Chronicle Herald

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1. Layoff notices at Chronicle Herald

Yesterday, the Chronicle Herald sent layoff notices to 20 of its newsroom employees as part of its hardball bargaining with the employee union.

The newsroom reporters are on a byline strike in solidarity with the employees sent layoff notices, which means that no reporters are signing the stories in today’s paper.

Jacob Boon names some of the people receiving layoff notices: “reporters Selena Ross, Brett Bundale, Laura Jane Fraser, Frances Willick, Mary Ellen MacIntyre, and John MacPhee, as well as features writer Lois Legge, business columnist Roger Taylor and photographers Adrien Veczan and Ryan Taplin.”

These include some of the very best reporters in Halifax. I’m most familiar with four of them. Selena Ross and Frances Willick won the Canadian Association of Journalists award for investigative reporting for their series on the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons. Laura Fraser is as dogged a reporter as I’ve ever met. Brett Bundale is doing excellent work covering Halifax City Hall, breaking new stories and covering new ground. These four women are young, smart, professional, and hard-working. They produce the kind of reporting necessary for journalism to survive as a trade.

Management at the paper claims there’s some chance not all of the employees sent layoff notices will be let go: “The company is seeking concessions from the union in the form of greater pension contributions, a reduced mileage rate and deferring a two per cent pay increase that is scheduled to come Nov. 21,” an article in the paper reports.”With the notices issued, a 45-day period begins where the company is compelled to offer early retirements or buyouts and consider job-sharing, modified work weeks or other suggestions from employees. After 15 days, in light of any savings achieved, the number of layoffs could be recalculated.”

But that’s probably just a PR smoke screen. That layoffs were coming has been common knowledge in the local journalism scene for months.

The daily newspaper has long served an essential need in society. The dailies are the “papers of record,” the complete chronicle necessary for an informed citizenry to make responsible decisions. With large newsrooms and professional staff, the papers cover what can be arcane issues in the business scene, school board meetings, the local planning commission, crime and courts, etc., and translate it into understandable and contextualized articles for readers. That’s the theory, anyway, and for the most part the reality. The dailies lead the discussion and determine what most other media, the TV and radio outlets particularly, are reporting.

The news industry, however, is under enormous financial strain, and hit worst are the big dailies. Advertising revenue is at historic lows, and the bulky dead tree operations are having a hard time transitioning to a stripped down internet presence, and even there can’t find a revenue stream sufficient to run a large newsroom. In short, the business model is broken.

Firing 20 employees reduces the Chronicle Herald newsroom by about 25 percent. It’s a disaster. The paper has never really recovered from a similar set of layoffs five years ago, when 25 newsroom reporters were let go. With the slimmed down staff, coverage has been spotty and reporters have been overworked, often preventing them from providing depth and context to their articles. With yesterday’s layoffs, these problems will deepen, the published paper will be even weaker, and so readership will decline, necessitating still further cuts in the near future.

It feels like a death spiral. I honestly don’t think the Chronicle Herald will last much longer, at least not in its present form. There’s no predicting how that plays out—does it get bought up by a big chain and become a throw-away? Does it go to a twice-a-week schedule? Does it give up entirely? Who knows?—but we won’t long have a daily newspaper of record in Halifax. I doubt it lasts through the end of the decade. And the loss of the Chronicle Herald will do irreparable harm to the community.

There’s no schadenfreude here. Yes, I’ve long criticized the Chronicle Herald, but that’s the role of the alternative press: we define ourselves by what we’re not (what we’re the “alternative” to), and criticize. Occasionally the harping from the alt press makes some positive changes in the dailies. But the alt press can’t replace the dailies. It’s simply not possible.

For now, my concern is most immediately with people facing a career disruption right before the holiday season. It’s rarely easy changing jobs, but it’s especially difficult when the entire industry is down-sizing. I hope that other media outlets jump at the opportunity to hire these excellent reporters, but of course each of the reporters has her own particular family and career issues to consider; it may not be feasible to pick up and leave town. Regardless, I wish them each the best of luck.

2. Unique Solutions

Yesterday, I published an article examining Nova Scotia Business, Inc.’s $5.6 million investment into Unique Solutions, a Dartmouth firm that uses airport-like “body scan” technology to match shoppers to better fitting garments. I examined the company’s ambitious plan to open scanning kiosks in up to 300 US malls, and how that expansion abruptly collapsed last year, sending Unique Solutions into a financial tailspin. Taxpayers have lost all but about $1 million of the $5.6 million, I conclude.

That article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall, and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.

3. Bryony House lottery fails

The Dare to Dream lottery that intended to raise money for the Bryony House women’s shelter has failed, selling just 22,000 tickets. Sixty-thousand tickets sold was the break-even point goal (re: commenters). It’s unclear from today’s CBC story what that means for the financial future of the organization.

The timing could not be worse for this. Bryony House is a worthy charity, providing refuge for women escaping intimate partner violence. And with the Jian Ghomeshi ugliness in the news, this is a good time to highlight the services of such perpetually under-funded organizations. Avalon Sexual Assault Services is another.

The lottery, however, was ill-conceived. It couldn’t possibly go up against the QEII Home Lottery, which sold all of its tickets. But more, the messaging of the Bryony House lottery didn’t click. With a top prize of a $1.2 million house in Waverley, it seemed to appeal to inequality—”here’s your chance to become part of the one percent!”—which simply didn’t resonate with potential supporters. That leaves open the question of why the hospital can successfully appeal to the same inequality, but I’ve had the same complaint about that.

