1. The Chronicle Herald strike is over
Unionized newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald have voted to accept a new contract with management.
Anticipating being locked out of their jobs, 61 Halifax Typographical Union (HTU) members went on a defensive strike on January 22, 2016. Over the intervening 19 months, eight of those found other jobs. Of the remaining 53:
• 26 are laid off, with each receiving severance of 2.5 weeks of pay for each year they were on the job, capped at 68 weeks —
the equivalent of about three-and-a-quarter years’ pay. (Correction: this language confused me: “Those leaving will receive enhanced severance of 2.5 weeks of pay for each year of service with a cap of 68 weeks.” Apparently it means the cap of 68 weeks applies to the amount of total pay, not to the end calculation — so just over a year’s worth of pay. Maybe they needed an editor….);
• 26 will return back to the Herald newsroom on Joe Howe Road, with an immediate five per cent reduction in pay but with pay increases outlined for the next seven years. Their work week increases from 35 hours/week to 37.5 hours/week;
• 1 will work for the Cape Breton Post, which is owned by the Herald’s holding company, SaltWire; I don’t know which employee that is.
Workers will return to their jobs Tuesday.
Local Xpress will be shut down, but Herald president Mark Lever has given up his demand that the Herald own its content.
“We are relieved that the strike has finally ended, but the feelings are mixed because we are losing more than half our newsroom staff, colleagues who are good friends, great journalists and even better people,” said HTU President Ingrid Bulmer in a union press release.
When I moved to Halifax in 2004, the Herald newsroom had about 150 employees; now it’s down to about 35. Some of the recent reductions will come from outsourcing editing and page layout — even though other publications have experienced disastrous results of such outsourcing. But most of the reduction has come from laying off seasoned reporters. There is simply no way a post-strike Chronicle Herald can be even a faint shadow of its former self. The paper of record is no more.
Now we play the grim game of trying to find out which reporters have jobs and which don’t. I don’t envy either camp. For those who are laid off, the severance pay will help bridge the gap to new employment, but there’s not much out there in the way of media jobs. Those returning will face a difficult workspace, awkward at best, and hard feelings don’t heal easily, if at all.
It didn’t have to happen this way.
The traditional news media business model is broken, and isn’t going to be fixed. Plummeting ad revenue has pulled the legs out from under the daily newspaper; I predict that in the next few years nearly every daily newspaper in the country will disappear.
The owners of the Chronicle Herald looked at the reality and… doubled-down on it, turning a newspaper into a flyer delivery service, gutting the professional newsroom and replacing its news product with advertorial and contributed content. Looking to lower costs, rather than getting rid of the dead tree and moving to the internet, they bought a printing press and the concrete tire of debt that came with it.
The future of news, especially local news, is user-pay internet-based news. You don’t have to like that reality. Yes, (some) older people won’t read the internet. Yes, there’s a pleasure that comes from holding a paper that the internet will never provide. Yes, people like getting their news “for free” (even though nothing is truly free, and especially not advertiser-supported content); yes, yes, yes. But take all those objections and try to build a successful business model out of a dead tree newspaper — you can’t do it.
Pay-walled internet-based news is a business model that works; dropping a packet of paper on someone’s porch is not. At least, not if you want that packet of paper to contain actual news of value.
The Chronicle Herald could have faced that cold reality and reinvented itself. The choices to be made would have been difficult. It would’ve required a hard, quick turn away from the dead tree and onto the internet. It would’ve meant layoffs.
But managed with thought and care, the union could’ve been consulted, and a reasonable and even radical plan of action could’ve been produced. Those laid off could’ve been given long notice of their dismissal and good severance packages. Most importantly, the Herald could’ve positioned itself as a profitable, internet-based news service with a large, professional and well-paid reporting staff.
But taking that course of action would’ve meant ownership cared more about producing quality news for the long-term that brought reasonable profits than about immediate profit, never mind the source. Giving them real news doesn’t bring in the big money? No problem, we’ll give them coupons for fifty cents off melons at Sobeys.
So we’re getting one more spin in the death spiral.
2. Journalistic ethics
It’s difficult to write about allnovascotia.com because the publication doesn’t allow reporters with other news outlets to subscribe and closely guards its content — subscribers who share content with other reporters will find their accounts cancelled.
Which is fine. That’s their business model, which increases their exclusive branding, and so it goes. For the most part, and more so recently, I’ve just ignored allNS, and that seems to suit them fine.
