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Chronicling and Heralding Employer Interests: Corporate media should have to make their interests as employers clear

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo by Communications Nova Scotia
Photo by Communications Nova Scotia

Last week, the Chronicle Herald published an editorial espousing the paper’s opinion on first contract arbitration (FCA). The Herald’s editorial team doesn’t like FCA, which should not be surprising, seeing as editorial staff is also part of the paper’s management structure.

The Herald editorial claims that there are “widespread warnings” that the policy (which exists in 7 other provinces), would make “an already tough situation worse,” and calls the policy “irresponsible.” Later, it becomes clear that so-called widespread warnings are coming exclusively from employers. The unsigned editorial goes on firmly to state “We strongly oppose this bill.”

Who strongly opposes it? The editorial team, whose names are not published on the editorial, nor easily accessible on the Herald’s website.

The Herald fails to mention that unions support the bill. While the Herald has accepted the myths propagated by businesses about FCA, the editorial does not mention that labour unions and other progressive organizations have presented research and data showing that FCA has no impact on business.

I am sure some might argue that workers have a stake in FCA – which they do. But for the life of me, I cannot understand what the logic would be for workers to support a policy that would hurt jobs. There’s a pretty blatant contradiction there.

When it comes down to it, besides being a newspaper, the Herald is also an employer, and this Herald editorial should raise significant questions as to what role the corporate media has in producing editorial positions on labour issues, without being open and transparent about their own stake in the debate as employers/management.

Disputes between workers and the Herald are no secret. In 2009, the Herald cut one quarter of its newsroom. Gone are the paper’s beat reporters – reporters who stick to certain sectors or topics in order to develop a more holistic view of the topic, ask more informed questions of those in power, and provide better coverage to readers. Almost three years later, the impacts of those cuts are very clear – you only need to compare the number of locally-generated articles to those picked up from wire services like the Canadian Press and the Associate Press, to see the impact on local news coverage.

More recently, this past spring, the Herald presented freelance writers with a new contract that gave the newspaper far-reaching rights over freelancers' work, while also expecting freelance writers to take on the lion’s share of legal responsibility. Several freelance writers refused the contracts and were let go. Some freelancers joined the Canadian Freelance Union and attempted to negotiate with the newspaper; however, the negotiations didn't garner significant gains.

While workers at the Herald, excluding freelance writers, are union members, the Chronicle Herald does have an interest in a labour code that works in favour of employers: an interest that it should have to clearly state.

When I occasionally pick up freelance work, I am expected to be open and transparent about any interest I may have in a story I’ve written. If, for example, a union member writes on their work place, or a campaign of their union, it is expected that they would identify themselves as such, unless doing so would threaten their job. In such a case where identifying themselves or their affiliations could pose a threat to their health, safety, or job security, this would need to be explained. This is an essential part of a free and transparent press.

The Chronicle Herald’s published vision states that the paper “is proud of its legacy of independence, integrity and place as a vital part of the fabric of the communities we serve.” Readers, though, are not served when the Herald takes stances that forward its interests as an employer without providing readers with information on their stake in an argument.

Kaley Kennedy is a member of the Halifax Media Co-op. She is a non-unionized worker who supports first contract arbitration and a labour code that sides with workers.

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Herald bias

The Herald's anti-union bias goes back decades. I was a reporter at the Herald in the late 1970s who was fired along with nine others for the sin of signing a union card.  The Union filed unfair labour practices charges against the Herald. The Herald dragged out 13 days of hearings spread over 6 months at the province's Labour Relations Board (the longest such hearing to that date) before a settlement was reached with the 10 fired employees. It was more than 20 years before the reporting staff were unionized.  

At the hearing a management witness for the Employer asserted that reporters were just like advertising employees -- they talked to people and wrote down what the people said and the newspaper printed it. Quite an illustration of the Herald's rigorous journalistic standards.  

Apparently, space in the newspaper did not permit this historical episode from appearing in the many tributes to the late publisher Graham Dennis. 


So what is bias, really?

I'm the editor of the Chronicle Herald. I can tell you that our editorial reflects a researched and considered position on the part of our editorial board. It's not because of some other agenda that the paper opposes the FCA bill.

  I urge all readers to think a little more deeply before rushing to the conclusion that some supposed bias animates the Herald's position on this bill. Is it not legitimate for journalists to consider an issue and take a position? I believe that is part of the mission of websites such as this one. At the Herald, our mission is clear enough: to inform readers on matters of public interest and in our editorials, to take considered position that we believe are in the public interest. You can agree or disagree with those positions, but to imply or allege bias is a pretty superficial way to understand our coverage.

   The above article does not deal with our newspage coverage of the FCA bill. I doubt you will detect any anti-labour bias in those stories. In fact, they were all written by card-carrying union members. The Herald's journalists and pressroom are closed union shops, in fact all our editorial writers except one are union members. And to carry the logic one step further, should we ask our reporters to declare their union membership when they write stories about unions? Should unionized journalists declare a conflict when they are asked to cover labour-management issues? I don't think you'd see wide support for that idea.

  I'd be happy to discuss this with the author of this article. I see no evidence that he or she made any attempt to contact the newspaper before the piece was posted. That's pretty much journalism 101.


No contact needed

To be clear, this is a blog post, not a straight piece of journalism. Like in an editorial or any other opinion piece, the author may not necessarily interview the subject.

Do as the Herald (Dan Leger) says not as it (he) does

Good point, BSichel.  The writers of the Herald editorials on First Contract Arbitration legislation never talked to labour lawyers, union representatives, progressive think-tanks, or government representatives about how this legislation would work.  They only paid attention to the "sky is falling"  extremists from Sobeys, Bowaters, and the Chamber of Commerce. 


HI Dan, I wrote the above

HI Dan,

I wrote the above blog because I am concerned that those who are part of the editorial team writing unsigned editorials are not required to state an interest they may have in a policy outcome.

It was a blog post, as seen above, and includes my own commentary. It is not a piece of journalism, the same way an editorial is not part of news coverage.

In my opinion, all people carry with them their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions, that may influence their work. I think this is part of living and interacting with the world. My issue as a reader is I would like to know who is behind what is being written, and in the case where an editorial position is taken, I will continue to be critical of the stake the paper has in forwarding certain ideas and opinions.

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