Examineradio – Episode 102
Bousquet: Hello, this is Examineradio, the weekly radio show and podcast that covers news, politics and all things Halifax. I’m Tim Bousquet, Editor of the Halifax Examiner, which is available online at halifaxexaminer.ca. In the studio is…
Tailleur: Hi, I’m Terra Tailleur.
Bousquet: And then via the magic of the interwebs we have… Who are you?
Gragg: Examineradio producer, Russell Gragg.
Bousquet: Hi Russ, thank you for joining us. I guess we call this the telephone, not the internet, but whatever. You were in town for the Canadaland taping, which went live on Monday. We had great fun, but I guess you had to go back to work.
Gragg: Yes. So that’s something we’re going to do today. We’re going to have a listen to that for the Examineradio listeners who maybe aren’t Canadaland subscribers. We’ve got a slightly different version of the live taping. So we’ll be talking about the state of Atlantic journalism in just a few minutes.
Bousquet: Great. First I should say this is Episode 102 of Examineradio, and as always you can listen to the show on CKDU, which is 88.1 FM in Halifax on Fridays at 4:30 or online anywhere in the world via their website, which is www.ckdu.ca.
Gragg: You can also subscribe to Examineradio on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or any other platform that aggregates podcasts and get each new episode automatically delivered to your device of choice. Just search for Halifax Examiner in any platform and it will be the first result.
Bousquet: Terra, you have your usual stack of papers there. What do you want to talk about?
Tailleur: Actually, just one thing. I think there’s really only been one big story this week that actually carried on from last week and that would be the fall-out from the Bassam Al-Rawi case.
Gragg: Just to back up to the beginning, Bassam Al-Rawi is a – or was a – Halifax cab driver who was charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated passenger in the back of his cab, and was subsequently acquitted of those charges by Justice Gregory Lenehan. The acquittal has sparked a significant outrage through the city, as when I was back in Halifax last weekend – that was pretty much the only thing anybody was talking about. What has happened since last Friday in the case?
Tailleur: It’s almost – where do I start here – because there have been so many kinds of developments here. Probably just directly related to the case itself would be that the Crown announced that it would appeal the acquittal, but it concluded that the provincial court judge erred in his ruling and that they had filed a notice of appeal.
Bousquet: There were six particulars in that. We don’t need to go through those, but just the fact that they pointed at six rather broad errors in law, in their opinion that hasn’t been demonstrated in court yet, but I found that pretty remarkable.
Tailleur: Yes, I mean, everything from that he engaged in speculation about consent to just that they say his conclusion was just wrong.
Bousquet: You know, there’s an interesting journalistic issue here. I was just listening to – Russ had the Short Cuts on Canadaland and the reporter there had listened to – one of the reporters had recorded the court session and this reporter said that the judge had a particularly ugly tone to his voice. But it is illegal for us to publish our audio recordings of court sessions so we can’t convey that to people.
Gragg: Right. Yes, that was Ashley Csanady from the National Post who has been covering the story out of Halifax. And that is interesting, and we did talk on the show about how a lot of oral rulings from judges are not recorded anywhere. I mean, they’re not transcribed, they’re not available for reference.
Bousquet: Typically what happens is we reporters, if we happen to be in a courtroom, we just turn on our little tiny USB recorder for note-taking purposes. They’re not broadcast quality, and the court’s fine with us using those for our notes, but we can’t put the recording live on the internet or anything like that.
Gragg: No, right. And, as you’ll hear in our next segment with the two of you and Jesse Brown, there are fewer reporters and there are fewer reporters whose beat is covering the courts. There are probably more decisions that are going unreported and unrecorded that could be of relevance to the general public.
Bousquet: Definitely. What else is happening, Terra?
Tailleur: Well interestingly enough, I guess the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association on Monday, they basically came out in defence of the judge and said “he is fair” and any criticism about it “is unfounded and undermines the discussion that is needed to address the prevention of sexual assault.”
Bousquet: What do you make of that?
Tailleur: I almost could… You know, as people were reading this I could almost visualize people’s eyes popping out of their skulls.
Bousquet: It was sent to me via email from the organization and I immediately posted it on Facebook, and my Facebook page lit up like nobody’s business. People were pretty outraged by it.
Tailleur: There were 300 people at the rally on Tuesday.
Bousquet: Yes. What I thought was even perhaps a worse choice of words than the defence lawyers was Al-Rawi’s lawyer himself – a man named Craig – who accused people upset with this of seeking fleeting gratification. And I don’t know if that was a Freudian slip or consciously chosen words, but I think the accusation was that his client was seeking fleeting gratification.
Bousquet: I found that an interesting choice of words.
Tailleur: The words that the judge said – and thankfully there were reporters in the courtroom who were there to report on this and, I mean, clearly a drunk can consent. Rona Ambrose – she’s the acting Tory leader, the federal Conservative leader – she mentioned this in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Again, people across the country are hearing this and they’re absolutely weighing in on it.
Bousquet: And Rona Ambrose has done more than mention it.
Tailleur: Oh yes. So this is what’s interesting in Ottawa. So she has put forward a bill called C-377 and basically it would call for any potential judges to have to have some training on sexual assaults. And what’s interesting about this is that all three Parties – Liberals, NDP, [Conservatives] – have said, yes, you know what, we agree with this and they’re fast-tracking it through the system.
Bousquet: I haven’t paid attention to this on a national level. Did they say what that training would consist of?
Tailleur: No, I haven’t seen anything specifically, and that would probably be hammered out when it goes to the committee level.
Bousquet: But again, that would be for federal judges…
Bousquet: …which would not apply in this sort of case.
Tailleur: Right, it wouldn’t. So it would be anyone who is federally appointed, which would be – in Nova Scotia, it would be Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. But you’re right, it wouldn’t be any provincial court judge in Nova Scotia.
Bousquet: But there’s no reason we could not have a parallel track for those judges.
Tailleur: Yes, absolutely. So to see this discussion that’s happening at the federal level, it will be interesting to see what happens – what reverberates down in the provinces.
Bousquet: Something to keep an eye on.
Gragg: Just on Thursday afternoon, Justice Robin Camp, who is best known as the judge who suggested to a complainant that maybe she should have just kept her knees together has resigned. That was Thursday afternoon after a judicial body recommended that he be fired, that he be removed from the bench. That just came out. So I think people – the media and citizens and the governments – are starting to look at how sexual assault cases are being addressed in the court system.
