1. Government financial support for the Chronicle Herald
Following up on a report last winter from the Public Policy Forum, News Media Canada has put forward a proposal for the federal government to subsidize Canadian media to the tune of $350 million annually.
It’s always a bad idea to get the government involved in journalism, for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is that as a funder, the government will have to decide who qualifies as a legitimate journalist and who does not, which has repercussions far beyond simple funding.
In yesterday’s Canadaland podcast, Jesse Brown interviewed Bob Cox, Chair of the Board of News Media Canada and publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press. It’s worth listening to the entire podcast, but Brown summed up his concerns in a series of tweets (which I’ve slightly edited below):
@CANADALAND is about the coming newspaper bailout. A few thoughts to go with it…
@acoyne [Andrew Coyne] and others I’m hearing from are right, then the fix is in. Done deal. The government WILL bail-out the news biz.
The go-to proposal on how to do so comes from News Media Canada, which, last year, was called Newspapers Canada.
They now call themselves “the voice of the print and digital media industry in Canada.” In fact, digital-only news sites can’t join.
So, the “voice of digital media in Canada” does not speak for:
@ipoliticsca @NatObserver @ricochet_en @rabbleca @HfxExaminer @TheTyee @villagemedia @joeycoleman @Kukukwes @IndependentNL @allnovascotia @discoursemedia and many many more
The re-branding is strategic. This subsidy is being sold to Canadians as a way to protect journalism, NOT as a newspaper bailout.
But it *is* a newspaper bailout. As News Media Canada chair Bob Cox says, the two biggest beneficiaries would be PostMedia and Torstar.
In fact, some promising digital journalism models are explicitly excluded from the subsidy: i.e. newsletters and sole-proprietor shops [e.g., the Halifax Examiner].
The proposal is for a $350 million/year ongoing newspaper subsidy, likely permanent. Subsidies to be tied to journalism jobs. hmmm.
What’s a “journalism” job? No distinction is made between reporters and pundits. Both get public funding.
If this proposal goes through, taxpayers will be paying $30,000/year of Margaret Wente’s salary. If this proposal goes through, taxpayers will be paying $30,000/year of Christie Blatchford’s salary.
If this proposal goes through, CDNs will be forced to pay for writing like this, overtly hostile to many of them [link to a Vancouver Sun op-ed about how visible minorities are destroying a white Canada].
Maybe Canadians can swallow all that. Maybe they will have to. But what will the outcome be? Will it in fact save journalism?
I believe it will have the opposite effect. We *are* seeing a bunch of promising news startups in this country, finally. The ones that succeed do so in markets where legacy media has failed, or by covering topics or interests that legacy news ignores.
So, putting Postmedia, Torstar, the Irvings’ papers, the Globe etc. etc. on permanent life-support will have two impacts:
The news bailout will make Canada’s “official” news media permanently beholden to the government, and therefore weaker.
And it will block innovation, inhibit investment, and make it easy to undercut successful but tiny digital media companies like mine.
On that last tweet, digital journalists across Canada have been responding “and mine” all day yesterday, all night last night, and into the morning today.
Brown didn’t mention it, but one very large beneficiary of the News Media Canada proposal would be the Chronicle Herald. As Robert Devet notes:
Also excluded would be the Local Xpress, the digital-only newspaper produced and owned by the Chronicle Herald reporters who have been on a defensive strike for 521 days now.
But you know who’s in? Mark Lever, owner of that same Chronicle Herald, and as of late an entire chain of local newspapers in the Atlantic Provinces, would stand to benefit from the subsidy. Lever is on the News Media Canada Board of Directors.
Giving the Chronicle Herald and the Transcon papers it just purchased a continued annual subsidy is a horrible idea, especially during the strike, but it’s worth pointing out that the Herald is already the beneficiary of tremendous government largesse.
That’s in part because provincial law requires that the provincial and municipal governments place notification of public meetings, rezoning proposals, program initiatives, and the like in a “paper of record,” which basically means the Chronicle Herald and the Transcon papers it just bought.
Last year, for instance, the Public Service Commission paid the Herald $323,991 for such advertising. The Commission also paid Transcontinental Atlantic, the company purchased by Sarah Dennis and Mark Lever’s Saltwire, $169,374. The city of Halifax and all other cities and towns in the province are also required to advertise in the paper of record; the cost of that advertising isn’t posted on the internet as are the provincial expenditures, but municipal payments to the Herald and Herald-owned Transcon papers undoubtedly total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By way of comparison, last year the Public Service Commission paid Coast Publishing, the company that produces The Coast altweekly, just $13,990.
It’s unclear how the Herald and Transcon will split their printing business (the Herald bought some, but not all, of Transcon’s printing plants), but last year, before the purchase, the province paid Transcontinental Printing about $540,000.
Then there’s the money crown corporations and other arm’s length government agencies pay the Herald. As I reported in 2015, Nova Scotia Business Inc was then paying the Herald about $35,000 quarterly — $140,000 annually — for the “World.Oyster.Go.” advertorials. These advertorials have no news content and are meant only to bolster the reputation of NSBI. The Herald is now also publishing “custom content” (i.e., advertorial) branded as “Connect. Collaborate. Prosper.” (someone at the Herald has a period fetish); agencies highlighted include the Halifax Partnership, which relies on government funding.
