(Because, unlike some media outlets, I like to wait until the year is actually finished before I summarize what happened)
A year ago, I called 2007 “a bad year for Quebec journalism”. Had I known what was in store for 2008, I would have called it an omen for worse things to come. What were dozens of job losses then became hundreds of layoffs a year later.
And above all, that’s what 2008 is going to be known for: layoff figures in the triple digits from Torstar, Canwest, CTV, Sun Media and Rogers.
TQS, the Halifax Daily News, the Journal de Trois-Rivières, Global’s This Morning Live, 940 News, the Carleton Free Press, MediaScout, all shut down because they couldn’t justify themselves financially.
The stock market crash correction, housing crisis and credit crunch didn’t make it easier, but they didn’t cause these problems. The media revolution affecting newspapers and other traditional media is only getting more violent, and hundreds of people are losing their jobs while the industry figures out how to make money again. Quality journalism, which was never much of a money-maker in the first place, becomes among the first things to suffer.
Grab a bottle of your favourite booze, ’cause this one’s long.
Quebec and Canadian media in 2008
Jan. 5: On the 10th anniversary of the 1998 Ice Storm, the local media goes nuts with retrospectives.
Jan. 7: Transcontinental adds to its community newspapers by picking up its first third-language one, Montreal-based Corriere Italiano.
Jan. 10: The Gazette launches a weekly Business Observer section, with opinions and analysis from local business types. Its inaugural issue includes a piece by yours truly about amateur content producers being exploited by big media.
Jan. 12: Gazette sports columnist Jack Todd signs off in his final column as an employee. He would return later as a weekly freelance columnist.
Jan. 14: The Journal de Montréal publishes an exposé in which reporter Noée Murchison pretends to be a unilingual anglo and manages to get low-paying sales jobs during the Christmas shopping season. The Gazette’s Andy Riga follows up by going to anglo businesses pretending to be a unilingual francophone. There he encounters no problems.
Jan. 15: The CRTC creates new rules limiting media monopolies that leave just enough room that all the current ones can stay in place.
Jan. 16: Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp decides that the best way to deal with bad press about him and his 8-10 record as head coach is to refuse to speak with The Gazette’s Alouettes columnist Herb Zurkowsky. A year later, the ban remains.
Workers at the Toronto Star vote 96% in favour of a strike mandate. Everyone’s on edge for about a week until they ratify a new three-year contract.
Jan. 18: La Presse is ordered by a court to divulge the source of information it obtained about Adil Charkaoui, who has had his liberties removed from him without knowing the evidence against him.
Jan. 19: CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada decides to broadcast the Canadiens game nationally instead of the Leafs, leaving the latter to just its Toronto-area markets. The result is higher ratings.
Jan. 20: The Toronto Sun prints an article that lifts material without attribution from local blog Torontoist. It later apologizes when the blog calls the newspaper out.
Four local bloggers appear on CBC’s Test the Nation and help their group win the in-studio competition against other stereotypes.
Jan. 21: The CBC reassigns reporter Krista Erickson after she feeds questions to an opposition MP. The CBC’s ombudsman would later clear her of intentional wrongdoing, saying she didn’t receive adequate training and that the rule against doing what she did was not written down.
Jan. 27: I head to 1010 Ste. Catherine St. W. to begin an eight-week contract as a copy editor for The Gazette, over a year after what I thought had been my last shift there. Eight weeks turns into 12, which turns into three months, then eight months, then 12 months, and now 15 months and counting. Immediately the newspaper is flooded with comments from readers about how much the copy editing has improved. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
Jan. 28: Frank Cavallaro, who was unceremoniously canned from CTV Montreal as their chief weather person, gets picked up at rival CBC Montreal where he does the same job with less glitz.
Jan. 29: CTV announces it has come to a deal with CBS to co-produce a one-hour drama series called Flashpoint. CBS gets to produce a series with someone else picking up part of the tab, and CTV gets to call something CanCon even though it’s not paying for all of it.
Feb. 2: With staff departing with buyouts, The Gazette makes some minor changes to various parts of the paper and I do a roundup of departing staff.
