It’s commonplace to predict the demise of traditional newspapers. Prognosticators tell us the consequences will be terrible. Newspapers, they say, are the cops on the beat. When they’re gone, we will never know the truth again, particularly about government. But they forget that there are many ways to report the facts. Facts find a way to surface, the way water finds its own level.
Tim Bousquet came to Halifax from Chico, Calif., in 2004; in 2006, he started writing for the Coast, an alternative weekly. He quickly established a reputation as a hard-driving, traditional investigative journalist. In 2012, Bousquet almost single-handedly drove longtime mayor Peter Kelly of Halifax from office by revealing, after painstaking research, that Kelly, as executor of an old lady’s estate, had seriously mismanaged things to his own financial benefit. Note that this story broke in a free alternative weekly available at your corner convenience store, not in the Chronicle Herald, Halifax’s long-established and still powerful daily.
In 2014, Bousquet started the Halifax Examiner, an online daily newspaper. The Examiner delivers the Morning File to your inbox, for free, six days a week. It’s a quirky and idiosyncratic collation of other media, emphasizing Bousquet’s hobby horses and larded with his uninhibited opinions. It reports on pedestrians killed by cars (“road carnage”), local people Bousquet finds annoying (those who go swimming on New Year’s Day, whooping and hollering as the local TV cameras whirr), the indignities of air travel, the writings of journalist Jan Wong (“Wong Watch”), the rampant use of pretentious language (“pantload of feel-good crap” from “bullshitters and backslappers”), demolition of Halifax heritage buildings, snippets of Nova Scotia history, ships currently in Halifax harbour, the appallingly unregulated cruise-ship industry and events at local universities. Bousquet says, “Think of it as me waking up with a cup of coffee and spouting off.”
The real meat, traditional investigatory journalism, is behind a $120/year paywall. Bousquet’s aim is to publish an investigatory piece almost every day, but this kind of reporting is costly. For the moment, he only publishes behind the paywall now and again.
Bousquet is particularly interested in justice and policing issues, and in government incompetence, wrong-headedness and corruption. A recent post behind the paywall attacked Halifax’s tax subsidy program for non-profit organizations that perversely gives tax breaks to fancy yacht and tennis clubs catering to the wealthy. Lately, he has been closely following the case of Glen Assoun, found guilty in 1999 of his girlfriend’s murder. In November, Assoun was granted bail while federal government officials probe a possible miscarriage of justice. Bousquet sniffs scandal.
Will this model work? Subscriptions and revenue have exceeded initial projections, but, Bousquet says, “I’m not going to get rich on this.” He adds, “I’m not going out of business, either. The printed daily newspaper model is collapsing. The future belongs to the independent journalist who develops a following.”
The independent journalist, using non-traditional media, can be hugely effective. It was Glenn Greenwald, a freelancer writing from Rio de Janeiro, who broke the Edward Snowdon story.
Maybe the cop hasn’t left the beat. Perhaps he’s just changed uniforms.
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