1. Chronicle Herald to lock out newsroom employees
Yesterday, the Halifax Typographical Union, which represents newsroom workers at the Chronicle Herald, sent out the following release:
Conciliation talks between The Chronicle Herald newspaper and the union that represents its 61 newsroom staff have broken down after the company walked away from the table after just two days.
“We believe that the company, from the beginning, intended to lock us out,” said Ingrid Bulmer, president of the Halifax Typographical Union, Local 30130 of CWA Canada.
A lockout could happen before the end of January.
The Halifax Herald Ltd. concluded conciliation talks late Friday afternoon by calling for provincially appointed conciliator Peter Lloyd to file his report with the Labour Department.
“The Herald left the negotiation table abruptly, leaving the union to digest a total rewrite of the contract that would set us back 20 years,” Bulmer said.
The company’s concessionary demands would:
• Cut salaries and increase working hours
• Significantly reduce benefits in our defined benefit pension plan
• Mean layoffs are no longer by seniority, but at the whim of management
• Eliminate the contract clause that says: “The company at all times recognizes the principle of equal pay for equal work for male and female employees.”
“As we face more deep cuts to the newsroom, we feel very strongly that the company is leading us toward irrelevance: Less depth, less journalism, fewer compelling stories, more rewrites of news releases and more sponsored content,” Bulmer said.
At about this time last year, the Herald eliminated 17 newsroom jobs through layoffs and buyouts that staff felt compelled to take under the threat that either they or a colleague would be laid off. At the same time, the company continues to expand its advertorial and paid-content products, run by the advertising department, and which include its growing stable of free weeklies distributed across the province to compete with real community newspapers with a long-standing presence in their areas.
“The company has informed us that 30 per cent of our newsroom staff will be laid off even if we were to accept all of its concessionary proposals,” Bulmer said. “It’s an insult to us and to all Nova Scotians who rely on The Chronicle Herald as a respected source of news.”
The company has said it intends to get rid of its photographers and reclassify reporters as multimedia journalists. It would also lay off almost its entire editing staff: the news desk editors who produce three print editions daily and the web editors who publish online content. Their jobs would be outsourced, possibly within the company to its non-unionized advertorial department, for a fraction of the pay and benefits.
For an employer who so eagerly embraced the findings of the Ivany report, it’s curious that the Herald wants to eliminate good-paying jobs, Bulmer said.
The bargaining unit is made up of reporters, photographers, editorial writers, editors, columnists, page technicians, library and support staff in Halifax and in bureaus across the province.
Thirty per cent of the newsroom staff is 18 positions.
I was unable to reach union officials or company executives last night, but the union tweeted more details of the situation. As I understand the tweets, management can lock out workers as soon as January 2.
As of 7:30am, the paper has not reported on management walking away from negotiations.
On the other hand, more energy is being placed on non-news advertorials. As I reported in April, Nova Scotia Business Inc is paying the paper about $35,000 per quarter for the “World.Oyster.Go” advertorial feature. As King’s journalism prof David Swick told me:
“The Herald is probably looking at this and thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to pick up 35 grand and that could pay half of a journalist’s salary for a year. My concern, though, is credibility — what about all your thousands of readers who aren’t privy to what these vague words ‘custom content’ mean? They’re reading all of this extremely favourable copy and thinking that it’s Herald journalism. And how many of them will say, ‘Gee, the Herald only seems to be presenting one side, and is not presenting the whole picture.’
“And of course all great journalism is not one-sided,” continues Swick. “And all great journalism is focused on serving the reader — it is not there to get across the message of a political party or a corporation or an organization like [NSBI] wants you to get. That is anti-journalism. This is why advertorial so concerns me. Yes, the revenue is needed. But is it worth the price, and will the Herald overall be glad that they’re doing this when they have a lot of readers who trust them a little less?
“In journalism, all we’ve got is credibility,” says Swick. “We have to defend the credibility. And if it means missing out on the odd $35,000 contract, that’s probably a good idea, and we should spend our energy trying to find other ways to get that money. Surely to god we can do something other than give up the credibility we have left.”
The union says that through the negotiation process the company has hired three additional non-union advertorial workers. The weekly throw-aways will be beefed up, and we can expect more advertorial features like World.Oyster.Go.
Laying off 18 people would leave the newsroom with a staff of just 43 people. Effectively, it means the Chronicle Herald will no longer be the paper of record. Increasing reliance on advertorial means the paper can make no claim to objectivity or impartial analysis, which, despite the work of some excellent reporters, has been the case for some time. The botched coverage of the collapse of Unique Solutions is just one example — the advertorial relationship with NSBI so overshadowed management concerns that business reporters could not tell readers the honest truth.
