— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) August 14, 2017
— ?rpon Basu (@ArponBasu) August 14, 2017
The Athletic, a website operating in several cities staffed with writers who have either left or been laid off from jobs at newspapers and other publications, is coming to Montreal.
Arpon Basu, frequent local sports commentator and until last month managing editor of the NHL’s French website LNH.com, announced today he’s been hired as the editor-in-chief of both the French and English versions of the Montreal section of the website.
His first post for the website is short on details about the future but has perspective on Basu’s career up until now. (Among his previous gigs was writing amateur athlete profiles for the Montreal Gazette on a freelance basis.)
In follow-up tweets, Basu and editor-in-chief James Mirtle say they’re “going to go big on Montreal, with several writers on the Canadiens” and covering other sports as demand warrants. No other hires have been announced, but announcements should be expected “in the coming weeks” and coverage to begin this fall.
The Athletic, which costs $10 a month or $58 a year, is an ad-free paywalled site with occasional free content. Its writers cover sports teams in Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and the San Francisco Bay area. Mirtle explained the website’s business model in a blog post in February.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated James Mirtle’s connection with The Athletic.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cult MTL as the newspaper celebrates its fifth anniversary is how little has changed since it first launched a monthly print edition.
There has been a tightening of the editorial focus, and some experiments that didn’t work out (including a short-lived biweekly publishing schedule), but mostly the publication has stayed true to its purpose: An alternative source for information about local arts and culture for a young audience.
Born out of the ashes of the Montreal Mirror, unceremoniously shut down by owner Quebecor Media in June 2012, Cult MTL began as an online outlet, then a monthly print newspaper very similar to its spiritual (but in no way legal) predecessor. Several of its contributors, including editor-in-chief Lorraine Carpenter, were Mirror employees. Regular Mirror features such as the Best of Montreal readers’ poll and the Rant Line resurfaced.
“I feel that we’re somewhat established as a brand, but it happens fairly frequently that we come across people who have never heard of us,” Carpenter told me in an interview on Friday, noting that the Mirror had 27 years to build its brand (and most of that in an age before the Internet vastly increased the number of news sources). “We still feel pretty fresh in a sense, but a lot of people do know us. One of our continuing challenges is getting the next generation to come to us online and in print as well. That’s why every year we put out the student survival guide and appeal to students.”
Five years in, the paper’s financial situation has stabilized, and its revenues are slowly growing. “We’ve had, especially this year, quite an increase in business,” Carpenter said. “It’s pretty much all local companies with a few exceptions that have been showing us a lot of support.”
She said local cultural institutions, who were hesitant during the first years, are now on board with ad support. “You can see that in the size of our issues this year compared to just last year or two years ago.”
They’re not exactly rolling in the cash, though. Freelance rates are still very low, at $25 to $50 a story, which Carpenter acknowledges isn’t enough. “We’re hoping to raise our rates soon,” she said.
The paid staff is small, with five or six people, working a mix of full-time and part-time hours. There are about a dozen regular freelancers, and many more who contribute rarely or only once.
Carpenter said she’d like to see more. “We don’t get nearly enough pitches from people,” she said. And it’s not because they’re not interested. They get plenty of CVs and proposals to write for them, but “they don’t actually pitch, they just want to be hired and given assignments.”
So if you got an idea for some artistic event you’d like to preview, some artist you’d like to interview, or some aspect of culture you’d like to write about, they’re all ears.
I asked Carpenter what kind of stories she likes to see pitched to her. “We like to preview events that are coming up in the city,” she said. “We like to include interviews. We don’t generally do these rehashed press-release-type articles or a flimsy photo with a few words. Something a little more substantial.”
In 2013, as Cult celebrated its first anniversary, it tried going biweekly during the summer, hoping to double ad revenue. But advertisers, most of whom had fixed budgets, couldn’t just double their buys because the newspaper was printing more often.
“In the beginning, for the first six months of Cult MTL, no one was getting paid,” Carpenter explained. “So just through the advertising money that was coming in, we technically had enough money to print twice a month, but then when we started paying people we were just getting into the red.”
So they went back to a monthly schedule. Now they print 11 issues a year, at the beginning of every month except January.
Which is fine by them. “We’ve never had the goal of going weekly, doing what the Mirror used to do,” Carpenter said.
Unlike the Mirror, Cult’s website is very active, with a lot of content that never makes it into the print edition. Stuff that’s more newsy generally ends up there, rather than waiting up to a month for the next print edition.
I asked Carpenter if the motivation has worn off after five years of hard work. She said no.
“I was at the Mirror for a really long time, 12 years or so,” she said, noting that it was only at the very end that she was an editor with some decision-making power. “Being able to be at the helm of something, I definitely don’t have any trouble staying motivated. My motivation now is the same as when we just started. It’s to give something to support the local cultural scene.”
