UPDATE: Herald reporters have pulled their bylines on tomorrow's weekend newspaper in protest of today's layoffs. According to sources, several reporters have taken their names off their stories after 20 layoffs were handed out to new and senior newsroom talent.
The mood in the office is one of confusion, say staffers. "I think people aren't really sure what the end game is," one of the affected employees tells me. "The cuts are basically affecting the Herald's core product, so there is concern even for people sticking around."
Based on what I'm told, the layoffs will amount to a savings of $1.7 million for the Chronicle Herald ($300,000 more than the newspaper says it wants to save in newsroom costs). The cuts were announced today by newsroom manager Frank DePalma. President and CEO Mark Lever did not attend the meeting.
Today, in true horror villain fashion, the Chronicle Herald has dropped the axe on a quarter of its newsroom.
Some of the 20 employees who received notices include reporters Selena Ross, Brett Bundale, Laura Jane Fraser, Frances Willick, Mary Ellen MacIntyre, and John MacPhee, as well as features writer Lois Legge, business columnist Roger Taylor and photographers Adrien Veczan and Ryan Taplin.
The cost-cutting measure is claimed to be “necessary” as the Herald “adjusts to the rapidly changing environment for newspapers.” So says CEO and president Mark Lever in a statement to reporter Michael Gorman. Gorman also quotes union president Ingrid Bulmer that the paper is trying to save $1.4 million from its newsroom operations.
This sucks for everyone in the Atlantic region. Love or hate the management, the Herald consistently is the best coverage on matters national, provincial and local. Willick and Ross won a national award last year from the Canadian Association of Journalists for their writings about Rehtaeh Parsons. Bundale is a constant presence at City Hall with voracious coverage of municipal matters. That some of the youngest, best reporters in Nova Scotia could be out of a job in a month is a major blow.
Eight longtime Herald employees have already packed it in for early retirement this week; no doubt in an effort to soften the potential cuts to their coworkers. Columnist Marilla Stephenson left after 35 years for a $125,000 contract with the provincial government. The Valley bureau’s Gordon Delaney also said farewell to readers, in moving but depressing self-written obituary.
The Herald’s been looking to make money for several years now in a declining newspaper market. Back in 2009, the company eliminated 25 positions, freeing up many talented journalists for a life in communications. Last year, it instituted a paywall to offset dwindling ad revenue. The paper’s also expanded its business offering and taken an aggressive push into Cape Breton, challenging the TC Media-owned Cape Breton Post. Last year around this time, the Herald bought TC’s three weekly HRM community papers and website HalifaxNewsNet. One staff reporter, me, was laid off in the deal. They’ve also recently launched a new merchandise shop and an online job search site.
Now that the notices have been issued, the Halifax Typographical Union will have 45 days to suggest alternative cost-saving measures. The number of layoffs could be recalculated, based on those efforts. Gorman writes the Herald is looking for concessions from the union in paid mileage, pension contributions and deferring a two percent pay increase that’s scheduled for next month.
“Even after layoffs, the paper’s newsroom would remain the largest in Atlantic Canada, said Lever.”
Hopefully the CEO realizes the implications of that statement.