Feb. 11: Transcontinental announces that the Halifax Daily News would close and be replaced with a low-budget Metro newspaper. 72 employees lose their jobs. People are sad. The closing leaves the Halifax Chronicle-Herald as the only respectable daily in the city.
Feb. 14: McKibbin’s Irish Pub, which had received a letter from the Office québécois de la langue française about English signs in its establishment, decides to whine to the media about it. And the anglo media eat it up until it’s discovered that the whole thing could have been resolved with a simple letter.
Feb. 29: Frank McCormick, the deep-voiced news reader with CBC Radio Montreal, reads his final newscast and retires.
The National Post’s Andrew McIntosh is ordered by the court to reveal the name of a source who provided information which would be vital in the “Shawinigate” controversy of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
March 3: Global Quebec‘s evening news re-launches as a Vancouver-produced newscast whose local production facility is a desk in front of a green screen. It also starts a one-hour 11pm newscast to replace This Morning Live, which was cancelled because it was too expensive to produce.
March 6: Metro declares itself to be the No. 1 newspaper in Montreal, based on independent readership measurements that show it has the most readers on the island Monday to Friday.
March 7: The journalism department at Carleton University in Ottawa decides that even a basic proficiency in French is no longer needed to graduate. Future journalists will be even more incapable of understanding anything about Quebec or what the heck Gilles Duceppe is talking about.
The Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec denounces a new freelance contract from Quebecor-owned alternative weekly Ici, which makes abusive demands in exchange for pennies a word.
March 10: Lino Saputo decides to sue three newspapers because of articles which suggest he may be linked to the Mafia.
Remstar buys TQS. Everyone’s hopeful that a new dawn is approaching.
March 19: La Presse and its union comes to an agreement on blogging and other new media issues. The agreement allows La Presse some flexibility while ensuring that reporting, photography and videography are tasks performed by professionals who will have the time to do their jobs properly. The agreement, which also pays reporters extra to blog, allows Tristan Péloquin, among others, to return to blogging.
March 27: The Gazette launches a new hyper-local website for the West Island at westislandgazette.com. It provides a place for all sorts of anglo grandmothers to post pictures of their grandchildren and their cats.
March 28: The CBC relaunches two digital specialty channels, Bold (formerly Country Canada) and Documentary (formerly The Documentary Channel). Their generic names make them easily forgettable.
March 31: In a relaunching of its opinion section, giving more room to letters, less room to editorials and introducing online content, The Gazette also launches a blog by editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips. Phillips, who walks the tough line between crazy whining leftist union types and money-pinching corporate dictators, decides that subjecting himself to the illogical wrath of Tommy Schnurmacher and CJAD listeners would be a welcome respite from his day job.
April 2: The Liberal Party sues La Presse for having procured an internal party document, then change their mind when they decide it wasn’t an official document.
April 3: The CRTC turns down an application for a nationwide over-the-air HD broadcast television network that wanted to be exempt from having to produce any local programming whatsoever.
April 4: Franco Nuovo departs as a Journal de Montréal columnist. He keeps his job at Radio-Canada as a weekly radio show host.
April 17: The Toronto Star announces it is cutting 160 jobs.
April 21: The Canadiens win a semi-important hockey game and a small pocket of the city goes nuts. Because the riot happens after midnight, the next day’s papers don’t have much about it. Still, the police start seizing reporters’ notes and footage to use in their investigation. The media resists, and get Quebec Superior Court to rule that the police were wrong to seize tapes and other material. The material is returned unopened.
April 23: TQS announces it is no longer in the news-gathering business and fires its entire news division. When the CRTC balks at that, TQS decides to allow a token amount of news, and the CRTC accepts that as a compromise. The new shows, which include a full hour a week of local news, get laughably low ratings while TQS’s ex-employees try to find other work. The news comes a week after anchor-vedette Jean-Luc Mongrain had jumped ship.
May 1: Beryl Wajsman, the editor of The Suburban, launches a new bilingual newspaper with long-form journalism and opinions called The Métropolitain.
