Posted in Media

40 questions MTL Blog refuses to answer about its ethics

MTL Blog has its logo proudly stencilled on the windows of its storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. on the Plateau

MTL Blog has its logo proudly stencilled on the windows of its storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. on the Plateau

Since it launched in 2012, a website called MTL Blog has been increasingly popping up in people’s Facebook feeds, with short stories reporting on the viral news of the day. Its Facebook page is very popular, and your friends are probably among its 66,000 likes.

Recently, the blog has come under pressure from critics, who accuse it of everything from stealing their content to sensationalizing the news to getting basic facts wrong in their reporting.

Those accusations culminated in this blog post, titled “a love letter to Montreal”, in which the website starts off by saying “you’re welcome, and we’re sorry,” and by explaining how great it is with its “unmatched knowledge of events, parties, and general goings-on,” its “daily fountain of relatable content, one that never runs dry,” its “modern testament to the Montreal lifestyle” and its “level of interaction and interconnectedness” that “media megaliths” cannot match.

The letter was instantly derided as “terrible“, “incredibly bad“, “arrogant and insincere“, “breathtakingly tone-deaf“, “the worst apology ever” and “infinite arrogance“. The sentence “hate us, and we rebuttal” was oft-quoted as both an example of the website’s issues with the English language (which it also apologized for) and its self-centredness.

So after ignoring it for months, I decided to look into this website. During that process I learned a lot more, hearing accusations it asked for money in exchange for news content, that it employed unpaid reporters and photographers, and that it threatened legal action against websites that criticize or parody it.

I even heard an allegation that MTL Blog itself was stolen from one of its founders.

This is serious stuff. So I asked MTL Blog’s owners, Charles Lapointe and Josh McRae, and its news editor, Michael D’Alimonte, for an interview. All three signed the “love letter”.

A week later, with no response, I called up Lapointe and identified myself. After realizing who I was, he asked if I was the guy who was bad-mouthing them on Twitter. He accused me of acting in bad faith and refused an interview. But he said he would be “happy” to answer questions sent to him by email.

I compiled a list of 20 questions and sent them on Aug. 5. I reiterated that I would be happy to meet in person or conduct an interview using whatever medium they would prefer.

I quickly got a response: “Although I do appreciate your interest in MTL Blog and your call, unfortunately nor I or my team has the time or resources to be able to answer your questions,” Lapointe wrote.

Instead, Lapointe directed me to this glowing profile written by a website called The Run-In, which did not answer most of my questions at all.

As I spoke to more people who had things to say about MTL Blog, my list of questions grew to 35 and finally 40. I sent those to Lapointe as well.

His next email to me made it clear he would not respond to my questions, and it had nothing to do with a lack of “resources”:

What I have seen from you online is not something I would like to associate myself or my brand with.

Never mind that I’m not seeking to “associate” with him or his brand. Clearly he has no interest in addressing these issues.

All my emails were also sent to McRae and D’Alimonte. I never got a response from either of them.

(I also contacted Alex Melki, who hosts the MTL Blog TV series. He agreed to an interview but politely reneged after speaking with McRae and Lapointe, relaying their concerns that I would use it against them.)

So what follows in this long blog post with its intentionally clickbaity and sensationalized headline are those 40 questions, as I asked them. Some of them are based on statements made to me that cannot be absolutely verified because the only people who would actually know are the people making the statements and either Lapointe, McRae, D’Alimonte or some combination of them. Nevertheless, all three of them have been given the opportunity to comment on these statements and have chosen not to do so.

Instead, Lapointe said he has agreed to only one interview about the criticisms of his website, with freelance journalist Pierre Chauvin, whose story about MTL Blog is posted on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland website. It, too, fails to answer many of the questions posed below.

