Monthly Archives: February 2011

Posted in Media, Montreal

It’s over: Journal workers approve contract by 64%

Locked-out workers of the Journal de Montreal have accepted – very reluctantly – an offer ending their two-year lockout.

After a 10-hour session inside a closed meeting at the Palais des Congrès, members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal voted 64.1% to approve a proposal by the mediator that will finally end the lockout that began on Jan. 24, 2009.

A back-to-work protocol still needs to be worked out. And approval is contingent on this being negotiated successfully. But it’s unlikely anything will stop this deal from getting final approval.

The deal, which lasts five years, will see the Journal hire back 62 workers (plus one temporary worker), which includes:

  • 24 journalists (12 in news, seven in sports and five in arts)
  • five deskers
  • four photographers
  • four graphic artists
  • an editorial cartoonist (assuming Marc Beaudet wants to return)
  • a statistician (plus a part-time or temporary one)
  • two quality control people
  • one “adjointe”
  • 10 people in classified (nine salespeople and one customer service agent)
  • 10 people in the business office, including two accountants

The rest will share a $20 million severance package, whose method of splitting is up to them (something expected to cause a lot of tension as they decide how to calculate how much each worker gets). For those of them lucky enough to get the choice, they’ll have two weeks to decide whether they want to rejoin their former newspaper.

Almost all of the Rue Frontenac personalities I talked to later Saturday night had already made up their minds: “No fucking way” are they going back to work for Quebecor, in the words of journalist Jessica Nadeau. Though some left open a slim possibility that they might accept a return, not wanting to close the door completely out of anger without thinking about it first, most of the core of Rue Frontenac made it abundantly clear that they are going to stay outside the grip of the Quebecor empire and try to make an independent publication of Rue Frontenac and RueFrontenac.com.

The contract is over 100 pages long and I’m just getting my first look at it. I’ll post more details in the days ahead, but suffice it to say this is a huge victory for Quebecor and a giant defeat for the union.

But at least some people will get some money out of it.

As you wait for more of my thoughts, you’ll find coverage of this story … well, just about anywhere:

Reaction and analysis is coming in from:

  • The FPJQ, which sees this as reinforcing its worries about media concentration in Quebec
  • Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon, who wonders if the managers who have been doing the work of journalists for the past two years won’t see themselves out of their jobs soon
  • Le Soleil, which looks at how this affects the Journal de Québec
  • The right, which sees this as a victory against the unions
  • Mauvais Oeil, which humorously looks at how readers of the Journal and the rest of the world see the conflict

And reaction from the journalists themselves:

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Cat Spencer to replace Aaron Rand at CFQR

Aaron Rand

Mere hours after veteran host Aaron Rand announced during Friday’s morning show that he will be leaving CFQR (92.5 the Q), news emerged that CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) morning host Cat Spencer has been tapped to replace him.

Staff at CFQR were informed of Rand’s decision on Thursday after the morning show was over. On Friday at 10am, a meeting was reportedly convened at Astral Media to announce that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM and moving to CFQR in September.

Rand says he was completely unaware of his employer’s decision to hire Spencer until he was called into his boss’s office after Friday’s show. During the show, Rand said he would stay on for a few more weeks (officially until the end of April) so his station could find a replacement, but now that it seems they’ve found that replacement, Rand says he’s not sure how long he’ll still be there.

Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, Rand was clearly unhappy about how his bosses handled the situation, concealing from him their decision to hire Spencer and allowing him to give a statement in which he “looked like an idiot” by saying the station hadn’t found someone to replace him when in fact it had.

Still, the decision to leave is Rand’s, both technically and realistically. He says he met with his bosses last week as negotiations were set to begin for his contract renewal (his contract ends Sept. 1), and it seemed immediately apparent that management was not particularly excited about improving his contract, nor was he particularly excited about staying.

