Quebecor Inc.’s Sun Media division is shutting down the Montreal Mirror, the city’s last remaining English alternative weekly newspaper.
Montreal was once home to a vibrant alt-weekly community, with four newspapers in two languages circulating on the streets.
The rich competition in cultural and alternative journalism that Montreal fostered in the early 1990s also gave birth to Vice Magazine - a now-international media corporation once called Voice of Montreal, now headquartered in New York.
Now there remains only one alternative weekly - French-language Voir. The city’s other English alternative weekly, Hour Community – formerly named the Hour – was shut down just last month.
The paper’s shutdown came down with no warning. Patrick Lejtenyi, the paper’s news editor, said editor-in-chief Alastair Sutherland met with Quebecor representatives at 10:30 Friday morning to break the news. Staff were given a few hours to gather their things. Some staff were on out of the office for the Saint Jean Baptiste holiday, and had to be called to break the news.
Mr. Lejtenyi called the situation “amicable, as far as these things go.”
While the announcement was sudden, hints of the paper’s financial strain were not. Sections disappeared, page counts were down, and freelance budgets dwindled, pressuring editorial staff to take on more reporting themselves.
“Tough times are all over,” Mr. Lejtenyi said, “but I thought we'd done enough to buy us some more time.”
By 2 p.m. Friday the Mirror website directed to a short statement from the paper’s editors.
“It is with great regret that we recently stopped publishing the Montreal Mirror,” the statement reads. “The June 22 edition of the free Montreal English-language cultural weekly will be its last.
“The growing popularity of digital media and communications has irremediably changed the context in which free cultural weeklies operate, bringing about economic challenges which have unfortunately compromised The Mirror’s viability.
“We wish to thank all the readers, advertisers, writers and staff whose passion and talent contributed to making the Mirror a true Montreal cultural and journalistic institution.”
Some of the note’s phrasing is identical to that of a news release issued by Sun Media Friday afternoon. An earlier note from the editors has since been removed: “Maintaining a free cultural weekly in this context simply became unviable.”
J. Serge Sasseville, Quebecor’s senior vice-president of corporate and institutional affairs, declined to provide further comment on the matter.
Catherine Salisbury co-founded the Mirror and now serves as president of The Coast, Halifax’s alt-weekly. “We started the Mirror back in 1985 to give a voice to our community and fought for years for its survival,” she said. “It was always a grass roots operation and we ran the newspaper with sincerity and passion.
“Perhaps Quebecor and The Mirror was not the perfect fit.” Quebecor bough the Mirror in 1997.
“The Mirror was an original and raw voice in English Montreal at a time when the conversation was dominated by the Gazette,” said Peter Scowen, a Globe and Mail web editor who served as editor-in-chief of both Mirror and Hour at different times during the 1990s. "It’s hard to believe that Montreal can’t support one English-language alt weekly any more.”
Julien Feldman, one of the paper’s co-founders who left in the early years, said he watched the paper struggle to adapt to the Internet age, focusing on being a newspaper rather than a media company.
“As a co-founder, that’s particularly sad for me,” he said. He cited Vice, whose print and digital properties have garnered international reach, as an example of the success the Mirror never attained. Now, he said, the Mirror is “in the scrap heap of history.”
The Mirror’s current issue, featuring Vancouver band Japandroids on the cover, will be its last.
It first published in 1985.
The newspaper’s Twitter feed was last updated Thursday, and all links to stories redirected to the Mirror editors’ note.
Seven employees will be laid off, according to Sun Media, while two others will move elsewhere within the company.
“We’re all still reeling from this,” Mr. Lejtenyi said. “We’d all like to keep writing and keep reporting, but I doubt we’ll find anywhere that was as fun or as cool. It was really an exceptional little paper.”
Ottawa’s XPress alt-weekly, which shares a publisher, Urbacom, with Montreal’s Voir, also stopped publishing this May. Like the Mirror, the financial impossibility of running a print newspaper was cited as its reason for shutting down.