May 7: CBC gets mad when satellite TV provider StarChoice offers packages that don’t include its RDI French all-news channel, against CRTC rules that requires it be on all packages as part of a basic offering. StarChoice makes an argument that RDI is available on its French basic package, but the CRTC doesn’t buy it and in November orders StarChoice to put RDI back.
The media picks up on a story that a Conservative cabinet minister named Maxime Bernier had dated a woman named Julie Couillard who was once connected to the Hells Angels biker gang. The story lasts a couple of days and is then forgotten. Or not.
May 8: Quebecor announces that the Journal de Trois-Rivières and 24 Heures in Gatineau would close their doors.
May 9: The National Newspaper Awards are handed out, with the usual suspects (Globe and Mail, La Presse) picking up the most awards.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council releases a decision which blames CP24 for using photos from Flickr without permission or attribution, saying it goes against journalistic ethics.
May 13: The West End Chronicle finally gets tired of being confused with the West Island Chronicle (the name similarity is no coincidence – the two papers are both owned by Transcontinental, who thought it would be good to have a united brand) and changes its name back to the NDG Monitor.
May 14: Quebecor (TVA) gets mad at Gesca (La Presse) about journalists there pointing out that Quebecor-owned outlets blurred the face of (and refused to name) Julie Couillard when the whole Couillard-Bernier scandal first broke. The back and forth gets even more bizarre, with accusations against La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé being easily refuted.
May 17: Gazette reporter Jeff Heinrich breaks a major scoop with quotes from the final draft of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report on reasonable accommodation. The scoop leads to all sorts of complaints from groups who decide to shoot the messenger, even to the point of filing official complaints. When the report is officially released, the complaints against the Gazette for getting the story wrong suddenly disappear.
May 23: The West Island Chronicle once again brings home the biggest haul at the Quebec Community Newspaper Awards.
May 26: The Globe reports that the era of Bob Cole (and Harry Neale) is coming to an end.
May 31: The Globe and Mail pulls the plug on its Globe Insider service and opens up all articles for free to web visitors, leaving only Le Devoir as a Canadian daily that locks content to subscribers only. Articles on the Globe website aren’t free forever, however, and archives are locked out from the public.
June 6: 940 News in Montreal announces that it is changing to a lame hits format and eviscerating its news division, firing 18 people, including 14 journalists. Some of them find better jobs. The union representing its workers eventually files a complaint with the CRTC, but no action has yet come of it.
June 8: The Gazette reaches a deal with its workers’ union to offer enhanced severage packages to dozens of call centre employees who were to be laid off. The next week, customer service was outsourced to a Canwest operation in Winnipeg.
June 9: CTV announces it has purchased the rights to the former theme for Hockey Night in Canada after its author and CBC couldn’t come to a licensing deal on the song. CBC quickly moves on a new hockey theme contest, accepting thousands of crappy entries from the public, and selecting one as its new theme. CTV, meanwhile, re-records the theme as elevator music and has RDS and TSN use it at the beginning of all hockey games.
June 13: RadCan announces the Céline Galipeau will replace Bernard Derome as the anchor of the Téléjournal, and have access to the nuclear launch codes be the new face of its news division. This news somewhat mitigates forcing two other female journalists into new jobs.
June 19: The Quebec Press Council slaps the wrist of TVA for airing a report based entirely on an article from the biweekly newspaper Courrier Laval without citing it as a source. The decision is appealed but upheld.
June 27: The local media discover that the French magazine Paris-Match got confused and thought the province of Quebec was celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, not the city. So they wrote a bunch of stuff about Montreal.
July 2: Workers at the Journal de Québec approve a deal that will put them back to work after more than a year on the picket lines.
July 5: The Gazette slashes the size of its weekly TV Times, cutting overnight listings. The Globe and Mail quickly follows with a similar move. As more people get digital service with on-screen guides, the need for a paper guide is vanishing.
July 7: The NDP announces that former CBC Radio Noon host Anne Lagacé Dowson will run for the party in a by-election in the riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie. She takes a leave of absence from CBC and the position subsequently becomes vacant.
July 10: Mitch Joel, the local blogger on digital marketing, starts a column in The Gazette.