Continue reading

Posted in Radio, TV

NHL broadcast schedule 2014-15: Who owns rights to what games

The final piece of the puzzle as far as the NHL schedule is concerned has finally been revealed with the publishing of regional broadcast schedules. This allows us to break down who will broadcast what where, and I’ve done so below for the seven Canadian NHL teams.

As previously announced, Rogers has all the national rights to NHL games, which includes all Saturday night games and all playoff games. Beyond that, it gets a bit complicated (some games are national in one language but not the other, for example). Regional games will be viewable in the team’s region (here’s a map of the teams’ regions), but those outside will need to fork out cash for NHL Centre Ice or NHL GameCentre to see all their team’s games. (Or maybe not? Rogers still gives me a coy “details will be announced in the coming weeks” when I ask about that.)

TSN has decided to assign its three regional rights packages to specific channels: Jets on TSN3, Leafs on TSN4 and Senators on TSN5. The five-channel TSN system launches on Monday on every major TV provider in Canada except Videotron (which tells me it’s in discussions to add the other three channels).

Below are how the TV and radio rights break down for each team. They include regular-season games only. Preseason games are regional, and subject to separate deals. All playoff games are national, so their rights are owned by Rogers in English and TVA in French.

Radio rights are not subject to regional blackouts. Listed is their local station only and does not include affiliates.

Continue reading

Posted in Media, Montreal, Radio, TV, Video

Montreal media personalities dump water on their heads

The latest viral craze sweeping the western world is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people dump ice water on their heads in exchange for a chance to nominate three (or more) other people to do the same. Videos of celebrities and athletes doing this are all over the Internet now, and the campaign has recently spread to certain parts of Montreal media.

The challenge has been criticized as a gimmicky fad that’s more about doing silly stuff than actually raising money or awareness. Kind of like Movember. And there’s something to that. But the ALS Association has also seen eight times the amount of donations it normally does for this time of year. That’s more than $10 million that would otherwise not have been donated.

In Montreal, the challenge has begun sweeping the local media scene, and is continuing to spread (I’ve updated this post several times to add new ones).

Here are some links to videos of their dunkings, which I’ll be adding to as it spreads further. (Most are posted to Facebook, and some of those might not be accessible to everyone. If you’re going to post one of these videos to Facebook, be sure to make it public — or better yet, post it to YouTube instead — and don’t shoot it vertically for crying out loud).

If nothing else, they provide insight into what your favourite TV and radio personalities’ backyards look like.

CBC Montreal

Sabrina Marandola got Andrew Chang in on it, and he decided to spice things up.

CTV Montreal

Global Montreal

City Montreal

ICI

CJAD

The Beat

The Beat also got former colleague Jeremy White to take the challenge, and former PD Leo Da Estrela.

CHOM

Virgin Radio 96

This video combines the following:

  • Morning host Freeway Frank Depalo
  • Afternoon host Mark Bergman
  • Evening host Tony Stark
  • Overnight host Mike D
  • Weekend host Kelly Alexander
  • Weekend host MC Mario

TSN Radio 690

The Gazette

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Changes at The Gazette this fall

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

Things are changing at my employer this fall. I can’t spill all the beans, partly because as an employee I’m given some information that’s not meant for public consumption, and partly because there’s a lot of details I just don’t know. But here’s some stuff that has either already been reported publicly or that I’ve gotten permission to share:

Four-platform redesign

The biggest change will be a relaunch of The Gazette on four platforms — print, web, tablet and smartphone. Each will have its own design, content and strategy. No date has been set for the relaunch, but it should happen some time this fall.

For an idea of what it will look like, you can look at the Ottawa Citizen, which went through a similar relaunch and redesign in May. The Gazette’s will be very similar. The Calgary Herald will be the next paper to go through the process, followed by all the other Postmedia papers (except the Vancouver Province and the National Post).

Rather than present the same stories written in the same way on all platforms, the redesigned environment will see stories done differently for the different platforms. Smartphone users will get short stories and breaking news. Tablet users will get a more magazine-like experience (with one edition a day coming out in the afternoon). Print users will get a design-y paper that’s more visually interesting and presents news in context. And website users will … uhh, I’ll throw in some buzz words here later.

