Monthly Archives: July 2010

Water gun fight this Saturday

If you’re not doing anything on Saturday afternoon, a water gun fight is being planned for outside city hall.

About 100 people have confirmed their presence on Facebook (which usually means about 10 people will show up).

It’s at the fountain at Place Vauquelin, which is just outside city hall on Notre Dame St. at Place Jacques Cartier (Champs de Mars metro), at 2pm.

Weather so far calls for sunny sky and 25 degrees.

UPDATE: Turnout was better than I expected, a good 50 or so. My pictures are below in a slideshow or on Flickr.

There are also photos on Facebook.

Chatr and the fake mobile competitors

Rogers yesterday launched a new wireless “brand” called Chatr, which is being rolled out in several Canadian cities and is supposed to come to Montreal soon.

The launch has caused some ruckus because its pricing plan is seen as targeting one of the new wireless competitors just starting up. Mobilicity, which says Rogers is using predatory pricing to drive it out of the marketplace, says it will take legal action.

I’m no mobile pricing expert, but $45 for unlimited talk and text doesn’t seem unfair to me. And bringing everyone’s prices down was the entire point of having new entrants into the wireless market, no? (Admittedly, the fact that Chatr is available only in the largest cities is kind of suspicious since it uses the Rogers network.)

What bothers me about this launch isn’t the fact that it’s competing with other wireless providers, it’s that Rogers is doing its best to fool people into thinking the service has nothing to do with Rogers.

Take a look at the press release. The word “Rogers” doesn’t appear anywhere. It makes a vague reference to “a trusted network”, but no mention of what network that is. The blurb “about chatr wireless” also makes no reference to Rogers, making it seem as if this is an independent company.

Same thing on the website (which is neither chatr.com nor chatr.ca, meaning Rogers has picked this stupid name without even getting the benefit of the stupid name domain name). Not on its frequently asked questions page, its coverage page, or its “about chatr” page. This isn’t just being forgetful or not wanting to draw attention to something. There’s a serious effort here to hide the fact that Rogers is behind this brand.

They’re all doing it

This is nothing new. When Koodo launched in 2008, Telus did everything it could to hide the fact that they were behind it. The word “Telus” doesn’t appear on Koodo’s “About Us” page or coverage page either. You have to go to the fine print of the privacy policy, and read its fine print to see them say that Koodo is actually a division of Telus.

Virgin Mobile Canada makes it seem as if they’re owned by Virgin Group, but in fact it’s owned by Bell Mobility, a name that appears nowhere on their website.

Of the virtual brands, only Solo Mobile (Bell) and Fido (Rogers) make it clear who they’re owned by.

8=3

Let’s count that, by the way. Eight mobile brands run by three companies. And I’m not counting the weird stuff involving third parties like Petro Canada Mobility or President’s Choice Telecom. While most companies think of centralization and imposing a national brand on its subsidiaries, Canada’s wireless companies do the opposite.

When your reputation as an industry is so shattered that you have to create fake competition to appeal to a large segment of the population that hates you, and then when that doesn’t work you create a second fake competitor … honestly, I don’t know what to say.

The worst part is that Canada’s Big Three wireless companies don’t think this explosion of “brands” is evidence of a larger problem.

Fab Fabrice does the unfathomable

Fabrice de Pierrebourg

La Presse scored a major coup last week, hiring investigative reporter Fabrice de Pierrebourg, who has been breaking stories for Rue Frontenac since he and 252 others were locked out from the Journal de Montréal in January 2009, a lockout that just marked its 18-month anniversary.

De Pierrebourg was the posterboy for the lockoutés’ argument that the true value of the Journal de Montréal came from hard-working investigative journalists, which their newspaper has replaced with wire stories, freelance opinionators and overhyped reporting from managers.

Henry Aubin named him one of the “watchdogs of democracy” in December for his scoops about city hall and the municipal election campaign. He was just as useful before he got locked out, perhaps best known for breaching security at Trudeau airport to prove a point.

De Pierrebourg was also one of nine employees fired by the Journal for storming the office while locked out – as part of a peaceful but illegal demonstration – in July 2009. While Patrick Lagacé says it’s unrelated (because negotiations began weeks ago), de Pierrebourg tells Rue Frontenac that was the final straw.