Bousquet: One of the things I’ve been reporting on… It’s a minor issue, I guess, but has been really the no-show of the judicial councils federally – over the past five years they’ve issued something like five decisions. In Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia judicial council, so far as I can determine, has not issued a decision in 20 years – definitely in 15, and the one I could find before that was five years before. This worries me. It worries me because I find it conceivable that people are not complaining to the judicial council. So what is happening is that discipline, such as it is, is happening informally and behind the scenes and not via anything that leaves a public record trail. And that worries me greatly. I think there needs to be a lot more reporting around that issue.
Tailleur: The larger issue here is people find the whole system confusing and intimidating. Really it is. And you see someone in a robe, you immediately kind of defer to that person, and see it even talking to people – it’s like trying to explain to them why the judge might have made the decision and what would have happened if there was any other judge sitting there at the time.
Bousquet: This case is alarming and disturbing all on its own; we don’t need to bring anything else into it. But I wonder, we’ve had a long train of these similar or sexual assault sort of issues starting perhaps with most notably Rehtaeh Parsons, the Dal Dentistry thing. There has been a big uptick in the number of alleged sexual assaults in taxis – 12 since 2014, and five of those since last year. Is something happening here in Halifax – in Nova Scotia – that’s making this a lightning rod for this, or are we unfortunate in having an unusually large number of them or are we starting to be more aware of them?
Gragg: I’m certainly hoping that it’s the latter of those three. I really hope it is that people in 2017 feel that they can speak out publicly, they can press charges, they can go to the media when things like this are happening. I certainly hope that’s the case. I don’t have statistics to back that up right now.
Tailleur: I don’t have the answer either. I look at my students and I look at the young women and I think, wow, I just want to wrap my arms around them and protect all of them all of the time. And I want to tell them that, please watch your drinks, be aware of who you’re talking to.
Bousquet: I want to direct my attention to the men. Don’t rape. Be a stand-up guy – a responsible person.
Gragg: The question comes back on an institutional level: how does a cab driver have three sexual assault accusations against him and still be employed or employable? And what happened at city council this Tuesday that might address something like that?
Bousquet: Yes, there is a discussion brought forward by Councillor Waye Mason that maybe the city needs to up its game. There’s a notion that the city should set up its own tribunal, which would have a little bit more force of law and be appealable to the UARB, but on this tribunal would not be city councillors, but would be lawyers and other people trained to deal with these sort of issues around all sorts of regulations, but taxi cabs being the most prominent. So if someone appeals their licence suspension it goes to this tribunal rather than a committee of councillors.
Tailleur: And the other part of this was basically to look at through the duty of care. So these are: what are the responsibilities of taxi drivers? So Mason was saying, look, we don’t need to put a bunch of don’ts. We shouldn’t have to put a line in the code of conduct that says don’t rape.
Bousquet: Right. It’s a professional code of conduct like doctors have or anyone else. You don’t have to be criminally prosecuted to lose your licence. There’s a board that says, we don’t want people like you here. It has nothing to do with criminal law. That would have gone a long way in this case, I think.
Tailleur: Yes, so that has now gone to staff and they’re going to put up a report.
Bousquet: My sense is that council was, for the most part, receptive to this so I think it will get implemented and… you know, it’s too little too late, but welcome all the same.
Gragg: Okay, let’s take a break on Examineradio. When we come back we will go… I was going to say ‘live’, but we’ll go pre-recorded to the Marquee Ballroom from this past Friday and listen to Terra, Tim and Canadaland’s Jesse Brown talk about the state of journalism in Atlantic Canada. You’re listening to Examineradio.
Gragg: Hey everybody. Thanks for coming to ‘Is Atlantic Canadian Journalism Fucked?’ (Laughter) My name is Russell Gragg. I’m the producer of Canadaland and its attendant shows, Short Cuts and Commons. I’m also the producer of Examineradio with Tim, and the former station director at CKDU radio. This event is a fundraiser for CKDU, which is kicking off its annual sustainer drive today. Francella Fiallos who is the program director is out at the front taking pledges. We’re asking now for a monthly subscription essentially to support CKDU. You can pledge as little as $5 a month, and there is obviously no maximum. With a crowd like this, this size, and an event like this, it’s obvious that Haligonians do care about quality media and quality journalism. So thanks everybody for coming out. (Applause) If you do support it, you’ve got to support it this way. CKDU offers some of the finest current affairs programming, including Kukukwes, which is an indigenous affairs program. Maureen Googoo, the host, is out there. There she is right in the front. (Applause) Shows like the Black Power Hour with former Poet Laureate, El Jones… (Applause) A brand new show called Femme FM, which we’re really proud of… (Applause) And of course, our very own Examineradio. (Applause) I’m going to quickly introduce the panellists. To my immediate right, King’s Journalism Prof, Terra Tailleur. (Applause) Squarely in the middle, Halifax Examiner founder and publisher, Tim Bousquet. (Applause) And for the first time ever – I’m referring to him as being on the far right (Laughter) – Canadaland’s Jesse Brown. (Applause) Thanks everybody for coming out. Is Atlantic Canada journalism fucked? We’re going to find out. (Applause)