July 11: Dans une galaxie près de chez vous 2 is so successful it opens at the anglo Dollar Cinema.
July 12: The West Island Chronicle launches an online-only weekend edition, with the kind of fluff that’s just too fluffy to make it into the real paper.
July 15: The CRTC asks for comments on a request by Videotron to stop closed-captioning its pornographic on-demand TV programming.
July 21: The Gazette launches a new column on public transit. It’s in advice-column format, with anwers from transit agency spokesflaks. The column would be expanded in the fall to include transportation issues in general.
July 24: CTV Montreal suddenly announces that anchor Brian Britt will retire and be replaced by Todd van der Heyden. Britt reportedly didn’t want to make a big deal out of his departure, as had been the case two years earlier when he replaced long-time anchor Bill Haugland.
August 8: MédiaMatinQuébec publishes its final issue.
The Beijing Olympic Games officially begin, and the various media outlets do their best to setup special sections and blogs devoted to Olympics news coverage. NBC shows events “live” when they’re not, and non-rights-holding networks are prohibited even from using short clips of the events in their news coverage.
August 11: CTV rebrands its “A” channel secondary network.
August 13: The CRTC approves an all-Canadian porn channel called Northern Peaks. Newspapers have a field day. It also gives the OK for an all-baseball network for Rogers.
Workers at the Journal de Québec are back on the job after being locked out or on strike for over a year.
August 14: TSN announces it is abusing being creative with its ability to split its feed to launch TSN2, which will have mostly the same content, only time-shifted for the west coast. It allows them to broadcast two live sporting events at the same time. The competition quickly gets pissed off and protests.
August 15: Le Cas Roberge, a film based on the Quebec web series, opens in theatres. It would last only two weeks.
August 17: Le Soleil’s TV writer Richard Therrien joins the blogosphere.
August 19: Astral Media pulls the plug on its Tout Acheter Tout Vendre (TATV) hopping channel, leaving a hole in TV channel lineups.
August 26: The Globe and Mail signs an 18-year, $1.7 billion deal with Transcontinental to print its newspaper, in an environment where most newspaper owners aren’t sure the medium will last through the next decade.
Sept. 4: Télétoon Rétro, devoted to old cartoons, launches in French. Videotron adds both French and English networks to its Illico digital TV service.
Sept. 8: Google announces it is working with newspapers to digitize their archives and make them searchable. One of those newspapers is the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, North America’s oldest.
Terry DiMonte, who had left CHOM FM for Calgary’s Q107 a year earlier because of an offer he couldn’t refuse, begins a show on Q92 which he does from his studio in Calgary. He replaces David Tyler, who begins looking for other work.
The Gazette redesigns its Monday paper, going from five sections to three, in an effort to reduce costs. Among new features are Monday Close-up, a profile of someone who will be in the news that week, and a look-ahead news calendar put together by yours truly.
Sept. 10: The Discovery Channel throws out any suggestion that it’s focused on science and technology by putting on a cheesy low-budget game show and a show about explosions. Combined with endless Mythbusters repeats, it fills the schedule.
Sept. 13: Le Devoir sets up an election blog, its first foray into blogging.
Sept. 15: The Conference of Defence Associations, a military industry lobby group, gives a cash award to Le Devoir reporter Alec Castonguay. The move infuriates leftist groups, who say it’s a gross violation of journalistic integrity for journalists to take money from lobby groups in exchange for coverage.
Sept. 20: The Gazette cuts its Books section from once a week to once a month (though it would be larger), plus a page in the Saturday section on weeks it doesn’t publish.
Sept. 23: Astral Media announces it will launch HBO Canada, a pay TV channel with mostly HBO content.
Cyberpresse goes live with a redesign which looks better but still gives its individual papers no personality.
The same day, Arpin and partner Patrick Dion launch WebTVHebdo, an online guide to online television, with a focus on Quebec productions.
Sept. 28: Workers in three departments at The Gazette vote overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate. The largest department, editorial, votes 98% in favour.
Sept. 29: CJLO, Concordia University’s student radio station, officially launches on 1690AM after completing testing. The station had been actively trying to get a broadcasting license for five years.
