Locked-out journalists strike back online

Journalists and technicians locked out of Canada’s public service broadcaster in an employment rights dispute have launched a series of guerrilla websites to continue publishing news to licence payers.

Some 5,500 CBC employees affiliated with the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) union were barred from company premises last week after objecting to management plans to put more staff onto temporary contracts.

The move has caused widespread disruption to TV, radio and internet programming, but many workers are still telling stories after setting up independent weblogs and a site to spread news of the dispute.

CBC Unplugged is gathering nationwide picket-line dispatches from the growing number of locked-out CBC journalists using blogs to document negotiations and to express solidarity with colleagues. Some radio staff are even producing packages to distribute as podcasts while others are publishing photoblogs, featuring pictures of popular programme hosts on the front line, in what has become a very public online assault against their employer.

“The idea was to create an alternative news source,” said Vancouver-based CBC technology correspondent Tod Maffin, who co-ordinates CBC Unplugged, which points to the range of blogs produced by off-work colleagues.

“They locked us all out, but they locked all the managers in – one of them is blogging anonymously from inside the premises. Nobody knows who she is but she is the only person to keep us informed. You never really hear what it’s like to be on the inside of something like this – the podcasts and blogs have proved quite useful.”

In what has been dubbed a “blog war“, CBC, too, is using the web as a battleground for viewer and listener support, using a website of its own to counter CMG claims and press the case for contract reform.

Mr Maffin, who told Journalism.co.uk it was as though 90 per cent of the BBC had left the building, said he blamed both sides in the dispute and that he is publishing to CBC Unplugged news from both camps.

“I am putting up any audio file, including those from management,” he said. “Some guy, just a listener, even came down to the picket line to interview his favourite personalities and it was good.

“We are just radio nerds who want to be back at work, using really bad equipment scraped together that we already own – open-source recording software, consumer microphones and mixing software that anyone can buy off the shelves. Now anyone can really make radio.”