Charles Ennis, President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has posted this message to the national RASC email list. The complete message is reposted here in the interest of communicating with those Victoria Centre members who may not subscribe to that email list.
February 26, 2023
Good day to everyone. The Board of Directors of the Society is providing this update to the membership concerning decisions that have been made after consultation with the National Council and with the Centres through a poll that was conducted in the last two weeks, as well as changes to head office staff.
First, SkyNews: As the membership knows, for many years SkyNews magazine has published by SkyNews Inc., which is an Ontario business corporation. Nine years ago the RASC acquired SkyNews Inc. from its previous owners, and SkyNews Inc. thereupon became a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation of the RASC. SkyNews Inc. has its own board of directors, who are appointed by the RASC through the Society’s Board of Directors. The SkyNews board makes all decisions concerning the business and affairs of SkyNews Inc.
SkyNews has lost money in four of the nine years of the Society’s ownership. Disregarding the one-time $60,000 COVID relief grant that SkyNews received in the 202-21 financial year (two-thirds of which has to be repaid this year), on average SkyNews has lost more than $10,000 per year during this nine-year period. The losses are increasing. The average loss in the last five years has been more than $25,000, and the loss for the current financial year, which ends on March 31, will be on the order of $50,000. These losses have to be financed by the shareholder, the RASC, which therefore effectively costs each member more than $10, and also endangers the RASC’s charitable status. As is the case with so many periodicals in North America, the SkyNews subscriber base has diminished sharply, from about 20,000 nine years ago, to 6-7,000 today. Advertising revenue has also declined dramatically, to less than one-third of the level when the Society acquired SkyNews.
As a result, SkyNews is no longer sustainable. After numerous meetings and discussions over the last few weeks, and consideration whether SkyNews could be saved in any form (including digital only), the Society’s Finance Committee and Board of Directors therefore concluded that SkyNews Inc. should cease all operations, including publication of the magazine. A majority of the Centres who responded to the poll agreed. Last week, therefore, the board of directors of SkyNews Inc. passed a resolution implementing the RASC Board’s recommendation, with the result that SkyNews will be shutting down. The SkyNews Inc. board will be meeting this coming week with legal counsel to start the shutdown process. The Editorial Board of the Society will be considering whether in future some of the content that has previously appeared in the SkyNews magazine can be incorporated into the RASC’s other publications, such as the Journal.
Second, the robotic telescope: The RASC board has also decided, again after consultation with the National Council and the Centres, to divest the Society of the robotic telescope, which is also a money-losing operations.
Third, head office: One of the important areas in which the Society can reduce expenses is with the number of head office staff. Some staff have been let go, and two others have resigned. This included Executive Director Phil Groff, who has been with the RASC since the fall of 2019 and has now found a position that is more in line with his previous training and experience. We wish Phil all the best with his future endeavours. While the Board conducts a search for a new Executive directors in the coming period, we are fortunate that former Executive Director Randy Atwood has agreed to step in as acting E.D. for the next few months. Randy has been a member of the Society since the 1970s, is a former President of the Society and an RASC Fellow, and has detailed knowledge of the operations of both head office and the Society as a whole.
The Board intends to communicate regularly with the membership about additional decisions that will be taken to place the Society on a more stable financial and operational footing.
Clear Skies, Charles Ennis, President