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Crappy daily troubled: expert 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

It’s depression time at the Green Toad, the glass building that squats on the Halifax waterfront near the foot of Sackville Street. Journalists who toil in the Toad’s Daily News offices worry “the people’s paper” is going down the tubes. Shaune MacKinlay, one of its best reporters, recently departed to the greener pastures of PR. Peter McLaughlin, its former Province House correspondent, is doing the same. General assignment reporter Ruth Davenport is defecting to a radio gig at the Rogers news and info station opening next month. And the word on the street has at least half a dozen other Daily News journalists looking for new jobs. Big trouble is brewing for managing editor Carl Fleming and his boss, editor Kevin McIntosh.

So why is there so much unhappiness at the little paper that once routinely scooped the bigger staff at the Herald? Why is the Daily News deteriorating into a tits ‘n’ ass tab preoccupied by sports, crime, celebs, lifestyles, sexy bartenders and beachy keen bathers? Why is it regularly running a “Party Animal” column that is openly sexist and homophobic? And why does it print so little local news? Editor McIntosh insists the paper is trying to give readers what they want. But to get real answers, I’d say we need to look at recent history. Three years ago, there was rejoicing when giant Montreal printing and publishing firm Transcontinental Inc. bought the Daily News and several other Atlantic papers. Most journalists felt then that Transcon was liberating the Daily News from the heavy-handed censorship imposed by the penny-pinching Asper family, owners of CanWest Global.

Andre Prefontaine, president of Transcontinental’s media division suggested the Daily News held great appeal. “Of all the papers in the group, it has the highest potential,” he said. Prefontaine promised to help the paper boost its circulation. “What we can do is give you the tools, give you the money to do the work right, and that’s it,” he declared. By all accounts, morale rose dramatically in the newsroom. Transcon moved the paper from its Burnside Bunker to the Green Toad in downtown Halifax. And the company hired Jane Purves, the respected former managing editor at the Herald.

But 10 months later, Purves left to serve as John Hamm’s chief-of-staff and morale started to slide. Instead of circulation going up, it was heading down. Rumours flew that the suits at Transcon’s head office were not pleased. Then, in March, editor McIntosh plucked Carl Fleming from the sports department to run the newsroom. Fleming, a 23-year veteran of the paper, had spent more than half his time in sports. Soon, readers started noticing an increasing emphasis on sports, celebs and crime. June 8 for example, a front-page Daily News headline screamed “Pool of blood” to attract readers’ attention to a murder in Spryfield. By contrast, the Herald’s main headline read: “A troubling end to a troubled life; Murdered woman 3 months pregnant.” Within weeks of taking over, Fleming stopped holding regular newsroom meetings and the journalists felt excluded and disrespected. Daily News staffers who complained about the paper’s direction were told to button their lips.

Some staffers were particularly incensed by the “Party Animal” column that appears Thursdays. They suspected its anonymous writer was none other than political columnist David Rodenhiser, but Rodenhiser vehemently denied it. To this day, Daily News journalists don’t know who writes such stuff as the August 25 column about a stag for the Animal’s friend Roger. “Taped to the walls were photos of Roger’s fiance Heather in lingerie and less,” Party Animal wrote. “‘To Roger’s smooth future!’ Mike shouted as we toasted Heather’s Brazilian with a round of tequila shots.”

The Green Toad’s real name is Summit Place. If things keep going the way they are at the Daily News, McIntosh, Fleming and Transcon may soon stop enjoying the view from the summit and start living way down in the circulation gutter instead.

Liquid paper: In last week’s issue, the “On the line” story should have said the version of the movie Sweet Talk screening at the film fest is identical to the version that will air on SexTV. Also, Jeff Wheaton took the photos that accompanied “Poetry in motion.”

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