Brown: A couple of years back, a guy gets into a cab in the City of Halifax and he says, ‘Take me to Subway sandwich shop.’ They get there – the guys says to the cabbie, ‘Wait for me a minute’ and he goes in. Comes back a few minutes later without any food. He says, ‘You know actually, take me to the other Subway sandwich shop.’ Same thing happens again, comes back, no food. After the third Subway, he says, ‘Ok, take me to a McDonalds.’ Goes into the McDonalds, comes back without any food, says, ‘Take me to the gas station.’ It turns out he has been robbing these joints one by one and using the taxi cab as his get-away car. So now the cops are pulling over cabs all over Halifax. After he robs the gas station, the guy says to the cabbie, ‘Take me to this convenience store’, and that’s where the cops get him. They arrested the cabbie too, but they let the cabbie out hours later after they are satisfied that he had no idea that he was unwittingly the get-away driver for a crime spree. So here’s where the story takes a dark turn. Before the cops – if we rewind back before they caught the suspect, they’re still pulling over taxis and looking for this robber in a taxi cab. And while they’re searching Halifax for their suspect, a cop notices a suspiciously parked taxi at Atlantic and Brussels streets – a desolate intersection behind the grain elevators. A cop approaches this cab and inside he finds a half-naked and unconscious woman in the back seat, and a cabbie with his buckle undone, trying to hide the woman’s underwear and pants. Tests later reveal the cabbie has her DNA on his mouth and that the woman is very intoxicated – three times the legal driving limit. So that was a couple of years ago in May 2015, and it’s just now that in direct contradiction to what seemed like pretty clear Supreme Court precedence, Halifax judge, Gregory Lenehan, said that “clearly a drunk can consent” and found cabbie Bassam Al-Rawi not guilty of sexual assault. National outcry currently, against this judge. And it turns out that this is the same judge who once kicked a woman out of his courtroom for breastfeeding. The same judge who ruled in a controversial case against one of the classmates of Rehtaeh Parsons who was circulating sexually explicit photographs of her. He’s linked to all of these controversial cases and incidents. So now people across the country are demanding a review of the conduct of this judge, Justice Lenehan. So who handles that – complaints against a judge? That would be Nova Scotia’s Office of the Chief Judge. Who is the Chief Judge? It’s the judge’s ex-wife, Justice Pamela Williams. Okay. We could talk about a lot of things based on that narrative. We could talk about – and we should talk about – sexual assault and the courts. And we could talk about what seems to be a trend now in Canada of judges who seem to have prehistoric notions about giving consent that are not necessarily in line with the law itself. We could talk about the robberies, which would make for an excellent opening scene in a Tarantino movie. We could talk about how it seems like everybody in the city seems to be everyone else’s uncle. (Laughter) And I hope to talk about all of those things in time, but that’s not really what we’re here to talk about tonight. What I’m here to talk about tonight is how strange it is that though I’ve heard aspects of these stories and isolated parts of those stories, and of course the story about the sexual assaults recently in the news, I haven’t heard it all together like that – that insane narrative until Tim Bousquet told it all to me yesterday, and it occurred to me… Well the first thing that occurred to me is, you all have some stories out here… (Laughter) …which is an interesting thing to contrast with the other thing I keep hearing about Atlantic Canada, which is that this is the worst place in the country for journalism – that you have here in Halifax the worst newspaper in the country, that the Chronicle Herald going on 400 days and counting in its strike – the work that’s being done is so error-ridden and substandard. But it’s not just here in Halifax – whether we’re talking about the Irvings or media concentration, transcontinental – the legacy media scene in Atlantic Canada frequently comes up, and has for decades, as atrocious. While we will find people working within it – everything from a senate committee hearing into the state of things here to the current day, all I hear is that it’s never been worse. And yet… and yet – there is sort of this proliferation of hopeful upstarts and some of them are here in this room. Maureen from Kukukwes… Maureen, are you here?
Googoo: I’m right here. (Applause)
Brown: allNovaScotia, are you here? You have your own flavour for some reason… a Frank Magazine in this city… Frank Magazine. There’s the Independent in Newfoundland. And of course, there is the Halifax Examiner. Yes, and before I go any further I should disclose that I support both Kukukwes and the Halifax Examiner. So what are we to make of the state of things here? Is this the sign of hope that the rest of Canada should look to as what happens when the dinosaurs die – we have wonderful new things happen or is this actually just the shittiest place for journalism in all of Canada? We’re going to find out. We have an incredible panel. We have Terra Tailleur who has worked in journalism for her entire career – CBC Halifax for 10 years. Today she is an assistant professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College. She’s also on the board of directors for the Canadian Association of Journalists, and for CKDU-FM radio. And of course we have the publisher for the Halifax Examiner and the winner of the 2013 Don MacGillivray Award for Investigative Reporting, Tim Bousquet. And we are recording to tape live here in Halifax. Thank you very much for being here. We will be back with our panel in a moment. Wait for it. Terra, can I ask you to begin with kind of an overview of the scene of legacy media in Atlantic Canada. What are we looking at? We get this in bits and pieces, and I think because a lot of this stuff happens behind paywalls we don’t have as clear an idea of what’s going on here as we might in other parts of the country.
Tailleur: Right. So I’ll give you an overview province by province. Newfoundland – mixed bag – you have the Telegram, you have Downhome Magazine, you have Overcast, the new alt-weekly, but you also have broadcasters. CBC, of course, is fully entrenched there. VOCM – very popular. And TV, there’s no Global there. They also have the Independent, as you mentioned, which has been covering a lot of Muskrat Falls and is digital only. You go to P.E.I. – smaller place obviously. Not a lot more media. You do have some private radio stations, but really you have two newspapers that are Transcon – the Summerside and the Charlottetown Guardian. CBC, of course, that local supper hour show is very popular there. Move over to New Brunswick and really it’s a two horse town. You’ve got Brunswick News owned by the Irvings and pretty much own newspaper land there. They’ve shut that down. So the alternative for anyone who doesn’t subscribe and isn’t behind the paywall is CBC really. And then here in Nova Scotia, you do have a mixed bag here. The biggest news here of course is the strike at the Chronicle Herald, but we have a lot of independents that have risen up in the last few years, but we still have a lot of community newspapers – many of them that are owned by Transcon… In Truro, for example, and Cape Breton and that type of thing.
Brown: Okay, but getting beyond the list of who is operating, what am I to make of these cries for help that I hear? When I hear that the Chronicle Herald is the shittiest newspaper in Canada, and that it’s hard for people to care because it wasn’t so great before the strike… when I hear that the Irvings create newspapers that will never say much negative about the Irvings. And besides that people are very critical of – when I hear that media consolidation is such a problem in Atlantic Canada and has been a problem for a long time, but add to that the lay-offs, add to that the shrinking, the picture – and I am not saying this from any kind of first hand news reader experience – but the conception I have from talking to people and from reading about this is that this is the worst time for legacy news in Atlantic Canada.
Tailleur: It is a bad time. Absolutely, it is a bad time. What is happening at the Herald really is a blight on journalism in the province. I think anyone who cares about news, who cares about journalism, would say that. You have dozens of news people out on the picket line – what you lose is that institutional memory. You lose all those people who not only reported, but had beats. They were the ones who worked their contacts. They’re the ones who went to court. They’re doing that constantly. We don’t have that anymore, so you do feel that. The other thing is, you don’t know that you’re missing at all. So there is that, but what we’re seeing is, you know – with Halifax Examiner, Tim faithfully goes to City Hall. The Coast – The Coast has Jacob Boon. He’s still doing a lot of City Hall coverage. So we’re seeing again some people step in. We still also have, remember, CBC. We’ve got Global. We’ve got CTV. Halifax, a city of this size, we’re doing pretty good, especially when you compare a city like Halifax to western cities like Edmonton, for example.
Brown: Something that came up when I was talking to Parker Donham about the state of the Chronicle Herald – we’ve done a number of stories talking about this strike and what’s management’s game here. How could they let this go so long. It seems obvious they’re trying to break the union. And the suggestion kind of came up in that conversation and others that the news reader might not care or even notice that management doesn’t care about the quality because this is primarily a method of delivering flyers and whatever advertisements they can still sell within. And to your average news reader, subscriber, the newspaper still shows up – it looks like a newspaper, it smells like a newspaper. What is the sense of retail satisfaction or discontent with what they’re getting?
Tailleur: I don’t know what the numbers are, but I still see it around. I can go to restaurants, I can go to hotels and I will still see copies of the Chronicle Herald around the province. So it is still – whether it’s being read, it still shows up in places around the province.
Brown: Tim, I have a working hypothesis with no evidence to back it up… Tell me if you will be a support or be an enemy to this theory. Essentially I feel like the worse the old stuff gets, the better the new stuff will do. And I’m wonder if the reason why Atlantic Canada seems to stand out in the number of digital upstarts and the fact that a good number of them, including your own, and allNovaScotia, which I understand has a staff of – how many people?
Brown: Twenty people. It’s not something that we see in other provinces. Is there a relationship between – if we buy the idea the legacy media is not serving the market well here… do you feel like that creates an opportunity for you? Might that explain why some of these new companies are here?
Bousquet: Oh I agree.
Bousquet: I think if you step back and look at the industry in North America, it wasn’t that long ago when I was living in California the local daily was making 25 per cent annual profits – hand over fist it was just a money machine. Here in Nova Scotia, because there’s essentially only one newspaper, the Chronicle Herald – the towns have their Transcon papers, but there’s one provincial newspaper. It has dominated the scene for a hundred years. Lots and lots of people – probably most people get the paper not because of some big investigative article. They get it for the crossword puzzle, the Sudoku, the sports coverage, the art stuff. And all that stuff is important. I’m not belittling that. But we can do away with all that stuff and still have a good watchdog journalism speaking truth to power, doing that role of being the democratic institution in society that’s independent of government. We can do that without newsrooms of hundreds and hundreds of people. And so now when that newsroom – when the Chronicle Herald – has fallen apart, there’s lots of opportunities.
Brown: Any prediction about what’s going to happen with the Chronicle Herald and what’s going to happen with all these people?
Bousquet: Well, this is not a nice story no matter what happens. People are losing their jobs. People are making less money. The human tragedy involved is enormous. So let’s not downplay that. But I think that – not just in Nova Scotia, but across North America with a handful of exceptions, in another four or five years there won’t be daily newspapers in most cities, as we think of daily newspapers traditionally. We’re on the cutting edge of that here.
Brown: It’s a cutting edge that looks… How do I put this? When I look at some of the independent news sites that are actually charging and making money – they’re actually staying alive – here in Atlantic Canada, some of them have been around for a long time… in digital terms, eons. Without being rude – and I’m no position to make this particular criticism really – they’re ugly sites. (Laughter) They are bare bones, like it’s not the slickest social media optimized delivery. A lot of it is like raw text without pictures. And people are paying for this. And I’ve often thought about this when I look at some sites that have been around since, you know… like The Drudge Report or sites that just refuse to change their bare bones delivery, that they’re almost prioritizing like no bells and whistles, this is the information, you’re paying us for the information. And I wonder if the cutting edge – that doesn’t tell us anything. I’ve seen the future and it’s ugly. (Laughter) Can you talk a little bit about… It’s almost like you guys have this Galapagos Island happening here of successful digital news where it’s like everybody else can talk all they want about sponsored content and video this, and how to optimize and data journalism, but if you have communities that just don’t have access to good information and you sell them that information, it doesn’t have to look pretty. Does that sound right?
Tailleur: For one thing, looks don’t matter, right? So look, allNovaScotia has been very successful and expanded into Newfoundland last year where it now has four reporters there. We’re talking about reporters who make enough to live. That’s a successful model. And the people who have subscriptions to allNovaScotia do it because they need that information. It’s not just a matter of ‘oh yah, let’s see what this cat video is because I can get that anywhere’. But it really is – this is, ‘I need to know what’s happening on the business scene in this city’ and that information is worth paying for.
Bousquet: Yes, I can just speak for myself. I don’t know what’s in the head of other people running other media operations, but I kind of have a disdain for the whole SEO world and how to optimize hits to your site and all that stuff. I just want to do my job. I don’t really give a shit about all that stuff. (Laughter/Applause)
Brown: I believe that was allNovaScotia leading the applause there. I didn’t even call them up by name. That’s really rude of you. How dare… (Laughter) I know that you have this – it’s anathema to you, all the slick social media talk, but here’s the thing – and you can actually kind of talk about this in a wider context than just independent news sites that are paywalled up. The Brunswick news sites have hard paywalls, and a lot of that leads to my sense of mystery as to what’s happening in your news scene – the impact that your stories have, the ability for them to be picked up, for them to proliferate. We, for good or for ill – and I would say that if you’re in the business of informing the public there’s a big argument that it’s for the good – we can make information travel really quickly from news organization to news organization across the country and across the world quite rapidly. So to whatever degree the job is to get the widest impact possible, are you sacrificing that impact in exchange for a working business model?
Bousquet: Well, god forbid we have someone shooting cops as was happening in Moncton. The Halifax Examiner’s response would be to make it public. All the news that would not be…
Brown: Can you tell me why you’re referencing that specific story?
Bousquet: Because the Irving paper in Moncton – and I forget which one it is – had… there was an active shooter loose in the neighbourhood and they were putting police reports and descriptions of this guy behind their paywall.
Brown: So if you want to find out if the killer is on your street, you’re fumbling for your credit card…
Brown: Yah, we talked about this on a recent episode. I mean, this is when paywalls go really wrong.