The news of de Pierrebourg’s hiring was met with mixed reviews. It’s a huge move for La Presse (though not unprecedented – the guy who made the announcement was himself hired from the Journal de Montréal back in 2006).

And speaking of La Presse, I guess those financial problems that nearly forced them to shut down less than a year ago, until the union made serious concessions, are a thing of the past. Not only did they take on a new high-profile hire, but they’ve made 17 temporary workers permanent. (One of those workers I spoke to had no idea why, though that person wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

Aside from being good news for La Presse, de Pierrebourg’s hiring is also good for him. He has a proper job again. The anxiety and stress is gone.

It’s bad news for the Journal de Montréal (at least at first glance), which has lost a solid investigative reporter.

But it’s also bad for Rue Frontenac. And if the comments attached to its story are any indication, his now ex-colleagues are supportive of his escape but still saddened at losing a high-profile member of their cause.

The beginning of the end?

Though I hate to use the term “trend”, I have to wonder about who else might follow in de Pierrebourg’s footsteps. Bertrand Raymond, the most high-profile columnist on the picket lines, announced in January that he would “retire” – and never again return to the Journal.

Raymond has, of course, hardly retired. He writes now for RDS, putting out a column about twice a week on average. Like de Pierrebourg, Raymond has simply found an employer that he can live with.

Both Raymond and de Pierrebourg gave similar reasons for leaving: they couldn’t fathom the idea of going back to work for the Journal de Montréal, for Quebecor and the managers who put them out on the street.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jean-François Codère, when I interviewed Rue Frontenac’s technology guy in January. I asked him how they would be able to work out their differences with their managers once the conflict ends, and he said he didn’t know. Codère has turned down other job offers to stay at Rue Frontenac, but can he and the rest keep this up forever?

The Journal de Montréal isn’t showing any signs of cracking. It’s still publishing seven days a week (soon it will be the only Montreal newspaper to do so), and so much of the work of producing it is outsourced that they’ve made it seem almost transparent to its readers. (The number of people who have moral objections to reading a newspaper produced during a lockout are far outweighed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about it.)

De Pierrebourg said he felt bad leaving his colleagues at Rue Frontenac. He should. Not because what he did was wrong, but because whether he wanted to or not his departure hurts the cause of those still locked out.

As this labour conflict drags out into the long term, more departures like this are inevitable. Some who are close to retirement age will just decide to give up. Some who aren’t might take better jobs elsewhere. And as the union’s strike fund starts running out, the rest might not have a choice.

And as the cream of the crop gets poached, what’s left will be those who can’t get jobs elsewhere. Those who work in classified sales or other non-editorial jobs, who have spent decades in a highly specialized function that doesn’t translate well into the job market.

By then, the argument that the Journal is a lesser paper without these people begins to fall apart.

The Expos: Even the best memories are heartbreaking

Annakin Slayd, known best for his songs about the Canadiens (so popular they’ve been parodied) but also a die-hard Expos fan, has produced a music video honouring Montreal’s former baseball team.

The look back comes just as Andre Dawson is set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow as an Expo (even if he preferred a Cubs cap on his head).

And if that isn’t enough, here’s another video (well, it’s more about the song than the video) to remind you of the Team of Heartbreak:

And a preview of what might be the last Expos Hall of Famer someday, Vladimir Guerrero:

Meanwhile, The Gazette’s Andy Riga explores what to do with that giant monstrosity that the Expos used to call home, including what to do with the space around it, what to do about its roof, and what to do about getting events there. There’s also some numbers worth looking at, and his blog has a whole truckload of suggestions from readers about the stadium’s future (some serious, some not so much).

And the Bleacher Report has compiled a list of the top 25 Expos.

CBC finally picks Daybreak host, and it’s … Mike Finnerty?

Now CBC will need to put a giant Mike Finnerty poster on top of this Mike Finnerty poster which covers a Mike Finnerty poster

Okay, I didn’t see this one coming. Four months after posting the position of Daybreak host, and after months of rotating in guest hosts and having a show with no real direction, CBC has settled not on Steve Rukavina or Sue Smith but on bringing back former host Mike Finnerty.

