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By Karen Herland
Media watchers, news services and blogs have been reporting that CanWest approached journalism students with offers of employment earlier this month.
Every report suggests that the offers are a direct result of a September strike mandate on the part of 181 Gazette editorial, advertising and sales employees who have been without a contract since the beginning of the summer. Although many issues are being addressed to everyone's satisfaction, still at issue is the possibility of outsourcing certain positions (layout and copy editing) to Hamilton.
Editorial staff are on a byline strike. The only names heading stories in the paper now are of those working for CanWest and other wire services.
At least three graduate students in the program have received offers. Dominique Jarry-Shore, who has freelanced in the past for The Gazette, did give out some interviews earlier this month. On Martin Patriquin's Maclean's blog, she said she was offered $250 per 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 is quoted on the site. She adds, “The irony is, if I were to freelance the same article at The Gazette right now, I would probably be paid double.” Jarry-Shore refused the offer.
In an Oct. 14 La Presse report, CanWest management admit they approached some students, but insist they were looking for writers to file for their national bureau. However, Montreal stories sent on their national wire service could then be picked up by their local affiliate, The Gazette.
"It's a bit of a dodge," said Mike Gasher, Director of the Journalism Department. He had heard of employment offers made to students from two professors, though he did not know how many students had been approached, "it didn't really matter."
Gasher is concerned about the uncomfortable position this puts students in, as regards their future careers. So he sent an email to all students which reads in part: "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."
Gasher is very clear on the subject. "When negotiations are going on, you stay out of it."
He also said that this situation was unusual in that students were approached directly. "As a department, we want our students employed in the field. Normally, when a news organization is looking for people, they come to us. We're happy to recommend good students. But we also have the students get in touch with the organization. I don't give out students' contact information."
Gasher said that students can ultimately make their own choices. But "they should be aware of how it will be interpreted."