Monthly Archives: October 2010

Posted in Media, Montreal

Headline!

Here’s what I love about this West End Times cover:

  • There’s an exclamation point. I always wonder what criteria news agencies use to determine whether an exclamation point is justified. CNN used one as the first Chilean miner was rescued. I guess for a small local paper, an armed robbery qualifies.
  • The incident in question, a shooting at an SAQ in Baie d’Urfé, happened on Oct. 18. This issue is dated yesterday, Oct. 30.
  • There’s no story inside about this. All the information is contained in a seven-line photo caption above the headline.

I like to support small publications, but a lot of the West End Times’s layout, photography and writing is so atrocious I can only look at it and laugh.

Posted in Media, Montreal

Rue Frontenac hits the streets

The first edition of the Rue Frontenac weekly (a collector's edition!)

Rue Frontenac, the website run by locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal, launched a paper version of its public-relations campaign on Thursday morning.

The first edition of what will become a weekly newspaper is 48 pages, all of them colour.

It has a cover piece by Gabrielle Duchaine on how some pregnancy crisis centres hide their militant anti-abortion stance in order to manipulate expectant mothers. (Online, the piece is presented as a Flash graphic.) There are also interviews with Guy A. Lepage (one of Rue Frontenac’s biggest supporters among the artistic community – the paper rewards him by devoting an entire page to showing just his head bigger-than-life-size) and Louis Morissette, a piece about how Quebecor has pulled ads from Le Devoir (supposedly as punishment for Le Devoir’s criticisms of the Journal), and the usual arts and sports news you’d find in a newspaper, plus some puzzles.

Notably, though, there is no wire content (and, of course, no advertorials). All of the articles are written by Rue Frontenac’s journalists. This means the paper won’t present anything close to a complete perspective on the news, but the point is to show that they can still produce serious, quality journalism worth its weight in gold.

Only time will tell whether it’s worth the price. It’s not cheap to print 75,000 copies of a newspaper.

This is the second time Rue Frontenac has actually printed on newsprint. A one-off special issue last year at the start of the Canadiens’ season appears to have been well received, at least enough for them to try again.

The paper has advertising, the vast majority of which is from other unions. There are also ads from sympathetic left-wing politicians including Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir, the Projet Montréal Plateau team, and NDP MP Thomas Mulcair.

A man hands out copies of the Journal de Montréal for free outside the Mont-Royal metro station

It was 8:30am on Thursday as I came out of the Mont-Royal metro station, the heart of the Plateau. Just inside the doors was a man in an orange vest handing out copies of Metro. Just outside, another man in another vest handing out copies of 24 Heures. Next to him, a lady in a La Presse hat handing out free copies of La Presse. And nearby, what I had originally confused for a homeless man handing out free copies of the Journal de Montréal.

For the most part, commuters breeze by not touching any newsprint. Some will pick a paper they like, or just take the ones that normally aren’t free. Some collect the different papers.

What’s clear is that even here, in the plateau known for its “clique” and which elected Québec solidaire’s only MNA so far, any effect of the Journal de Montréal conflict on its newspaper’s popularity is invisible. People young and old, poor and rich were taking copies of the newspaper at the same rate as those who took La Presse or the free papers. The fact that it is heavily reliant on wire copy and overhyped articles from its remaining managers seems to be of little consequence to those rushing to work in the morning.

That, above all, is what Rue Frontenac has to fight: indifference to their cause from regular folk. The paper might put enough wandering eyes on the quality of their journalism to make an impact. Or it might just annoy Pierre Karl Péladeau even though it’s not doing him much harm. Or it might do nothing, coexisting with its writers’ previous employer for months or years as a settlement of the conflict becomes no closer to arriving.

A stack of Rue Frontenac papers at a metro on Mont Royal Ave.

Not seeing any Rue Frontenacs at the metro station, I made my way eastward in the direction of the giant Journal de Montréal logo. I eventually picked up a copy at a recently opened Metro grocery store near the Journal’s offices. I was a bit surprised by this. Even though there were spaces for all sorts of publications, the fact that a major company would appear to take sides in the conflict is noteworthy. (Though the fact that the paper is distributed through Diffumag allows it to reach a lot of distribution points quickly.)