The Daybreak website has a release and The Gazette has a story (UPDATE: And a longer one in today’s paper). CBC.ca also has a story, which entirely glosses over what happened to former Daybreak host Nancy Wood.

The release has the usual quotes of how thrilled everyone is. Similar comments directly from Finnerty via email:

I’ve had a blast at guardian.co.uk and learned so much that I sometimes thought my head was going to explode.  I hate the idea of leaving.  It’s a great job.

But I miss broadcasting.  I miss being on air.  I miss live radio.  And yes, I miss Montreal.

I have a notice period here to serve out, three months, but I am taking two weeks off in August to host The Current for Anna-Maria Tremonti.  That’s starting August 9th.

I think you know I’m a fan of Fagstein and a regular reader (and occasional visitor to the threads).

So y’all better be on your best behaviour, okay?

Back and forth, but this time to stay

Finnerty left Daybreak just over a year ago to take a job as multimedia news editor at London’s The Guardian. He was replaced by a TV reporter and former Radio Noon host, Nancy Wood, and … well, we all know how that turned out. (Wood has since taken a job at Enquête.)

Finnerty said when he left that the big reason for doing so was his partner, Dom, who moved with him to Montreal but had trouble finding work here. An opportunity opened up in London, and they decided they’d both move back across the Atlantic.

Now, Finnerty says, they both found they missed Montreal:

I think it’s fair to say that it was on moving back to London last year that he realized how great a city Montreal is. He used to say, “I finally get the Montreal state of mind”. He is totally onboard with the decision to return to Daybreak.  He thought I did a pretty good job at it and might even do better this time around :-)

Finnerty says his contract with the CBC – which he signed on Saturday – is until June 2014. This is much longer than that given to Wood, which suggests that either the CBC has more confidence in Finnerty than it had in Wood (you’ll recall they referred to her as an “interim” host) or that they’re tired of searching for new hosts every six months.

Even with the four-year contract, Finnerty expects the kind of pressure on him to perform that his predecessor had:

A friend of mine who hosts on the BBC once said to me that when you’re on air for a living, you need to accept that you could be tapped on the shoulder at any time.  I don’t expect the CBC to keep me on air if I’m not doing well. That’s being honest.

I am comfortable with management’s ratings expectations because they’re the same as mine.  I expect that if you, taxpayers, fund CBC Radio we have to deliver something of demonstrable public value, in this case a type of local coverage of Montreal that you cannot get otherwise.  Good, solid, reliable, essential, surprising, Montreal listening.  When you listen to Daybreak, I want you to think you’ve had Montreal for breakfast, that you’ve got your money’s worth.

If no one is listening, or if just seniors are listening and not a broad range of Montrealers, than how do we justify spending your money?  Daybreak doesn’t need to be Number One – though why not? – but it has to show that it is of clear, public value.  It has to have good ratings.  The CBC management are right to insist on that, and I am totally onboard.

The last time Finnerty was host, Daybreak on CBME-FM had an average minute audience of 15,100 listeners and a total audience of 61,000 with a 14.4% market share, according to numbers dug up by Mike Boone. Wood’s ratings were lower than that, with an average audience of 12,800 listeners, a total audience of 53,000 and a 12.4% market share. Wood’s ratings were the major reason for her being pulled from the host’s chair.

Even though the numbers suggest fewer people tuned in to his replacement, Finnerty acknowledged to The Gazette’s Basem Boshra that has has some hearts to win back: “I know there were a lot of listeners who were upset at Nancy’s departure, and what I would like to say to them is that it’s time for the page to be turned. It’s time for me to get to work on winning their affection back, winning their respect back, and proving to them that, day in and day out, we’re going to bring them the stories and voices that matter and make a difference to Montreal.”

Aggressive? Me?

Online reaction to Finnerty’s return is mixed. The Daybreak Facebook page, the Gazette story and CBC story have some messages congratulating Finnerty and others questioning the choice. A Facebook group originally setup to protest Wood’s removal also has some comments, as well, of course, as the Radio in Montreal group.