4. Batman

Batman tried to rob an amoured truck making a delivery to a bank in Sackville yesterday. Were that not enough un-Batmanlike behaviour, all it took was the guards noticing him before he skedaddled away in “a dark coloured mini-van”—the batmobile has been repossessed, looks like. These are hard times at Wayne Industries.

5. Canoe escape

The man arrested after attempting to get away from a burglary scene by paddling a canoe down the Northwest Arm is Caleb Lohr, the son of John Lohr, the MLA for Kings North. The younger Lohr will appear in mental health court later this month.

6. Wild Kingdom

A deer died on Quinpool Road yesterday, the CBC reports. “Cait Cotter told CBC News the deer was alive in the back of a pickup truck which was travelling down Quinpool Road toward the Armdale Roundabout. She said the deer fell out of the truck and was lying motionless on the road.” A passerby pulled the deer onto the sidewalk, where it died.


Views

1. Public spaces

We need to spend real money on real public spaces, says Sean Gillis: “In the not-too-distant past, urban streetscaping meant decorative pavers, benches, Victorian style light poles and cutesy landscaping. We tried to make places prettier, and not much else… [instead] we should focus on making places that are pleasant for walkers and making places that invite people to sit and chat. Right now, too many of our places are ornamental, not social.”

2. Celebrity culture

“Consider Ghomeshi in particular,” writes Rylan Higgins, an anthropology prof at SMU. “[Ghomeshi’s] role in society: he talked into a microphone about a range of sometimes interesting, sometimes trivial topics and conducted interviews with reasonable, not outstanding, competence. For this, he was granted prestige to the point of being as culturally omnipotent and omnipresent as a Canadian can be.”

Higgins narrows his discussion to how athletes and entertainers are given an unwarranted prestige in Canadian culture, but it happens in politics, too. We’ve created a “big man” complex, where the party leader is more important than the political ideology and the hundreds of volunteers, party workers, and other elected officials who do the actual work. The gushing over Justin Trudeau is the best example of this, but it rules for all parties, federal and provincial.

3. Fracking: the real story

If you read no other commentary today, read Ralph Surette’s level-headed examination of the fracking debate in Nova Scotia.

4. Tobacco

Bill Black endorses a big-government war on tobacco.


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 6:30am Saturday. The orange squares along the south coast are fishing boats still in port. The red ships at sea further south are oil tankers—the Conti Guinea heading to Halifax followed by the East Coast heading to Charlottetown. The green ships circling around Cape Breton Island are cargo ships heading to ports in Quebec and Newfoundland. The blue ships near Sydney are cruise ships. The light blue ships are survey and supply vessels working the Sable Island gas fields. Map: marinetraffic.com

(click on vessel names for pictures and more information about the ships)

Conti Guinea, oil/chemical tanker, Port Arthur, Texas to Imperial Oil
Cape Beale, oil/chemical tanker, New Orleans to Imperial Oil
Maersk Pembroke, container ship, Montreal to Pier 42, then sails for Rotterdam


Footnotes

Morning File takes Sunday off, so see you Monday.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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4 Comments

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  1. It is sad to learn of these journalists etc at the CH losing their jobs. Our noble thoughts about the importance of a newspaper for the community are worthwhile but what about the heart and soul of those who own the newspaper (s). Advertising is down but removing young and potent writers etc will contribute to that financial downturn. I held a subscription for twenty years but the obvious biased election and previous coverage led me to reconsider the purpose it was serving for the community – their own and others interests, but not quite the public’s, in my opinion. Maybe the Bradlees ( of Washington Post fame) of this world struck a chord with all generations, including the young through their editorial policy. Perhaps newspapers need to take a page from the book of audacity and appeal to all the generations and stripes.

  2. I am pretty sure the Dare to Dream lottery had a break-even requirement of ~22,000 tickets, not 60,000 like you state above and they appear to have met it. They had a goal of 60,000.

    I still consider it a failure as a fundraiser since they have used up so much good will from the ticket buyers and still not actually raised any money for the organization but at least they don’t appear to to have dug the organization into a giant hole, as would have be the case if they had only sold ~ a third of the tickets required to break even.

  3. Are you sure “Sixty-thousand tickets sold was the break-even point.”??? That’s not really what the CBC story says (it says that’s what they’d hoped for…, and I remember reading a few weeks ago when the extension was granted what the break-even point was, and it wasn’t *that* far from where they were with ticket sales. Just thought you might like to check….

  4. I support 3 local news outlets by subscription. My knee-jerk reaction to the CH layoff notices was to drop my subscription, but I quickly realized I would be contributing in a small way to the “death spiral.” I also remembered why I decided to subscribe: to support the excellent local reporting of these talented journalists provide; to fairly pay for what I, as a rabid news junkie, consume.

    The future does not look bright for the traditional newspaper industry. But I don’t see any downturn in the demand for news coverage, nor anything but an increase in the quality of journalism, not just at the Chronicle Herald. The delivery mechanism is the issue, particularly with so much news available online for free.

    The newspaper industry is adjusting, and I think it is important that it is supported through this transition. I know it is not just about subscribing – Metro does well without selling a single newspaper. But I suggest that people who want to continue to have access to solid local reporting ought to pay for it.