An old-fashioned newspaper war is brewing in Nova Scotia, where the dominant Halifax daily, the Chronicle Herald has taken on competitors in three regions of the province. Business of journalism editor Kelly Toughill reports. 

Photo illustration courtesy of Eric Mark Do

By Kelly Toughill, Business of Journalism editor

An old-fashioned newspaper war is brewing in Nova Scotia, where the dominant daily has taken on competitors in three regions of the province.

The latest push is in Cape Breton, where the Chronicle Herald launched a regional edition on March 31, and where it plans to launch a free weekly in May. That expansion follows the launch of a free weekly in Bridgewater and a new section to serve the Annapolis Valley.

“I hope we have a war in Cape Breton, because we are the ones who can make gains,” said Ian Thompson, associate publisher of the Chronicle Herald.

The Chronicle Herald is one of the last independently owned major metropolitan newspaper in Canada, with roughly 100,000 subscribers. The most recent survey by the Newspaper Audience Databank shows the Chronicle Herald is the most popular local newspaper in Canada, with 84 per cent of Haligonians reading the paper at some point each week.

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But that popularity dives in Cape Breton, where most residents are intensely loyal to the Transcontinental-owned Cape Breton Post.

Thompson hired a Post reporter and the former editor of the Post to staff the augmented Chronicle Herald bureau, which will now have two reporters and a photographer instead of one reporter. (The previous Cape Breton reporter has been transferred to Halifax.) The Cape Breton office will also have two advertising staff dedicated to selling ads on the island. The Cape Breton edition has a different front page than the Halifax or provincial editions of the paper, and Cape Breton coverage has increased in sports, business and the arts. 

“We are going to be doing a better job of reflecting for Cape Bretonners what’s going on in their communities, but also Cape Breton will get better understood and more Cape Breton stories will be told for other Nova Scotians,” Thompson said.

Anita DeLazzer, publisher and general manager of the Cape Breton Post, did not return calls from J-Source. However, another publisher faced with new competition from the Chronicle Herald is not thrilled by the company’s move. Lynn Hennigar is president of Lighthouse Media Group, which publishes community newspapers in Bridgewater and Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Last month the Chronicle Herald converted its Bridgewater flyer wrap to a free weekly in direct competition to Hennigar’s newspapers.

“Given everything that is happening in newspapers, I’m not sure if I was the Herald that my focus would be expansion before doing great things with my own product,” Hennigar said. “But that’s just me probably not very happy that (they’re) in my market.”

The Chronicle Herald has also launched a zoned section inside the daily paper on Friday that is dedicated to the Annapolis Valley. Al Simpson, group publisher for Transcontinental Inc., which publishes both the Cape Breton Post and the Annapolis Spectator, declined to comment when contacted by J-Source.

The expansion follows several years of contraction for the Chronicle Herald. The daily closed its Sunday edition in 2013 and the newsroom was cut by 25 people—roughly one-quarter of the editorial staff—in 2009. Thompson said the newsroom is back up to 92 people, almost as many as before the big cut.

The expansion resembles a business model pioneered by Canadian media companies such as Torstar Inc., which attempts to capture all local advertising dollars by owning both dominant dailies and community weeklies in the same market. It is common in the United States for dailies to compete with weeklies that operate in the same market but are owned by competitors.

Correction: This article erroneously said The Chronicle Herald is the last independently owned major metropolitan newspaper in Canada. 

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.