Finnerty was known for his confrontational style with guests (even where it seemed unnecessary), which turned off many listeners. Asked about it, Finnerty agreed people think that of him, but he disagreed that it was either aggressive or unwarranted:

I accept that some people think that of my style, yes.  I read all the feedback that comes my way and I do care, and take it onboard.  I also get a lot of positive feedback from people for putting the tough questions to people in positions of power.  I don’t think my style is aggressive. I think I have a role to play hosting the CBC morning show in Montreal.  I don’t think it’s fair to have someone on air to talk about an issue that demands a tough or assertive question and not ask it.  I think Montrealers want me to pursue questions of importance, and if they aren’t answered, I think it’s fair to point that out or ask again.  Fair is the watchword.  Call me on it.

The bottom line is that I want Daybreak to be an interesting listen.  I want its journalism to be robust.  I want people to tune in because they know they will get good interviews where we focus on the issues that matter and try to find out what’s new, what’s important, what’s really going on.

Finnerty asked to add, even though it sounded “a bit luvvy”, that “the Daybreak team is bloody brilliant:  Monique Lacombe, Sonali Karnick, Pierre Landry, and David Blair. Steve Rukavina is a tremendous host and one of the biggest assets at the station.  I loooooooooove Sue Smith. They’ve been working really hard.  I can’t wait to join them.”

Finnerty’s start date as host of Daybreak hasn’t been set yet, but will be in the fall, possibly around Thanksgiving. In the meantime, he’s filling in as host of The Current for two weeks starting Aug. 9.

UPDATE (June 22): Mike Boone, in his column yesterday, didn’t mince his words about Finnerty being replaced by Wood and then coming back within 14 months:

What a joke.

But there is continuity at CBC Montreal. The same gormless twits keep making hare-brained programming decisions. On our dime.

UPDATE: You can listen to Finnerty’s interview with Daybreak the next day in their podcast (MP3).

Let’s give Tierney’s comments some thought

In case you haven’t been keeping up with Quebec movie news (or haven’t been around Brendan Kelly for the past two weeks), there’s been a bit of a media dust-up over comments made by director Jacob Tierney to La Presse’s Nicolas Bérubé, complaining that Quebec cinema is too francophone and too white:

«La société québécoise est extrêmement tournée sur elle-même, dit Tierney. Notre art et notre culture ne présentent que des Blancs francophones. Les anglophones et les immigrants sont ignorés. Ils n’ont aucune place dans le rêve québécois. C’est honteux.»

Since Tierney, who’s behind that new movie The Trotsky, decided to touch on that Two Solitudes button, you can imagine there was a lot of reaction (they’re even talking about it on those social media things). And most of the reaction takes one of three predictable sides:

  1. Agreeing with Tierney: Quebec cinema is too white, too francophone, and needs to better reflect its multicultural reality – and those who battle Tierney’s arguments are intolerant
  2. Lashing out at Tierney, putting together a list of black Quebec actors (Normand Brathwaite, Gregory Charles, Boucar Diouf and Dany Laferrière will feature prominently in such lists) and Quebec films that have languages other than French (those lists tend to include Bon Cop Bad Cop, their makers apparently unaware that the box-office smash was made by Tierney’s father), and saying that because there are black people or anglos in Quebec cinema Tierney must be wrong and hate Quebec
  3. Defend the whiteness and Frenchness of Quebec cinema, because Quebec is a small island in a sea of English, because Canadian films don’t feature francophones and because Quebec culture needs to assert itself

The problem with each of these responses is that it takes a black or white view on an issue that is hardly so clear-cut, and only serves to further divide the two solitudes.

Reality isn’t quite so simple.

Argue now, think later

I’m not a film buff, nor am I an expert in Quebec culture. In fact, I’m probably the most uncultured person I know. The last anglo film I saw in an actual movie theatre was, I think, Star Trek. The last franco film? Dans une galaxie près de chez vous 2. This means I haven’t seen J’ai tué ma mère or Avatar or De père en flic or The Hurt Locker or Polytechnique or any of the Twilight movies or … well, you get the picture. I want to see them eventually (well, not the Twilight movies), but I don’t have much free time and it’s rare I’ll find something so interesting I’ll want to pay $12 to watch it in a theatre rather than wait a couple of years and see it on cable.

