Chronicle Herald journalists reflect after 12 months on the picket line

CBC speaks to striking journalists with the Halifax Chronicle Herald about life walking the line.

'There's a lot of resilience. Journalists are stubborn people,' says Bill Power, striking business reporter

Striking Chronicle Herald journalists in Cape Breton have been picketing throughout the strike. (George Mortimer/CBC)

On Jan. 23, 2016, dozens of journalists with the Halifax Chronicle Herald walked off the job and started a strike at the largest daily newspaper east of Montreal.

A year later and the strike continues. CBC stopped by the picket lines recently to check in with the striking workers.

Here are those conversations, edited for length and clarity.

Bill Power has continued covering Nova Scotia at Localxpress.ca, the striking journalists' independent news site. (CBC)

Business reporter Bill Power has been with the Herald for more than 30 years, but doesn't expect to return to his job after the strike because he's on the layoff list. CBC spoke to him as he picketed Dalplex. The Halifax Typographical Union, which represents Herald strikers, wants Dalplex and others to suspend advertising in the newspaper during the strike. 

CBC: What's it been like being in the news instead of reporting it?

POWER: It's not anything to be embarrassed about. I think we want to have the conversation. I'm proud of the work I did there over the years and also proud of all the work my colleagues did. I think we all have important contributions to make going forward when we can sit down and reasonably work out a plan to do that.

CBC: What positive experiences have you had on the picket line?

POWER: We had gotten away from the public as reporters because we spend way too much time at our desks. The churn is way too high and you're not out in the field as much as you could or should be.

You're out in the field now and you're part of the story. You're talking with people in the community and it's been an interesting thing to make those community connections again and get away from the call-centre type of journalism.

CBC: The strike has reached a year, and no end date is set. How do you deal with the uncertainty? 

POWER: It's a lesson in patience, that's for sure. You don't let a lot of little things get to you. After about six months, I guess, you even find dealing with friends and relatives and family members, that they would be more inflamed about it.

I wouldn't want to say you get sedated to it, but you have this almost zen-like state where you are taking things one day at a time. Driving, for example, doesn't bother you anymore because your tolerance level is much higher.

Paul Schneidereit (right) and his colleague walk the picket line at the Chronicle Herald head office on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax. (CBC)

Paul Schneidereit, an editorial writer and columnist, has been with the paper for more than 33 years. He was picketing at the Herald head office in Halifax.  

CBC: What's life like on the picket line?

SCHNEIDEREIT: You're in a place where you don't want to be, but it is what it is. Part of being out here is getting the message out to the public — particularly subscribers — about why this is going on. The fact is that we don't want to be out here. We are out here because we feel we have no choice. Part of that is doing interviews.

It's not been normal, but it's not been strange beyond belief. When you start a strike like this, you don't expect to be out a year later. You kind of take it day by day, and season by season.

There was much more anxiety leading into the strike and not knowing what it was going to be like. Most of us have never been out on a picket line. But then you start, and you're out here, and you adapt to it. It starts to unfortunately become routine. There's a lot of resilience. Journalists are stubborn people.

CBC: What's it like to spend so much time on the sidewalk with your colleagues?

SCHNEIDEREIT: That has been an unexpected bright side. You spend 20 or 30 years in an office working alongside people, but because your jobs are very different, you may never spend more than a minute or two talking to them. 

We do four-hour shifts on the picket line. If you happen to be on with someone you hardly know, suddenly you're spending every day walking the picket line with them. You really get to know them, and that has been fantastic. A lot of friendships have deepened, and new ones have been made.

For me personally, it's made it more than bearable because you're out here with people that you like and share a lot with, principle-wise. The whole idea of being out for a year is surreal.

CBC: What has the public reaction been like? 

SCHNEIDEREIT: The other thing that has been a real revelation is the public support. We've talked to a lot of everyday folks. Over and over I've been struck by the support out there. People bring you coffee — just yesterday a woman brought a tray of homemade sandwiches. 

That's been amazing. As a journalist, you don't always think about that. You think about the story. You want to talk to people, but you don't have that kind of relationship.