The newsroom strike at the Chronicle Herald, now in its tenth month, is hitting arts organizations in the pocketbook.
“We’ve seen our [audience] numbers drop by half,” said Pamela Halstead, a director at the Valley Summer Theatre in Wolfville. “We’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars.”
Halstead was speaking this morning at a press conference called by the Halifax Typographic Union. She was joined by other artists and union members.
Halstead explained that Valley Summer Theatre has an audience of mostly rural and older people who are not on social media, and so therefore the theatre has relied almost entirely on the Chronicle Herald to promote itself.
Valley Summer Theatre has taken a principled stand to boycott the Chronicle Herald, which means refusing to grant the paper interviews or photo ops, and refusing to advertise in it. But even those arts organizations that aren’t boycotting the paper are suffering, said Peggy Walt, a long-time arts promoter who is now working with the Canadian Music Centre.
Walt noted that since the death of Leonard Cohen, thousands of people have been sharing music reporter Stephen Cooke’s review of the Cohen concert at the Rebecca Cohn. “People were saying, ‘I felt like I was there,'” said Walt. “We just don’t have that quality of reporting now.”
The problem now faced by arts organizations is that the scab writers have neither the experience, knowledge, or reputation to write quality reviews or attract widespread attention, and that translates directly to a loss of audience.
“Without a great quotable review, it’s harder to attract an audience” through promotional material, said Walt.
Moreover, arts organizations use press clips in grant applications, but the scab-written pieces aren’t of a quality that attract attention from granters.
“Well-written, well-researched arts reporting is a necessary part of a successful arts scene,” said Walt. “And that’s missing.”
Susan Leblanc, of Zuppa Theatre, said that her organization is committed to foundational values — equal pay for equal work and a refusal to accept underwriting from large exploitative corporations.
That means “quitely saying ‘no’ to injustice and unfairness,” said Leblanc, and so the theatre is refusing to work with the Chronicle Herald while its newsroom is on strike. “That means no to photo ops, no to interviews, no to advertising.”
Leblanc acknowledged that Zuppa’s principled stand means “readers don’t hear about us,” but “we do it because it’s the right thing to do.”