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Daily News death, Transcontinental Tragedy 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

“You know, there’s never a nice way of losing your job,” said Marc-Noel Ouellette, a vice president at Transcontinental Media, “but in the end, I think we did the best we could in the circumstances.” Ouellette was talking over a crackling cellphone connection from Montreal about last week’s sudden and brutal closure of the Halifax Daily News. “Why wouldn’t you let your employees know in advance,” I asked “rather than just saying on Monday, that’s it, goodbye?” Ouellette made a sound half way between a sigh and a groan. “Sir, if you were in business and especially the news business, you would know that you can’t do that. You would have de-motivated, disgruntled employees.” “Well, why wouldn’t you at least publish one final issue?” I asked. “It’s a good question. We decided that the last day was the last day, period,” Ouellette answered. “Why would you do it that way? Why not have a last edition?” Ouellette answered crisply. “Because we decided not to have one, sir.”

And so, after 29 years of covering the news, the Daily News could not report on its own demise. It was left to the paper’s media rivals to explain why a prosperous multinational printing outfit like Transcontinental would leave its 92 Halifax employees, its network of delivery people, freelance writers and photographers and its 20,000 readers high and dry without any warning. Ouellette claimed the Daily News was losing money when Transcon bought it from the Aspers in 2002. “This was a very specific set of circumstances,” he explained, “the smallest market in Canada with two traditional paid dailies and the second one was suffering too much.” Ouellette said that Transcon owns 170 daily and weekly papers. One less, now that the Daily News is gone. “I think it’s just about the only one we’ve ever closed,” he told me.

Ouellette did not seem willing to take much responsibility. Perhaps Transcon shouldn’t have moved the paper into expensive offices in downtown Halifax, he said. No mention though, that in 2006, Transcon laid off some of the paper’s best journalists, preferring to concentrate its efforts on a string of free weekly papers stuffed with soft “stories” wedged between ads. As the Daily News coverage and morale slipped, circulation dropped. Then, about 18 months ago, Transcon shifted its strategy again, bringing in newspaper veteran Jack Romanelli to run the paper. Somehow, Romanelli worked miracles. Morale improved and the Daily News started doing some of the best journalism in the city. Even Marc Ouellette was impressed, effusively praising the staff at this year’s Christmas party and literally turning cartwheels on the dance floor, though he must have known then that the paper was toast. “My comments at Christmas were quite correct,” he said. “They were doing good work. Unfortunately, the financials just weren’t there.”

And so, Transcon will continue to publish its soft Halifax weeklies. It has also become a junior partner in Metro, a skimpy Monday-to-Friday daily that employs half a dozen local journalists. Metro is an international outfit that publishes free papers in more than 100 cities in 23 countries. Six of its seven Canadian sheets are run out of Toronto. The news copy produced here is sent up the pipe, where Toronto editors lay out the local pages, add a few more stuffed with cheap wire copy and send them back to Halifax for printing. No analysis, no editorial cartoons, no investigative journalism. Newspaper lite. According to Metro International’s website, Metro’s ads are designed to attract the eyeballs of “young, well-networked trend-setters, cash-rich but time-poor, with healthy media appetites and perpetually shifting tastes.”

In the end, then, what the Transcon bean-counters did was close a real paper to make way for a cheaply produced but trendy advertising sheet. In Joni Mitchell’s apt words, “they paved paradise and put up a parkin’ lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot.”

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