But every now and then allNS reports something so important that I feel I have to mention it. And there are fair use copyright exemptions, so….
Yesterday, allNS reporter Geoff Bird revealed that “replacement workers” at the Chronicle Herald seemed to be appropriating allNS’s original reporting, reworking the articles, and then publishing them as Herald content. To some degree, this is common practice in the news biz — if I break a story about topic X, the CBC or whoever might re-report it, going to the sources for quotes, etc, and then publish an article without crediting me for finding the story. I re-report other publications’ stories, too, although I try to give credit to especially good work by other reporters.
But allNS is saying a Herald scab took it one step further, contacting city communications staff the day after an allNS story was published on May 29:
The documents show Scott Neilson presented a draft version of a story on May 30 about the potential sale of the Khyber Building to a city communications staffer. The email contained paraphrased quotes that would be attributed to the spokesperson. The name of the communications staffer was left blank, to be filled in for the final draft after approval.
“I wish we were given this luxury with all news stories. Ha!” [City communications staffer Brendan] Elliot wrote with a touch of sarcasm to city planner Andrew Bone.
Bird details two other incidents when Neilson ran copy for approval by city communications staff, one for “line-by-line edits.”
Bird contacted Neilson for comment:
“If you mention my name in your copy, I will sue you and your employer for defamation. And if you contact me again I will file a harassment complaint,” he said in an email.
Getting prior approval for news articles is a fundamental breach of journalistic ethics, taught in first year journalism classes. Getting a government PR person to actually write and edit copy is even worse, and betrays all trust with readers who expect independent reporting.
Bird discusses two separate but related issues: the Herald stealing allNS stories, and then giving scab-written copy about those stories to government PR people to vet. It appears that the reason the copy was vetted was because the reporter didn’t do first-hand reporting on the subject — the reporter wasn’t at the meeting, didn’t file the freedom of information request, etc.
This isn’t just a lone reporter going off the ethical rail, however. Reports Bird:
“Editor asked me to write a very short update on the Khyber, as a matcher piece that was apparently published elsewhere into the public domain,” Neilson wrote in one email.
It’s one thing to say, “Hey, allNS broke this story, can you get into it?” and quite another thing to accept copy from that reporter that has no original reporting whatsoever.
The rot is coming from the top.
3. Ships ordered to slow down to save whales
“The federal government is implementing a temporary mandatory slowdown for vessels of 20 metres or more in length to address the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” reports Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon for the CBC:
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Transport Marc Garneau are scheduled to hold a news conference at the Pointe-du-Chêne Wharf in southeastern New Brunswick at 10:30 a.m. AT to announce the new temporary measures.
The slowdown will affect vessels travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.
3. Ships Start… well, you know the rest
“The federal government’s plan to buy an off-the-shelf design for the navy’s new frigates is facing significant pushback from at least one of Canada’s allies, which appears to question timelines and the fundamental structure of the high-stakes $60-billion project,” reports Murray Brewster for the CBC:
Documents obtained by CBC News show one of the 12 companies competing to design and help construct the warships has been blocked from handing over “supporting data and services.”
The unidentified bidder says one of Canada’s allies, which owns the rights to the sensitive electronics embedded in the warship, is refusing permission to include the information and instead wants direct negotiations with the federal government.
The nation, which is also not identified in the Aug. 2 document obtained by CBC News, has no interest in dealing directly with Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding Inc., which is the federal government’s go-to company for warship construction.
No public meetings.
Thesis defence, Pharmacology (Friday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Mohammad Omar Ayaz will defend his thesis, “The Impact of Long Term Testosterone Withdrawal on Cardiac Excitation-Contraction Coupling in the Mouse.”
Thesis defence, Physiology and Biophysics (Friday, 1pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Corey Smith will defend his thesis, “Labelling and Longitudinal In Vivo Imaging of Retinal Ganglion Cells.”
In the harbour
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
10:30am: Adriatic Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
Noon: Reykjafoss, general cargo, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
1pm: IT Intrepid, cable layer, sails from Pier 9 for sea
3pm: Reykjafoss, general cargo, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4pm: Nord Gemini, bulker, arrives at anchorage for bunkers from Belledune, New Brunswick
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
9pm: Nord Gemini, bulker, sails from anchorage for sea
9:30pm: Adriatic Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I have family visiting and so will be off the internet for most of the weekend.