Thoughts on local media

Kate McDonnell, author of the much-read Montreal City Weblog, does her yearly anniversary post and writes about how local media has changed since her blog was launched in 2001. A recommended read for people interested in the local media scene (like me).

Some thoughts to add:

Major local media have all redesigned their websites multiple times since 2001. Most now copy each other (much like print newspaper layouts copy each other), their homepages excessively long, far too much focus on Javascript, Flash and throwing as many links as possible into a tiny space. The idea of the Internet portal died a long time ago, but many still concentrate on the homepage as the single point of entry.

I don’t own an iPhone, and I use my cellphone strictly for making calls (and sending text messages), so I can’t comment on mobile offerings. But it would be nice if content-providing websites would open up their content a bit and let us make it work with our devices. Force us to go to your page for the full article if you’re worried about page impressions, but let us spread the technology to better connect those pages with the people who want to see them.

At some point in the future, the idea of paying for wire copy will be considered ridiculous. It made sense for newspapers. It doesn’t make sense online. Sure, keep your Canadian Press subscriptions for now, but at least separate the copy-paste wire dreck from original content your journalists create. Don’t lump it all into one feed and put it all on one page.

Local media need to hire more programmers and geeks. Even with all the advances there is still so much inefficiency when it comes to news websites and how journalists and editors perform their craft.

For many people, Twitter is replacing the RSS feed. That can be both good and bad. But a lot of people just use Twitter to replicate their RSS feed. That’s just bad. If I want to follow your feed, I’ll do it in Google Reader, instead of getting a truncated headline and bit.ly link. If I see “via twitterfeed” on your Twitter page, I won’t be following.

I can’t help but agree about the “old arts weeklies”. I don’t read Voir much (Steve Proulx excepted), but my interest in the two anglo weeklies has diminished considerably. I thought it was because they focused less on news and more on arts, but I think they’re falling behind in both categories, going through the motions instead of spending effort coming up with something new. I find I get more interesting news from The Suburban than Hour or Mirror, and that’s not saying much.

As for Metro, Transcontinental’s free daily, it has improved a lot since its launch in 2001, when it was exclusively wire copy. Now it has actual journalists. They’re not doing groundbreaking investigative reporting, but considering their budget it’s surprising the amount of original local content they get in. I’m not sure how much of their recent quality is based on competition with 24 Heures, whose journalists seem to exist right now solely to provide filler for the locked out Journal de Montréal, though. That might change if that labour conflict is ever solved.

Which brings us to Rue Frontenac, which has been working hard, but doesn’t look like the kind of website that needs 253 people to put together. Obviously people have other responsibilities like picketing, and not all of those employees are journalists, but the small core of people putting out most of the stuff at that website is arguably exactly what the Journal and Quebecor want.

Finally, as far as local bloggers are concerned, well, that’s the subject of another post.

Oh, and Kate, maybe it’s time to install WordPress and start allowing comments on that blog. That way I don’t have to write a response on my own blog to get it published.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on local media

  1. jean.naimard

    Métro has actually worsened. At the beginning, it was covering a lot of left issues, nowadays it’s yet some more run-of-the-mill croporatist dozing-off news you heard on the web 2-3 days before.

    Reply
  2. Jean-François Codère

    If the comments were enabled, I wouldn’t have to come here either to mention that you can use the little squares at the top left corner of our rotating news to navigate through them, in case you miss one. Granted, if the design was good I wouldn’t have to explain it, but there it is anyway!

    Reply
  3. Pepper Boxer

    Publishing a blog update via Twitter is probably somewhat redundant. As you pointed out, RSS already exists. But, I think there are still a lot of folks out there who don’t know even know about Google Reader (or any other RSS client). Twitter, on the other hand, has been popularized by Hollywood celebrities.

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  4. Singlestar

    “find I get more interesting news from The Suburban than Hour or Mirror”
    I won’t argue with you about whether the Hour and Mirror have gone downhill, but what have you (ever) found of interest in the Suburban?

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      1. Jamie O'Meara

        The very fact that Kate feels she needs to justify her work speaks volumes about the self-involvement of so many of those, Fagstein included, working in a blog format. Not to diminish this form of media: far from it. I’m a huge fan of the work of both of Fagstein and Kate, no word of a lie, and am a daily reader. That said, I think a little honesty might advance the discourse.
        I would no sooner go to Kate’s or Fagstein’s blog for an interview with a local indie rock band or theatre or dance company than any reader would come to Hour for a 2,000-word blow-by-blow breakdown of Fagstein’s frustrations with his latest hacker. It’s apples and oranges, and to hold Hour to the editorial agenda of blogs that, by definition, have no editorial agenda, is as unfair as it is disingenuous.
        We are an arts and cultural and community based publication. Nothing more, nothing less. I agree that The Suburban is doing above-average work in terms of news coverage, especially of West Montreal. If that was within our editorial mandate, I’d be worried. As it’s not, I, like some of the rest of you, welcome their coverage.
        Perhaps there are those among you who, like Kate and Fagstein, feel that it should be part of our editorial mandate. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Unfortunately for me, my staff, and our readership, it’s not 1995 anymore. When people don’t buy ads, as is the case right across the board right now in print media, we are severely hamstrung in terms of the quality (or more accurately, quantity) of the product we are able to offer our readership. To blame that on the editors and journalists who are doing their best not just to preserve the integrity of the paper they work for, but to put food on the table, as Kate and Fagstein suggest, is not just ignorant, it’s offensive.
        We’re in a long-term battle, as the only independently run media outlet in the city (Mirror is operated by Quebecor as a loss leader and loses more money every week than many of us earn in a year), to keep English journalists employed and to provide Montrealers with cultural and arts news that they won’t get anywhere else.
        To wrap this up, we’re making a dedicated effort to get news and information above and beyond what our print edition calls for out on our website, on our new blog, Up to the Hour. Which, incidentally, none of us are getting paid for either.
        All of that said, and I can speak for the larger Hour crew, you guys do great work and we’ll continue to support.

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  5. Kate M.

    If the Weblog could be my full-time job I’d enable comments, but what with chasing down spam, responding to comments, clarifying my statements, putting out flame wars, too much of my life would have to be given over to it. I have a day job in which I am categorically not able to mind the blog for a certain number of hours every day, and that would not work out. NoDeli is right – it’s a conscious decision not to have comments. Yet.

    There’s another oddball reason I’ve stayed with Blogger and (thanks Neumontréal) a simple layout. It’s suited to short posts, which by chance has turned out to adapt well to Twitter. I’ve actually tried doing a more CMS-based version for awhile (offsite, it was an experiment) and compacting a day’s news into one post, bullet-point style, and it was much less fun to do, and I think a lot harder to read. Not entirely sure why.

    That said, montreal.com is going to move to a CMS-based design eventually, and we’re going to have some discussion forums and stuff so that commenting on my blog would be redundant anyway. The blog will evolve at that point, whenever me and the boy can set aside the hours to work on it.

    Reply
  6. wkh

    It bothers me when people actually refer to you as “Fagstein.” I keep imagining you as this weird frankenstein in velour pants and a boa and aviator shades. Hey. You could actually GO as Fagstein for Halloween!

    Reply

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