Not a good time for newspapers: The 1992 edition

Canadian newspapers were struggling to contain costs and keep up with the changing times.

Dailies across the country beset by layoffs, wage freezes, competing media

'Canada's newspaper woes'

32 years ago
Duration 2:32
The National's Neil Macdonald reports on the challenges Canada's newspapers were facing in June 1992.

Canadian newspapers were struggling to contain costs and keep up with the changing times.

And that was back in the early '90s, when papers were then laying off staff, squabbling with unions and trying to stay relevant to readers.

Just ahead of the start of the summer in 1992, The National's Neil Macdonald surveyed the scene.

That included the Montreal Gazette, which had laid off 59 employees amid a recession.

An 'unsalvageable' future?

Man speaking into microphones
Montreal Gazette publisher David Perks said the layoffs that had occurred at the paper in June of 1992 were made because they were necessary to ensure the paper's long-term health. (The National/CBC Archives)

David Perks, the Gazette's then-publisher, said the cuts were necessary.

"We are taking these steps to maintain the profitability and the long-term integrity of the Gazette," said Perks, who had been at the city's century-old Montreal Star when it ceased publishing 13 years earlier.

"We're not waiting until the thing is unsalvageable."

Macdonald said employees had expected the cuts after refusing to bend to demands that they forgo wage increases and holidays.

Similar battles were occurring at other papers — like at the Toronto Star, where a strike was underway, as well as at the Ottawa Citizen, which was demanding a wage freeze. In Manitoba, layoffs had occurred at the Winnipeg Free Press, while hundreds of job cuts were being threatened in British Columbia at the Southam-owned Province and Sun newspapers.

And how to prepare for what comes next?

Man standing in front of Montreal Gazette building
The National's Neil Macdonald said that by the early 1990s, the newspaper industry was getting worried about how to sustain its business into the future. (The National/CBC Archives)

Macdonald said the papers were also aware of the growing threat that electronic media posed to the business — but it was the impact of television that publishers worried about back then.

"Publishers also know the traditional daily newspaper is a dinosaur," said Macdonald.

"Readers are demanding more specialized information, advertisers want select audiences and television news grows more and more immediate."

But there weren't any easy answers.

"The problem is, how to change, where to aim coverage," said Macdonald.

"It's a fundamental question and one that has many print journalists worried about the very survival of their craft as they know it."

Newsroom with desks and computers and male workers
Canada's newspapers were having to think more and more about their future, including how they could continue to stay relevant to their readers. (The National/CBC Archives)

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