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Judy Haiven: Dissenting journalists in ever shorter supply in Halifax

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In 2016 when Chronicle Herald journalists started their 19 month strike, the paper had 61 reporters, editors, photographers, columnists and other staff; ten left through attrition.  At the end of the strike in August 201, Herald owners used the opportunity to lay off 26 staff and bring back only 25.

See also: This is really hard on us — Rally marks 511 days on picket line for Chronicle Herald workers

In March 2020, the Herald’s parent firm, Saltwire Network, said it cut 40% of staff due to declining ad revenues because of the Covid-19 crisis.  Presuming Saltwire hired no additional full time staff since 2017, that leaves a newsroom of 16 to cover news in the largest city in Atlantic Canada.

This layoff affects not only the people who work for the Herald; it affects scores of journalists in the Saltwire ‘empire’.  From one end of Nova Scotia to the other, people who work for local and weekly newspapers have been laid off. Eleven weeklies in Nova Scotia, eight in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in New Brunswick have been shuttered by Saltwire.  Saltwire is producing just four daily newspapers now– the Cape Breton Post, PEI’s Guardian, TheTelegram in St John’s and the Herald in Halifax.

The four dailies survive on relatively inexpensive “wire copy” from the Postmedia Network, much of which originates from the National Post.  Postmedia syndicates news stories and commentaries by mostly right-wing columnists to more than 30 newspapers across the country, including Vancouver Sun, the Calgary Herald, the Regina Leader-Post, the Toronto Sun and the Kingston Whig-Standard. The Herald also prints op-eds contributed by local writers and researchers for free.

An important news source who has now been sidelined is a nationally known journalist, Scott Taylor. His critical and sharp columns “On Target” about the Canadian military and international affairs used to be published every week in the Herald.

Scott Taylor is a former infantryman in the Canadian Military, an award winning writer, documentary filmmaker and war correspondent. In his online magazine Esprit de Corps he looks at issues including government spending on the military, the history of armed forces, training, and the Canadian military’s role in war and peacekeeping.  His columns in the Hill Times, Maclean’s, Embassy Magazine and the Herald covered broader and often controversial topics involving politics and the military. 

He writes from a progressive point of view; his columns in the Herald were popular and well-read. He was a great antidote to the pap churned out in the Herald’s editorials which usually supported the military brass.  Some of Taylor’s more controversial articles include “A health crisis is no time to double down on political peeves”, “Holocaust revisionism is just as bad as denying the atrocity”; “ With no dog in this U.S.-Iran fight, it’s time for Canada to get out of Iraq” and “Soldier who testified against colleague in sex assault case alleges blowback for doing the right thing”. The Herald also fostered a “with us or against us” mentality in order to play up to the 11,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces in and around Halifax. By the way, CFB Halifax is the largest military base in Canada.

This week the Herald demoted his column from appearing in print in the newspaper, to being only online. Herald management used the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to “tighten the paper.”  We hear that the only option offered to Taylor was to publish his column in the Herald’s online edition. 

What does that tell us? Were Taylor’s columns a thorn in the side of the military higher ups? Were his articles about the rise of the right in the Ukrainian military offensive to politicians such as deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland?  Or was it just a matter of the Herald –once again –cutting staff to save money? As one of Taylor’s avid readers warned me, “The space for dissent in the mainstream shrinks a little more every day.”

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

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