Anyway, so I’m no expert, and I have no figures to point to in my analysis. If you want an expert’s opinion, I’d read this piece by Marc Cassivi, who takes a detached view of the matter.

But reading the comments, particularly at Cyberpresse but also elsewhere, it’s as if we’re still battling for the Plains of Abraham, only this time the army on both sides is comprised of Internet trolls.

Some people have suggested that Tierney doesn’t know what he’s talking about because, like all anglophones, he’s never actually seen a Quebec-made movie and hates French – both suggestions are preposterous. Some have said he’s a hypocrite for taking advantage of tax credits and other government financial incentives for creating home-grown movies, as if taking money from the government (which every filmmaker does here) somehow removes him of his right to criticize Quebec cinema. Many have accused him of outright Quebec-bashing.

And there are those who argue that Quebec films shouldn’t be more multicultural or include more anglophones, because those people are not true Quebecers.

He’s right…

Speaking strictly from the perspective of an uncultured consumer, I think Tierney has a point. There are a lot of white faces out there, even when you include Brathwaite, Charles, Diouf and others. And while there are examples of bits of English in Quebec cinema, it’s not at the kind of level one would find during a normal day in Montreal.

The other day, I watched Bon Cop Bad Cop on TV. It was on an English-language Canadian movie channel, so the French bits were subtitled (when Patrick Huard says “En tout cas, y’a un bon coup de patin!” – a pun that doesn’t translate into English – you see the value in knowing the language instead of relying on those subtitles). Seeing people interact in two languages at the same time – even switching between the two in mid-sentence – just seems so rare these days on screen, even though it happens so often in real life.

I’ll let one of the Cyberpresse commenters explain:

Le problème, c’est qu’il n’y a jamais de mélange. Les deux solitudes comme on dit. La télé francophone d’un côté, la télé anglophone de l’autre. Et jamais on invite un anglophone dans une émission sur la télé francophone, et inversement. C’est pareil dans le cinéma. En plus de ça, les gens sont allergiques aux sous-titres dans les films, il faut dire qu’on ne leur donne pas trop le choix, vu la programmation 100% doublé de la plupart des cinémas, quel que soit le film.

Even with the huge numbers of bilingual people in Montreal, Quebec and places near Quebec borders, there’s a resistance to bilingualism in our culture. Television, radio, newspapers, even most websites have to choose one or the other. Anything said or written in the other language has to be subtitled, dubbed or translated so that the audience can understand. There are no bilingual television stations or cable channels (besides CPAC), no bilingual radio stations (at least no commercial ones), and only a single bilingual newspaper.

Some angry online commenters will say that the problem isn’t Quebec, it’s the Rest of Canada that doesn’t feature francophones. In fact, it’s both. Which is odd because Bon Cop Bad Cop was one of the highest-grossing films in both Canadian and Quebec history (even though it was much more popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada). You’d think both sides would catch on to that and start taking advantage of the power of language unity.

One movie in production seems to be. Funkytown also stars Patrick Huard, and is slated for release in December:

… but he’s also wrong

Where Tierney is off the mark is in making it seem (whether intentionally or not) that this is all Quebec’s fault. The tone of the criticism has forced people to become defensive about the Quebec film industry instead of giving his two cents some thought.

It’s funny because this industry needs so little defence. It’s incredible how successful home-grown cinema is here, particularly when compared to English Canada. A modest showing in Quebec would be considered a mega hit if it made the same amount at the box office in English Canada.

Some of the other points Tierney brings up also don’t convince me. I don’t think Quebec is too concerned with the past or with its own majority culture (these themes are strong here, but shouldn’t they be?). I don’t think cinema here is racist. I don’t think the Jutras are unrepresentative of Quebec society, which outside of Montreal is very francophone and very white. And while I think there’s room for more multiculturalism and more languages in Quebec cinema, I don’t say so with nearly the same accusatory style as Tierney’s comments.

