Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rue Frontenac and The New York Review of Books: When Labour Conflicts Lead to New Voices

Tuesday the 253 locked-out journalists at the Journal de Montréal turned down an offer from Quebecor that was touted as a possible resolution to the 20 month old conflict. Nearlly 90 per cent of the journalists voted against the proposed settlement which had been overseen by a provincial conciliator.

Spokespersons for the reporters' union said members were ready to compromise on points, but balked at a "no competition" requirement. Under it not only would journalists fired by the Journal in the future not be allowed to work for the other big French-language paper in Montreal for six months, but the union's outstanding web-newspaper Rue Frontenac would be shut down.

The web-paper, which plans to begin putting out a hard copy at the end of October, has published some excellent investigative reporting over its short existence. To cease publication would not only silence an interesting, informative voice, but remove a valuable source of employment for journalists.

The situation has resemblances with what happened in New York in 1963. Then strikes closed most New York newspapers for 114 days which meant, among other things, that no books were reviewed in the American cultural capital. Three figures in the New Yorke literary world, Jason Epstein, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick started The New York Review of Books to fill the void. When the strike ended, they kept the biweekly going, publishing long and thoughtful articles of a depth found nowhere else. In a short time, it became one of the pillars of American intellectual life, and is still going strong.

There is room for many voices in this world. It would be wonderful if Rue Frontenac became as strong an independent voice in Quebec as TNYRB has become in English-speaking North America.

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