Liberal hopeful Freeland, middle class champion, oversaw loss of media jobs

OTTAWA – A high-profile federal Liberal candidate campaigning in Toronto on a platform of restoring the middle class oversaw the decision to move two dozen full-time media jobs from that city to India.

Chrystia Freeland was the head of Reuters Digital in New York when Thompson Reuters moved its Toronto digital newsroom to New York and shipped the bulk of its work to the Bangalore operation.

The December 2011 move put about 25 Toronto staff under Freeland’s supervision out of work, including 17 permanent and five temporary unionized employees. Thomson Reuters won’t say how many employees remain — only that the company has “a fully staffed and functioning newsroom in Toronto.”

“Ever since I’ve been an editor at different news organizations, legacy newsrooms have been shrinking, and that was something that happened as well when I was at Reuters,” Freeland said in an interview.

“That shrinkage started before I got there and has continued (since she left). We know that is something that’s happening to the news business.”

Now Freeland is a star Liberal candidate campaigning for a seat in the House of Commons in Toronto Centre, one of four federal byelections to be decided by voters on Nov. 25.

And a big part of her campaign pitch is the restoration of Canada’s economic middle class.

She’s facing off for Bob Rae’s vacated seat against another powerhouse journalist who champions the middle class, NDP candidate Linda McQuaig.

“Liberals know that if we don’t address this growing anxiety today, Canadians will stop supporting a growth agenda — a threat to a core Canadian ideal that prosperity is a realistic goal for all Canadians,” states Freeland’s campaign web site, under the heading “The Liberal Middle Class Priority.”

“The time for investing in a thriving middle class is now — make your voice heard in Ottawa.”

The seeming disconnect between Freeland’s recent corporate role and her campaign message has a number of her former employees seething.

Multiple sources from the defunct Toronto digital operation spoke to The Canadian Press, but few wanted to comment on the record for fear that criticizing the well-connected Freeland could hurt their employment prospects in a shrinking media industry.

A common refrain from former Reuters employees is a sense that Freeland didn’t go to bat for them when their jobs were on the line.

Aviva West spent three years as a full-time, contract editor who worked every weekend at the Toronto operation.

“We had zero contact with (Freeland),” said West.

“She was in charge of consumer news, and that’s what we were doing in Toronto, programming 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, We never, ever saw her.”

“We wanted to show her what we did because we worked really hard on this site, we loved our jobs and we wanted to show her the value that we added to the company,” said West. “But we never got that chance.”

Said another former editor, who requested anonymity to protect her future employment prospects, “Campaigning for the middle class is just so hypocritical.”

Whether Freeland should wear the scars of an industry-wide downturn will be a matter of debate.

“I can confirm that the decision was not Chrystia Freeland’s,” Barb Burg, Reuters global head of communications, said in an email.

“It was a corporate one that resulted from extensive financial review and changing customer needs.”

A senior source with knowledge of the decision-making process put it this way: “It was a corporate decision that she executed.”

Freeland published a book last year, “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” When asked if the Reuters experience influenced her writing, she said it did.

“I have sometimes compared journalists to Detroit autoworkers,” Freeland responded.

“In the same way that Windsor autoworkers were in the centre of the downsizing of manufacturing, I think we as journalists have been in the centre of this creative destruction, the technology revolution….

“Definitely, seeing that has made me particularly sensitive to the ways the technology revolution has been changing work and the jobs that are available.”

Outsourcing parts of news organizations has become common practice across North America in the past decade as media profit margins have been erased by the collapse of advertising revenue.

The Canadian Press, for instance, has a wholly owned subsidiary, Pagemasters North America, which provides outsourced editorial production services by unionized staff in Canada and the United States. Postmedia Editorial Services also outsources “whole-process pagination solutions to daily newspapers across America” from its central hub in Hamilton.

“Anyone who’s been a news manager, every editor in the period that I was, has been an editor when the organization they were working for was downsizing the newsroom,” said Freeland.

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