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Time is running out for journalism as Chronicle Herald dispute continues

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The news two Chronicle Herald journalists have taken other jobs would not be news, except for what it says about the ongoing impasse between journalists and management at that newspaper, and what it may say about the future of the newspaper -- and journalism -- in this city.

Last week, David Jackson, the newspaper's former legislature reporter, resigned to take a job spinning for Premier Stephen McNeil, and Dan Arsenault, the Herald's veteran dog-on-a-bone crime reporter, quit to become editor of allnovascotia.com's new Newfoundland clone.

Overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated journalists have been abandoning the profession for better pay, saner hours and greater appreciation in government and public relations since… well, since long before anyone referred to journalism as a profession.

But the departure of Jackson, a Herald lifer, in the middle of a bitter strike destined for no good end, is yet another indication the newspaper that emerges from this strike -- if one survives at all -- will be an even paler imitation than the one that went before.

Back in 2007, after the Halifax Daily News folded and many of its most experienced reporters and editors -- including two former editors, a managing editor and an assignment editor -- had been scooped up by provincial government PR machines, the joke among journalists was the government had the most experienced newsroom in the province.

The joke is getting less funny with each Herald layoff, buyout, downsizing, strike...

If we're not careful, we'll have more former journalists massaging the news than journalists reporting it. We probably do already.

Arsenault's departure, on other hand, offers what passes for hope these days.

Not that long ago, the Herald saw itself as this province's media of record. Its reporters and editors were relatively well paid and secure in their futures. They decided what was -- and was not -- news. The notion one of them might voluntarily jump ship to join a fledging online business news site -- even one founded by legendary journalist-publisher David Bentley -- would have seemed improbable.

We live in improbable times.

If the Halifax Herald's owners don't soon make peace with what's left of their newsroom, the newspaper that traces its own ink-on-paper beginnings back 142 years, will disappear or -- perhaps worse -- become totally irrelevant.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: RicLaf/flickr

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