After being kept in the dark for more than a month and still waiting for up to $2,000 of unpaid work, a handful of Montreal journalists launched a collective action against the community-based news website OpenFile on Monday.
In an open letter sent to CEO Wilf Dinnick and published on a Tumblr page, four former OpenFile contributors demanded that the website creator pay the outstanding invoices and explain why the website has been on hiatus for nearly two months.
“All we want is our bills paid and a little respect for all the work we’ve done,” said Justin Ling, a former contributor to OpenFile and media spokesperson for the group who wrote the letter.
After the letter was published, Ling says he received a call from Dinnick on Monday. Their conversation left Ling feeling “content” and “confident” that all reporters would be paid by the end of the year. Ling, however, would not go into specifics saying that Dinnick was “worried about saying too much before everything is settled.”
Despite success in six major Canadian cities, Dinnick announced a hiatus for OpenFile in a post published on the website Sept. 28. He did not say when the site would be online again and cited restructuring as the cause for the temporary shutting down.
Due to a number of questions raised by the sudden decision, Dinnick attempted to appease writers and editors with a group email sent on Oct. 2, promising payment of overdue invoices within 60 days. Monday’s open letter stated that some writers have been waiting for more than 90 days.
More recently, in an article published by J-Source on Nov. 7, Dinnick was quoted as saying auditors physically removed all the books from OpenFile offices, forcing him to wait for the accounts to be “loosened [so he could] write those [cheques].”
There was no mention, nor official statement about the nature of the auditing or the people behind it.
The authors of the letter openly expressed their frustration over the contradicting messages they received and the secrecy surrounding the nature of the hiatus.
“His comments were hardly reassuring,” the open letter states about Dinnick’s interview with J-Source.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to learn this from J-Source,” added Ling.
Prior to yesterday’s call, Ling said the last time he heard from Dinnick was about a month ago where he was told to “hang tight”. He was assured that everyone would be paid within the timeline that OpenFile promised, which has yet to happen. Ling said that they were not considering legal actions for now.
Brennan Neill, freelancer and president of the Board of Directors at The Concordian, contributed to OpenFile on several occasions and said most OpenFile staff saw the shutdown coming.
“In August, I was told by [former Montreal city editor Dominique Jarry-Shore] that they were cutting down on the freelance budget because traffic on the website was slow, but I never suspected they would shut down in September,” said Neill.
A few weeks prior to the hiatus, contributors were not being assigned stories for the most part and editors were being let go one after the other, including OpenFile Editor-in-chief John Ferri.
Neill, who is still waiting for an unpaid story, expressed concerns over the extinction of English media in Montreal and said he was worried about decreasing opportunities for upcoming journalists.
“This year’s been pretty horrible for the Anglo freelancer,” said Neill. “It left a big open hole in the Anglo freelancer landscape of Montreal.”
Dinnick could not be reached for comment.