Torstar Corp. is restructuring the group that owns the Toronto Star and free daily Metro papers, drawing the publications closer together while splitting executive responsibility for print and digital operations.
As part of the shakeup, the Star Media Group has eliminated the role of president and publisher for Metro English Canada, which produces the free Metro newspapers. Bill McDonald, who has held the role since 2010, will stay on at the Group to help with the transition, then leave the company.
Both the Star and Metro papers will now report to separate chief operating officers within the Star Media Group, a division of Torstar. The move does not include any other job losses, but is intended to cut costs and streamline management.
"It's drawing Metro, in operational terms, closer to the Star Media Group," said John Cruickshank, president of Star Media Group and publisher of the Star, creating "a very intense focus both on print and on digital."
Sandy MacLeod will take over as COO for print, moving from his current role as vice-president for consumer marketing and strategy. And Ali Rahnema, currently vice-president digital, will become COO for digital. They will oversee both the Star and Metro papers. But the Star's editor, Michael Cooke, will still report directly to Mr. Cruickshank.
Mr. McDonald has worked on the free Metro dailies in various capacities since 2006, when he began as publisher of Metro Toronto, and Mr. Cruickshank said he "basically built the Metro brand in Canada." The decision to eliminate his job was "unrelated to performance," Mr. Cruickshank said.
In an interview, Mr. McDonald said moving to the new structure is "the right move," and he has no plans after he leaves Metro.
"These things are always a little bittersweet," he said of his departure, adding, "I look back fondly on the last eight plus years."
Advertising revenues at the Metro papers fell 4.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2014, mirroring declines in print advertising revenues across Torstar's publications. The drop at Metro was most acute in the Toronto market, and Torstar pointed to poor winter weather and the transition of the Toronto Star's advertising sales to Metro in late February as factors.
Though they remain separate corporate entities, the Star and Metro had already been pulled closer together when Torstar announced last year that it would shift some of the Star's advertising sales to Metro English Canada.
Last week, the Star Media Group's weekly magazine The Grid shut down after three years in business, blaming an inability to attract sufficient advertising to make it profitable.
Metro English Canada publishes free daily Metro newspapers that target commuters, in print and digitally, in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and London, Ont. It also has digital-only publications in Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor and Victoria. They collectively attract more than 1.6 million daily readers, Torstar says.