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Métro Média to declare bankruptcy as local journalism takes another hit

The head of Métro Média says the Quebec newspaper publisher will enter bankruptcy protection this week, ending for good its coverage of local government in parts of the province's two largest cities. A person holds a phone displaying the home page of Metro Media, which reads in French that the company is suspending activities, in Toronto, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

MONTREAL — Métro Média will declare bankruptcy this week, permanently ending its coverage of local government in parts of the province's two largest cities, the head of the Quebec newspaper publisher said Sunday.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, CEO Andrew Mulé said the decision was made after the company abruptly suspended operations at its more than 30 hyperlocal publications last month, including the Journal Métro and 16 print weeklies.

"The Journal Métro as you knew it no longer exists. The decision to proceed with the voluntary transfer of Métro Média's assets has been ratified," Mulé wrote Sunday.

In a statement sent to employees on Aug. 11, Mulé said he'd been informed the company no longer had the liquidity to continue despite what he described as a "healthy balance sheet."

On Sunday, he said the impending bankruptcy marks a "sad epilogue" to his 28 months at the helm.

"I think of my teams, our readers and I feel infinite sadness, a lot of bitterness and regrets. I also feel a terrible sense of unfinished business," Mulé said.

The company now has roughly 70 employees, including some 30 journalists whose temporary layoffs will become permanent, on top of earlier rounds of layoffs since last winter.

On Friday, Metroland Media Group — unrelated to Métro Média — also announced it will seek bankruptcy protection and shift to an online-only model as one of the country's largest media conglomerates shuts down community news titles. The move means large swaths of Ontario are poised to lose their local papers and more than 600 employees are set to lose their jobs.

In Quebec, the Métro Média closures will create "news deserts," spelling "very, very bad news for local democracy," Patrick White, who teaches journalism at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), told The Canadian Press last month.

He warned of the end of hyperlocal coverage in the province's two biggest cities, highlighting a dearth of reporting on borough councils in particular.

Montreal and Quebec City's boroughs are responsible for a wide range of municipal services, including urban planning, waste collection and maintenance of local roads and parks.

Many of the company's papers are mini-institutions in their neighbourhoods, serving as longstanding papers of record. One, "Le Messager de Verdun," which serves an area in southwestern Montreal, celebrated its 110th anniversary this year, said UQAM journalism professor Jean-Hugues Roy.

Metro Media was created in 2018 when Montreal businessman Michael Raffoul acquired 30 publications, including the daily free newspaper Métro and 29 weekly community papers -- from printer Transcontinental Inc. Several publications have already been shut down.

The company said on its website that Metro had 100,000 readers every week and its site received nearly two million unique visitors a month. It distributed a total of 165,000 copies of its weekly papers monthly.

While Mulé stressed moving past "searching for culprits," his August memo to employees and contributors pointed a big finger at Mayor Valérie Plante.

"Métro received a particularly devastating blow when the mayor of Montreal announced the end of our distribution method, Publisac."

Since mid-May, the City of Montreal has banned distributing bags of print flyers except to people who opt in to receive them, replacing the previous opt-out system. Metro Media's weekly newspapers were distributed through those flyer bundles, dubbed the Publisac in Quebec.

"We have talked too much, and I include myself in this, about dividends, the city, Publisac, and we have forgotten the essential, the survival and sustainability of local information," Mulé said Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2023.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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