By Aaron Burnett
More than thirty former Daily News staffers raised mugs of draft beer for one last toast Monday. They started heading across the harbour at noon — by three o’clock the party room at Dartmouth’s Celtic Corner Pub was shoulder-to-shoulder in out-of-work journalists, their bosses and their friends. Some cried, some hugged and many said they were enjoying what felt much like any other Daily News party that’s come before.
The vast majority of people in the bar worked in the paper’s editorial department. Some of the photographers and reporters splintered off into smaller groups as the main group sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the former staffers. Despite news that most of them had lost their jobs, the journalists laughed and joked with each other, only getting emotional when asked specifically about the closure.
“I still don’t know how I feel,” said columnist David Rodenhiser “Right now it’s surreal to me. It’ll be different when I wake up tomorrow and I don’t have a job to go to.”
Rodenhiser said it’s gatherings like this one that made the Daily News a family of friends. “I haven’t just lost a job that I really liked,” he said. “When you’re with an employer as long as I’ve been, your friends become the people you work with.”
Skana Gee was a news reporter with the paper for 17 years. She said the closure is very sad and hard to believe. “I haven’t even had a chance to digest it yet,” Gee said as her eyes tear up. “We’re pretty established here. I have a house and two kids. My husband has a job working with the government,” she continued. “We can’t really move. All I can do is wait and see what happens.”
Gee said she doesn’t understand the closure because she thought the paper was doing very well. “We really felt like we were doing a great job. Everyone really had a lot of energy,” she said. “It was such a positive place to work and I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Managing editor Jack Romanelli said the paper’s editorial department was indeed doing very well. He said it’s frustrating to think the newsroom couldn’t do anything to save the paper, as financial difficulties were to blame.
“We’re journalists. We’re not in the financial part of things. It’s frustrating because we think we’re good,” said Romanelli. “I’m so disappointed, because in the year since I’ve been here we’ve gotten to do some really good work. I believe we were setting ourselves up to be Halifax’s newspaper.”
Rodenhiser said his favourite Daily News memories came from the careful investigative work the paper did well. Rodenhiser said the highlight was a 1997 series investigating sexual abuse at the Shelburne School for Boys. He worked solely on the series weeks before the first stories appeared. The series went on to win the prestigious Michener Award for public service journalism.
“No paper of our size had ever won it before. It normally goes to the Globe and Mail, or the Toronto Star or the CBC. It never goes to the Daily News,” he said. “But we won it. We were firing all guns.”
Rodenhiser said the series would never have been possible without the closeness of the newsroom team. He said that while he and a few other reporters worked on the Michener-winning piece, others put in longer hours to make up for the temporary loss of staff on the day-to-day stories.
“We all just pitched in,” he said. “Every day these people came together, even when it was hard to get stories out.”