Fortunately for Carpenter, she no longer has to personally distribute the paper, as she did in its first few months, loading a van every month and bringing copies to dozens of locations. They’ve hired a team of people to distribute the paper for them, despite offers from professionals (notably Diffumag, which distributes Voir) to take them on as clients.
I asked Carpenter about what she’s learned after five years, what advice she could give a 2012 version of herself.
“In the early days we were definitely overextending ourselves trying to do too much stuff, trying to appeal to too many groups at the same time,” she said. “There was a phase where I found some of the stuff we were putting online was too clickbaity.”
So, she said, she’d tell herself: “Chill our a little bit and try to focus on what our real purpose is.”
Like The Mirror and others, Cult’s main selling point is the audience it can reach: young, hip urbanites. Though Carpenter said they have a mix of readers, and the responses to the Best of Montreal polls made that clear.
“You can tell it’s the same people in their 40s and 50s who have been filling out the same form for the Mirror for years,” she said, but there were also answers, particularly in the nightlife section, that showed a different crop of younger people.
Changes in media technology have meant doing things that the Mirror never had to worry about. Like maintain a Facebook page and use it to engage readers.
“We’ve had to learn how to write headlines and excerpts for Facebook,” Carpenter said, to make people want to read stories without resorting to the clickbait gimmicks. Instead, they want to “get our message across: This is what this is.”
So what’s in store for the next five years? Probably more of the same, but better. A website redesign is coming “soon”, Carpenter said. As revenue increases, they want to start paying freelancers better, and eventually add to their staff. “It’s always been my goal to expand our editorial team,” she said. “It would be nice to have an extra person.”
But as far as the content is concerned, it’s still going to fulfill its mandate: to inform readers about what’s going on in the soul of this city.
Cult MTL celebrated its fifth birthday with a party at SAT on Saturday, Aug. 12. For information about Cult MTL, go to cultmontreal.com. To pick up a free copy of their print edition, visit one of the places listed on this page.
Top minimum reporter weekly salaries for unions affiliated with CWA in Canada and U.S. pic.twitter.com/iAz0NEdrNa
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) August 5, 2017
— Chris Gray (@ChrisGSGray) August 7, 2017
After 5 years, I'm retiring my Quebonics column at @CultMTL. Last one in the current issue, out now. It was fun, thanks to all who helped!
— Malcolm Fraser (@worldprovider) August 5, 2017
Amanda Stein, sports reporter at TSN Radio 690, used her famously impeccable handwriting to deliver news she’s been teasing for a bit: She’s leaving the station next month, moving to New Jersey and going to work for the Devils.
Her last day on air in Montreal will be Friday, Aug. 18.
My Announcement…After 7 years at TSN I have decided to move on… My letter, written the only way I know how: pic.twitter.com/lG4SGXxx6i
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) August 7, 2017
Stein writes she was honoured to have the job at TSN. “It is now time, however, to move on, challenge myself in different ways…”
I am thrilled to be joining the @NJDevils for the 2017-18 season! Looking forward to bringing you comprehensive coverage all season long!
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) August 7, 2017
Stein is one of several young women to get their broadcasting start reporting for Montreal’s all-sports station, a list that includes Andie Bennett (now at CBC), Jessica Rusnak (now filling in for Bennett’s mat leave) and Robyn Flynn. If TSN is going to hire someone to replace Stein, Rusnak would be an obvious choice.
After a week off that we’ll pretend was planned all along, here’s what the media has been up to since the last time.
Canadian English TV markets, by size (Nielsen):
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) August 1, 2017
Still unpacking. Found at the bottom of a box. Next to a rotary phone. pic.twitter.com/4aoqtHott5
— Mitch Melnick (@HunterZThompson) July 27, 2017
It’s the height of the Just For Laughs comedy festival, and I’m having a great time burning two weeks of vacation from work. Not to humblebrag, but I got to sit in an aisle seat in row F for the Colin Jost and Michael Che gala last night, laughing enthusiastically as the audience-reaction camera guy pointed his camera at seemingly everyone just above, below and across from me in the aisle. (Note to self: Next time bring pretty lady to sit next to me.) The best seat I’ve ever had for a JFL gala, and probably ever will until I start making Anne-France Goldwater money.
But the highlight of the night for me didn’t come from the gala seat, which would have cost about $100 had I not gotten them on the JFL pass (insane value, folks). No, it came from an under-attended Off-JFL show that I only went to because there was nothing else available at that hour.
Updated with details of the new project below.
Would you pay $4 a month to hear Brian Wilde talk about the Canadiens?
That’s the question Wilde put to his Twitter followers today, proposing to become an independent hockey reporter supported directly by his audience through subscriptions. He’ll go ahead if he has enough interest, with a launch in August/September.
Habs Website-COTW & COTW:Uncensored/Podcasts/Habs Rocket clips/Call in show for subs/Top 200 scorers to win your pool/4$ month or $30 year.
