One of the country’s premier incubators of young journalists is on the chopping block, as the Toronto Star looks to get rid of the radio room as part of its broader effort to cut costs amid falling ad revenue.
The radio room is staffed 24 hours a day by a single reporter at a time, usually a young journalism student looking to get their start in the industry. The room is stocked with police scanners barking out details of fires, shootings and crimes in progress, as well as radio and television feeds covering all of the news happening across the city.
The Star’s union said it was told by the paper that it would like to outsource the radio room, but that it wasn’t sure it was technically possible. Instead, the task of monitoring breaking news sources could fall back to the paper’s salaried reporters who would take turns sitting in the room to make sure the paper isn’t missing anything.
The radio room intern program was founded about 20 years ago, the union said, after the union suggested it would be a good way to give aging reporters a break from regular rotations that took their attention away from larger stories.
“The idea was to use the radio room as a way to bring in young blood,” said Stuart Laidlaw, unit chair of the union at the Star, part of CEP Local 87M. “The union negotiated a deal where people could basically be hired part-time to do very specific jobs – anything they write has to originate from the scanners.”
The Star wouldn’t comment on its plans for the room, which typically has a staff of 12 during each contract cycle. The paper said Monday it would cut approximately 55 jobs as advertising revenue declines, and the union has 90 days to present counter-proposals intended to save those positions.
Half of those jobs are in the newsroom, and the company plans to outsource copy editing and page design to Pagemasters North America, which offers those services at a steep discount to what the papers typically pay in-house.
Editor Michael Cooke said in a memo to staff Monday that the pace of change in the industry has caught many off guard, as he underlined the importance of bringing young talent into the newsrooms.
“More young journalists have been hired in the past three years than in the previous decade or longer. We should be very proud of that. I know I am. Look around the newsroom – skilled, talented, new journalists embracing the present and devoted to the Star's future, alongside the ranks of the lions that helped build the modern Star,” he wrote.
“The journalism we practise here is worth investing in and worth protecting and I know we take that responsibility very seriously. It is never easy to take decisions that reduce or eliminate staff. But the real-life business challenges we face are brutal and require action.”
Mr. Laidlaw said the program has produced many of the paper’s star reporters, and that cutting it would hurt the Star in its hunt for talent in the years to come.
“It’s a big part of how many writers get discovered,” he said. “It is a real incubator – you get to test drive a young reporter for a few months at a relatively affordable rate. It would be a great loss to the Star, not just in terms of breaking news, but for the future of the paper as well.”