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.