Publishing juggernaut Transcontinental Media abruptly closed the Daily News Monday, February 11, leaving 92 full-time employees and hundreds of contract carriers without an income, and raising questions about the future of daily newspapers in Halifax and across Canada.
The news came as a complete surprise, leaving the employees wondering how to manage mortgage payments, children in school and new job searches.
After they were let go, about three dozen Daily News employees are gathered at the Celtic Corner tavern in downtown Dartmouth to commiserate.
“Just 15 months ago they recruited me from Montreal,” says Daily News editor Jack Romanelli, who had formerly edited the Montreal Gazette and the Cornwall Standard Freeholder. “I left my job, moved here, got a mortgage. Now what?”
“We’re still in shock,” says reporter Jennifer Taplin, holding her five-month-old son, Cade. Taplin, still on maternity leave from the paper, bought a house in May with her husband Ryan Taplin, who worked as a freelance photographer with the Daily News.
“We came here from western Canada three years ago to be employed,” says Taplin. “Ryan’s been working full-time hours, with full-time pay, but because he’s a freelancer, he doesn’t get any severance and won’t be eligible for EI.
“Now we have to decide: Do we stay in Halifax, or do we stay in journalism?”
Employees were reportedly given two weeks severance pay for each year of their employment---enough, says one, to provide “a little breathing room.”
Transcontinental announced that seven Daily News employees would be hired by Metro, a new free tabloid daily, which will be jointly owned by Transcontinental, Sweden-based Metro International SA and Torstar, publisher of the Toronto Star.
The Metro franchise includes about 100 papers worldwide, including subway papers in Toronto and Montreal.
“It’s an ominous sign that the only daily newspaper start-ups in recent years are the free tabloids,” says John Miller, a journalism instructor at Ryerson University and author of Yesterday’s News: Why Canada’s Daily Newspapers are Failing Us.
Reportedly, Metro will hire 20 people to hand out the paper in downtown Halifax and Dartmouth, and will seek to install racks throughout the city. Municipal bylaws allocate only 71 public sites for news racks.
“It’s iffy if they’ll make it in Halifax,” says Miller. “In other places, they have exclusive subway contracts. It’s an enclosed space and they’re the only free paper available.”
Miller says he has learned something of Metro because one of his former students is now the editor of the Toronto Metro.
“They have a very specific demographic, which is younger, less affluent, but educated. They even have a name for their customer: Sarah---the only person in the world who gets younger every year. She started at 34 and now she’s 22.”
Metro is only intended to give an overview of the news, he says---“what you can read in 20 minutes. They take no editorial stands.”
The changes in Halifax are emblematic of the sad state of the newspaper industry in North America, says Miller.
Newspaper conglomerates like Transcontinental expect 20 to 30 percent annual returns from individual papers. “That’s outrageous. They have a perishable product that they’re trying to sell as many of as they can. The only other business like that is grocery stores, which get a one or two percent return. How do they expect to get those sort of returns?
“It leads to the contraction of ownership and the expected ‘synergies’---that ugly word that means putting people out of work.”
As for the loss of the Daily News, Miller says he is “sad, outraged and all the things that a journalist should be. For Halifax---there’s no way it’s good. Just the presence of another paper is better for the town.”
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