NEWS
05/19/2016 13:23 EDT | Updated 05/20/2017 01:12 EDT

Striking newsroom staff launch expanded online site to compete with Halifax paper

HALIFAX — Striking Halifax newspaper workers have entered into a revenue-sharing partnership with a digital news company in a bid to compete more aggressively with their employer.

On Thursday, union officials at the Halifax Chronicle Herald unveiled an expanded version of LocalXpress.ca, an online publication that they launched a week after 61 newsroom staff walked off the job Jan. 23.

Those on strike include reporters, editors, photographers, editorial writers, columnists, page technicians and support staff.

The upgraded version of the online newspaper has a digital platform designed by Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.- based Village Media.

The 15-year-old company operates a number of local news and community websites in Ontario, including sites in Guelph, Barrie, Timmins, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie. It also has online partnerships in Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Manitoulin Island.

The expanded site — which will include news, sports, a business section, weather and entertainment stories — will accept advertising, and revenue will be used to cover expenses and ensure the publication's registered non-profit status, said Martin O'Hanlon of the Communications Workers of America, parent of the striking Halifax Typographical Union.

Stephen Kimber, a local columnist and journalism professor, said the new publication just might work.

"Perhaps by publishing a real online newspaper that challenges the management of the Herald with a product that is directly in competition, well that might wake people up," said Kimber, who teaches at the University of King's College.

Kimber said the upstart publication won't pose a financial threat to the Herald in the short term. However, he said advertisers will take notice if readership starts to climb.

Chronicle Herald management did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Pam Sword, editor of LocalXpress.ca, said the new site "should motivate" the Herald to return to the bargaining table.

The union is striking against a list of contract concessions that Herald management says are needed to cope with economic challenges affecting the North American newspaper industry. Management at the 140-year-old newspaper wants to reduce wages, lengthen working hours, alter future pension benefits and lay off one third of the newsroom.

The Halifax Typographical Union, which now represents 57 workers at the Herald, has said it would remain a union in name only if it agreed to the proposed changes to the existing contract.

Before the strike started, the union offered to take a five-per-cent wage cut, a cap on severance pay, reduced mileage rates and fewer vacation days.

Just over 300 people work at the daily. As a privately held company, the Herald does not release its financial results.