He said he was trying to be as honourable as he could, a stark contrast to his former co-hosts Suzanne Desautels and Paul “Tasso” Zakaib, who were fired without being given a chance to say goodbye on air (though Rand put Zakaib on air via telephone and a few months later hosted a party in their honour). It all went fine until he found out about Spencer. Not that he has a problem with Spencer, or the hiring, or even the timing of such. It’s the fact that he wasn’t told that’s left him pissed.

Rand’s enjoyment of the morning job went down significantly after long-time partner Zakaib was turfed in 2009 (they had been hosting the morning show at CFQR for almost 20 years, and had co-hosted together before that for other stations since 1984). He told The Gazette in 2009 that he felt “survivor’s guilt” afterward.

The format change that came with the firings also didn’t work so well for Rand. The station wanted “more music” in an effort to boost ratings, so Rand’s time at the mike was significantly reduced as the station began to sound more like a juke box than live radio. “I’m not a DJ,” Rand told me.

In all, Rand’s career on the Montreal airwaves spans 26 years, notably with CKGM, CFCF and CFQR, but during his early years he had jobs with CJFM, CHOM and CJAD.

The announcement of Rand’s departure comes less than a month after CFQR was officially acquired by Cogeco Diffusion as part of the huge purchase of Corus Quebec, though there’s no indication of any direct link between this decision and the change in ownership. Rand himself says linking the two is “pure speculation.”

My attempts to reach management at CJFM and CFQR for comment have so far proved unsuccessful. Spencer also hasn’t gotten back to me yet. But Mark Dickie, the Q’s general manager, took time out of not returning my calls to tell The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein that “Aaron Rand has been the cornerstone of this station for years and has consistently delivered us great radio. We wish him only the best.”

The announcement

The following was said on air by Rand shortly before 7:30 Friday morning:

I have decided that I’m going to be leaving the radio station and my job here as host of the morning show. After almost 26 years of sitting down to start my day by telling a couple of stories and sharing some laughs with you, my time here is coming to an end. It’s never an easy decision to make, but as the expression goes “when it’s time, it’s time.” And now is that time.

It’s been a great run. I’ve been blessed to work with some really talented people, not the least of whom was my partner for most of those years, Tasso, who I told about my decision yesterday. And I’m also proud of the fact that as a native Montrealer I was lucky enough to work at a job I love in a city I love for my entire career. That’s truly special to me.

As far as what’s next, I don’t really know. I do know I’m not ready to retire yet, so I’m going to spend the next little while thinking about what I’m going to do next, and sleeping in. But I promise to keep you updated through my Facebook page and let you know when I know exactly what’s next. In the meantime, I’ll still be here for the next few weeks while the station goes about the business of finding someone new to fill my seat.

I want to sincerely thank everyone I’ve ever worked with on the show over the years. Talented people like Patrick Charles, Leo Da Estrela, Murray Sherriffs, Suzanne Desautels, Glenn Repas, Melody Pierson, Sandy Weigens and Pierre Arcand. And most of all, I want to thank you. You who listen every morning, especially those of you who have been loyal listeners for longer than I care to remember.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of entertaining you for so many years. Please believe me when I say the pleasure has been all mine.

Thank you.

You can listen to audio of this announcement in MP3 format here.

Rand said the text of the announcement was given to management beforehand, and had he known about Spencer’s impending hiring he would have deleted the sentence about sticking around as the station finds someone new.

Shortly after the announcement aired, Rand got a call from his mother (in reality, it was Zakaib, performing one of the many popular characters he brought to the morning show). Rand said the bit was a way to take the tension away after such a serious announcement.

It was good thinking. He just surprised thousands of people by telling them he’s breaking up with them after 20 years together.

Last of his era

If this seems like more than just a simple case of a long-time radio personality hanging up the mike (he’s pushing 60, but he said he’s “not ready to retire”), it’s because Rand is one of the few remaining people in commercial music radio in Montreal’s anglo market who isn’t afraid not to sound like a marketer sometimes. Where the standard procedure might have been to pretend his departed co-hosts never existed, Rand granted interview requests, spoke highly of them, gave Zakaib a chance to say goodbye on air and even organized a party in their honour for long-time listeners to attend.