And let’s not forget MLA advertising in the Herald. Labi Kousoulis pays the Herald $750 a month for advertising, which is interesting given that:
— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) June 23, 2017
Evidently Kousoulis’s “personal relationship with the Dennis family” stretches so far as to kick down $750 monthly in public money to the family-owned business.
Kousoulis is the Minister of Labour who could theoretically intervene in the Chronicle Herald strike.
This morning, I can find no other sitting MLA who regularly buys advertising from the Herald, but Stephen Gough, the recently defeated Liberal MLA for Sackville, was buying an $85 ad every week. Some MLAs buy ads in Metro, usually at $180/month, but most MLAs buy advertising that is placed in small community papers and programs for community events.
Many MLAs, too many to count this morning, also subscribe to the Herald. Premier Stephen McNeil says he doesn’t have time to read newspapers, but his office paid $160 for a six-month Herald subscription in April.
All of this amounts to something like a million dollars annually in public money already going to the Herald. Add in the public money that used to go to Transcontinental and that will now go to Saltwire, and we’re not talking chump change.
My guess is that the Herald (and Saltwire) could not survive were it not for public money. So it’s disingenuous for the government to claim that it is taking a neutral stand in the strike.
A police release from yesterday:
Halifax Regional Police to reward safe roadway use with tickets.
Tomorrow, the Halifax Regional Police Traffic Unit will be at various locations handing out tickets of a different kind to drivers, pedestrians or cyclists who observe the rules of the road and exhibit safe practices. The tickets, which have been donated by the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, will be for an upcoming showing of the renowned event.
This is sold as a “fun” way to reward “good” pedestrians and drivers, but it will inevitably cause problems. What if a cop stops a “good driver” and the driver has a bag of dope sitting on the seat? Is there probable cause to arrest? How does that play out in the courts?
3. Dead whales
“Since June 7, six North Atlantic right whales have been discovered dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between New Brunswick’s Miscou Island, Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and northern P.E.I.,” reports the CBC, which goes on to interview Tonya Wimmer, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University and the director of the Marine Animal Response Society, about the whales.
Wimmer explains that the right whale population is about 500, so a loss of six is significant. The whales can be 50-60 feet long and way up to 70 tonnes.
Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Tuesday, 12pm, City Hall) — nothing interesting on the agenda.
CANCELLED: Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — I spent all that time writing about it yesterday, but the meeting has been cancelled due to lack of quorum.
Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — the committee is going to make Halifax a tourist Mecca and we’ll all be rich and prosperous forever, amen.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — Jason Van Meer and Deborah Dobbin have applied to register the Victoria Apartments building at 33 and 35 Pleasant Street in Dartmouth to become a registered heritage property.
The staff report explains that:
The subject property was originally established by Henry and Ethel Austen in 1893. A photograph of the Five Corners neighbourhood in 1897 shows that the lot had been developed with what appears to be a two-unit late Victorian-style dwelling at that time. The property was purchased by Charles G. Cleveland in January, 1919 and the Annual Report for the Town of Dartmouth indicates that the original structure was completely destroyed by a fire in February, 1919. The current structure was likely constructed later in 1919 as the property began to be listed as a five-unit apartment building in tax assessment records that year, although the exact date of construction is unknown.
The building located on the subject property is a rare example of a Victorian-style apartment building that was purpose-built as a multi-unit dwelling, rather than converted from a large single detached dwelling. The building was likely constructed in 1919, after the Halifax Explosion and the subsequent shift in the area towards more modern architectural styles. It is, therefore, considered to be a late example of this style of architecture. The structure does not possess the more decorative elements associated with the Queen Anne Revival style. This is likely the result of the later date of construction and the building’s intended use as an apartment dwelling.
Here’s a close-up of the above photo, showing the previous house on the site in 1897:
A report prepared by Emma Sampson for Jacob Ritchie, the city’s Urban Design Program Manager, details what happened to the property:
Charles Grover Cleveland (1894-1961) purchased the property from the Austen family in 1919. The Austen family, well-established in Dartmouth, owned a number of properties in the town, including the house next door, where Joseph Howe Austen lived. Joseph’s paternal grandmother, Mary Ede, remarried in 1798 following the death of her first husband, Henry Austen. Her second husband was John Howe, with whom she had two children, the youngest being Joseph Howe, former premier and lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia.
Cleveland himself would found Cleveland Realty Ltd., a family company that was run by his wife, Harriet Victoria (possibly the namesake for the apartments), and his son, Grover Norman. Charles and Harriet owned and resided in the property at 851 Young Ave. in Halifax, locally known as the Cleveland Estate, although that property was recently unable to be registered as a heritage property prior to development.
Er, the Cleveland Estate “was recently unable to be registered as a heritage property,” sure. It was also, ya know, torn down:
No meetings this week.
Board of Governors Meeting (Tuesday, 3pm, University Hall, MacDonald Building) — I’ll stop by and say hello… here’s the agenda.
In the harbour
8:30am: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Charlottetown
1pm: Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy’s sailing ship, arrives at anchorage from Boston
4pm: Robert E. Peary, US Navy ammunition ship, arrives at NB 4/5 from Norfolk. This is the first of a whole whack of US navy ships coming to town this week.
Slow gnus day: