Bell Media layoffs, regional radio station cuts, stoke uncertainty about future

Feb 14, 2024 | Biz/Tech, Canadian News, News

Bell Media’s decision to lay off 4,800 employees and reduce regional coverage has triggered reactions across the country.

In a press conference on Feb. 9, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a “garbage decision.”

“This is a garbage decision by a corporation that should know better. I’m pretty pissed off about what’s just happened,” he said in Toronto.

B.C. Premier David Eby agreed and urged the federal government to step in as federal regulators approved the sale of radio stations to Bell.

Carlene Humphrey, creator of the podcasts Nutmeg Nation and Diva on Radio, said she is not sure about the future of new students in the radio industry. But taking a “wild guess” about the future of radio, she said small towns will keep the economies going because they have a loyal listener base.

Along with scrapping nine per cent of its workforce, Bell also announced it is selling 45 of its 103 regional radio stations and shutting down more than 100 The Source stores.

The company also suspended several noon and weekend television newscasts.

The latest round of layoffs at Bell Media came just eight months after the company announced that it was sacking 1,300 employees in June 2023. Bell Media has periodically announced yearly cuts within the company citing struggle with ad revenues and loss in the news division.

Humphrey, who created the Nutmeg Nation podcast to spread awareness about Grenada, an island nation of the West Indies, said the future of radio and television depends on generating an online userbase.

“Unless they can find a solution to get information online, the impact will be negative across the board,” she said.

Acknowledging the latest significant changes, Humphrey said radio stations are now having to join forces.

“Radio stations are combining forces because the market is changing and ever since Meta changed their rules with News and Media, it has impacted every news station across the board,” she said. “When you take away information on a social media platform you affect businesses on every level.”

Professor Michael A. Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said the future of local television and radio channels is “challenging.”

“It’s clearly a challenging environment and that is unlikely to change anytime soon,” Geist said. “I think we will see innovation and upstart providers, but the old models aren’t working and government shovelling more money at the issue doesn’t seem to help.”

Geist said there would be opportunities for future students who relocated to Canada to pursue a radio career but these would require creativity and innovation.

“Podcasts, audio streaming, and other means of reaching audiences will have to be part of their approach,” he said.

Judy Trinh, national correspondent for CTV News, said the cuts at Bell Media hit CTV’s national news desk “hard.” On social media, she said the organization lost passionate journalists “who put their heart and soul into their work.”

She also cited the several reporters, producers and editors who were left jobless.

The radio stations in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada are being sold.

In a memo sent to employees, Dave Daigle, vice-president of local TV, radio and Bell Media Studios, and Richard Gray, vice-president of news at Bell Media, said “multi-skilled journalists” are set to take over the roles traditionally held by news correspondents and technician teams for CTV National News in regions such as Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.

Additionally, there will be adjustments to the correspondent positions in Ottawa.

Humphrey and Geist’s suggestions were similar about the future of regional media. Humphrey said that looking for alternatives is the need of the hour.

“In order for radio to get back on track, they need to look at alternative ways to attract the younger audiences,” Humphrey said. “If radio is more present online, it will attract those audiences. Smaller radio stations have listeners who are loyal and that’s what radio needs to strive for.”