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File photo of a Transcontinental printing operation.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Transcontinental Inc. is ceasing publication of 20 local Quebec weeklies in a reorganization of its weekly newspaper business.

The move will result in the layoff of about 80 employees.

Montreal-based Transcontinental said on Wednesday that most of the titles will be integrated with other community papers it owns in the same regions.

Also on Wednesday, the federal Competition Bureau said it has approved the sale of 14 Transcontinental weeklies, of which three will continue to be operated as traditional newspapers and 11 will be online only.

The sale process is part of a consent agreement between the bureau and Transcontinental to safeguard competition for advertising sales in local Quebec markets after Transcontinental's deal late last year to buy 74 papers from Sun Media Corp.

Transcontinental was told to sell 33 of the 74 weeklies; of the 33, buyers were found for 14 of them, Transcontinental said on Wednesday.

The bureau set a 60-day sale period for the 33 papers as part of a "market test" whether buyers could be found for each of the publications; if not, Transcontinental would be allowed to retain ownership.

Incentives to would-be buyers were provided in the form of no minimum price and Transcontinental providing distribution and printing services to any potential purchaser for a set period of time.

Despite those enticements, the company could not find buyers for 19 weeklies on the block, it said.

"The Bureau is satisfied that 14 newspapers will be purchased. However, I understand that some communities will be disappointed that no acceptable buyer was found for their community newspapers or that they are going to lose the paper edition of their newspaper," Commissioner of Competition John Pecman said in a news release Wednesday.

"I remain convinced that the Bureau has done everything in its power to test the market to determine if there was a possible alternative to Transcontinental owning all the papers. Unfortunately, in some cases like this one, where many newspapers are in financial distress owing to the ongoing transformation of the community newspaper industry, the market dictates that there are limited alternatives."

Transcontinental – which also provides print and digital media and marketing services, publishes magazines and books, and makes packaging products in the U.S. – has close to 120 titles in TC Media Local Solutions, the division in charge of weekly newspapers in Quebec.

The 20 weeklies being shut are in 10 Quebec regions:

  • Abitibi-Témiscamingue
  • Lower St-Lawrence
  • Central Quebec
  • Chaudière-Appalaches
  • Eastern Townships
  • Gaspésie
  • Lanaudière
  • Mauricie
  • Montérégie
  • Laurentians