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:
According to @nsgov He has “a personal relationship with the Dennis family.” #nspoli
— 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
7am: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
8am: Pietro Benedetti, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Szczecin, Poland
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:
So, Canadian media are the new Devco and we can expect the same extended death rattle. While we’re waiting for that to end, the dying will be using their subsidies to bully new journals out of the market.
I don’t hate cops individually. But like any level headed person, I want nothing to do with someone who has a few months training and is then issued a badge and a gun. So when officer McNeil or officer McNeil stop people to “reward” them for not breaking the law, they are in violation of our rights and freedoms. Officers McNeil are breaking the law.
Why pay taxes to support them? If you are truly willing to do that, then instead use the money to buy subscriptions. If enough willing people paid for the product through subscriptions or Patreon or Paypal, whatever, then we can move to a reader-supported model. A tax means that those who don’t want to pay for it are subsidizing you.
I agree with Tim. Taxes aren’t meant to subsidize private businesses. God knows we have enough public challenges that need more public money without tossing cash into this sinking ship, which I predict will sink anyway no matter how much money you throw at it.
The model is dead, dead, dead. Possibly there will be a few exceptions, a few revivals, in the same way vinyl had a revival, but the model as a big industry is dead. It has happened in a lot of other industries — look at the music industry. Change comes, shit happens, adapt and change. Hopefully you are ready to adapt before the change hits hard. That’s life.
That doesn’t even take into account the ethical issues. I know some will say that newspapers take money from advertisers, which indeed can often be a concern without a proper wall between editorial and advertising. But at least there are many advertisers, your eggs aren’t all in one basket, and if you lose one, you can find others. Plus, the evolution of a new reader-supported model would keep us free of both advertiser and government meddling.
There will always be journalism or perhaps I should say news media sources. The issue is one of integrity and bias. Too often we have seen the funders of a news media source taint the messages they deliver by biasing the reported stories. Any kind of subsidizing from the government of news media sources must come with a “no strings attached” policy. The Harper government’s treatment of the CBC is a negative case on point. But the news media outlets themselves should be seen as unbiased in their reporting if they receive public funds… I wonder how such oversight could be implemented; what entity could be so pure as to enforce unbiased reporting integrity while being unbiased themselves?
Halifax Examiner readers should take the time to listen to Jesse Brown’s interview with Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox before they swallow Jesse’s tendentious twitter summary whole hog. In particular, listen for Cox’s calm, measured responses; his acknowledgement that any subsidy should apply to the full range of journalists; his disarming refusal to rise to Jesse’s baiting. Jesse really didn’t know what to do with Cox because he refused to slip into the ogre role Jesse had planned for him. The result was an interesting discussion despite Jesse’s approach. On balance, I oppose the fund, but I gained a better appreciation of the case for it listening to Cox.
Re: 1. Government support for Chronicle Herald – or ANY media beyond CBC
You nail it, Tim, with, “It’s always a bad idea to get the government involved in journalism, for lots of reasons.” And you go on to cite supporting reasons and peripheral information.
Art and journalism share common themes of objective and expression. Execution and fulfillment differ widely; art is subjective and emotionally intangible while news journalism is grounded in fact and reality. CBC Nova Scotia website and CBC PEI’s differ widely and dramatically. While I live on beautiful PEI, I regularly visit the CBC NS website for news; PEI website is primarily a culture magazine. Recently, a hard news story appeared on the PEI site which created online commentary and controversy and it rapidly disappeared from the website. THAT reflects the continuum of local CBC PEI news management. [Not CBC PEI journalists, I hasten to add, it’s management.] Not so the exercise and delivery of CBC Nova Scotia news and website. Do we really want to extend and financially support such varying discretion? Do we want those paying the piper calling the tune? Have no doubt that with transparency windows widely closing in response to more informed, demanding citizenry with access to social media, that WILL be the result.
CBC is entrenched for good and ill, but to go further down any government association with news or journalism is a recipe for disaster, both for reasons you’ve articulated and the effect it will have on fundamentals and innovation.