(Micro Boutique, a reseller of Apple products, also took a stance with a half-page ad in Rue Frontenac.)

A Google map shows the hundreds of distribution points for Rue Frontenac, spread out all over the city and surrounding region as far as Valleyfield, St. Jean sur Richelieu and Assomption. There are also distribution points in the Mauricie, Sherbrooke and Outaouais regions, and subscriptions are available for an unpublicized price.

A van appeals to Cardinal Turcotte to stop a lockout

Just across the parking lot from the Journal’s offices (and ironically just after the point where Frontenac St. turns into Iberville St.), a handful of union members at the offices of Rue Frontenac chat jovially before they pile into a van with a giant photo of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte on top. Even though this conflict has been going on for 21 months, morale hasn’t been as low as it had been expected to be. The rejection of a contract offer the union had considered insultingly bad brightened spirits and resolve even though it meant the conflict would last longer.

Maybe it’s naive. Or maybe it’ll work.

A typo in the website's address got by the proofreaders on Page 3.

More coverage

Posted in Opinion

Passerelle

The resistance has begun...

So last week, the Liberal-controlled provincial government rammed through Bill 115, née Bill 103, which sets rules whereby students in English-language private schools not otherwise eligible for public English education can acquire such a privilege.

And if you believe Pauline Marois, Pierre Curzi and others with similar mindsets, the French language and Quebec society are one step closer to extinction thanks to the evil anglophone invader.

Yeah.

And yet, the public outrage about this law isn’t what they expected. In fact, many politicians and pundits are downright shocked that there hasn’t been some sort of mass uprising about Bill 115.

As an anglophone, I’ll admit that I’m hard-wired to be against whatever the leader of the Parti Québécois is for when it comes to language policy. It’s instinctual more than it is reflective.

But I agree with them that this is a bad law and creates a system where the rich have more rights than the poor.

Where we disagree is our alternatives. The PQ would rather deny rights to more people than have the rich be able to buy it. I think we need to look at whether denying English education does more harm than good to the future of Quebec.

Continue reading

Posted in Media

Words matter for The

The Gazette's front page for Oct. 20, 2010

If you picked up the Gazette today and have a keen eye for detail, you may have noticed that the word “Gazette” in the nameplate has been deleted (except for the Digital Edition, where it appears normally the Digital Edition has since been unfixed).

A similar move was done online for a few hours this morning:

The Gazette website without the "Gazette" part

Rest assured, it was done on purpose.

The front-page gimmick, explained on Page A3 by publisher/EIC Alan Allnutt, is a new phase of the newspaper’s Words Matter campaign:

Starting this week, you’ll notice ads on radio, online, around town and in the paper with a new style but the same Words Matter attitude you’ve become familiar with over the past few years.

A big part of this new campaign is using The from our iconic masthead to highlight the stories that really matter to you. You can get news from many sources but when you look for stories that are local, that resonate to you, you turn to The Gazette for The news that really matters.

Gazette cover Aug. 18, 2006

Words Matter began on August 18, 2006, when The Gazette tried a similar stunt by removing all the words from its front page (PDF), with the exception of the dateline and bar code numbers. It certainly caused a splash (certainly in the industry), though some apparently got the impression that the page was some sort of memorial to teen tennis player Stéphanie Dubois, whose picture dominated.

The Words Matter campaign is the brainchild of bleublancrouge, The Gazette’s marketing agency, which recently hired Gazette marketing VP Bernard Asselin as its new president.

UPDATE: You can track a bit of the social media reaction to the move here:

Bleublancrouge has uploaded a radio and TV ad for the Stuff We Carry series so you’ll get an idea of what the new campaign will look and sound like.

MarketingQC has a blog post up about the move, which unlike reaction from the online peanut gallery is pretty positive.

Posted in Media, Montreal, Opinion

The return of Montréal-Matin

Nathalie Collard, who has been pretty solid in the media beat at La Presse, comes out this morning with the news that Claude J. Charron of La Semaine is going to launch a new media venture in Montreal, and he’s purchased the name Montréal-Matin, which has gone unused since the daily newspaper shut down in 1978 – brought down by a strike.

According to Collard, the new Montréal-Matin would be mainly an online venture, but with a weekly printed component, kind of like Rue Frontenac is trying to do, she notes.

Collard also outs Charron as the man behind a mysterious ad that appeared in La Presse and Le Devoir in March seeking employees for a “nouveau quotidien québécois”.

Charron certainly has a history launching publications in Quebec. He started Lundi and 7 jours, both since sold to Quebecor, and started La Semaine to compete with them once a non-compete clause expired (forever putting Charron on Quebecor’s naughty list).

But I can’t help wonder, as Collard herself did in March, how crazy this guy must be to launch a new francophone newspaper in Montreal, where there are already five daily newspapers, a website (and soon paper weekly) run by dozens of locked-out journalists, an alt-weekly in Voir and all sorts of other news outlets on the Web.

It’s particularly crazy considering Rue Frontenac, which quite obviously operates at a huge loss when labour costs are factored in. It would make a lot more sense to wait until that conflict ends before launching another competing news media venture.

Or, you know, not. There are plenty of markets more in need of better journalism. How about a free daily in Quebec City? Another English paper or website in Montreal? Or an English publication anywhere else in Quebec? A French daily in Trois-Rivières to compete with Le Nouvelliste and replace the Journal de Trois-Rivières?

As much as I love journalism and want to see more of it, the Montreal French-language market is the least in need of more journalists.

Posted in Media, Montreal

Journal de Montréal: 89.3% vote against offer

Workers of the Journal de Montréal have voted 89.3% against a contract offer that would have seen only 50 of 253 locked-out employees keep their jobs.

The offer was the result of negotiations held under a blackout, and while neither side would confirm that one was on the table (they wouldn’t even confirm that a meeting was being held to vote on it), some details had leaked out through the media, which notes that it is unchanged from the offer the employer tabled last month:

  • The deal would have seen only 50 of 253 jobs kept, among them only 17 journalists (out of 65), five editors and four photographers. The employer would choose who could keep their jobs
  • It would have required the shutting down of RueFrontenac.com, at least temporarily (UPDATE: No, it was permanent) and a promise not to launch any competing newspapers
  • Those losing their jobs would be prohibited from working for La Presse or Cyberpresse for a period of time
  • In exchange, the employer would offer unspecified severance pay to those losing their jobs

The vote is unsurprising, if only because 80% of those voting would have lost their jobs (and been prevented from seeking equivalent jobs elsewhere), and even though some of those might have been close to retirement and decided that some money was better than none, a strong feeling of solidarity in the union was more than enough to overcome those who were tired of the conflict and wanted a quick end at any cost.

Even though the lockout is in its 21st month, the Rue Frontenac operation is still in high gear, and is in fact gearing up. The union plans to launch a weekly paper version of Rue Frontenac this month. Meanwhile, there are hints of a parliamentary commission to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The union was quick to issue a release announcing the offer’s rejection (the blackout having been lifted). It includes this quote from union head Raynald Leblanc: “C’est une insulte envers nous, mais aussi envers tous les lecteurs du Journal de Montréal. Comment peut-on prétendre faire un journal de qualité avec aussi peu de personnel?”

Selon lui, le plan de Quebecor est simple. Moins d’information, plus de profits. En fait, la nouvelle salle de rédaction du Journal de Montréal n’aurait plus de journalistes à l’économie, ni aucun chroniqueur salarié. Tout proviendrait de l’extérieur, via l’Agence QMI, qui bafoue sans vergogne le principe d’étanchéité des salles de nouvelles.

Pire, l’entreprise a indiqué vouloir garder ses 25 cadres à la rédaction, ceux-ci se retrouveraient donc à superviser 32 employés. « Il est clair que l’arrogance de Quebecor est liée à l’interprétation restrictive faite par les tribunaux des dispositions anti-briseurs de grève. S’il y avait un tel ratio de cadres dans le système de santé, Le Journal de Montréal, Le Journal de Québec, TVA et LCN en feraient leurs manchettes et dénonceraient cette situation absurde », affirme Raynald Leblanc.

Quebecor also issued a release saying it was “profoundly disappointed” in the offer’s rejection. It gave its side of events in the next day’s Journal, downplaying the number of job cuts by playing around with numbers of part-time staff, those on disability or those near retirement.

Rue Frontenac, which stayed away from the story until after the meeting (becoming the only news outlet not to report on the story at first) simply pointed to other news outlets’ reports on the subject (for “objectivity’s” sake) and then published this rather non-objective piece on the subject.

LCN, to their credit, covered the vote fairly.

UPDATE: More commentary from:

Trente also interviews Leblanc on his feelings about the offer.

Posted in Montreal, Video

The garbage can is too dry

Automatic sprinkler systems annoy me quite a bit. I mean, we get enough rain here that it’s really not necessary to use the public potable water supply to water the grass.

But those behind the Place de l’Adresse symphonique of the Quartier des spectacles know it’s important not just to keep the grass drowning in water, but to keep the garbage can and sidewalk wet at all times.

Grass drowning in sprinkler water for no apparent reason

Posted in Media, Montreal

NADbank numbers: Journal, free dailies gain readers

The latest NADbank newspaper readership numbers have been released, and as you can imagine it’s fantastic news for every news agency with the ability to spin:

  • Halifax: Metro has a 20% increase in daily readership.
  • Montreal: The Journal has had “spectacular” growth, with 58% more readers than its closest competitor La Presse and 64% market share.
  • Ottawa: The Sun’s readership has “skyrocketed”, with Saturday readership up 43%. Metro’s readership is up 22%.
  • Toronto: The Sun is “the fastest growing paid English language daily newspaper in Canada”, with 19.5% growth since the last full survey, far outgrowing its competition. The Star, meanwhile, clobbers its competition by a factor of more than 2:1 in readership, reaching more than half of the GTA’s adult population.
  • Edmonton: The Journal’s online readership has jumped 21 per cent since the last survey, and weekday print readership has shown “stability.” Metro has gained momentum with the second-highest growth increase.
  • Calgary: Metro is the fastest-growing daily newspaper in Canada.
  • Vancouver: The Sun’s online readership jumped 19 per cent in the past year. Metro has a lot of “traction” in its key demographic.

Of course, it’s all about selective cherrypicking of numbers:

  • Readership numbers down but you’re still No. 1? Don’t talk about growth, and concentrate on how X% of the market is choosing you
  • Still far behind the big players in a market? Talk about how fast you’re growing, and leave out how your competitor still has twice as many readers.
  • Print readership numbers suck? Point to the online numbers. Compare those to 2007 if necessary.
  • Numbers stagnant? Talk about “stability” and imply you’re ahead of the curve that is quickly leading to the extinction of newspapers.
  • Still nothing? Focus on some key demographic – young adults are the best – to show how the cool people choose your product.
  • Little exciting news about your paper? Focus on the national scene and what the numbers show nationwide for online vs. print readership.

Montreal numbers

Infopresse has the numbers for Montreal (PDF) as part of its analysis. Here they are compared to last year at this time, using five-day cumulative numbers:

2009 2010 Difference
Journal de Montréal 1,027,400 1,124,700 +9.5%
La Presse 678,200 650,100 -4.1%
Métro 630,100 688,800 +9.3%
24 Heures 516,400 561,900 +8.8%
The Gazette 454,200 442,600 -2.6%

Of note here:

  • The Journal de Montréal continues to gain readers despite its lockout. This is being explained as more papers being given away free or cheap (this survey measures audience, not subscribers or subscription revenue).
  • Métro has replaced La Presse as the No. 2 paper on weekdays. When you consider on-island readership (this survey covers the entire region), the difference is even greater.
  • Online readership is mostly stable for all five (down slightly for The Gazette/La Presse, up slightly for the rest). La Presse kills in this category, with 330,300 weekly readers, more than twice that of the Journal and The Gazette. In fact, it’s slightly more than all the other four combined.
Posted in Media, Opinion, Technology

La Presse’s social media policy: Is it realistic?

La Presse has set new rules on how reporters can use Facebook and other social media

Patrick Lagacé has published on his blog a new policy on the use of social media by journalists at La Presse and Cyberpresse.

Having such a policy is a really good idea and I wish more media organizations would develop their own (or adapt those used by other organizations) and have frank, constructive conversations with their staff about using social media as part of their jobs.

But while Lagacé describes his employer’s policy as “le gros bon sens”, I wonder how seriously it can be taken and how rigidly it can be enforced in real-life situations.

Let’s explore it point by point:

  • Don’t republish (or “retweet”) unverified information. As Lagacé says, this is the “Pat Burns” clause, and it just makes sense. Some social media experts argue that journalists should republish unverified rumours and explain that they’re unverified, but I think even retweeting incorrect information can be damaging to your reputation. That said, how far should we take this rule? If a competitor has a major scoop, should it not be mentioned or even linked to on social media until the journalist has independently confirmed it? What about reports from so-called citizen journalists? Or celebrity gossip?
  • Journalists (except columnists and editorialists) should avoid publishing their political or religious opinions or taking sides in societal debates. I’m guessing this refers more to taking sides on, say, the euthanasia debate than the latest episode of Mad Men. I like the idea behind this, but I think journalists suppressing their opinions gives a false impression to news consumers that they have none. I’d rather have a journalist who expresses their point of view and keeps an open mind than one who keeps it bottled up and lets biases show up in print.
  • Journalists (except columnists and critics) should avoid giving their opinion on an event they’re covering. This one is more straight-forward. If you’re at a press conference given by Pierre-Karl Péladeau, don’t tweet “QUEBECOR SUCKS”. But would this mean, for example, that Fabrice de Pierrebourg couldn’t comment about politics?
  • Unless an agreement has been reached beforehand, journalists should report breaking news to Cyberpresse before publishing it through social media. This one bothers me a bit. Beat writers constantly have little bits of news that they publish on Twitter. Waiting for Cyberpresse editors to create a story and publish it online can waste valuable minutes and give competitors a speed advantage (looking at Cyberpresse’s Twitter feed, I don’t see a single breaking news tweet over the past two weeks that doesn’t link to an already-published story). Besides, why encourage people to follow journalists if you don’t want them to publish important news? I can understand wanting to make sure breaking news is on Cyberpresse’s website as soon as possible, but I think both should try to publish information as fast as possible, without one waiting for the other.
  • Journalists should indicate in social media profiles their employment for La Presse. Agreed. It’s something a bunch of people forget to do, but it’s important for the sake of disclosure. (Of course, context is everything – I’d expect this information on a beat writer’s Twitter account, but is it necessary for an online dating site?)
  • Profile pictures should be “professional” and not carry any campaign material (like those “twibbons”). I’m not entirely sure what “professional” means (no party pictures on Facebook, or just no pictures of drunken debauchery?), but it makes sense, provided the profile on the social media site is being used in a professional context. As for the “twibbons” (those little flags in the corner of profile pictures that show support for a cause, whether it’s supporting Haiti or bringing the Nordiques to Quebec), I’ve seen quite a few on journalist profile pictures and I wonder if a blanket ban is realistic here.
  • Journalists should inform their employer in writing if they have a personal blog outside of Cyberpresse. Having it in writing seems a bit much, but ok. But does this include, say, a LiveJournal account that’s restricted to friends? Does it include anonymous blogs? (Can you be disciplined if they find out you run an anonymous blog and didn’t tell them about it?)
  • Journalists should avoid publishing photos, videos or commentaries about meetings or other private events at the office. This sort of goes to one of the rules that many people overlook but is one of the most important: Don’t publish information meant for internal use only. Sometimes it can be something that seems innocent but turns out to be damaging, like inadvertently disclosing a colleague’s secret source or tweeting about office gossip. It may seem odd that media organizations would want to be anything but fully transparent (and I certainly believe in having as much transparency as possible), but there are things that are kept from the public for good reason.

I think my biggest issue with these new rules is that their goal is to dehumanize journalists, to present them as if they’re infallible beacons of objectivity and have no views of their own, even on society’s most polarizing issues. It encourages journalists to go underground with their personal feelings, either through locked-down personal social media profiles or by using pseudonyms to express themselves. It goes in the opposite direction of recent moves by La Presse and Cyberpresse to put their journalists in the spotlight, putting their photos with their stories on Cyberpresse and encouraging them to start blogs.

Of course, few of these rules apply to columnists, of which there are an increasing number. So Patrick Lagacé can be as irreverent as he wants on Les Francs-Tireurs, and Hugo Dumas can still say what he wants about Tout le monde en parle. Becoming a columnist now becomes a way of gaining freedom of personal expression, even if a columnist’s role is mainly journalistic in nature.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that my blog probably goes against the letter of about half of these rules. I wonder how much of what I do here would be considered inappropriate by the authors of this policy.

A good first step

Despite my concerns, I think this is a step in the right direction. News organizations need to have discussions with journalists about social media, and this policy was the result of such discussions. It might need a few tweaks to consider various contexts, but the fundamentals are sound. Journalists shouldn’t be advocating on one side or another of the debates they cover, and social media doesn’t change that. Nor does it provide a way to escape being as a journalist, because people will judge you as much for what you write as your Facebook status update as what you write in the lead of your next news story.

Even those journalists without formal policies should look at the above and consider following these rules (or at least understanding why they exist and thinking hard before breaking them, like I do regularly).

Because when it comes to journalists using social media, the most important rule to follow is to use common sense.

UPDATE: NPR has sent out a memo to employees warning them about attending rallies organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The memo has some common-sense rules about journalists engaging in political activity.

UPDATE (Oct. 20): The Washington Post is the latest to weigh in with warnings, saying that reader engagement is important in social media, but that journalists shouldn’t actually, you know, engage with readers.

UPDATE (Nov. 14): A piece in Trente calls for honesty if not absolute objectivity.

UPDATE (April 5): Mathew Ingram, formerly of the Globe and Mail, criticizes a similar social media policy at the Toronto Star that suggests reporters shouldn’t discuss articles in progress or engage with readers in online forums.

Posted in Blogosphere, Montreal

Adams family

Alston Adams at a Yulblog meeting in 2008

Alston Adams was a character.

I didn’t know him very well, but he was a hard guy to forget, and not only because he’d usually be the only black guy at a meeting of Montreal bloggers.

Adams had been fighting cancer for years, and blogging about it. Even though it was a serious medical condition with a depressing prognosis and no cure, he still kept going, showing up at the monthly YULblog meetings with his razor-sharp wit in tow. It could catch you off-guard, but it was endearing. With the energy and arrogance he showed, you’d think cancer wouldn’t stand a chance.

It took a long time, but cancer won the battle. Adams died yesterday, according to his friends, who have been flooding his Facebook wall. He was 35.

Since they knew him better than I did, I’ll point to the eulogies from his fellow bloggers:

A while ago, Adams participated in a documentary called Wrong Way to Hope, about young adults with cancer. The trailer (released almost a year ago) doesn’t do justice to his personality, which was far more animated (this bit from the deleted scenes is much more representative).

There’s some ironic timing here: His death comes just as the film is coming out. The premiere was two weeks ago, and the Canadian premiere is next week.

The monthly YULblog meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 6, 8pm at La Quincaillerie, 980 Rachel East. Expect Adams to be on the tips of tongues of those present.

UPDATE: Here’s daily mugshots of Adams until Sept. 13, three weeks before he died.

Posted in Montreal, Public transit

The metro car contract: a depressing timeline

Just to recap:

(Projected):

  • January 2012: A judge rules that the “urgency” argument doesn’t hold up, and orders a call for bids on the new metro car contract. Bombardier-Alstom sues.
  • March 2012: The STM puts out a new call for bids, and 12 more companies come out of the blue to express interest.
  • May 2012: The STM picks Bombardier-Alstom as the winner of the bid. ZhuZhou, CAF and a bunch of other companies promptly sue.
  • September 2012: A judge rules something, but nobody reads the judgment and everyone just announces they’re going to sue each other.
  • October 2012: The Quebec people sue the government for incompetent mismanagement of their funds.
  • December 2012: The world comes to an end. All evil dies in the apocalypse. Civil courts stop functioning, and all lawsuits are dismissed.
  • April 2025: The first new metro cars are delivered. Quebec Premier Patrick Huard participates in a photo op and pretends it was all his doing.
Posted in Montreal, Navel-gazing, Radio, Technology

The lure of the Digital Life

I was recently invited to appear as the guest on an episode of The Digital Life, a half-hour show on Radio Centre-Ville (CINQ 102.3 FM). Pre-recorded last Wednesday, it aired on Saturday afternoon and is available as a podcast on their website. I was asked about the origin of the name “Fagstein”, what I think of journalists who look down on bloggers, and a few other things.

Digital Life host Reisa Levine and producer Mark Korman

The half-hour went by pretty fast, even though there were no commercials or breaks for news, traffic and weather.

It was my first time at Centre-Ville’s studio (which, despite its name, is actually at St. Laurent and Fairmount – closer to a geographic centre of the city than downtown). I’d say it’s tiny compared to other radio studios, but I can’t really think of any big radio studios these days.

Small studio at Radio Centre-Ville

The show was recorded in the smaller of two studios – another down the hall used for live broadcasts has a much larger table and more microphones. But the quality was fine.

Reisa Levine and Mark Korman have been doing the show for about a year now, since the former hosts stepped aside (as tends to be the case for volunteer work). Levine works at CitizenShift (formerly of the NFB) and is a veteran media producer. Korman is the author of the Montreal Radio Blog, which is worth reading for locals interested in radio.

Recent topics covered include PodCamp and the Citizen Media Rendez-Vous. If you know what those are, this show is probably worth listening to.

I asked them why they do it. Why, when just about everyone is a social media expert and has their own podcast, they would have their own show on the subject and devote so much time at a community radio station that barely anyone can hear.

Levine’s answer was simple: It’s a labour of love. It’s the same reason I write this blog. You do it for yourself.

Makes perfect sense to me.

The Digital Life show airs on Radio Centre-Ville (102.3 FM) every Saturday from 2:30 pm to 3 pm. It also streams live from Radio Centre-Ville’s website and is available as a download from the Digital Life blog.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Mike Finnerty returns to CBC Daybreak (UPDATED)

Mike Finnerty ad from his last Daybreak stint

Mike Finnerty, who left his job as host of the morning show Daybreak on CBC Radio One to work at the Guardian newspaper in London, and was replaced by Nancy Wood, who was turfed only a few months later by management, settles back into his old chair starting Monday morning at 5:30am

Well, maybe not the old chair. The CBC radio studios have been moved to the basement of the Maison Radio-Canada, to share space with CBC television and better integrate the two newsrooms.

It’s been more than two months since it was announced that Finnerty would return. That gave him some time to finish up at the Guardian, fill in as a host of The Current, move back to Montreal and get back up to speed with his Daybreak team.

I asked him about his impending return, and he sent me a really long email, most of which I’ll share with you here (slightly edited).

Quite a few changes, actually. It will definitely sound different. I take responsibility for the different mind and voice, but Daybreak has a new senior producer Meredith Dellandrea. It’s a team effort, but she’s been working on this re-launch since I was hired in July.  She’s very good.

  • It will sound a lot pacier and more nimble
  • It will deliver more of the crucial Montreal info you need more efficiently, and it will frontload that information tucked up to the end of our half-hourly newscasts
  • It will update you more regularly
  • It will retain the same team, and I like to hope the same magic/spontaneity/cheekiness we’d achieved before I left
  • There will be a focus on interviewing, getting the Montreal players on air and on the record

We’ll continue to push ahead on the tech front – you may not hear it first day, but we’ll start making use of how easy it’s become to send quality audio files over the Web/Twitter.

The premium on audience interactivity continues — we consider they co-own the show (because they do lol), so you’ll hear their story ideas, their comments and even direct participation in the storytelling. We’ll up our game on social networking, especially Twitter. (ED: They use their Facebook page a lot too)

The 5:30 half-hour will be spruced up a bit for our early-morning listeners.

The podcast stays and you’ll hear in different ways that we’re keenly aware of how much the audience is interacting with us digitally through the Internet.

As for me, I’ve just come back from 15 months at guardian.co.uk — a news organisation with complete clarity about its brand and what it stands for:  it makes an impact, is thoughtful, colourful, cheeky, provocative, interactive, creative, and seeks out viewpoints from across the spectrum of thought and opinion Those are all values I sign up to, so I hope they’ve been reinforced in me and you might even hear more of that on air.

Is it just like riding a bicycle?  You’ll find out tomorrow from 0530.

Finnerty's new face on the Daybreak home page

Finnerty’s guests his first week include Mayor Gérald Tremblay, Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum, CBC boss Hubert Lacroix, some “surprises”, a longer interview with police chief Marc Parent (he presented an excerpt last week), and as usual the stars of the latest news cycle who are willing to wake up at 7am for a radio interview.