And there are a lot of things he’s missing, too. For one thing, Tierney seems to be arguing that Quebec cinema isn’t Montreal-centric enough, which might cause those living in small towns to laugh out loud. Quebec culture is far too Montreal-centric, even if about half of Quebecers live within 50km of the city’s centre. The clique du Plateau should be replaced with more of a focus on Gaspé, Trois-Rivières, Baie-Comeau, Alma, Nunavik, Kahnawake and, yes, the West Island.

If that happens, Canadian cinema would be embarrassed, not having nearly the same kind of regional diversity as Quebec cinema would have.

But unlike some online commenters, I don’t believe that the failures of others should give us justification to drag our feet. It’s time for more Tierneys to enter the scene and create a cultural landscape that everyone in Quebec can feel they’re a part of.

UPDATE (Aug. 9): Though a few weeks late to the table, the Gazette’s Don Macpherson shares some thoughts about Tierney’s comments and how anglo Quebecers are still not considered true Quebecers.

A Moving Day trash tip

Papers left for trash on Moving Day

A little late for this year, obviously, but next time, it’s probably best not to leave government documents with your personal information all over them out on the curb.

In fact, this applies whether or not you’re moving.

Au revoir aux lecteurs du dimanche

It was a year ago this month that, in a drastic cost-cutting effort, La Presse stopped printing a Sunday edition. The Gazette tried to take advantage, putting banners on Page 1 for two successive Sundays welcoming francophone readers whose only other option was to read the (locked-out) Journal de Montréal.

Similar cost-cutting moves have been made at other Canadian newspapers. The National Post, already a six-day paper, stopped printing Mondays last summer. The Victoria Times-Colonist, one of the few with a strong Sunday paper, also stopped printing Mondays. The Winnipeg Free Press stopped its Sunday paper and replaced it with a newsstand-only tabloid.

Next month, it’s The Gazette’s turn to make a drastic cut of an entire day of publication.

In case you haven’t heard the news, The Gazette announced on Wednesday that they would stop printing a Sunday edition in August. The last Sunday paper will appear Aug. 1, and starting Aug. 7, Sunday features will appear in the Saturday paper.

Re-reporting of the announcement has spread to other media: Globe and Mail, Rue Frontenac, CTV, Canadian PressRadio-Canada (with anti-Gazette comments from the peanut gallery below), Agence QMI (who are a bit slow to update their story), CJAD (with their usual three-sentence story), CBC (which originally misspelled the publisher’s name – but to its credit has since corrected it) and Cyberpresse, which illustrated its story by stealing a photo of the old Gazette building that I took in 2002 and posted on this blog last year (and to its not-credit has offered no explanation, correction or apology for this).

Romenesko also linked to the announcement, and J-Source has republished it.

As the stories say, the Sunday paper was born in 1988 thanks to competitive pressure from the Montreal Daily News, a short-lived attempt by Quebecor to crack the anglo Montreal market. The Daily News had a Sunday edition, forcing The Gazette to create one. The Daily News folded less than two years after it launched, but the Sunday Gazette continued for 22 years.

A surprise, but not

The announcement was made mere minutes before I entered the office. Everyone was buzzing, gossiping about what this would mean – particularly for their jobs. Though a meeting is scheduled for Thursday to answer questions, the company has already said that this move isn’t coming with any layoffs.

That comes as some relief to permanent employees. What it means for contract workers like me is another story, not to mention the subcontractors who handle distribution and others whose living is directly or indirectly linked to the newspaper.

I’d like to say I saw this coming, that the writing was on the wall when La Presse stopped its Sunday edition, but while it’s not the most shocking move in the world, I didn’t expect it. The Gazette is profitable, I’m told, and hardly on the path to insolvency. In fact, it had just been purchased the day before.

But the paper was already incredibly thin, and even then there was a noticeable dearth of advertising. Last Sunday’s paper had only three full-page ads, and another two in the sports tabloid section. Add a half-page ad on A3, and a handful of smaller ads spread across four pages of a 24-page A section, and that’s it for paid ads.

Editorial content on Sundays has diminished slowly over the past few years. Insight, which was its own eight-page section when I started five years ago, giving a huge canvas to large feature stories from news wires, has since become two pages incorporated into the A section, one of which has to make room for two weekly columnists and a bi-weekly columnist.

