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Canadian news agencies are closing physical offices and codifying remote work

TORONTO – Some of Canada’s newsrooms will now only exist in cyberspace forever as publishers try to save money on physical offices as part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torstar plans to permanently close the physical office space for the Waterloo Region Record and St. Catharines Standard by the end of next month as the news media follow industries like technology that have adopted remote working as the permanent standard.

All employees at the two news outlets will work remotely all the time – along the lines of the Peterborough Examiner, which closed its offices last summer after the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees to work from home to spread the word to avoid the virus.

According to Torstar spokesman Bob Hepburn, there will be no changes in the number of employees or print and digital products due to the closure of offices, which can help the company reduce the cost of renting office space.

Torstar’s decision comes amid a similar shift in the US and UK, where the New York Daily News no longer has a physical newsroom and the publisher of the UK Daily Mirror is moving many employees from home to office centers.

According to a study by Carelton University Assistant Professor Aneurin Bosley and University, nearly 57 percent of 122 respondents said it was either more difficult or much more difficult than normal to interact with staff in pandemic conditions by King’s College Associate Professor Fred Vallance-Jone and published by J-Source.

However, all respondents also said that journalists were able to continue their work during the pandemic, according to the survey of graduates of graduates from the journalism program at Carleton University or the University of King’s College. Almost two-thirds of respondents said journalists and communications professionals had done “somewhat effectively” and more than a third said the work was very effective.

The story goes on

Hepburn said the company sees the model as a successful way to keep readers updated after a full year of remote working.

“Torstar continues to be fully committed to these publications, both in print and digital,” said Hepburn.

James Compton, associate professor in the Department of Information and Media Studies at Western University, said the trend to work from home during the pandemic was more broadly linked for the journalism industry in Canada and elsewhere. For example, when media is owned by hedge funds, older newsrooms are often viewed as valuable real estate in need of monetization.

Data from December’s local news map suggests 38 Canadian news outlets closed between the start of the pandemic and December 1, 2020. Compton said he also feared remote working would make it difficult for journalists to organize unions. Not being able to meet over a desk, exchange ideas, and improve a craft results in “a weaker newsroom, no question about it,” Compton said.

Laval University communications professor Colette Brin in Quebec City also noticed the longer-term trend of newsrooms being relocated to smaller, more suburban offices with hot-desking models in recent years. Even before the pandemic, some journalists were working in their cars between interviews, paying more out-of-pocket expenses than their desks were cleared or shared with other colleagues. Freelancers and others with more precarious jobs often bear the burden of decreased support and stability, Brin said.

Brin said it was probably too early to speculate on how the lack of physical newsrooms will affect news quality or the perception of news audiences, but she has concerns.

For example, a work-from-home scheme would be more likely to favor workers with more space and privacy at home, she said. A journalist harassed online or struggling with mental health may also find it harder to reach or report a toxic work environment, Brin added.

Alfred Hermida, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s University of Journalism, Writing and Media, said news organizations are taking a risk by eliminating the newsrooms, but that there is an opportunity there too. As mobile technology becomes lighter and more advanced, journalists can do more on-site with fewer devices. Hermida said publishers should give workers more time to embed themselves in their neighborhood rather than just assign more work.

“Here’s the risk: the signal being sent to these communities is, ‘We don’t care enough about you to have a symbolic presence in your city.” I don’t think that’s the message intended, “said Hermida.

“But there is a risk that could be read as follows: If you are not physically present in this city in this city, you are not obliged to cover this community.”

– Torstar has an interest in The Canadian Press under a joint agreement with subsidiaries of Globe and Mail and La Presse in Montreal.

This Canadian press report was first published on March 22, 2021.

Anita Balakrishnan, the Canadian press

Notice to readers: This is a corrected report. In an earlier version, the author of the survey among journalists’ graduates was incorrectly named

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