Members of the Montreal Media Guild, which represents Montreal Gazette employees in editorial, advertising and reader sales, voted to strike last month. (The Gazette is owned by Winnipeg-based CanWest Publishing Inc.) The most evident sign of this was the decision of its editorial members to withhold their bylines last week in protest. I’ve always doubted the efficacy of byline strikes–-the only people who care about bylines are journalists and the parents of journalists–but apparently the whiff of a strike has pressed CanWest brass into action. Should there be a strike, there will be a whole lot of white space to fill. So CanWest News Service Editor-In-Chief Gerry Nott did the obvious thing: he called up the local university and offered to make scabs out of several journalism students.
Yesterday, Mr. Nott called Concordia journalism student Dominique Jarry-Shore, a freelancer at the Gazette and Maclean’s, to ask if she would like to file stories to the paper in the event of a strike. Nott, according to Shore, offered her $250 a story. “He told me that if I was concerned about what the striking reporters would think I could get published without a byline,” Jarry-Shore told me today. Jarry-Shore said several of her fellow classmates were also contacted. “He said that if we’re worried about being seen as ‘scabs’ we don’t have to get a byline.”
If $250 seems a touch on the low side, well… it’s because it is. “Not only was he asking me to be a scab, he was lowballing me,” Jarry-Shore said. “The irony is, if I were to freelance the same article at the Gazette right now, I would probably be paid double.”
“He also said that stories might end up running in the National Post and other CanWest newspapers,” Jarry-Shore said.
I called Mr. Nott to confirm the details. “That’s incorrect,” Mr. Nott said.
So you didn’t call Concordia journalism students to write for the Gazette in the event of a strike?
“Yes I did, but I don’t have to talk to you,” he said.
I see. Why won’t you talk to me about this?
“I don’t have to tell you that.”
The Quebec Labour Code seems pretty clear cut about this sort of thing. I’ll let you judge for yourself. Concordia Department of Journalism Director Mike Gasher, meanwhile, is none too pleased with the soliciting of his young charges.
“It’s come to my attention that some Concordia journalism students have been approached by CanWest to replace regular newsroom staff should there be a strike or lock-out at The Gazette,” Gasher wrote in an email to students. “While that decision is ultimately up to you, I would caution you to think very carefully about accepting such an offer as it is a form of scab labour. Not only could it harm your reputation and the reputation of our department within the journalistic community, it interferes with the ongoing collective bargaining process between Gazette journalists and their employer.”