Bousquet: Right. And I make a judgment with every story over whether it should be behind the pay wall or not. And if it is behind the pay wall, how long it’s behind the pay wall. People are paying so they should get a premium of some sort of exclusivity. I mean, that’s the business model.
Brown: Yes, and yours isn’t the hardest paywall. Some of you content is available or snippets…
Bousquet: Yes, the idea when I started – and it’s evolved a bit – was that there would be a morning post every morning that’s free to the world. It’s kind of a news collation sort of thing. And then through the day there would be things behind the paywall. I’m working on three years in now and that vision is starting to come to fruition.
Tailleur: Can I just make a point here that Tim, every morning when I get that email with the curated news, you do rely on other reporters in town to be able to tell you what’s going on.
Brown: There’s some aggregation that happens…
Bousquet: Oh yes, I’m linking to CBC stories and Metro and all the other news outlets in town – Local Express now, which we haven’t mentioned, which is the strike publication. (Applause) And some of my own reporting enters into that, but it’s also a lot of commentary on my part.
Brown: Here’s what’s interesting to me. The situation that we’re watching flourish here is like, you know – something that I’ve often speculated should be happening elsewhere, let a thousand experiments bloom, let individual journalists start up one-person shops, identify a hole in the mainstream coverage and fill it and specialize. And that seems to be – if I look at Kukukwes, or if I look at there’s a specificity to what allNovaScotia is doing, the kind of stories that they’re reporting, no one seems to be trying to replace your daily morning paper that has a digest of all the news that you need to know. Though you have a little bit of that more than… It seems like there is a little sense of – here’s what going on in town today. What do we get when we have this atomized, fragmented situation? It seems like there’s a need for some almost consortium like – put together 20 or a hundred different independent efforts and you’ve got a hell of a newspaper.
Bousquet: Yes, and that’s sort of a long term vision of mine. I’m nowhere near achieving that, but what I’d like to see is down the road there be enough of these independent voices around the province and around the Maritimes where we can start having some sort of sharing, sort of horizontal network – so not that anyone owns anything… But you know, I’ve been around a little bit longer than some of the newest start-ups and I would like to be able to give advice and maybe platform space and share some resources like my admin person – things like that to help them along without having an ownership stake or a boss stake or any of that in these new things, and just help this whole industry along a bit.
Brown: Create some kind of a co-op or some kind of consortium.
Bousquet: Yes. Right.
Brown: Terra, having worked at CBC, can you talk about CBC’s role. I know that in New Brunswick they’re pretty much the only game in town for holding the Irvings to account and Jacques Poitras reporting there…
Tailleur: That’s right.
Brown: Is the CBC in Atlantic Canada facing the pinch? It seems like now CBC has got more resources than they did – well they certainly have more resources than they did a year ago, and before that all we heard was lay-offs, lay-offs, lay-offs. Is it healthy and how are they doing?
Tailleur: I think in Atlantic Canada it’s doing pretty good. I mean, I’d like to point out that a lot of what you know about the sexual assault involving the taxi driver who’s acquitted, I should note, came from CBC reporting. So that’s going on. And a lot of what we’re seeing at the CBC is kind of reshuffling internally. So it’s not like they’re opening up a bureau here and there. They’re not at the south shore or anything but it’s sort of internal changes. You look at a place like P.E.I., you look at Labrador, you look at places where the CBC is absolutely key to those communities – very vital.
Brown: To your knowledge, are either of you – the jobs that were lost during those belt-tightening years, have they been replaced? Do you know if that’s come back with the funding?
Bousquet: My sense is that most of those jobs are now contract jobs, which is very difficult on the people holding the jobs. There’s no job security. I’ve talked to a couple of these people and they don’t know what’s going to happen in their life three months down the road. And that’s difficult on anyone. Having a solid full time job brings stability and allows you to buy a house and start a family and do all those sorts of things. And the way the CBC is structuring now prohibits that in a lot of cases. Am I right there?
Tailleur: There have always been contracts and there has always been casual work at the CBC, but there are still some permanent jobs that are posted. We’re seeing more a little bit of niche stuff. For example, the CBC hired a number of data journalists – very specialized work. So we’re seeing that. But what we did see in the last few years, especially in this region, we saw a whole bunch of retirements. So you saw this wave of people with so much experience walk out the door around the same time. So that’s acute loss of institutional memory right there.
Brown: You teach at King’s and the journalism program there is well regarded. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of your students today. First of all, how can you live with yourself teaching at a journalism school this day and age? (Laughter/Applause)
Tailleur: Quite well. Because I’m not producing widgets. They’re human beings where we’re teaching journalism. We’re teaching research, interviewing, critical thinking, writing, multimedia (Applause) – all these wonderful things that people can do, useful skills and apply them however they want. And the thing is, it has always been the case. If they want to go work for a digital marketing company, the can. If they want to go to law school, they can. So seriously, I tell my students, look – I teach resourcefulness, is what I do. And if you choose to work in a newsroom or don’t pursue that, that’s up to you.
Brown: I met a bunch of them today. I think you’re training a wonderful next generation of PR professionals. (Laughter) I don’t even know why I’m doing this. This was supposed to be an off-hand joke. No, there’s nothing wrong with teaching journalism. I should shut up. (Laughter) What are you noticing about how that’s flowing? Are people just here to pick up the skills, take them elsewhere? Are people sticking around? What is the sense of opportunity with people when they leave? I know that there’s an internship program. Is it drying up? What are you getting from that – people just entering the field…?
Tailleur: The interesting shift really for internships has been to a lot more independence I know, Tim, you’ve taken an intern of ours. Maureen Googoo is taking an intern this year. And we just have a lot of students who go to far off places and go to smaller news publications that I have never heard of. And I am always learning about new ones and I am very impressed, most of the time. So I find the students are finding things that they’re interested in doing and they’re pursuing those interests.
Brown: Tim, have you hired any interns yet?
Bousquet: I don’t have one right now, but yes – and I do pay the interns, yes. (Applause) That’s a foundational tenet of the Halifax Examiner – is that people who work for the Examiner get paid well. (Applause) But yah, I’m actually looking for the right intern right now for a project, but I don’t have one right now.
Tailleur: I’ll find one for you. (Laughter)
Brown: I think our organizations are in competition. I want to return to this idea of the retail news reader and broaden it out from the Chronicle Herald’s subscription base. I feel like we can get really insular when we talk about the industry and what’s happening within it. We can get high-minded about the great things that we can do when we have big scoops that are important – minded journalism. News is something that everybody used to get a newspaper every morning, and Atlantic Canada has a reputation for being great story tellers and really civic minded and people who are always talking about what’s happening in their communities. And I just want to know if we can go kind of broad on this. I don’t think that there’s going to be a widespread solution to these problems unless we can somehow communicate to the greater public the value of the work that you do. How is that going? Is it getting through? Is there anything – I sense in a wider context following what happened with the U.S. election people are like, oh, maybe I’ve got to pay for real news if I want real news.
Bousquet: The number of subscribers to the Halifax Examiner has doubled since the election of Donald Trump.
Brown: You and the New York Times – congratulations.
Bousquet: And I hope it shows in the amount of stuff we’re publishing, but yes, people are starting to understand it. And this is what I tell myself all the time – the Halifax Examiner or any other start-up is not going to replace the Chronicle Herald. The Chronicle Herald is this whole laundry list of things – again, important, worthy endeavours. The bright spot at the Chronicle Herald for the last decade has been their arts coverage. Gone now with Stephen Cooke and the rest of the crew on strike. (Applause)
Brown: Was that applause for the destruction of the arts coverage or for Stephen Cooke? (Laughter) We’ll clarify later.
Bousquet: But also sports and all that. The Halifax Examiner – or any other online site – is not going to be able to replace arts and sports coverage and those sorts of things. What we can do is do the advocacy journalism. And it doesn’t take a huge crew to do that. The Chronicle Herald never had a huge crew doing that work.
Tailleur: Well I think we still do a poor job of telling people what’s involved with committing an act of journalism. So I talk a lot to academics, entrepreneurs, bloggers, people who are just producing content of some sort – and there’s two things that they’re always bowled over about. One is when I explain to them what’s involved with doing a story. So let’s just take for example the story that you might do, anyone else in the city… You’ve got to go to the courthouse, you’ve got to get the document, you’ve got to research, do background on this, you’ve got to track people down, you have to interview them. Then you have to write the piece, which is probably going to be copy-edited hopefully and proofread. You’re going to make some more calls. You’re just going to do this, and then you’re going to keep moving that forward, right? So every day you’re doing this. And people are always surprised when they find out the work that goes into this. The second thing that astonishes people is that journalism exists under a framework. Most people do not understand the editorial, ethical and legal guidelines that we all work under. And when I explain that to people they will say, ‘Wow, I really had no idea.’
Bousquet: Can I throw out some numbers? I read a statement recently showing that online advertising for a thousand impressions brings $8. That’s for the New York Times. For a very well read New York Times Article that’s spread internationally they’ll make through online advertising on it, they’ll make $100. That’s a non-starter. First of all, I’ll never have a global audience online – anything remotely close to what the New York Times has. And the cost for an article can run anywhere from $200 to $1,000 to produce. So if this is going to work, people have to pony up some money for it, and I think people are understanding that if they want this kind of journalism, they’ve got to pay for it.
Brown: I think that’s becoming increasingly clear – that if there is a future for news, it’s paid content.
Brown: And people are starting to get that. Can I get a big round of applause for our panellists? (Applause) Everybody, we are going to take four questions at this microphone. As you decide whether or not to approach this microphone, think of your question. (Laughter) Is it a sentence that ends with a question mark? (Laughter) If that is the case, please… Did I scare off everyone? Someone’s going to do it, and when they do, just tell us your name and ask us a question, please. The microphone’s right here.
Tom Saunders: Hello, my name is Tom Saunders. I would like to ask if – there has been some talk about the social good of journalism, as well as the benefits that good journalism provides to everybody even if it’s behind a paywall or maybe the marketing strategy or niche for that kind of journalism isn’t exactly working. Is it time for journalists broadly or the journalism industry to start advocating for a more radically different model for funding good journalism than what is currently working, that’s much more – at least in Atlantic Canada – a smaller, very cut… cut-throat, I guess… a lot of competition for different things. And I guess my point is a very radical, very different example, but both the CBC and BBC are funded via taxes on the public. The BBC has a television tax, for example. That perhaps if everybody paid $4 on their $70 internet bill they could fund journalism. So is it time for journalism/journalists to together advance a different model for funding their social good that they’re providing to everybody?
Brown: How about you, Tim? Do you want government subsidy?
Bousquet: I don’t want government subsidy. I would fear that. But I think there’s some things that the government could do. They could change tax laws to allow foundations to invest in non-profit investigative journalism outfits, like happens in the U.S. That’s not allowed here in Canada. I’d like to see that. Outside of that, I am wary of tax schemes, rebate schemes or government funding for media. We’re supposed to be watching these guys, and when your pay cheque depends on them…
Tailleur: Well I think we’re going to see a lot of changes in the next couple of years. Right now there have been a number of reports and reviews of the media industry in Canada, and one of them… was it Shattered Mirror, that Edward Greenspon lead – basically came up with a bunch of options. One of them is going after Google and Facebook, really. (Applause) There you go. And other things like creating an innovation fund.
Brown: The possibility of an innovation fund, yes. Thank you for that question. Next.
Grace: Hi, my name is Grace, and my question for our panellists, do you think that young journalists or writers have to, or perhaps should, leave the Atlantic region to get experience?
Brown: Sounds like one for Terra.
Tailleur: Absolutely. The more experience you have… I’m very fortunate. I’m from Alberta and I’ve worked all over the North, and I of course have been here now for the last, I think, 12, 13, 14, 15 years. But I consider all of that experience and I just think generally it makes me a better journalist and helps me do journalism.
Bousquet: The best job I ever had was – in terms of advancing my career and understanding how to be a reporter – was working in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was the only reporter at a daily newspaper servicing a town of 10,000 in a county of 70,000. And boy I had to learn how to be a reporter in all sorts of different ways. And I would encourage any young person in journalism school to take that job in northern Alberta or out in the sticks somewhere because that’s training and it’s great training.
