Tough times are exactly that — tough.
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 “full-time 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.
Russell Wangersky is TC Meda’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @Wangersky.