The union is right: if, as seems likely, these cuts are made and if the paper continues to embrace advertorial, the Chronicle Herald will become irrelevant.
I believe the paper is in a death spiral, and it won’t surprise me if it becomes a three- or four-day-a-week publication, or if it sells off to the Irving empire or TC Media.
This is a huge loss for Nova Scotia, to put it mildly.
2. Examineradio, episode #40
This week we speak with the Ecology Action Centre’s Energy Coordinator Catherine Abreu. She basically stepped off a plane from Paris and into our studios to report back on the end results of the historic meeting and how it might affect Nova Scotia.
Also, after 72 straight hours of debate, Nova Scotia’s Liberal government passed the final reading of the contentious Bill 148. The bill imposes a wage package on the province’s 75,000 public sector workers, which essentially means four consecutive years of pay cuts. Guess they shoulda been Bold™ and become entrepreneurs instead of treating the sick or teaching children. After all, Halifax is under-serviced when it comes to hipster beard grooming shops.
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1. Christmas in prison
As regular readers know, El Jones writes the Saturday version of Morning File. I’m honestly gobsmacked at how well this has worked out — Jones brings a new and needed dimension not just to the Examiner (and believe me, I know how limited the Examiner view is), but also to what I hope is a community-wide conversation. Jones can continue with her weekly post as long as she wants to do it and as long as I can afford to pay her. (That’s a gentle nudge to subscribe.)
Anyway, this weekend Jones exceeded herself.
Allow me an extended aside.
From my parents’ and former church’s perspective, I’m a lapsed Catholic. From my perspective, I’m an atheist. I hope I’m learning to be more of the live-and-let-live variety and less of the annoying-asshole-lecturing-people variety, but I’m an atheist all the same. Sorry, I just can’t wrap my head around virgin births or prosperity bibles or Xenus or lost tribes of Israel showing up in the Utah desert or limbo or flying miniature horses with the face of a woman or… wait a minute, I’m not supposed to be an asshole, so, er, I’m still open to that turtles all the way down thing.
Still and all, atheism aside, being drenched in 12 years of stereotypical Catholic schools, 18 years of even-when-hungover Sunday mass, and a culture of mawkish Christianity, I can’t help but have respect for the Spirit of Christmas. The crazed right wing and its delusions of a so-called War On Christmas trying its damnedest to ruin it aside — “Don’t be nice to people during their non-Christmas holidays!” scream the crazies — I think the actual Christmas spirit still prevails among everyday Christians.
Yeah, sure, I could complain about how seasonal charity avoids addressing the structural impediments to ending poverty, discrimination, imperialism… but, like I said, I’m trying to avoid being that asshole-lecturing-people atheist. Besides, truth be told, there’s something downright sweet about people beaming in good spirit, honestly wishing each other well, and at least momentarily getting off the fuck-everyone-else-I-got-mine treadmill that defines western society. At least for a couple of weeks, we pretend (as we shop, natch) that the dictates of capitalism are suspended. The food banks swell with donations. The homeless get socks and turkey dinners. People speak of Peace and Good Will Toward Men [and Women] un-ironically. Yeah, none of that Solves All the World’s Problems, but neither is it necessarily a bad thing. It might even be a good thing. Nay, it is a good thing. We could do worse. Good job and Merry Christmas, Christians!
But if the Spirit of Christmas has any meaning, surely it prods us towards concern for and respect of the most dispossessed and despised among us — criminals and prisoners. I mean, even Jesus Christ himself had kind words for criminals and, dying on the cross, he forgave the thief hanging beside him.
Which brings me back to Jones’ post from Saturday.
Jones puts the question: Can we extend our basic humanity, that Spirit of Christmas, to prisoners at Christmas? She interviews two prisoners and a lawyer, and gives us the stark reality of prison life. For what it’s worth, I think this is Jones’ best piece in the Examiner to date.
2. Austerity budget
“Even though the province’s own recent fiscal update makes clear our problem is declining revenues rather than escalating expenses, the government seems obsessed with reducing revenues while slashing expenses,” writes Stephen Kimber:
To save the $25 million the province’s film tax credit cost, for example, the government gutted an entire industry that contributed far more than it cost. Ah, well…
And now it is hell-bent on strangling a public sector that pays taxes, buys houses, cars, goods, services and contributes to society.