Continue reading

Posted in Radio

Pete Marier, Murray Sherriffs hired for morning show at Boom 99.7 in Ottawa

Pete Marier hasn't had a full-time job in radio since leaving CHOM in December 2011.

Pete Marier hasn’t had a full-time job in radio since leaving CHOM in December 2011.

Two popular Montreal radio personalities who have been out of steady employment for a while have accepted jobs on the morning show of CJOT-FM (Boom 99.7), a Corus radio station in Ottawa.

Pete Marier, who left CHOM over a contract dispute just before Christmas in 2011, had been doing some part-time fill-in work at The Beat, but otherwise hadn’t done much on-air work because he didn’t want to move far from his home in Knowlton.

He’ll have the morning show hosting job at Boom with Wendy Daniels. Daniels is a long-time Ottawa radio personality who had been at sister station The Bear for 24 years until just before it switched formats, then went to Boom to become the drive-time host.

Continue reading

Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC wants to crack down on cross-border stations

UPDATED below with CRTC’s notice of hearing.

Tim Thompson, centre, heads Montreal sales for 94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) and other U.S. stations targetting Montreal.

Tim Thompson, centre, heads Montreal sales for 94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) and other U.S. stations targetting Montreal.

In an office building next to the Holiday Inn Pointe-Claire, Tim Thompson and his team of 10 salespeople and four promotions people are trying to get Montrealers to tune away from the big three music stations they’re used to — CHOM, Virgin Radio and The Beat — and tune into a station beaming its signal into the city from across the border in Chateaugay, N.Y., near Malone.

94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) markets itself as “Montreal’s Hit Music Channel“. While technically licensed by the FCC to serve this tiny New York town, its real goal is to get a foothold in Montreal with its 50,000-watt signal. And it succeeds, reaching most of the western half of the island.

The advantage to being a cross-border station is regulatory freedom. CHOM, Virgin and The Beat have to ensure 35% of the music they broadcast is Canadian. They have to ensure no more than half the music they broadcast is or was hit music (a condition originally meant to protect AM stations, now used to protect French stations in Montreal and Ottawa). They’re not allowed to air advertising in French.

As an American station, WYUL doesn’t have any of those obligations. It can broadcast whatever music it wants and programming in whatever language it wants.

“We really just play top 40, and that’s the beauty of our station,” says Marketing Director Tina Paylan.

Not only does the station target Montreal listeners, but advertisers as well, with about 90% of its advertising coming from this region. (It also targets Cornwall in eastern Ontario, in addition to Malone.)

Continue reading

Posted in Opinion, Technology

Cooperation, not acquisition, might be better option for Quebecor

Put simply: Under the right conditions we are ready, willing and able to become
Canada’s fourth wireless competitor.

With that statement two months ago, new Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion launched a campaign to create fertile ground for his company to expand its wireless operation nationally, and become the fourth national wireless player that the Conservative government has been so desperate to see arrive.

Quebecor’s main issue is roaming — the fees it has to pay other carriers when its subscribers use their networks. Until it can build a national network that rivals those of the Big Three in coverage (something that would take several billion dollars to do), it would have to offer its subscribers access to someone else’s network, and at fees that would still allow it to undercut those networks’ operators on prices.

The CRTC is holding a public hearing in September on wholesale wireless services that should address this issue. The commission will try to determine if the market is sufficiently competitive and if not, what it can do to fix that. Quebecor would like low, regulated wireless wholesale rates, particularly for data. Bell, Telus and Rogers, needless to say, aren’t in favour.

And just two weeks ago the commission slapped Rogers on the wrist for exclusive roaming deals that it determined were anti-competitive.

