The Daily News closed its doors in February 2008, forcing employees to uproot and make new career choices. Three years after the paper’s demise, KJR found many are happy to have left journalism.
by Julia Greer Black
Kigali, Rwanda is a long way from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
And tracking chimpanzees is a long way from editing a daily newspaper.
But Jack Romanelli has evolved his career to include both.
Romanelli is the former manager of the Halifax Daily News, which closed its doors three years ago. He’s found a new beginning as consulting editor on contract with IREX, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. And when he’s not teaching journalism students at the National University of Rwanda or editing copy at the Rwanda News Agency, he’s on the lookout for chimps.
“It’s an adventure,” he said. “When the opportunity came open, I took it.”
The paper’s closure by Transcontinental Media on Feb. 11, 2008 threw 42 reporters, editors and photographers out of work, and left Halifax with but one traditional daily paper. A replacement free daily, Metro, that Transcontinental set up as a joint venture with Metro International SA and Torstar Corp., took six of the Daily’s employees at first. But the rest were out of luck and had to find something to do at a time when journalism—especially newspapers—were facing almost unprecedented difficulties.
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“A lot of people were agreed on one thing—the fact that there were hardly any full time jobs available in Journalism here in Halifax,” said former reporter Skana Gee.
A KJR survey has found only 16 former “Daily Newsers” are still working in newspapers, and most of those had to leave Nova Scotia. A handful have found jobs in other media. But many more have exited the business altogether, many going into public relations. And, perhaps surprisingly, many who left the grind of traditional print media are enjoying their new paths and wouldn’t go back.
Gee is one example.
She worked for 17 years in print, and in those years as covered everything from politics to entertainment. “It was devastating, the Daily News collapsing, the world was ending in some ways,” she remembers.
But, like Romanelli, she has found a new beginning.
Through her work at the News, she made useful contacts in the media world, interviewing the “who’s who” of the entertainment world and the people behind the scenes in charge of orchestrating events. It was one of those contacts that landed her a job on a new television show for CBC, Canada’s Super Speller.
“It was just serendipity in that she was looking for someone and she knew that I was probably looking for something… It was sort of my introduction to the world of communications ‘slash’ public relations ‘slash’ publicity.”
Since her CBC gig, Gee has gone on to do consulting work and is one of three women who run Peroxide Pictures, a small film production company. She doubts that she could ever go back to the news business, but doesn’t really mind, either.
“I believe once you have been working in public relations or communications, there is a taint about you. I feel it would be highly unlikely that a newspaper would hire somebody who went from journalism into communications because you would come with a whole lot of baggage. You’re on different sides of the fence.”
Gee is hardly the only Daily News vet to end up in PR and be happy about it. In fact, for those who stayed in Nova Scotia, it was a common soft landing place.
Rachel Boomer, a Daily News reporter, worked briefly at Metro, before heading for PR with Communications Nova Scotia. “I think all journalists think that their skills aren’t transferable, ‘I can’t do anything else. If I lose my job, I’ll be sunk.’”
But communications turned out to be a good fit for her as well, especially with her personal life.
At first, she had enjoyed journalism. “I started at the Daily when I was 24, I was young, and single, and we all kind of grew up together. It was fun.” But even before the paper closed, she had started to see a tougher side. “It’s not a nine to five job; it’s not a Monday to Friday job; it’s holidays and evenings, and it’s ‘the news just broke—get on it’.” Boomer recalls that when she returned from her first maternity leave, she thought she couldn’t do it forever, that the hours didn’t work.
A week later, the paper closed. She called her husband to tell him. His reaction: “That’s great!”
As for her brief sojourn at Metro, “It was a management role and time wise I found it challenging with my young daughter. I wanted (Metro) to be something I was proud of, and I worked really hard on it, but my family was suffering.”
David Rodenhiser has also found greener pastures in PR.
Rodenhiser was the Daily News’s well-respected city columnist, but, like Boomer, he had realized print journalism wasn’t something he wanted to do forever. Am I going to be doing beat reporting when I’m 58 or will it be something else? he remembers asking himself. Today, a Daily News coffee mug sits on his desk at Nova Scotia Power, a small reminder of the life he left behind.
For Ryan Van Horne, family was also a big consideration in his decision to go into PR. You can see this reflected on the wall of his public relations office in the Nova Scotia Department of Energy, where his daughter drew on the wall—which, luckily for him, is on a chalkboard-painted wall.
“At the time, my wife was pregnant with my youngest. He was born 12 days after the Daily News went under. So it was a pretty emotional time; I just didn’t want to move.”
Van Horne feels there is a point in many journalists’ lives where they too have to assess their future. “When you’re in the newsroom and you get to that sort of, we’ll call it the mature point… it’s sort of a point at which you decide that you need a change, want a change, or you decide you’re a lifer,” said Van Horne.
