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Canadian broadcasters wage labor war on the Web

Locked-out workers are laying plans for an independent online news site and hope to have articles up by next Monday.

Locked-out workers for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. are taking their labor battle onto the Web, vowing to produce a rival online news site.

A week after Canada's national broadcaster locked out its union workers, the journalists are laying plans for an independent online news site. The workers hope to have text articles and pictures up by next Monday, with a daily podcast by the following week.

"The goal is to provide taxpaying Canadians with the quality of news and information they expect from CBC the lockout drags on," said Mark O'Neill, a CBC radio producer and one of the union members heading up the Web site effort.

The move is a modern update to a long-held tradition of journalists producing a "strike newspaper" in the midst of a labor dispute. The tentative name for the Web site is CBC Unplugged, though the workers have yet to fully launch the site. The workers do have a separate Web site with information about the labor dispute.

Meanwhile, CBC is also using the Web to wage its labor battle. A notice on its site says that "CBC is currently experiencing a labor disruption" and offers links to both the agency's negotiations site and another to its modified program schedule.

A CBC representative was not immediately available for comment.

O'Neill said that the union workers know they can't produce the same volume of 24-hour news that they can when they are at their day jobs. "It's a much more modest goal than that," he said.

Stories are being written and developers are hard at work developing the site, O'Neill said. Plus, he noted, this labor dispute could be the first example of broadcast journalists being able to produce their own content, thanks to the lowered cost of the gear needed to produce reports as well as the Internet as a distribution means.

"That's never been possible before," O'Neill said.

Already, some of the locked-out workers have started producing their own radio shows, which are being carried sporadically on a few Canadian university stations.

Even word of the workers' plans was communicated, not by a press release or other traditional means, but through various postings on the Internet, including a mention on a radio enthusiast's blog.

Striking newspaper workers have turned to the Web for at least a decade, including journalists in Seattle, San Francisco and Youngstown, Ohio. However, such efforts have typically augmented a print publication.

O'Neill readily acknowledges that all the technology in the world doesn't replace the picket line.

"The old-fashioned picket line is still the core of the strategy," O'Neill said. "This is a complement to that."