio?  They are nowhere to be found.
 
Besides removing bylines for a day, according to an anonymous source who was quoted on The Toronto Sun Family Blog, “reporters, photographers, and columnists wore black as a further demonstration of their support for those possibly fortunate enough to be forced out of a company that has shown no loyalty to them.”  This took place on Thursday, January 25th.  Not one photograph of the event was seen in that Friday edition of The Sun.  It was like it never happened.
 
In another piece posted on The Toronto Sun Family Blog, Honywill noted, “Twelve people were laid off on Thursday at the end of their eight-week notice period. Another four people took buyouts to save four jobs. We said good-bye to all of them at a party at Betty’s [a local Toronto bar and restaurant] on Thursday evening.”
 
According to an article in the Spring 2004 edition of The Ryerson Review Of Journalism, Betty’s is “a popular reporter’s hangout down the street from the Sun building” on King Street East.  When 86 Sun workers were axed by Quebecor on May 14, 2001, “[d]isheartened employees” put together a fake Sun cover featuring pictures of those sacked employees with the appropriate headline, “Black Monday”.  At the time, it was still posted on one of the walls in the restaurant (I’m not sure which) and served as “a reminder that what the Sun once was – a warm, friendly and fun place to work – had become a dismal place where staffers feared for their jobs.”  I have a feeling it’s never been taken down.
 
Cosway referred to this past week’s official layoffs as “Blue Friday”, awful but not nearly as brutal as that one spring day 6 years ago.
 
Honywill further observed on Toronto Sun Family, “We are now down to about 120 people in the newsroom, from 200 at the peak prior to Quebecor’s purchase in 1998. Staff is horribly demoralized, both because of the loss of fellow workers and because of what most of us see as a mindless drive toward the destruction of the paper we love and helped to build.”
 
Despite the best efforts of the union to fight back with publicity campaigns (that aren’t getting to the readership), ongoing unionization drives at other Sun Media papers (that aren’t protecting many jobs), the attempt to have one collective bargaining unit, and the continuous filing of employee grievances, Quebecor is still getting its way.  This is a quagmire impossible to win. 
  
For the first time in a while, I didn’t bother reading a print edition of The Toronto Sun.  In this case, it was the Saturday, January 27th edition.  I did read today’s paper but spend most of the time perusing instead of reading.  I haven’t made an official decision yet but I’m leaning towards never reading the print version ever again.  Sticking with the online version is the current plan.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if, at some point, reading The Toronto Sun becomes a thing of the past.
 
Quebecor should be very worried about what it’s doing.  Is it 1971 all over again?
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 29, 2007
2:07 a.m.
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Published in: on January 29, 2007 at 2:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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