The Sackville Tribune-Post is suspending publication for the next 12 weeks and laying off its staff because of a sharp decline in advertising revenues especially from businesses that have been forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The paper is one of only two English weeklies in the province not owned by Brunswick News, the JD Irving media company.
In a letter to readers yesterday, the Halifax-based Saltwire Network, which owns the weekly paper, announced that all of its other weeklies in Nova Scotia as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador will close until June 15. The three-month shutdown affects the weekly Amherst News.
Saltwire will continue to publish its four daily papers in Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown and St. John’s.
“With many of our advertising customers temporarily stopping operations, nearly two-thirds of our revenue has disappeared overnight,” the Saltwire letter says.
“It is not an exaggeration to say if we continue with the same business model we have today there will not be a company to come back to once this crisis has passed. ”
In total, Saltwire says it is temporarily laying off 40 per cent of its staff.
CBC Nova Scotia reports that Willy Palov, president of the CWA Canada local that represents Saltwire’s unionized workers at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, is among the laid-off staff.
“The hope of the company’s is all of us will come back, but of course no one can really project how long the coronavirus is going to be active or when it’s going to be under control,” Palov told the CBC.
For the Tribune-Post, the temporary shutdown and layoffs come as newspaper revenues continue to decline with hundreds of smaller ones in Canada shutting down altogether since the economic crisis of 2008.
The Sackville weekly closed its offices at 80 Main Street and cut one part-time employee in May 2018 in an effort to save money.
In a piece about her 20 years at the paper published the month before, reporter Katie Tower noted that, in that time, about seven full and part-time staff had been reduced to three.
In February, Saltwire Network joined with other newspaper publishers and the CBC in an umbrella group called News Media Canada to call on Parliament to take more steps to protect the news industry.
Among other things, their letter called for new taxes on foreign-owned media giants such as Facebook and Google that do not pay for the news they aggregate from other sources while collecting millions in advertising revenues.
This week, News Media Canada called on members of the public to pressure governments at all levels to increase their advertising in Canadian news outlets.
Hopeful sign in Sackville
Meantime, CHMA-FM, Sackville’s campus/community radio station is in the process of hiring a professional journalist to cover local news while helping students and community volunteers learn journalism skills.
CHMA, which broadcasts on 106.9 FM as well as online, received a one-year grant to pay for the local journalist partly through the Community Radio Fund, which re-directs money it gets from private broadcasters to campus/community stations. The position is also being supported by the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative.
The local journalist’s reporting will also be heard on CFTA, 107.9 FM in Amherst and will be made available to other media outlets.
Note: In February, I joined the CHMA Board of Directors and have been involved in the local journalist hiring process which is now in its final stages.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared.