Torstar shutters websites of Metro free dailies in seven Canadian cities

TORONTO - Torstar Corp. is closing the digital operations of its Metro brand in seven cities where it no longer produces free daily newspapers.

The company said Metro websites in Hamilton, Windsor, Kitchener and London, Ont., as well as Regina, Saskatoon and Victoria will close down effective immediately.

Three employees, two reporters and one editor, were laid off as part of the decision, Torstar spokesman Bob Hepburn said in an interview Thursday.

"We experimented with these markets and the results that we got indicated that going digital-only as a business model just wasn't viable there," he said.

A message posted Wednesday on the Metro website told readers that previous stories would remain online "for the foreseeable future" though it would stop updating its social media platforms.

The move comes after the Star Media Group, a division of Torstar, announced in July that it would shutter Metro papers in Regina, Saskatoon and London, as it focused on areas of the country with the "greatest potential for Metro.''

All three of those cities had one reporter on staff, an editor in London and another to oversee both editions in Saskatchewan last summer, however Torstar (TSX:TS.B) decided subsequently to move its London reporter and editor into its Toronto offices.

Metro says it will continue to publish news stories online in the seven cities where it still distributes print editions: Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

A Montreal edition of the Metro newspaper is published by Transcontinental Inc. (TSX:TCL.A) and is unrelated to the Torstar changes.

In a separate decision, Torstar is also cutting six jobs in Toronto. Two copy editors, two developers, a marketing specialist and a production graphic designer are all having their positions eliminated, Hepburn said.

Media companies have complained about how a dismal advertising market has affected their revenues this year, with many blaming the growing dominance of Facebook and Google for stealing away big deals with corporations.

However, the local advertising market is often considered to be safer and more reliable than major national advertisers because there are so many small businesses looking to get attention for their services. National advertisers often make their marketing decisions in multimillion-dollar campaigns that span several months.

Torstar has been struggling to find a position in the changing market, initially building a paywall to charge Toronto Star readers for content, and then announcing plans to tear it down after hardly a year of experimentation. The paywall will be pulled back next fall.

Instead, Torstar wants to focus on a relationship with Montreal's La Presse newspaper to develop a new tablet product for the Star.

Earlier this year, Torstar made other changes to its operations, including layoffs at the Toronto Star and the sale of its Harlequin romance novel division to global media company News Corp. for $455 million.

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