Brown: May I offer a contrary take? (Laughter)
Brown: I think that this used to be the way we brought new people into the industry. It’s kind of a time-honoured… When there’s such a thing as a journalism industry, going out to the regions, going out to small communities, that’s how you make your bones and there was some apprenticeship that served a lot of people really well and then you kind of work your way to the big market. Okay, that was the path that was established. I actually feel like that is so broken that if you are learning how to do journalism and you happen to be here in Halifax where there is sort of a strange number of proliferating start-ups, you may be better served than going to some small community where they might have had four working journalists 10 years ago and now there is one. I don’t know if those jobs exist in those small communities anymore. And in fact, when I think about all of these small upstarts here in Atlantic Canada, it almost feels like a healthier scene than in Toronto. So I don’t know job for job who has got more opportunity, but the idea of – cast yourself out to some strange, small place and see what happens if there is a job there – I don’t know that that route is a thing anymore.
Tailleur: It is. (Laughter)
Bousquet: There’s a contrary track, I guess. A handful of young journalists coming out of Halifax have gone on to work on the big time – Paul McLeod is now with Buzzfeed covering Washington, DC. Alex Boutilier working for the Toronto Star. Hilary Beaumont, now working for Vice.
Brown: Sure, they all started here. I actually didn’t register anything you just said because I’m still blushing from your withering take-down. I’m going home. (Laughter)
Tailleur: Don’t bury the lede.
Keith Lehwald: Hi, my name is Keith. We hear constantly – particularly in the context of the Conservative leadership debate – calls to de-fund the CBC. Obviously there are certain places where private media can survive and thrive as we see with the Examiner and this kind of thing. But we also did talk about some of those smaller population centres where the CBC is really only the game in town or sometimes the only independent game in town. And it is also kind of the only national voice that we have with newspapers becoming more and more insular. So the question is, with all of this sort of politicization and debate around how the CBC is going to be funded, one, how do we protect the unique entity that the CBC is, and two, what do we lose if we don’t?
Bousquet: I don’t know. (Laughter)
Tailleur: Okay, so as a former CBCer and a long time CBCer – and I’ve worked in small communities where… again, to your point, CBC reaches into communities across this country where a lot of media isn’t. And the other benefit of course with the CBC – and I had the benefit of working in an environment where I might have been the only one in a bureau, but I knew I didn’t have to go after advertising. I didn’t have to worry about thinking about any of that. I could do my job. I could go out, pitch a story, do my research and know that my pay cheque was there. So there is something to be said for that editorial freedom – the idea to pursue journalism and then again be out there in the communities. So I do – especially radio… I look at CBC radio and I think, wow, that’s still very vital.
Brown: I feel like… having shared some of that experience of having been sort of in the pure environment of a CBC newsroom – the story is the thing… don’t worry about any of the structural stuff. There’s no question of advertising or anything like that. It was a wonderful place to learn the craft. I don’t know that that’s a luxury young journalists can afford anymore, and the separation of church and state, I feel like… We’re about to launch our own apprenticeship program, and I feel like we need to make sure that whoever comes in has a stint with our sales team. I feel like anybody who expects to have a career in journalism can’t divorce themselves from thinking about how this stuff makes money.
Bousquet: Unless they work for the Halifax Examiner, and then they don’t have to worry about ad sales whatsoever. (Laughter/Applause)
Brown: Except that the business side must occupy a good part of your day. Are you purely practicing journalism? You’re a small businessman.
Bousquet: Yes, I have an admin person – Iris in the back, who is hawking t-shirts and coffee mugs. (Applause)
Brown: Tell me about your t-shirts and coffee mugs.
Bousquet: Oh they’re wonderful… $20 – we have the women’s shirts that the ladies like.
Brown: You are on a perpetual subscription drive. You have to be. It’s okay. There’s no shame. It’s true though. You need to do that.
Bousquet: Iris takes care of most of the admin side of stuff so I don’t have to worry too much about that, and thankfully Tempa as well. But yes, I’m running a business, but I’m not knocking on anyone’s door to sell an ad, and that doesn’t at all affect anyone writing for the Halifax Examiner… some sort of consideration of – oh we’re going to piss off this advertiser or what will restaurants think about this article or…. Screw ‘em, I don’t care what they think. (Applause)
Brown: Sure. These are issues that we deal with – and we walk that line because we do sell advertising. I’m trying to create a shop where we don’t blind ourselves to the realities of how we do business. We are reliant to a certain extent on advertising, and also maintaining independence and autonomy. And maybe that’s not entirely a possible, pure…
Bousquet: Well I always just look at it as, yes, there might be some revenue in advertising, but first of all it’s not going to be much, and you’re going to lose it anyway. So why chase it?
Brown: We’ll talk about podcasting later. (Laughter) I think that a lot of people at the CBC have had beautiful careers where they can focus on serving their audience and nothing but. And then I am also aware of a lot of mid to late career people who are getting laid off and are so ill-equipped their skills don’t transfer. They’ve been used to a very specific bureaucracy and a very specific way of reporting or telling stories. To advise anybody who’s getting into this, I feel like – you’ve got to know how to do everything. And the amount of people who will report a story and care about their objectivity and independence every bit as much as you do and then turn around and do a piece of paid writing – because they have to – there’s no shame in this. We’ve got to figure these things out and I think we have to remove any sense of purity or piety. We have to accept the realities. Times are tough and those who are trying to stay in the profession are making these kinds of portfolio careers and figuring it out – figuring out a path. It’s a complicated question.
Katie Toth: Katie Toth – sometimes I write for Tim. This question actually segues nicely from the whole advertising revenue thing because Tim, you are in many ways a businessperson who can personally go after people when they unfairly share your content… when they copy and paste subscriber content. That is a privilege that allNovaScotia has. It is my understanding that they will personally take down people’s accounts if they’re going around sharing content. So here’s this very unique Atlantic Canadian model that involves this sort of like, who’s your father’s father… hey, please stop doing that… please stop sharing content that doesn’t belong to you – kind of thing. How do we scale that up to an national or international model? Because I’m still taking my New York Times url, putting it in the Google so I can read it without paying for it. (Laughter)
Brown: That was awesome. (Laughter) So my allNovaScotia account that – I just signed up and I got a big warning as I was going through that Canadian law is very clear about this – password sharing is a crime. (Laughter) I’m also aware or I’ve been told – it’s here-say, I don’t know – that when journalists started to blur some stuff from allNovaScotia, they found their accounts locked. So this is the opposite – I mean, we were talking about this earlier – this is sort of the opposite trend, but how do you scale that? It’s an interesting question. Anyone here familiar with Blacklocks Reporter? So Blacklocks Reporter, a small news outfit from Ottawa – their journalism has shifted to tipping federal institutions and agencies to see if people have been improperly sharing their content and then suing them for copyright violations. So you can do an ATIP to your journalism or you can do an ATIP to run a lawsuit mill. And maybe I’ll find out about that soon because of what I just said. (Laughter) I used to cover tech and copyright was a big issue, and like – proprietary protectionism of content hasn’t worked so well in other fields, but it feels to me crucial when you’re locking down paywalled content and trying to draw those subscriptions. Are you aggressive about protecting your content?
