A cross-country “beer fund” for StarMetro staff about to lose their jobs raised almost $3,000 this week, and it all started with a tweet.
Jimmy Thomson, the Victoria, B.C., journalist operating the fundraiser, says it’s his way of “picking up the tabs” for more than a hundred newspaper staff about to be laid off.
“It’s a way to say ‘we’re with you,’” said Thomson.
He said he’s surprised by the amount of traction it has gotten.
“We were expecting to raise $300 or $400,” he said, “a small amount that people could bring to the bar and subsidize their tab. People ended up being extremely generous.”
He credits the idea to H.G. Watson, a freelance reporter in Toronto who kicked things off with this tweet:
I know it’s the thing to offer sympathy right now, but is there a way we can offer some tangential help for those losing their jobs? Even a beer fund?
— H.G. Watson (@HG_Watson) November 19, 2019
On Tuesday, Torstar announced it will be ending production of its StarMetro newspapers. The final issues will be distributed on Dec. 20 for Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.
As of Thursday evening, the online fundraiser had raised $2,906.
If you want to make a donation to the drinks fund for the StarMetro reporters, please send via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org, and H.G. and I will distribute to the affected newsrooms.
— Jimmy Thomson (@jwsthomson) November 19, 2019
Zane Woodford, a reporter with Halifax’s StarMetro bureau, is responsible for distributing the funds to the Halifax staff. Dec. 20 will be his last day.
Hours after he learned he was losing his job, he got a message from Watson and then an email transfer from Thomson for $470.
He says he and his colleagues plan to go out for food and drinks next week, as soon as they’re all available.
When he thought aloud about where they might go, his colleagues could be heard pitching ideas in the background.
“Probably somewhere better than nachos,” he said with a laugh. “The peanut gallery is chiming in here — someone said champagne, maybe Lot 6 or The Press Gang.” That led to more laughter in the newsroom.
Woodford said that’s been the vibe at his work since Tuesday.
“You know, we’re joking around a lot and stuff,” he said, switching to a more serious tone, “but we’re trying not to make it too depressing.”
Woodford added that they had just finished eating cake in the boardroom — and he says it’s probably not the last time that will happen before their last day.
According to Unifor, a total of 121 newspaper staff in Canada will lose their jobs. Unifor also cites third-quarter losses for Torstar totalling $41 million as a reason for the layoffs.
Thomson says some money will go to staff at other Canadian newspapers that experience layoffs the same day, such as the Hamilton Spectator and the Waterloo Record.
Thomson says some of the extra money raised online will go to the Canadian Association of Journalists.
“It feels weird to say, but it was like we were raising too much money to be used as beer money,” Thomson said with a laugh. “We should maybe be redirecting this towards an organization that can do more with it long term.”
Ken Partridge, a national director with the CAJ based in Halifax, says Tuesday’s layoffs are not a good sign for Canadian journalists.
“It’s thematic of the greater malaise we’re seeing across the industry in terms of shuttering journalistic voices,” he said. “I think that’s the greatest loss to the country’s diversity of voice.”
Partridge adds that he thinks it’s true on a local level in Halifax as well.
“We’ve seen consolidation of radio and television stations, losing community newspapers,” he said. “We’re a smaller part of a bigger story.”
Partridge says he has been in meetings about what to do with the funds raised that are going to the CAJ. He says a leading idea is to consult the donors about how they would like to see the money used.
He says those possibilities include free CAJ memberships for laid-off journalists, or subsidies to CAJ conferences.
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