Access to online reporting has created a passivity and malaise around our Canadian media, both print and online, and it’s taken for granted and boring [sorry] – that it’ll always be here/there. Perhaps CBC will, though Conservatives still make noise about defunding it, but attention must be paid now by those who value journalism. Opposition must be raised to any form of bailout,subsidy or whatever other opaque term may be used to cloak the same objective.
Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic that folks are concerned or even tuned in. Granted, public comments do not accurately reflect interest, and only you and your staff know the degree to which your Sept., 2016 podcast on this subject garnered interest, but I’ll cite it here as an example:
Don’t stop rewarding good driving behaviour to protect anyone stupid enough to drive around with a bag of dope on their seat. Besides, that will be legal about a year from now.
The bailout is a fraught issues.
On the surface I am for it if every media outlet had access to the funding. Think Canada Council, peer reviewed etc.
If it is a bailout for the media dinosaurs not so much. The problem is how many good, incredibly skilled journalists’ voices will be lost if the Globe and Mail goes under?
All kudos to the HE and other media startups. Not everyone is an entrepreneur though. Jesse Brown can be incredibly self righteous but let’s not pretend that he doesn’t have something to gain from a decentralized, wounded media. That’s capitalism. Many people don’t believe in that game though.
Journalism is important to a free society. I would be willing to pay taxes to ensure it is around for a good while longer.
I think Gord and I are on the same page – that money should into a third-party distributed fund (grant system? Something?)
I know this can be problematic, as third-party systems are bendable and corruptible or can be out of sync with real-world needs, but good democracy is predicated on access to the information needed to make informed decisions, and without journalism, we won’t have democracy. (And vice-versa).
I am okay with public support, but not to today’s ‘newspaper barons’. I accept the risk that some money will go to fund right-leaning or even guano-infused writing. Free speech is important and full impartiality is hard to find. But there has to be the rigor of actual journalism attached.
The line between punditry and journalism is pretty murky these days…. it is hard to find a journalistic news article that is solely based on facts; most also have an opinion attached to it that would usually be considered to be the ware of a pundit.
Halifax and West Community Council cancelled due to a lack of a quorum… well that sucks for the community. In industry when people go on vacation and such, others fill to keep production flowing… perhaps something similar should occur in governments, eh?
Do your sources know if there will be any bail out for the penny farthing or artisinal ice industries?
Why not put at least part of the $350 million (a number I saw somewhere connected to the bailout) to hire back some of the hundreds of local journalists who lost their jobs in the last decade of CBC cuts?
The proposed (done deal?) government subsidy for newspapers is a huge folly. Journalism cannot be “saved” by this “pick a winner” type subsidy, in fact it will drive remaining names in the coffin. Like all government hand-outs (yes, even the CBC) there is a need to exert control. No such thing as “no strings attached”. That is what killed the NS Film tax credit as it was a blind system. It wasn’t about money, it was because if you followed all the steps you got a tax rebate without any bureaucrat or government minister giving a blessing. A better system to save media (print and emerging sources like The Halifax Examiner) would be to establish a tax crediting system which would be totally free of any kind of approval/vetting process. If you do A+B+C you will get X% tax rebate. That would be a genuine incentive for media not anchored in anyone’s specific interest group and also give a boost to emerging media.
I don’t see why I should get any sort of tax break. I’m happy the Halifax Examiner pays its fair share of taxes and contributes to the common good.
Tax breaks no, but everyone should get equal treatment for tax purposes unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. Saving dinosaurs from the approaching asteroid is not a good reason to do otherwise.
What is galling to me is that for years, so many of these newspapers have taken stern editorial positions against bailing out failing industries, which for the most part I agreed with because as a general rule I don’t believe in bailing out private industry. The deal is, if you succeed, you keep the lion’s share of the profits. If you don’t, well, that was the risk you took. To do otherwise is to privatize the profits while making the risk public. But now, these same newspapers want handouts. They were right the first time – don’t give failing businesses a penny. I should dig up a collection of National Post and Globe and Mail editorials on the subject and send them to my MP.
Tim, Jesse Brown said on the podcast you only had one employee. I thought you had more than that.
I have one admin person on payroll. I take a small (very small) dividend payment for myself. Right now, everyone else is a freelancer or on contract, although I hope to hire a full-time reporter/editor within a year.