Quebecor’s hand

At the moment, Quebecor’s network covers populated areas of Quebec and the National Capital Region. It also has a deal with Rogers that allows Videotron customers to use Rogers’s network where necessary. A year ago, the companies signed a 20-year agreement to build a shared wireless LTE network in Videotron’s existing territory.

The thought of Videotron becoming a national player took off in February after it purchased licenses in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia for $233 million. Because the big three were limited in the amount of spectrum they could buy, and new players like Wind and Mobilicity didn’t have the financial means to spend that kind of money, Videotron got a deal it simply couldn’t pass up. The licences could be worth a lot more than that, even with the limitation that they can’t be sold to Bell, Rogers or Telus.

The rest of Canada is split up between other regional players: MTS in Manitoba, SaskTel in Saskatchewan, and Eastlink in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario. They also got good deals on spectrum because those frequencies were reserved for smaller players.

So even if Videotron wanted to become a national player, it would need to team up either with one of the big three or all of these smaller providers. Plus building out networks in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

It has been suggested very openly that Videotron would be interested in buying either Wind Mobile or Mobilicity (or both) to instantly get a foothold in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. This is important because next March will see another spectrum auction from Industry Canada, and its rules reserve licences for operators other than the Big Three that are already operating in those territories. Unless Videotron sets up its network in the next six months, it’s bidding potential is limited. But acquire Wind and/or Mobilicity, neither of which have the capacity to participate in the auction, and Videotron can make another government-assisted investment.

Except Videotron doesn’t have enough cash for such an acquisition. So it would need some source of money to step up to help it. And the clock is ticking.

Politics

But spectrum licenses and cash aren’t the only impediments to Videotron’s wireless expansion. Even if it develops a decent network, Videotron has no other infrastructure in the rest of Canada. It can’t bundle wireless with cable TV and Internet like it does in Quebec. It can’t leverage its brand, or set up Videotron corners in Archambault shops in the rest of Canada.

And then there’s the politics. Pierre Karl Péladeau is still the controlling shareholder of Quebecor and Videotron. And he’s not willing to put his stake in a blind trust until he becomes a minister (and even then it would come with an order not to sell the company). So the federal government’s best hope for a company that would give a shot in the arm to competition in wireless is one owned by a devoted separatist. It’s not exactly the kind of company the government would want to bend backwards to help. And that’s saying nothing about consumers who might see switching to Videotron as tantamount to funding Quebec separation.

Cooperation

But maybe there’s another way. What if, instead of buying Wind and Mobilicity outright, it partnered with one or both, giving them enough cash to participate in the March auction and allowing their subscribers to use each other’s networks seamlessly? For that matter, why not do the same with MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink? Imagine a national wireless player made up of regional players, all with the same problem of national roaming. It would take less cash than one company gobbling up the others, and avoids the problem of having to deal with Quebecor’s not-so-great brand outside of Quebec.

There are other possibilities, too. Shaw, which is active in B.C. and Alberta and has a lot of money but doesn’t have a wireless network, could become involved, and partner with Wind or Mobilicity or Videotron to offer a wireless service they could bundle.

Perhaps it’s just pie-in-the-sky dreaming, and I’m sure people will point out a bunch of practical problems with these ideas that would make them unrealistic. But if Ottawa really wants a fourth wireless player (even though experience in other countries suggest the market might not be able to support more than three), this sounds to me like a way to get there.

Of course, it would require Quebecor playing nice with others and swallowing a lot of humble pie.

Posted in TV, Video

Video: CRTC 1987 specialty channel hearings

With a month to go until the CRTC begins what will probably be the most important hearing into television policy in decades, it’s fun to look back at one of the hearings that shaped television in Canada as we know it, back in 1987.

The Youtube channel Retro Winnipeg recently posted nearly five hours of video from CRTC hearings held in July 1987 on specialty channel services. It led to a wave of new channels, including YTV, TV5, Family Channel, The Weather Network, CBC Newsworld and more.