Bousquet: No. Katie was referring to an incident last week where someone copy and pasted a whole thing in Facebook for some activism reasons, and I was just kind of pissed off about it because had they simply sent me an email and said, hey, this is an issue in our town, we’d like to post this – I probably would have taken it from behind the paywall and just put a little thing on the bottom saying, ‘please subscribe’. You know, people are always asking me, ‘What’s the future of journalism? What’s the business model?’ And I’m like, ‘Goddamn if I know – why the fuck are you asking me?’ (Laughter) I’m just running my own little business here, you know.
Brown: It’s good to have you here, Tim. (Laughter)
Bousquet: Go start your own goddamn site and figure out how to do it. (Laughter)
Brown: I think we have a fifth bonus question, please.
Evan: Hi, my name is Evan. I kind of have a two-parter. First I wanted to ask, do you guys think that the free media such as the Metro and Facebook and that type of offering helps take away from the subscription and the pay-for-it models? Because a lot of people I think – if they can get it for free in the Metro and click on Facebook and read it, why would I subscribe to the Globe or the shitty Herald, or the Examiner – you know what I mean? Also, I’ve heard it put out there that in the future it could be totally digital and the paper model gone. Do you guys think that could actually come to fruition? Because I know for myself, I personally love getting the Saturday paper delivery – the Globe, not the Herald. But there’s just something about getting that paper or picking it up at the store when I want to read something that the actual physical paper that I wouldn’t like to totally lose being able to get.
Tailleur: Can I give you an example? In Quebec – La Presse Plus. La Presse used to be a newspaper – a daily newspaper. It put out a tablet version – an iPad type – and it was really successful. So guess what? They basically stopped producing the printed version because they had planned this. So they knew that reporting everything into this tablet product, and guess what? People were paying for this. They were getting advertising and suitable for a tablet version. And it’s still going.
Brown: They were able to… by cutting off their print run, they were able to force their readership – enough of them – onto the tablet. So goes the legend of La Presse tablet. And then they were able to fetch CPMs – advertising rates for the tablet that were as good or better than what they were getting for print, which is the contrast between that and what you get for display advertising online is drastic. So they are that rare success story that sometimes gets challenged, and that the Toronto Star tried to mimic, but crucially the Star refused to stop printing paper – and it’s a huge debacle, huge failure.
Bousquet: Yes, that’s a big part of the Chronicle Herald’s mess right now, is that not too many years ago they invested – I don’t know what the number is… $17 million, $20 million into a brand new printing press, which tied them to a dead tree newspaper – like a cement tire around their neck – and they still can’t get out from under. That I think is a huge part of the problem there. We throw out this buzz word, ‘innovation’ all the time, but really in the newspaper business that means getting rid of your high costs – or in the news business rather. And the high cost – the first one, is a printing press, and the print run and all the distribution costs that are associated with that. I think with these online start-ups, we’re finding that you don’t even need an office. You get rid of all these costs and you can concentrate on the product.
Brown: I share your fondness for buying a newspaper, and reading a newspaper on the weekend, but it’s over, man. (Laughter) It’s going to be over sooner than we think. I think that it’s going to go down to weekend editions and then those will eventually be gone too. There will always be… just like vinyl is back, there will be some boutique operations where someone, ‘oh look at this – isn’t this weird?’ It’s a newspaper. And I’ll segue into the first part of your question also because I feel like we have to accept that as destructive as this is and disruptive as it is to the business model, this is a way better, more efficient way of distributing the news. If the point is to disseminate information as widely as possible, have impact, get people to know what’s going on, these platforms – and Facebook especially – are incredibly powerful. They’re way better. They’re terrible for making money, but they’re amazing for spreading news rapidly, and they’re also amazing for spreading bad news rapidly, which is I think the strongest thing that the existing journalism industry has in its favour to mounting a defence for why people should pay for it. Our point of contrast in our models and something that I’ve been encouraging you not so subtly to think of is people who support Canadaland have told me – they’ll stop supporting it if I lock up any of the content behind a paywall. So will people pay for it when they get it for free? Not a lot of them. Like, one in 10. But one in 10 will pay for it for the rest of the readership – and they’ll pay for it especially because they’re paying for everybody else to have it, if they believe in the product and what we’re doing, and they hold us accountable to provide something that they feel very good about making it available to other people. In some bizarre universe I wonder if you’d gone the other way, but you know what? Whatever works – I’m with you. I have no idea what it’s going to be in a few years. If it’s working, it’s working.
Bousquet: It’s really exciting that there’s – I don’t know – a dozen of these start-ups across Nova Scotia, depending on how you count them, and pretty much every one has a different business model. And that’s fun. That’s really exciting. I mean, this is how we solve these problems – people experiment, and that’s what’s going on right now. So to answer the question of the podcast – Is Atlantic Journalism Fucked – my answer is no. (Applause)
Brown: It’s a Friday night. This is a packed room in Halifax. I do not think it’s fucked if people are coming out to hear us talk about news. A round of applause again for our panel and for yourselves. Thank you so much. (Applause)
[End theme music]
Bousquet: That’s a wrap for this week’s Examineradio, the weekly podcast and radio show produced by the Halifax Examiner. I’m Tim Bousquet.
Tailleur: I’m Terra Tailleur.
Gragg: And I’m Russell Gragg. As always, we’d love to know what you think. If you have comments on what you’ve heard or story suggestions for future episodes, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org And thank you to the University of King’s College’s Mark Pineo down in the radio room for helping facilitate the recording of Examineradio. Thanks, Mark.
Bousquet: Until next week, your phrase is, ‘Hey reporters, keep reporting.’