“I think in order to be a ‘lifer’, you also have to be willing to move.”
|“When you’re in the newsroom and you get to that sort of, we’ll call it the mature point… you decide that you want a change, or you decide you’re a lifer. I think in order to be a ‘lifer’, you also have to be willing to move.”
|–Ryan Van Horne
Which is exactly what many who stayed in journalism had to do.
Romanelli initially ventured to Toronto, where he found work at the Sun. His wife, Jane Davenport, who also lost her job that day, won a senior editorial position at the Toronto Star. She was recently promoted to senior news editor.
When on the phone from Rwanda, Romanelli tried to recall the names of several people he had been successful in finding jobs for when the News closed. Davenport, visiting him, could be heard in the background, whispering names to him to jog his memory.
“Not everybody wanted to move from Halifax, a lot were not interested in moving from the city. It all depended on where I could find jobs for them.”
Among those who found work elsewhere were Richard Cuthbertson and Stephane Massinon, both to the Calgary Herald, and elsewhere in Alberta Paul Bacon at the Edmonton Journal.
A few were able to stay in Nova Scotia, and in journalism. Paul MacLeod found work with the small but successful Internet startup AllNovaScotia.com, started by the same man who founded the Daily News, David Bentley.
Paul McLeod seemed fidgety as he approached the counter to order a coffee at Just Us on Barrington Street, almost as if he had too much coffee, yet he ordered an Americano. He had a big smile on his face: “I’m being interviewed,” he told the girl behind the counter. The interview didn’t last much longer than picking up his coffee, as he had to run off to cover a cabinet meeting. He finds working for this subscription based online website to be very similar to the types of tasks he did at the Daily News, just like running off to a cabinet meeting.
“Part of what I love of online is that they are like a newspaper, only smarter,” he said.
“Being online is a huge part of our success, because we don’t have the overhead of running a newspaper and we have been able to grow steadily over the last decade.”
But despite being able to stay both in Halifax and in journalism, MacLeod says the landscape has changed dramatically in the five years since he graduated from the University of King’s college journalism program in 2006.
“It may be the end of an era where I graduated from King’s and walked into a paying internship. I don’t know how commonplace that is going to be.”
All of which suggests the closure of the Daily News, and the fate of its employees is probably broadly symptomatic of the wider issues facing journalism today.
“Just look at Halifax: when I graduated, there were two daily newspapers offering paid internships,” McLeod said. “ Within two years, The Herald wasn’t offering paid internships, Metro wasn’t doing paid internships, and it just wasn’t the same landscape for someone coming out of school.”
Romanelli agrees that much has changed. But despite the exodus of so many of his former employees to PR, and the fact others had to go far to stay in the business, he sees journalism as adaptable.
“Obviously print journalism is losing readership and some of its impact. I don’t think it is dead. Actually, I think it has lots of life, and I think it will have readers for a long time to come. There may be a change in resources. But I’m not too concerned about print. I don’t think it matter what platform we operate on, as long as journalism itself is still alive.”
Don Gibb taught a couple of generations of journalism students during his time at Ryerson University in Toronto. He sees that the new generation developing new skills and having a better grasp of technology, and less fear.
Still, he agrees with MacLeod that the journalism business has changed. “We had a writer’s workshop at Ryerson this year, where 15 years ago we called it ‘Wordstock’ and based our bread and butter over the years on reporters from smaller newspapers… We just didn’t have all those people the last few years, because those newspapers have had so many cuts to them.”
It was the right time to go
Stephen Bornais surveys all this from his desk at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He left the News a year before the end, and says he saw the writing on the wall, with constant cutting to staff and newsroom budgets. He just got out before he was forced to get out.
“I didn’t think the changes would happen as fast as they happened, as far as the death of newspapers, decline of print, deductions everywhere.”
Bornais points out one thing the Daily News did effectively: over the years, it convinced it’s journalists that they were lucky to have a job. He describes the sense that, “You probably don’t have skills that go elsewhere, so you might as well stay, might as well take what we do to you, because you really don’t have any options.”
He saw an awakening as people started leaving the newsroom. There was this growing sense of, “Wait a minute—we do have skills that are wanted elsewhere, there is demand for our services.”
Feb. 11, 2011 marked the third anniversary of the Daily News’s demise, the ‘death-a-versary’ as Bornais and some of his former colleagues call it when they get together to reminisce. He says at the last ‘death-a-versary’, he looked around the room and saw almost everyone there standing on their feet in terms of rebounding to a solid career.
As for the death of the Daily News: “It was ahead of the curve on this decline in media.”
“Some of my colleagues aren’t going to be happy with me saying this, but in the end, they’re probably lucky the Daily News went under when it did.”
Interactive map of Daily News journalist new careers:
View Where have all the journalists gone? in a larger map
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