Rather than have you sit through five hours of people in suits talking as boringly as they possibly can, I’ve split them up into sections, and you can watch the parts that interest you.

Continue reading

Posted in TV

Bell Media shuts down CTV transmitter in Wiarton, Ont., after spat with neighbour over trees

There’s no longer a CTV television transmitter in Wiarton, Ont. And all because of a dispute with a neighbour that started with an apparent misunderstanding over the cutting of trees.

The story is contained in an application owner Bell Media filed with the CRTC on July 10 to revoke the broadcasting licence of CKCO-TV-2, a 100kW transmitter in Wiarton, which is on the Bruce Peninsula separating Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It’s one of two retransmitters of CKCO-DT in Kitchener. The other is in Oil Springs, Ont., covering Sarnia.

As Bell tells it, it has had trouble accessing the transmission tower, even though it owns the land the tower sits on, because the access road to it is on property owned by a neighbour. For years, there was a verbal agreement with that property owner to access the site using his road (which leads to a street officially called Tower Road). But three years ago, the property was sold. The new owner had a falling out with Bell after “Bell Media rightfully prevented the new owner from cutting trees located on our property.” In January 2014, the new owner demanded Bell pay $1,000 a month to use his road, plus $34,000 in back pay going back to when he originally purchased the land.

Naturally, Bell thought this was a ridiculous sum and offered to pay $5,000 a year, with no back pay. The owner refused, and so Bell could no longer get a vehicle to its tower.

The next month, the power went out at the tower. Bell discovered a serious fault in the electrical system which required a series of repairs, but again the owner of the road denied access. Bell’s only access to the tower was through a tiny strip of land connecting its land to the road. Which meant travelling on foot. And since this was February in rural Ontario, this meant going by snowshoe.

Without the ability to fix the electricity, the diesel backup generator stopped working and CKCO-TV-2 went off the air.

Other than the TV transmitter, there’s only one other tenant, Spectrum Communications, a company that provides two-way radios and other specialized communications for businesses and institutions. It pays $14,000 a year until its lease expires in August 2015, which isn’t enough to justify the $91,000 a year it costs to run the tower and its transmitters.

So Bell has decided to give up on the 230-metre-high tower and hand back the licence for CKCO-TV-2. It’s unclear if they plan to sell the tower, dismantle it or do something else.

Continue reading

Posted in Radio

CFMB gets licence renewal, permission to reduce number of languages

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has renewed the licence of ethnic station CFMB 1280 AM for seven years, and as part of that decision has agreed to reduce the requirements in that licence as far as the number of languages it must broadcast in and the number of cultural groups it has to serve.

CFMB’s existing licence had been to serve 19 cultural groups in 18 different languages, but as co-owner and president Stefan Stanczykowski explains in the application, it is difficult to maintain that many different types of programming:

“(An) ethnic broadcaster, unlike (a) conventional broadcaster, has very limited pool of talent to choose from. More often than not our on-air staff has to be trained on the job to fit this description, therefore in the event of loss of an announcer for specific ethnic program, it is very hard and sometimes impossible to replace immediately or for a long time such a person.”

“Adding to this problem is also ethnic community for which the program was produced. Many ethnic producers are discouraged by the feedback or lack of it; others give up for lack of sufficient revenue or personal time.”

Another factor is increased competition. Montreal has many ethnic broadcasters, including CINQ 102.3 (various), CKDG 105.1 (mainly Greek), CKIN 106.3 (various), CJWI 1410 (Haitian), CHOU 1450 (Middle East), CJRS 1650 (Jewish), plus two licensed but unlaunched stations serving South Asian communities. And there’s ICI, the ethnic TV station, plus plenty of third-language TV channels and online services.