Oct. 1: Montreal-based arts writers launch an online magazine called Rover.
Gazette reporters pull their bylines as part of pressure tactics in contract negotiations.
Oct. 8: Canwest News Service calls a Concordia journalism student to ask her to freelance for them as a back-door Gazette scab. It backfires when she takes her story to Maclean’s.
Oct. 9: CTV Atlantic interviews Stéphane Dion, and confusing being francophone with being stupid, they air the interview’s outtakes to mock him, despite telling Dion and his staff they wouldn’t.
Oct. 10: As the Canadiens open their season, RDS introduces Benoit Brunet as their main play-by-play analyst. He replaces Yvon Pedneault, who was unceremoniously fired. Meanwhile, The Gazette launches a new about-monthly special section on the Habs.
Oct. 11: TQS premieres a half-hour weekend newscast which is too embarrassing for words.
Colin Oberst wins CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Anthem Challenge, and his song is immortalized as a sub-par replacement for the original theme, whose home is now with TSN and RDS.
Oct. 13: The Winnipeg Free Press goes on strike, a day before a federal election. They quickly launch their own news site, and both sides use their online presence to issue statements correcting the misleading statements of the other side. The Free Press doesn’t print for the two-week disruption, but updates its website with whatever it can. It comes to an end after two weeks.
Oct. 14: Canwest’s sacking of TV Times columnist Eric Kohanik leads to some ruminations about the state of printed TV guides.
Gazette workers take to the streets in protest to let people know what management is demanding of them. Doing so on election day when news departments are focused entirely on one event turns out to have not been the best idea to get some ink flowing about it.
Canadians vote in a federal election, in which Canadians elected a minority Conservative government just as they were told to do, and the media is all over covering how they covered it.
Oct. 16: The Gazette prints a funky four-page insert that imagines what a newspaper would look like had it been printed in the days of Samuel de Champlain. It’s used as an educational tool.
Oct. 18: The Toronto Star announces it will no longer print anonymous web comments in its newspaper’s letters to the editor page beside real letters which require real names and stuff.
Oct. 20: The CRTC approves new rules on media ownership that put a few more holes in the wall between newsrooms owned by the same company. Richard Martineau has no problem with them in his Journal de Montréal column, his LCN show and his Canoe blog.
Oct. 22: Gazette workers launch an online petition to rally support for its side of the contract negotiation talk. About 7,000 people would eventually care enough to sign, including Anita Bath and her relatives.
Oct. 23: The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein reports that CTV Montreal is killing the only two non-newscast shows it produces: Entertainment Spotlight and SportsNight 360. They’ll be replaced with more newscasts.
Oct. 27: The Carleton Free Press, a newspaper in New Brunswick that dared take on the Irving media empire, closes after it can’t make the balance sheet work. It argues that Irving-owned Brunswick News slashed ad rates to drive the competition out of business, a charge Brunswick News denies.
Nov. 1: The Gazette and Journal de Montréal exploit Habs fans’ gullibility and get involved in a scheme to sell them medallions of the team’s players. Demand is unexpectedly huge, leading to 5am lineups at Couche-Tard and a series of apologies that the trinkets had run out.
Canwest newspapers across the country spare two full pages in their business sections to reprint page from the Financial Post. The Winnipeg Free Press also takes advantage, as FP no longer delivers daily to Manitoba.
Nov. 3: Tech blogger Mathew Ingram announces the Globe and Mail is making him its “communities editor”, a job without much of a description to it.
Canadian Learning Television (CLT) relaunches itself as “Viva”, a network for “boomer women”. It keeps its most popular show, The West Wing.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters announces awards for private broadcasting in Canada. Quebec is largely ignored in non-francophone categories.
Nov. 4: The U.S. holds a presidential election whose result was pretty well known beforehand. Canadian newspapers take notice of the event.
Nov. 5: Canwest announces it’ll start streaming Family Guy and 24 as part of Global TV’s on-demand streaming website. Many people discover for the first time that Global even has such a thing.
The Action démocratique gets anglophone Gazette freelancer Mark Cardwell to take on PQ leader Pauline Marois in her Quebec City riding. Marois got 52% of the vote to Cardwell’s 13%.