Because news tends not to happen over the weekend (at least, very few stories about governments, businesses, or anything else that operates during business hours), much of the news that goes into Sunday and Monday papers is prewritten features which can be moved to another day. Breaking news can still go online.

The real victim here will be the sports section, the only one that stands alone on Sundays. Some features like editor Stu Cowan’s column can easily be moved to another day, but coverage of Saturday night Canadiens games will now have to wait more than a day for those who prefer to get their news on paper instead of online.

But even though it sucks, even though I never really minded working Saturdays (it’s the worst day for TV) and even though it’s really bad for my future employment prospects, I can’t really denounce the decision. It just doesn’t make sense for a newspaper to publish an edition that advertisers won’t support.

Here’s to hoping that this moves ensures a strong financial future for The Gazette – or at least slows down the march to oblivion.

I, for one, welcome our new Postmedia Network Inc. overlords

So, it’s official. At some point during the day on Tuesday, the $1.1-billion deal to purchase the publishing, online and other non-broadcast interests of Canwest Global Communications Corp. was finalized. I, like thousands of others across the country, have a new employer.

Once that happened, changes started happening fast, but they were for the most part cosmetic. Boilerplate notices have been changed (The Gazette’s nameplate on Page A1 now says “a division of Postmedia Network Inc.”, websites say “copyright 2010 Postmedia Network Inc.”), the most noticeable of which is that Canwest News Service, as of about 4pm Tuesday, was officially renamed Postmedia News. Stories from that news service immediately started appearing under that name.

Because the Canwest trademark is under the broadcast side which has been purchased by Shaw, it’s being scrubbed out of every nook and cranny of the publishing side (something few of my colleagues are feeling too upset about). This means changing names of divisions with Canwest in their names, removing references to Canwest to replace them with Postmedia Network, and most likely eventually mean everyone gets new email addresses too, a change many reporters will remember from when @thegazette.southam.ca became @thegazette.canwest.com.

I wish I could tell you of something more substantial behind the scenes, but (a) there isn’t yet that I know about, and (b) if I do know about it, it’s because it’s been announced internally, and you’ll quickly find it reported by other media. Expect announcements soon about new top executives, but I wouldn’t look for any major changes that affect business at the individual newspaper level yet.

One important facet of this whole process is that the former Canwest papers and the Global television network (and other Canwest broadcast interests) are now owned by different companies. So I have no conflict in writing about Global, and no fear of being called into a boss’s office if I point out that they spiced up a news report by adding unrelated footage.

In lieu of fascinating analysis by me, I’ll invite you to read this Financial Post piece about the way Postmedia Network (a company whose name is not to be abbreviated, I’m told) came to be. How the National Post managed to get this kind of information about a company run by the man who was until now CEO of the National Post will remain a mystery…

Happy World Cup, everyone

A huge crowd of France supporters flood St. Denis St. after World Cup semifinal win on July 5, 2006.

I love the World Cup.

After a month of the most important sporting tournament on Earth, I still think watching soccer on television is incredibly boring compared to other sports. And it shows no evidence of supplanting hockey as the No. 1 sport in this city. The game is badly officiated, mostly because its governing body doesn’t want to enter the 20th century, much less the 21st. And many of the players are overpaid whiners whose sole purpose, it sometimes seems, is to turn the most incidental contact with an opposing player into a theatrical death scene.

And I still think soccer’s offside rule is stupid.

But there’s something about the way the World Cup takes over Montreal’s fans. Because Canada isn’t nearly good enough to make it to the final tournament, there is no home team, and everyone is free to choose sides. Many go with countries of origin, or maybe the team of their favourite player, or the country they once lived in.

No matter what country wins a game, whether it’s a big player like Brazil or Germany, or a tiny speck on the globe like Uruguay or Ghana, there’s always a parade of elated fans, honking their horns and waving their flags like they just had sex with a supermodel and realized they won the lottery.

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Is Gilles Villeneuve still taking sponsors?