“In the Commission’s view, the request would represent only a slight decrease in the number of groups served and languages broadcast by the station,” the commission said in its decision. “The licensee would maintain a fairly high level of diversity of languages and cultural groups and would continue to meet the broad service requirements of the Ethnic broadcasting policy as set out in Public Notice 1999-117. In addition, the Commission considers that the ethnic communities in the Montréal radio market are well served by the six ethnic stations and notes that two additional ethnic stations have been approved by the Commission but have not yet launched.”

CFMB already operates in 16 languages and will continue with its current programming targeting these cultural groups:

  • Algerian (Berber)
  • Cambodian (Khmer)
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Greek
  • Haitian (Creole)
  • Italian
  • Jewish (English/Hebrew)
  • Lithuanian
  • Moroccan (Maghreb/Arabic)
  • Pakistani (Urdu)
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Latin-American (Spanish)
  • Ukrainian

There’s an argument to be made that, in a market like Montreal with several ethnic radio stations, they should be allowed to reduce the number of languages they broadcast in to reduce duplication. CINQ, CKDG and CFMB all have programming for the Greek community, for example. Several stations target the Middle East or South Asia. You’d think these communities would be better served if all their programs were on the same station rather than being scattered across the dial.

 

Posted in Radio

The Beat appoints Sam Zniber as new program director

The Beat announced this morning that “veteran radio executive” Sam Zniber has been hired as the new program director for 92.5 The Beat, effective immediately.

Zniber replaces Leo Da Estrela, who decided almost a year ago that he wanted to leave the job and focus on his side business providing custom radio stations for businesses. Da Estrela was supposed to leave this spring, but stuck around on a part-time basis to help with the transition. His last day is Friday, he says.

Zniber, whose resume is posted on his website, has no apparent previous connection to Montreal, having spent most his career in Europe.

The memo announcing his hiring is copied below:

Continue reading

Posted in My articles, TV

Catherine Sherriffs isn’t coming back to CTV Montreal

Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine Sherriffs, who left her job as late-night anchor at CTV Montreal a year ago to go on maternity leave, is not coming back.

Sherriffs, who was given the anchor chair in 2011 after Debra Arbec left for CBC, was scheduled to return to work earlier in July. But her position was not waiting for her. Instead, the station felt that the system it put in place when she left, having Mutsumi Takahashi anchor the noon and 6pm newscasts and Paul Karwatsky anchor at 6pm and 11:30pm, was “working very well the way it is,” explained CTV Montreal General Manager Louis Douville.

“We offered her another project, something new that we wanted to start experimenting with, and she didn’t see that as a fit to her new life,” Douville explained. He wouldn’t go into detail about what that position entails, but I understand it was an anchor-like position with a web focus.

Apparently that idea didn’t sit well with her, either because of the hours, which meant she would be going through rush-hour traffic to and from her home in the Laurentians (she grew up in Morin Heights), or because of the apparent demotion, or both.

My attempts to contact Sherriffs for comment have not yet been met with a response (her Facebook profile is locked down and she hasn’t posted anything to Twitter). I’ll update this if I hear from her.

Though CTV Montreal management would disagree, it’s hard not to see this as a forced demotion (at the very least it’s a forced reassignment). And worse, one that seems to come as an indirect result of a maternity leave. It’s that leave that put Karwatsky in the late-night chair and led to the decision to keep him there.

Douville insists that the decision was made “in the last (few) months” and had not been planned before Sherriffs’s leave.

“We love Catherine. She’s a fantastic employee and a great journalist,” Douville said. And indeed, there’s little reason to believe that this decision was in any way related to her performance in the anchor chair. Rather, it allows the station to go from having four anchors to three and save money.

Sherriffs graduated from Concordia University’s journalism program in 2007, and got her start in radio, working at CJAD. She joined CTV Montreal in 2009 as a reporter before being promoted to late-night anchor.

Sherriffs isn’t the only person leaving CTV Montreal. The station let go of its human resources manager this week, and is looking to cut its workforce by 10 to 12 people (out of about 100 total employees) over the coming months, as I explain in this story in The Gazette.