If we’re not careful, this government will save us to death.
Let me put this into perspective. 75,000 working people represent about half the 148,000 families, with children, in Nova Scotia. More than half live in Metro Halifax.
The government tells us that the 75,000 employees can still negotiate but just not the money part. Really. How can that be? Normally if the government removes the right to collectively bargain, it gets replaced by arbitration. But since when does the government tell arbitrators what to do and how to rule? The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that every employee has the right to join a union, the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike. But our Government seems to know better. How is that?
3. Mother Canada™
The Toronto Star congratulates the Trudeau government for downsizing and moving the proposed “victims of communism” memorial away from central Ottawa. The paper then takes aim at improving cell coverage along the Cabot Trail:
There’s another similar controversy that needs to be addressed. Under the Harper government, Parks Canada opened the door to construction of the massive “Mother Canada[™]” monument to Canada’s war dead on a prime coastal site in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
“Mother Canada[™],” proposed by a private foundation, would be a towering eight-storey figure modeled on the famous Canada Bereft statue at Vimy Ridge. The design manages to be both kitschy and reminiscent of the over-sized monuments beloved of tyrants the world over. It would be particularly inappropriate for a noted beauty spot in a national park.
The monument would be privately funded, but under the former Conservative government Parks Canada donated $100,000 for a study of the project and said it would support building it in the park.
The Trudeau government now says it is “reviewing” the whole idea. It should quickly conclude that such an outsized and tasteless monument has no place in a national park.
4. Cranky letter of the day
I always enjoy it so much when my daughter sends me your latest edition but this time I was so disappointed.
Every year at this time I look forward to the one super entertaining happening that really puts Windsor on the map, because, where else can they grow pumpkins to the size that they do out there and use them for entertainment, except in Windsor?
What do we see in the morning paper to expedite them but just one — just one — except for the one on the front page which was great — but one only to show off to us from away just what you’ve got to be proud off.
None of the weigh-ins, none of the other competitors and none of the “sinkers,” supposing of course that there were any, and none of the crowds.
Where were the cameramen, the photographers? For those of us who don’t have computers — and there are a few of us yet — an extra page exploiting this jolly going-on would certainly be welcome. Try to do better for your town next year and for us on the other coast, as well.
Betty Johnson, 100 Mile House, B.C.
No public meetings.
The Oval opens today.
This date in history
On December 21, 1922, Halifax city council accepted a letter from the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty:
His Worship the Mayor,
and City Council.
I have been in touch with from time to time with the Unemployed Workman’s Association and have found them good law-abiding citizens, but unfortunately out of work. Many of them have families dependant upon them and they are frequently housed in one room. During the day these men are looking for work and have no place where they can seek rest while they are in the City other than small quarters which have been kindly loaned to them once a week by another organization.
As I have found these men to be loyal citizens in unfortunate circumstances, I think it is a duty of the City and the community to provide them some room at least where they can meet during the day with comparative comfort.
I would therefore respectfully ask whether the City would not provide some room for this Association during the winter and I am sure citizens will be glad to cooperate in the making this room attractive and in other ways assist the men in getting employment. While comfort may be found in a great majority of the homes in our city, there is very little appreciation of the worries and troubles of many of these men who are trying to do their best to secure work and support themselves and their families in decency.
I may add that the Unemployed Association enrol no one as a member unless he is a bona fide citizen of Halifax and in the majority of cases, such a man has dependents.
Asking that you and your Council may take in hand the question of providing suitable quarters for these men during the winter and assuring you the cooperation on the part of many citizens, I remain,
The meeting minutes record council’s reaction to the letter:
Moved by Alderman Finlay and seconded by Alderman Whitman that the communication be acknowledged and Mr. Murray informed that the City has no place available.
That’s right, four days before Christmas, Halifax council told the needy there was no room at the inn.
In the harbour
Hollandia, general cargo, Puerto Tarafa, Cuba to Pier 31
HH Emilia, container ship, New York to Pier 42
Zambezi Star, OBO (ore-bulk-oil) carrier, Beaumont, Texas to Imperial Oil
Atlantic Conveyor, ro-ro container, Norfolk to Fairview Cove
NYK Diana sails to sea
The news biz slows down over the holidays. I could fill up this space with “year in review” stuff, but that’s always bored me, and I’ve got better things to do anyway. Specifically, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on a large project I’ll roll out in January; this still requires quite a bit of writing, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel. To ease the work load, I’ll have a few stand-in writers for Morning File next week, albeit I’ll pop in occasionally.