A mini museum (and souvenir shop) to Gilles Villeneuve on Crescent St. during Grand Prix weekend

During the Grand Prix weekend, I noticed that this bar on Crescent St. had been converted into a museum honouring Gilles Villeneuve, the guy from whom the circuit the race takes place on gets its name.

There were photos of Gilles, videos of Gilles, and some original items in a section roped off lest anyone consider actually touching them. They were brought in from the Gilles Villeneuve Museum in Berthierville for the occasion.

Oh, and there was the souvenir stand. In fact, it seemed the entire point of it was to sell memorabilia related to Gilles Villeneuve. But I’ll give them some slack. It’s not like I paid anything to get in.

Anyway, fast-forward a month, and the government is considering levying a fine against the museum because those photos contained advertisements for tobacco products, which were caught by inspectors from the health department (apparently they have people who go around looking for tobacco ads).

The story makes it clear that the government hasn’t decided whether to fine the museum, which obviously doesn’t think it should be fined for showing historic photos to the public. But they haven’t ruled a fine out either.

Let’s hope some common sense prevails soon. After all, it’s not like Marlboro is paying the museum (or Villeneuve) for the ads anymore.

Let it snow

I went to a snowball fight today.

CJFM (Virgin Radio) had this promotion where they’d bring in snow and have people throw snowballs at each other in the middle of a July heat wave.

The station has video of the event, as does Canadian Press. I took some pictures which I’ve posted below.

The event – just across the street from Place Jacques Cartier in the Old Port – lasted about 15 minutes before the Virgin folks quietly departed into their air-conditioned SUVs, the pile of snow having turned to less appetizing dirty slush.

Still, a fun way to spend 10 minutes in the middle of a heat wave.

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Why I don’t believe anything I’m told about G20 protests

(Updated with more myths)

I’ve been following the fallout from this G20 summit through Twitter, YouTube and other media over the past few days. I wasn’t there myself, but I have some experience as an observer during protests, so a lot of what I saw and heard was familiar.

The first thing you have to know about large protests – and the police action that comes with it – is that it’s all more of a public relations war than anything else. Neither side is interested in harming the other (permanently), nor do they seriously expect that the other side will listen to reason and compromise. Instead, their shared goal is to convince the court of public opinion that the opposing side is an evil, heartless monster menace and they are the innocent victims (it’s a battle the police tend to win, by the way – as a post-G20 poll shows).

And that wouldn’t be so difficult. All either side has to do to get on the public’s good side is behave. Don’t antagonize, don’t attack, don’t resist, don’t break the law.

The problem with large protests (just about anything large enough to bring out the riot squad) is that while the majority – even the vast majority – do behave during these events, a minority of both sides doesn’t. And those are the ones people focus on. The ones who let their frustrations get the better of them, the ones who think the ends justify the means, or the ones who are just straight-up assholes.

And so, in the days after the G20, both sides have been screaming out half-truths to anyone who will listen, trying their best to exaggerate the extreme actions of the other side while dismissing or rationalizing their own excesses.

Here are a few of those outrageous claims. Some might be true, others not. I don’t know, because it seems everyone who does know the truth is too clouded by their political agendas to speak it properly. But I’m willing to guess the truth lies somewhere between the two sides.

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Herb Luft has left the building

Herb Luft says goodbye, surrounded by family and friends, from CFCF on Wednesday

Herb Luft, who has been working at CFCF since – we have it on good authority here – the dawn of time itself, gave a final signoff to viewers on Wednesday’s show. Once his remaining vacation time is burned off, he’ll be officially retired.

Classy station that it is, it devoted a substantial segment of both the noon and 6pm newscasts to Luft and his career (and a brief segment on the 11:30 newscast), showing the highlight reel, chatting about his 39 years there and even doing a streeter asking random people on the street to wish him good luck (one lady complimented him on always being clear and never stuttering). His family was invited to join him behind the anchor desk for the 6pm newscast’s final minutes.

You can see videos from both the noon newscast and 6pm newscast online. I’ve included a few stills below from his highlight reel, so you can see the progression of his hair reporting through four decades.

Luft’s last news report, for the record, is this two-minute piece on illegal taxis, from the previous day’s newscast.

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