Talk radio still has some true personalities, people like Mitch Melnick and Tommy Schnurmacher. Maybe it’s inevitable that the music side can no longer afford the same kind of broadcasters, and hosts across the schedule at CHOM, CFQR and CJFM (Virgin Radio 96) will all become interchangeable parts without real personalities or even last names. If people are constantly pushing for “more music”, maybe they don’t care what voice tells them what song was just played and what time it is.

If that’s true, you can hardly blame the stations for moving in this direction.

Stopped being fun

Though Rand’s departure was clearly more amicable than was Ted Bird’s from CHOM last year (Bird has since taken a job at K103 Kahnawake), there are similarities in the motivations, as hinted by Rand himself shortly after Bird’s departure:

When I read about Ted Bird (who I know only in passing) and his reasons for leaving, I was struck by one central theme. Not the fact that big corporations now control the business (it’s been that way for awhile), not that they seek to, as he said, take the craft out of the hands of the craftsmen (which naively maybe I choose not to believe) but by the fact that it stopped being fun for him. And in a business where translating that fun you feel into fun an audience can share, once you’ve lost that feeling, it’s time to move on, I respect Ted for that.

I still get up every morning (at 4 not 3) and look forward to going to work. Yes, I miss seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the friends I shared that studio with for what seems like forever, but I’m a realist. You can’t help but see and feel the business changing, and the choice is to either embrace that change, or be left behind by it.

Is it the right thing to do, am I still being true to myself as a performer by staying? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m willing to at least give it a shot and then make that decision with a bit of perspective to reflect on. The truth is, I still have fun doing what I do on the radio every morning. The only difference is now I’m working with other talented people who offer new perspectives, a different outlook, and maybe, a glimpse into what the future of this business will become.

It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different, But it’s still fun. The day it no longer is, I’ll walk away too.

On Friday, Rand agreed that a lack of fun was a big reason for leaving. “It became more and more obvious that there was less and less for me to do,” he said. “You feel at some point that you’re just spinning your wheels. It’s time for a new challenge.”

So what’s next? Rand says he would like to stay in Montreal, and would like to stay in radio, but even though having creative freedom is more important to him than money right now, obviously his options are limited. K103 already has a big-name morning man (besides, Rand jokes, he doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t want to cross the Mercier every day). Like Bird, he highly doubts the CBC would be interested in his talents. So that leaves the Astral-owned stations: CHOM, CJFM and CJAD.

Rand said he has had some discussions with Astral, but nothing has been set yet. CJAD might be a good fit for a radio host with a talent for humour, but CHOM would also work if it would be willing to give him enough freedom. The question is whether either of them is in a hiring mood.

One thing is for sure, Rand doesn’t want to retire. “I’m not for a second thinking I’m done,” he said. “I can’t imagine sitting around all day doing nothing.”

Coverage

The Gazette posted a brief based on information above, and Bill Brownstein wrote a story for Saturday’s city section.

CTV Montreal takes the story a step further and reports about a source saying Cat Spencer is quitting Virgin Radio and coming to the Q. Christine Long mentions the news during the noon newscast almost as an aside to a CHOM FM bikini parade.

Reaction

It didn’t take long for Rand’s colleagues in the Montreal radio industry to comment.

Friend of the blog Terry DiMonte comments via Facebook and Twitter that Rand, a competitor for many years, is “a class act”. DiMonte, you’ll remember, also left Montreal’s music radio market after finding it wasn’t fun anymore.

From CHOM’s Rob Kemp: “The Montreal radio landscape will never be the same. … Good luck Aaron…you are an original pro.”

From co-host Murray Sherriffs: “I sitting not 2 feet from you and my resistance to get off my chair and go over an hug is waning, you big lug.”

From former Q92 program director Ted Silver: “Aaron, You are the man. The best revenge will be the big numbers you put up at your next station. All the best my friend!. … Aaron, You had a long run as the TOP morning show. This was not by accident. The station declined and you became a scapegoat. I don’t know how things would have been if I was still there, but I do know that I would not have dismantled an iconic morning show. Keep in touch!”

