Un­der dead­line pres­sure

Chron­i­cle Her­ald in Hal­i­fax pre­pares for lengthy news­room strike

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Meda’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

Tough times are ex­actly that — tough.

And in the news­pa­per busi­ness, things are clearly tough.

You need look no fur­ther than Hal­i­fax, and the bat­tle that’s about to en­ve­lope the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald.

The Her­ald and its news­room union are in the count­down to a strike or lock­out over con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Chron­i­cle Her­ald man­age­ment has al­ready told labour au­thor­i­ties in Nova Sco­tia they plan to lock out news­room staff, and are ac­tively re­cruit­ing jour­nal­ism stu­dents and free­lancers to work anony­mously from home to sup­ply news copy for a strike the com­pany sug­gests could last four months or more. (Pity the poor hap­less stu­dent who gets caught in that ca­reer meat-grinder.)

The rhetoric has amped up quickly.

The Chron­i­cle Her­ald ( fol­low­ing a one-day by­line strike by union­ized staff) an­nounced it would be pulling reporter and pho­tog­ra­pher by­lines from the pa­per in­def­i­nitely — mean­ing that any­one work­ing for the pa­per dur­ing the strike/lock­out could es­sen­tially work anony­mously.

An email to stu­dents and other po­ten­tial free­lancers ob­tained by the CBC said the news­pa­per was of­fer­ing “full­time con­tracts of up to four months. … Peo­ple would gen­er­ally work from their homes and we would pub­lish with­out by­lines.” No cross­ing picket lines — no messy con­fronta­tions. But, wow — talk about punch­ing your em­ploy­ees square in the face.

Man­age­ment has said the main is­sue in­volves the fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of the pri­vately owned pa­per. The union has pointed out that it’s been asked for ev­ery­thing from a 30 per cent staff down­siz­ing to salary re­duc­tions, along with ideas like re­quir­ing jour­nal­ists to write ad­ver­tiser-or­dered and spon­sored sto­ries.

It’s hard to tell if the com­pany is fight­ing for its life or to main­tain news­pa­per mar­gins.

It’s eas­ier to see in other mar­kets.

Just look at Post­media. The me­dia con­glom­er­ate — owner of many big-city pa­pers in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Post — re­vealed its con­tin­u­ing losses at an an­nual meet­ing on Tues­day, and then told share­hold­ers it planned to make $80 mil­lion in cuts this year to im­prove the bot­tom line. (The chain had al­ready said it planned to cut $50 mil­lion in costs.)

You don’t make $80 mil­lion in cuts with­out get­ting rid of your high­est ex­penses — in­vari­ably, your staff.

Even­tu­ally, all busi­nesses have to plan for what comes next. Many me­dia com­pa­nies, like the one I work for, are in­vest­ing in dig­i­tal news de­liv­ery, and are try­ing to fig­ure out what the new me­dia uni­verse will end up look­ing like. It’s a learn­ing curve, and not al­ways an easy one.

But ev­ery­one else should be ask­ing the same ques­tion - as the num­ber of print jour­nal­ists shrinks or dis­ap­pears, who will de­liver the goods? (Ra­dio jour­nal­ists, too - a van­ish­ing breed.) Decades and decades of skill, knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence are go­ing out the door. News has to be col­lated, col­lected, re­searched and writ­ten by some­one, in­ter­views have to be done, the dogged foot­work has to be paid for — even if you find a way to read it on the In­ter­net for free. (Free, that is, ex­cept for the In­ter­net com­pa­nies that ba­si­cally profit by re­selling other peo­ple’s hard work for their own fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit. But I’m not bit­ter — wait, yes, yes, I am.)

An in­formed democ­racy has to be in­formed — and not just about the colours of dresses on this year’s red car­pet.

Un­less, of course, we’ve just got­ten so com­fort­able we re­ally don’t care.

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