UPDATE: I listened to the first complete show with Finnerty as host, and I have some initial reaction on the subject:

  • I rarely listened to the first half-hour of Daybreak – only insane people are up at 5:30am – but it’s really really dead. They’ve replaced the “Daybreak playback” with a press review, which is Finnerty and Dimitri Katadotis reading off the headlines of the newspapers that have just arrived. It’s pretty well as boring as it sounds. The rest of the half-hour is a daily chat with the folks at Quebec AM in Quebec City. I realize you’re not going to get many interviews for 5:40am (getting interviews for 7:40am is hard enough), but people who wake up at this time of the morning need much more energy than this.
  • Finnerty is well aware of his reputation for being a confrontational interviewer, and only time will tell whether he’ll mellow out in the long term, but this interview with Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay is interesting in how cordial he is. Certainly Tremblay has had some questions to face over the past 15 months, but Finnerty is practically lobbing softballs at the guy. He also interviewed Christian Paradis over the Tory minister’s recent political troubles, and the interview was fair. Finnerty didn’t ask him 10 times if he was going to resign. Maybe he was unusually happy this day, maybe self-conscious about people’s criticisms of him, or maybe he just hasn’t found an issue to be really fired up at yet. We’ll see.
  • A lot of the show is spent previewing itself. Here’s four minutes of Finnerty just doing station IDs and talking about what’s coming up in the program. Get rid of that and you can have a whole other segment.
Posted in Business, Opinion, Technology

Your fake phones are useless to me

Fake phones at Best Buy

I’m currently in the market for a smartphone. I’ve had the same phone for four and a half years now, and it’s starting to show its age. It’s getting tougher and tougher to get the charger’s plug in the right position to get it to charge, and I’ve recently learned that the alarm doesn’t work when the phone is charging.

Meanwhile, my portable media player, a couple of years old, is also deteriorating. The audio jack doesn’t always make proper contact, the top layer of its skin is flaking off, and the software design flaws I tolerated at the beginning are starting to get on my nerves.

Plus, it seems everyone cool has a smartphone but me, and I want to have at least basic access to the Internet when I’m out and about.

So wanting to kill three birds with one stone, I’m doing research into both handsets (I’m looking at non-iPhones) and voice/data plans. I’ll probably do a plan post at some point, as I have a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet right now.

With online research, I’ve narrowed down a short list of devices that meet my criteria: Wi-Fi and a web browser, an open operating system (Android or Symbian), FM radio (remarkably hard to find, and a major factor against the iPhone), and a feeling of ruggedness – I don’t want some cheap plastic part to break after six months and render the phone useless.

Since there’s just so much I can learn from reading specs sheets and looking at reviews online, I went to some stores recently to check out the devices in person.

Tables and tables of fake phones at Future Shop

Electronics stores have entire sections devoted to cellphones, each one tied to a security cord so you can hold it in your hand but can’t steal it. You can touch the phones, slide out keyboards where such slides exist, and run your fingers across the buttons.

But that’s about it. You can’t turn them on, try the browser, see how high the volume goes, check out what software features it has, or anything else that involves a battery. You can get a vague idea of what the operating system looks like by the fake display that’s pasted on, but you can’t get any sense of how it works.

It’s the same at the carriers’ special shops. There might be a working iPhone display at the Rogers store, but good luck testing out that Motorola Quench or Nokia N97.

This seems ridiculous to me. Computers and laptops are almost always sold in a way that lets you test them out first. So are iPods, digital cameras and camcorders, TVs and other electronic devices.

I asked one of the customer service people at one of those inside-the-mall shops about having phones on display that actually work. He said that if they did that, the phones would constantly be stolen. Those phones, with the bungee cords attaching them to the table? And what about that iPhone – the most in-demand mobile device on the planet right now – that you’ve managed to setup a proper display for?

I’ve gone to Bell, Telus, Rogers, Fido, Virgin Mobile, Videotron and unaffiliated stores, looking for somewhere I can test drive one of these non-iPhone smartphones. I’m facing the prospect of choosing a $500 device without having turned it on first.

It’s not exactly encouraging.