By Lyndsie Bourgon
The Halifax Daily News shut its doors forever Monday, ending a 30-year tradition of feisty reporting, and the jobs of 65 people.
Cartoonist Michael DeAdder was called in to a meeting as he sat down to draw a cartoon Monday morning.
“What, is the paper shutting down?” DeAdder joked.
Transcontinental Media, which bought the newspaper in 2002, announced Monday that it would shut down the Daily News immediately, and launch a Halifax edition of the international commuter paper Metro beginning on Thursday. Sixty-five of the 92 Daily News employees lost their jobs.
None of them saw it coming.
“We’re all a big family,” said DeAdder. “It’s like a hurricane came through and took out our home.”
“I’ve had a great time working for this paper,” said columnist David Rodenhiser “I’ve been here for 18 years and the people I’ve worked with aren’t just my co-workers, they’re my friends.”
Even Managing Editor Jack Romanelli didn’t know the end was coming. He found out Monday morning with the rest of his staff that he had no job.
“Editorially, we’re shocked,” said Romanelli. “I think it sucks for Halifax, the city benefited from two papers and it’s unfortunate for the city.”
The Daily News started as a weekly newspaper in Bedford in 1974. It quickly developed a reputation as a feisty newcomer by breaking news and tackling issues that other media ignored. In 1997 it won Canada’s most prestigious journalism award, the Michener, for an investigation into abuse at the Shelburne School for Boys.
“The main thing the paper did was show that if you had a small and dedicated staff, Halifax was a sophisticated and all-around intelligent enough community that it could support two papers,” said founder David Bentley.
Many reacted with shock to the news that the tabloid once dubbed the “little paper that could,” finally couldn’t.
Rocky Jones was one of them. The African-Canadian lawyer and activist was involved in a series the newspaper did last year on race relations in Nova Scotia.
“Wow. I cannot say how saddened I am, it’s a real blow to the community,” he said. “The Daily News provided an alternative view, it gave voice to some that others did not.”
Within the Daily News building, a courier dropping off packages for the newspaper was shocked to hear the news.
“Really? It’s my favourite paper!” he said. “They have the best sports.”
In place of the Daily News, Transcontinental will launch a local version of the Metro International paper chain in partnership with the Torstar Corporation and the Swedish owners of the Metro chain. Six of the remaining employees will move to jobs with Metro, and the rest will work with the Daily News community weeklies.
Marc-Noel Ouellette, senior vice president of Transcontinental, attributed the closure to a “uniquely financial situation.”
“We’re sad for these people,” said Ouellette. “But at the same time we’re enthusiastic. Metro is designed to read in 20 minutes. It’s a young option, and people can read it quickly.”
In January, the Daily News brought in a new publisher, Greg Lutes. At the time, Lutes told KJR that his priorities for the paper were circulation and advertising. He also said that his job at the Daily News would not affect content.
Today, Lutes said he expected all along that Metro would replace the Daily News. “It’s good news for Halifax,” he said. “This is a paper that’s around the world. We will develop a group of new readers, it’s a young, non-traditional audience.”
Ouellette and Lutes said the decision to bring Metro to Halifax was made well before Christmas. They waited to break the news because they didn’t want to “destroy the holiday season.”
Dan Leger, director of news content for the Chronicle Herald, said his newspaper is not happy that the Daily News has shut down.
“Competition keeps the journalist sharp, keeps you honest, keeps you motivated,” said Leger. “We take this with a lot of sadness. We take no joy in seeing the paper close.”
Former Chronicle Herald editor Jane Purves said the closure of the Daily News is bad for the reading public. But she said it’s not surprising. “Halifax has been lucky having two dailies with the size of our market.”
Purves said having only one newspaper in Halifax brings a loss of competition and a monopoly on the print media. She said she’s seen Metro papers and she thinks it’s mainly an ad vehicle. “In terms of content for citizens, it won’t be much,” she said.
Underlying the end of the Daily News is the future of newspaper journalism.
Leger said newspapers have to recognize that things are changing in the media business. “This change at the Daily News is another sign that things are different now,” said Leger. “The real competition is out literally around the world now. There’s no changing that we need to keep pace with the competition across the country and around the world.”
The Daily News had a circulation of 20,000 in 2002, when Transcontinental took over publishing the newspaper.
Current subscribers of the newspaper will be reimbursed for issues they will not receive. Metro will begin publishing and circulating on Thursday.
DeAdder said he’ll end up cartooning someplace.
He added, “they let me keep my books.” As for tonight? He and the rest of the former Daily News are headed to Celtic Corner for some drinks.