Andrew Phillips in the Tommy hotseat

I don’t envy Andrew Phillips’s job. As editor-in-chief of the Gazette, his involves lots of paperwork, employee management and dealing with various crises. More importantly, though, he’s a public face of the paper, which means he has to respond to everyone’s complaints. And those complaints can get very heated.

On Friday, Andrew (yeah, we call him by his first name, he’s cool like that) stepped into the ultimate torture chamber for a Gazette editor: Tommy Shnurm… Schumra… Tommy’s morning show on CJAD. If you’ve never listened to that station, just imagine all the grumpy old people you know. They’ve all lived here for decades, read the Gazette every day, want those kids off their lawn and think everything was better before. And Andrew Phillips took their questions.

Here’s a quick summary of what was said:

Part 1

  • Andrew talks about the new Viewpoints page which launched on Monday
  • Susan says she’s frustrated that The Gazette is “forcing” its readers to go online (extended stock pages are no longer printed on Saturdays but only available online). Andrew responds that it’s the people, not the media, who are demanding these changes and moving online to get their news. Andrew also says the paper gets most of its revenue from the print edition, and there are no plans to cancel that as Susan fears might happen.

Part 2

  • Arlene says the font should be bigger and the print is too light. Andrew responds that the print quality is on par with that of other papers and the body type hasn’t been reduced in years.
  • Tommy asks what the Gazette is doing to attract younger readers, and Andrew mentions the paper’s music coverage on Thursdays, its Tuesday Youth Zone page aimed at high school students, and its focus on online.
  • Seymour says ads have increased so much there’s little editorial content left, and he only spends 45 minutes reading the paper cover to cover instead of hours he spent before. Andrew says 45 minutes is a long time to spend with the paper and he doesn’t think there’s enough advertising (in absolute terms).

Part 3

  • Tommy asks what percentage of the paper is local coverage, and Andrew says according to his calculations about 80-85 per cent of the paper is written locally.
  • Chris says he disagrees, says it seems he’s reading a “Canwest” paper and not a “Gazette” paper, especially in movie reviews for example. Andrew says he doesn’t think that it’s crucial for a local reviewer to review every movie, because the review won’t be that different whether it’s Canwest or the Gazette.
  • Stan says the Gazette is a tabloid masquerading as a broadsheet and declining in quality. There’s no hard news on the front page on Saturdays, and he’s fed up with those annoying wrap-around ads. Andrew says newspapers who sell for 55 cents a copy must make hard decisions about coverage, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with a serious newspaper having a splashy cover page on Saturdays.

Part 4

  • Andrew talks about
  • Christopher asks why he should stay with the Gazette instead of the Globe and Mail (which doesn’t use as much wire copy to supplement its coverage) and La Presse (which has more local reporters). Andrew says The Gazette is the way to go if you want Montreal news in English.
  • Oliver says The Gazette is fantastic, especially in arts and lifestyle sections.
  • Tommy asks what comic strip is the most popular, but Andrew says none particularly stands out in the surveys they’ve done.
  • Tommy asks what sections of the paper are most popular. Andrew says in terms of the type of information people want, their surveys always show a high priority for local news.
  • George says he’s frustrated at why obits are always in a different section every day. Andrew says it’s all about putting the jigsaw puzzle together and you can check the index at the bottom of A1 to find out where the obits are each day. (It’s really complicated juggling ads, comics, puzzles, obits, weekly special pages and doing so in a way that ensures every section has an even number of pages (and usually a number divisible by four as well. That means the obits will move depending on the day — but Monday to Saturday it’s usually at the back of the business section)

Part 5

  • John says quality of writing and reporting has gone downhill since mid-90s, and he objects to the firing of Bill Johnson (even though that was over a decade ago). Andrew says he doesn’t know how to answer that.
  • Charles says there’s not enough coverage of amateur sport, at least compared to the Journal de MontrĂ©al. Andrew says the paper can’t do everything, and can’t cover all amateur sports (especially when readers want pro sports, especially hockey), but online ventures like provide an opportunity for people to spread the world about amateur sport. (I should also add that Dave Yates has a weekly column on Fridays about amateur sport, but there is so much going on it would be impossible to cover it all)
  • Jerry says newsprint comes onto his hands from the paper. Andrew says it’s the nature of newsprint and his hands get even dirtier because he reads six papers a day.

Part 6

  • Heather says the quality is still superb even if the paper is condensed
  • Tommy asks why there are fewer columnists than there used to be. Andrew says he doesn’t think there are fewer columnists and the paper has dozens of people writing for it.
  • Carol says she’s sad to see the nutritional information in recipes being removed. Andrew says it was a lot of work to put together and the interest didn’t justify the work
  • Mike wants to know who selects the quote of the day. Andrew says it’s people on the news desk who do it, selecting from various sources and usually trying to keep it tied to the main stories. He says he’s always impressed by the quote selections, and the copy editors at the paper are awesome, especially that Steve Faguy guy.

The summary of that last part might not be word-for-word accurate, but it’s the gist of the conversation.

More questions? Ask Andrew directly on his blog.

3 thoughts on “Andrew Phillips in the Tommy hotseat

  1. Pingback: Montreal Gazette

  2. James Lawlor

    Sorry Fagstein but I don’t read The Gazette very often – only on-line.
    The web site is very busy and doesn’t seem to have that many stories available.

    Despite being an anglophone, I have a subscription to both La Presse and Le Devoir.

    My ratings of local newspaper web sites:
    Best: Le Devoir (I don’t mind paying for quality)
    Middle: The Globe and Mail, La Presse
    Worst: The Gazette


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