— Brian Wilde (@BWildeRecrutes) July 24, 2017
With almost 1,000 votes to the Twitter poll in two hours, the results are split, with 56% saying yes. But that doesn’t mean 560 people are guaranteed to sign up and remain subscribed.
One of the consequences of a new independent English-language commercial AM station taking half a decade to launch is that it’s been brought up so many times when people get laid off or otherwise cut from other radio and TV stations.
Favourite radio personality loses their show on CJAD or The Beat? That new AM station should hire them and we’ll listen to them there instead!
TTP Media has already indicated that their on-air personalities will include names familiar to Montreal audiences. And since there haven’t been any unexplained high-profile departures from the major stations in the past month, we can assume that some of these names will probably come from the list of those who have been removed from jobs elsewhere and haven’t found better ones elsewhere.
To give you an idea of how many people we’re talking about, I made a list of the on-air personalities who have been cut (laid off, fired, constructively dismissed or otherwise left) from commercial radio and television here in the past decade or so. Some have found part-time or fill-in work, some are working in a different industry (and may or may not be willing to come back) and some may have simply decided to retire.
I’ve excluded managers (Wayne Bews, Mark Dickie, Mary-Jo Barr) and other off-air people, people who have full-time broadcasting jobs elsewhere (AJ Reynolds, Ted Bird, Tasso, Al Gravelle, David Tyler), those who left jobs at campus and community stations (Java Jacobs, Lance Delisle), and the many young interns and temporary workers who simply ran out of contracts.
The list is almost certainly missing some names, so feel free to add others in the comments.
Here’s what I got off the top of my head, in alphabetical order:
— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) July 16, 2017
— Twelve Thirty Six (@1236) July 18, 2017
— STM (@stm_nouvelles) July 13, 2017
— Jamie (@_JamieMac_) July 12, 2017
— Breakfast Television (@BTMontreal) July 7, 2017
Tootall is a rare animal in the radio business. One of the few living legends still on the air, a leftover from the days when DJs picked their own music, and a modest, unassuming guy who knows his music and is generally liked by everyone.
But what might make him the rarest of radio personalities is this: He’s one of the few on-air people who gets to decide when he leaves. (Well, almost. His bosses convinced him to stay a bit longer.)
And so on Wednesday morning, during what was teased as a “big announcement” on the morning show, CHOM announced Tootall’s retirement.
His last day is Sept. 29.
— Nicolas Tetrault?? (@NicolasTetrault) June 30, 2017
For the first time in decades, Montreal has a new full-power commercial English radio station on the air that isn’t replacing an existing one.
CFQR 600 AM, the English-language station owned by TTP Media, officially went on the air on Friday evening, the deadline the CRTC set in its final extension given to the station last fall.
Whether the station made the CRTC’s deadline hasn’t been confirmed. The station has not completed its testing phase, and is broadcasting a message asking people with reception issues to call them in. The authorization first granted in 2012 says the station must be “operational” to meet the deadline, and a licence will be issued “once the applicant has informed the Commission in writing that it is prepared to commence operations.”
But the commission probably won’t nitpick over a few days or weeks when we’ve been waiting almost five years for this station to launch on a frequency no one else has had any interest in for almost 20 years.
Like CFNV 940, CFQR is broadcasting an automated music playlist, with recorded messages promising regular programming “soon”.
The messages feature the voice of Jim Connell, the former 940 News host who appeared in front of the CRTC during TTP Media’s initial licence application in 2011 but took a job with Global Montreal while the group was getting its act together. This is a strong indication that he will be involved with the station when it launches regular programming.
The two messages, being broadcast at regular intervals, are below:
This is CFQR 600, a new English voice in Montreal. Soon, we will be offering the communities on and surrounding the island of Montreal a better blend of information and conversation on this heritage frequency. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates, and enjoy some of your favourite music as we continue building this new voice on Montreal’s airwaves.
You are listening to CFQR, a new English-language radio station serving the greater Montreal area, broadcasting at 600 kilohertz on the AM band. We are currently testing our signal and invite you to contact us toll-free at 1-833-600-1006 if you are experiencing interference because of our signal or if the signal is causing any other reception problems. Our regular programming will be starting soon. Stay tuned.
TTP Media partner Nicolas Tétrault tweeted some pictures from inside the transmission facility on Route 138 in Kahnawake, that houses the two stations.
— CFQR 600 AM Montreal (@CFQR600AM) June 30, 2017
— CFQR 600 AM Montreal (@CFQR600AM) June 30, 2017
At 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts nighttime, CFQR’s signal isn’t as powerful as CFNV’s 50,000-watt clear-channel signal, but it should be good enough for Montreal and surrounding areas. The power and transmitting antennas are identical to the old CIQC, so the reception should be similar.
With the station on the air, the new focus should be programming. As I wrote previously, there are some deals in place with talent, and the group remains committed to talk programming.