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Ace reporter Holman among staff laid off at Vancouver 24 Hours

Forty per cent of the staff at Vancouver 24 Hours newspaper were laid off Thursday – 16 people including five on the editorial side. Among the casualties was investigative reporter Sean Holman, who as the paper’s legislative reporter regularly broke major political stories.

In a time when reporters are under pressure to diversify their skills and do more with less, Holman hosts his own radio program, runs his own closely read blog on BC legislative politics, Public Eye Online, and recently appealed successfully to his blog readers to give him the money to buy a camera to record the video segments he now posts on his site.

When a freelancer, Holman spearheaded an investigation into a children’s ministry contractor that won a Webster Award for Victoria Times-Colonist.

At Vancouver 24 Hours his investigative reporting has recently focused on a possible pattern of gambling-interest donations to the BC Liberals, questions about the BC government’s approval of six-story wood frame buildings, and the business dealings of BC Liberal key insider Patrick Kinsella. Those stories and many others by Holman have run on The Tyee, as well.

And Tyee reports have been running on Holman’s Public Eye page Thursdays in Vancouver 24.

The paper’s editor, Dean Broughton, did not comment on the layoffs beyond confirming they had occurred. This round follows earlier layoffs of three staffers, including the paper’s only full-time photographer.

After getting news he’d been let go, Holman said, “The recession isn’t just impacting the media – it’s impacting democracy. The public’s ability to find out what is really happening at some of society’s most powerful institutions is under threat. If there’s no one to investigate those institutions on a full-time basis – without respect for partisanship – how can the public hold them to account?”

Holman’s colleague at Vancouver 24 Hours, columnist Bill Tieleman, who also contributes to The Tyee, posted this on his blog:

“I was shocked and depressed to learn today that 24 hours Vancouver newspaper…has laid off a number of staff, including my friend and colleague Sean Holman… Everyone knows that the media are in dire straits in the current economic recession, as advertising revenue drops dramatically. But as more and more bad news comes in, good newspaper journalists are being shown the way out, as are radio and TV reporters.

“I know that with Sean's great journalistic skills and experience - and his award-winning track record -- he will be an asset to another employer, hopefully in BC journalism.

“But that doesn't make it any easier to take the loss of such a valued investigative journalist and friend."

Holman, who posted the news on his own blog, told The Hook, “I plan on continuing to cover politics in British Columbia on Public Eye and as the host of Public Eye Radio on CFAX 1070 with the same vigor I always have – although I’m also going to be looking for another media outlet to call home.”

About half of 24 Hours Vancouver’s editorial content has been produced in its locally based newsroom. As a result of the layoffs, more pages at Vancouver 24 Hours will carry batch-produced copy shared with other newspapers in the chain. And more of the pages will be assembled in Toronto, sources said.

Vancouver 24 Hours’ readership, as tracked by NADbank, has been rising, reaching nearly 225,000 daily last year, higher than its Vancouver-area free commuter paper competitor Metro. Vancouver 24 Hours was launched as a joint venture by billionaire Jimmy Pattison and Sun Media, but Pattison has since dropped out.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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