Nov. 12: The Suburban puts a virtual edition of its paper online, so that everyone can see all the ads as they appear in the paper.
The giant axe falls at Canwest: 560 jobs, about 5% of the workforce, will be gone, either voluntarily or through layoffs. It would be the first of many announcements of layoffs by Canadian media.
Nov. 23: The Canadian Football Hall of Fame honours Gazette CFL writer Herb Zurkowsky and ex-Alouette and current sports broadcaster Tony Proudfoot with inductions.
Canadian Press reports that Quebecor Media is behind most of the access-to-information requests to the CBC, which it uses to write stories about how much the CBC sucks.
Nov. 26: Halifax’s Metro newspaper, which replaced the Daily News a year ago in a move that sent dozens of people to the unemployment office, cuts four more employees.
Nov. 27: CTV cuts 105 jobs in Toronto, mainly at its specialty networks.
Nov. 29: The Gazette launches a new redesigned website, which infuriates readers who are resistant to all change. Similar redesigns are launched at Canwest’s 10 regional dailies across the country.
Dec. 3: CBC management try to justify their paycheques by proposing new ideas for re-invigorating TV and radio. Some, like having more transparency in reporting, are good. Others, like shrinking Newsworld’s screen to put weather and stock graphics around it, are stupid.
The Prime Minister asks the TV networks for airtime so he can address the nation and save his job. The networks give equal time for a response from opposition Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, which turns into a disaster when the tape arrives late, badly framed and out of focus. Though we’d like to think of ourselves as a nation that values message over style, the tape ends up pushing Dion out the door.
Dec. 4: The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec discovers that we’re actually pretty content with the amount of local journalism we get, even moreso in the “regions”.
Dec. 5: Astral Media announces that Mix 96 will become a Virgin Radio station, though it will keep the same crappy music.
Dec. 8: Quebecers go to the polls in a provincial election. During the evening results telecasts, all the stations rush to declare a Liberal majority government shortly after 8:30pm (even RadCan’s Bernard Derome, who wrongly called Charest losing his seat last time), then watch throughout the night as the results come perilously close to proving them wrong.
Dec. 15: The labour board rules that the Journal de Québec did, indeed, use scabs during its long labour conflict.
Dec. 18: Radio-Canada’s Bernard Derome retires (again) from the anchor chair of the Téléjournal, to great journalistic fanfare, from everyone but TVA.
Dec. 19: Maisonneuve Magazine shuts down MediaScout, its daily digest of the big stories in the news.
Dec. 31: The contract at the Journal de Montréal expires, leaving open the possibility of a strike or lockout. The union believes the latter will come within days, but the two sides come to a deal which will see it delayed at least a few weeks.
The Gazette loses two copy editors and a reporter to another round of buyouts, and closes its Ottawa bureau with the departure of Elizabeth Thompson.
Other media lookbacks
- Canoe’s biggest stories of 2008 includes a list of most-consulted Journal de Montréal drama crises dossiers and best of crime stories
- Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien looks at TV in Quebec, both in front of and behind the scenes.
- La Presse/Cyberpresse has an entire section on 2008 lookbacks. It includes top 10 most read blog posts (unsurprisingly, five of them are from Patrick Lagacé), top 10 most read news stories (oral sex and Heath Ledger) and a retrospective on arts.
- RadCan has lists of most-read stories, most-read dossiers (the three elections top that list) and most-viewed videos.
- La Presse’s Nathalie Collard has a brief article on the status of newspapers.
- The Globe and Mail looks at sports telecasts and quotes from TV sports analysts.
- The Globe also looks at TV entertainment
- Metro says 2008 was the year of the pop-culture letdown
- The Toronto Star says 2008 is the year that television died.
- Regret the Error has a roundup of the year in media corrections, a plagiarism/fabrication roundup and some hopes and dreams for 2009.
- The state of newspaper multimedia in 2008
- Newspaper Death Watch Best & Worst of 2008
- The Daily Beast’s Year (Ahead) In Media
- Reporters Without Borders press freedom roundup