Time to cut back on messages from the mayor

In case you missed it, last month the borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-dame-de-Grâce-de-our-borough-name-is-too-long relaunched its quarterly newsletter, renaming it “Le Citoyen” and giving it a newspaperish look. It also moved to a five-issues-a-year schedule instead of four.

This caused some concern from those who saw this as the borough attempting to replace the NDG Monitor, which recently decided to stop its print edition, with a government propaganda machine which would never be critical of the borough.

The Gazette’s Henri Aubin takes a critical look at the first issue of Le Citoyen, which is available as a PDF in English and French on the borough’s website. The Suburban’s Dan Delmar also looks at Le Citoyen, with quotes from journalist-turned-borough-PR-director Michel Therrien.

A direct comparison is somewhat silly here. One is a quarterly newsletter, and the other was a small, understaffed weekly newspaper that had maybe one article a week that provided anything resembling interesting local news.

Still, there’s a larger question here: If the private news media is unwilling or unable to provide loal news, will it be up to the towns themselves – and their seemingly limitless communications budgets – to provide it for us? Could future newspaper shutdowns be followed by newsletter startups that try to fill the gap in information about local events and (uncontroversial) informtion?

It’s not the borough’s fault that The Monitor shut down, so there’s no sense in blaming them for it, or calling it unethical, as The Monitor’s Toula Foscolos does.

What should be outraging people (like former councillor Jeremy Searle and Aubin) is that the borough is spending $73,000 a year (and probably more in editorial, design and other costs) to distribute a newsletter to 80,000 people who won’t read it because it’s filled with self-congratulatory messages that don’t say anything even remotely useful.

Take this from borough mayor Michael Applebaum:

Applebaum message in Le Citoyen (Feb. 2009)

Applebaum message in Le Citoyen (Feb. 2009)

Now, other than the fact that Applebaum is now on Montreal’s executive committee, responsible for sports and recreation, did you learn anything from the text above?

This isn’t a problem limited to CDN/NDG. All the boroughs have these kinds of newsletters, and they’re all filled with messages from elected officials talking about how honoured they are at something or other. Some include messages from each of the councillors as well, wasting untold amounts of space and money.

Not only do our highest elected officials have to spend time writing (or, in Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s case, hire writers to compose) absolutely pointless messages, but they then must be edited, translated and laid out in these newsletters, which are then printed and sent out.

There’s a usefulness to borough newsletters. The last one in my borough gave details about changes to garbage and recycling collection schedules. But nobody in my apartment building read it because these things get tossed away as soon as they arrive (just like the local Transcontinental weekly and the Publi-Sac).

Perhaps, during this time where everyone is cutting back their budgets, it might be a good idea to spend less time on these self-congratulatory messages and only distribute printed newsletters that contain information that’s actually useful to citizens.

And maybe the city can spend its communications budget making its website easier to navigate instead of patting itself on the back in print (or putting up ads everywhere asking people not to move to the suburbs).

3 thoughts on “Time to cut back on messages from the mayor

  1. Alanah

    Interesting point…
    Might i recommend that the borough spend its apparently massive communications budget on is making their public council meeting announcements as friendly as their newsletter is trying to be.
    I have been subscribed to their announcements for years, and once a month I receive a pdf-attachment invitation in legalese, containing a link to their website on which it is apparently possible to hunt down the meeting agenda (in french only).
    This has yet to entice me to make the trip to CDN (a fair distance from my hood – something you have written about before) to find out what is actually going on / participate in local democracy.
    sigh.

    Reply
  2. Tim

    Just breaking down the numbers:
    5 issues / yr.
    $78,000 annual budget
    80,000 residents
    (assumption: 2.0 residents per household) 40,000 households

    That brings the total cost 39¢ per newsletter produced, edited, published and distributed to each doorstoop and letterbox in the C-D-N/N-D-(OMG so many lettrz)-G borough. That doesn’t strike me as too offensive; though keeping the costs lower by cutting out the meaningless blather would still be a good thing. You probably have a better idea of the Gazette’s marginal costs; how does this compare to their per-unit production cost?

    Reply

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