Radio & Television

Larger wave of cuts at Bell Media this week; 210 positions eliminated in Toronto (UPDATE #3)

Local stations hit Monday as radio reporter jobs slashed. CFRB newsroom decimated. Cuts at 9 Channel Nine to be announced Wednesday

By Steve Faguy

MONTREAL — After recent cuts at the senior executive and senior manager levels, Bell Media began making major changes at the local level this week, with a so far unspecified number of job cuts happening at local stations and in Toronto.

UPDATE: Since publication of this story, has learned 210 positions will be cut in Toronto alone. Notices of the mass layoffs have been posted at the Bell Media buildings in Toronto on Queen St. W., 9 Channel Nine Court in Agincourt, and Yonge & Eglinton. Individuals affected will be told today and tomorrow.

UPDATE #2: We have now learned that all of the reporters and hosts at Toronto’s CFRB 1010 Newsradio were let go Tuesday and that cuts to the workforce who are based at 9 Channel Nine Court in Agincourt (which houses CTV News and TSN, among other brands) will happen starting on Wednesday, February 3. Cuts in other parts of the country will be announced through the week. Jobs eliminated, we are told by sources, are in every area of the corporation and will include more reporters and on-air talent as the week progresses.

Citing “further changes to reflect Bell Media’s streamlined operating structure and our focus on making it easier and more efficient to do business with us at every level,” Bell’s director of communications Marc Choma confirmed to that there was “a limited number of staff reductions, many of them changes in on-air broadcast roles due to programming decisions by Bell Media radio brands.”

UPDATE #3: Choma told us this in an email on Tuesday afternoon: “There are further changes in roles, including some departures, reflecting Bell Media’s streamlined operating structure. As the media industry evolves, we’re focused on investment in new content and technology opportunities while also ensuring our company is as agile, efficient and easy to work with as possible. That includes programming changes affecting some on-air positions, but I think it’s pretty clear by now that our policy is not to comment on individual employees.”

He wasn’t more specific about Monday’s eliminations, but what happened in Bell’s home city of Montreal may be indicative. At news-talk station CJAD 800, the entire reporting staff of five was let go, and weekday evening shows were cancelled, replaced (at least for now) by reruns of daytime shows, including the Evan Solomon Show.

Shuyee Lee, who had worked at CJAD for 28 years, said she was “grateful and proud to have been part of the legacy of CJAD reporters” before asking if anyone was looking for “a slightly used journalist/assignment editor.” Her final story, about high school parents concerned their children will fall behind under schedule changes implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic, was posted to Facebook instead of making it on air.

Sister TV station CTV Montreal, meanwhile, will no longer staff its Quebec City bureau with a full-time journalist, instead relying on a camera operator to gather tips and reporters will be sent from Montreal as needed. CTV Montreal will also not be bringing back local inserts to Your Morning, which were suspended during the pandemic. Instead, an additional videojournalist will be hired to work mornings, for radio and TV. And CJAD’s late-evening newscasts will be voiced by late anchors at CTV Montreal instead of a CJAD newscaster.

Similar changes were previously instituted at CJAD’s sister station, CFRA in Ottawa, during the last major restructuring at Bell Media in 2015. After 6 p.m. weekdays, CFRA’s schedule consists mainly of reruns of programming from earlier in the day and rebroadcasts of CTV News broadcasts from TV.

The cuts in Montreal are expected to be just the tip of the iceberg this week as sources told the big broadcaster is following the same pattern it has in the past and that many more will be let go this week.

Back in 2015, Bell Media cut over 400 people in total, in waves similar to what it has done so far in 2021 since Wade Oosterman started as president of the division. Back then, the company (whose president then was Mary Ann Turcke) began with by trimming its executive suite, known internally as the “CP6” level, who are senior vice-presidents and above, followed by the CP5 and CP4 levels, which are vice-presidents and directors.

We have reported on the 2021 cutbacks, which have included over 20 people at this point, here and here.

Of course, there are fewer of those folks than the rank and file CP3 and lower classifications. It’s expected that the bulk of the layoffs this week will be among the rank and file and number in the dozens, if not more, according to sources who spoke to on condition of anonymity.

Those sources also added there has yet to be any Bell Media-wide communication from the new president to his employees that outlines his vision or a new strategy for Canada’s largest broadcaster, leading to much anxiety across the company.

According to annual returns submitted to the CRTC, Bell Media’s English-language stations nationwide reported an operating loss of $3.4 million in 2019-20 (the CRTC broadcasting year ends August 31), as advertising revenue dropped 28% from the previous year. Parent company BCE Inc. reported $5.8 billion of operating revenue and $2.5 billion adjusted EBITDA in the third quarter of 2020 alone, of which $178 million was from Bell Media.

With files from Greg O’Brien.