From radio listener Sheldon Harvey: “I personally believe that when the history book is written on Montreal English
radio, Aaron Rand will probably deserve a chapter of his own. I feel that his ground-breaking afternoon drive show on the old CFCF/CIQC 600 is still one of Montreal radio’s shining moments in broadcasting.”

From the public, the reaction so far is supportive, but sad. Though there are some who are still ticked off that Tasso was given the boot.

Those wanting to express themselves to the Q about Rand’s departure can do so on their Facebook page (though the station has shut that down in the past to clamp down on negative commentary becoming public) or by calling or emailing management. There’s also Rand’s own Facebook page, which he plans to keep using.

Meanwhile, in other radio staffing news

The Rand and Spencer show obscured another shifting of personalities in the anglo radio sphere on Friday. Sonali Karnick, a longtime member of the CBC Daybreak team – most recently as its sports reporter – is leaving for Toronto to be a national sports reporter for CBC. Friday was her last day on Daybreak.

And similarly, it didn’t take long for a replacement to be announced. Mitch Melnick announced on his Team 990 show on Friday afternoon that his colleague Andie Bennett is heading to Daybreak to fill that void.

UPDATE: Mike Cohen reports that Freeway Frank, who used to be the morning guy at CHUM’s Kool 101.5 in Calgary, will be Spencer’s replacement at CJFM and will cohost the Virgin Radio morning show with Lisa Player.

Posted in Business, Media

New contract proposal to Journal de Montréal workers

The CSN has announced that locked-out members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal will vote on a new contract offer proposed by the mediator appointed by the Quebec government.

Note that this does not necessarily mean there’s an agreement in principle. The release mentions nothing about whether the union executive recommends the proposal, whether the employer will accept the proposal, or any details about the proposal itself. (UPDATE: Apparently the CSN is saying the union is, in fact, recommending the proposal, which is pretty huge — oh wait, the union is now denying it has recommended the deal.)

The vote will take place Saturday at 10am at the Palais des congrès, and followed by a press conference.

You’ll recall that the last vote on a proposal, in October, resulted in 89.3% of workers rejecting the offer.

Posted in Navel-gazing

Welcome to my new home

If you’re reading this post, it means you have successfully reached this blog on its new server.

After three years with U.S.-based SiteGround, and not particularly impressed with their customer service after an unfortunate emergency a little while back, I decided to wait until my two-year agreement had expired and move the site to Montreal-based iWeb. It’s not an endorsement (ask me in a couple of years and we’ll see), but the fact that they’re closer to home and don’t charge extra for things that should be free make me more comfortable.

Anyway, the transition should be entirely transparent (in fact, considering my experience with software projects in general and dealing with servers in particular, I’m a bit surprised how easily and seamlessly it all worked). The entire database has been moved over, so all 3,157 posts, 17,678 comments and about 240MB of photos and audio clips are still here at their same URLs. Hopefully, nothing except this post should give any indication that anything has changed.

If there is something obscure that I missed, please let me know by commenting below.

And now that this project is over, I can get back to working on content again.

Posted in Radio, Video

Radio: The problem child of the Canadian people

This National Film Board documentary about the state of Canadian radio (particularly CBC/Radio-Canada) in 1949 has some funny lines. My favourite is this one:

“Radio reads its fan mail and makes its listeners’ surveys because radio has learned to trust the judgment of the listener.  And in Canada, the listener gets what he asks for.”

There’s also some talk near the end about setting up a national television network and developing this new “frequency modulation” radio. And a clip of Oscar Peterson tickling the ivories.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Is selling out okay for a good cause?

Clara Hughes is the spokesperson for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign to raise awareness about mental illness

Let’s talk.

The phrase, and the face of Canadian Olympic star Clara Hughes, are all over the media today in a campaign organized by Bell Canada. It’s planning to spend $50 million over five years on this program, and today it’s giving five cents for every text message and long-distance call by a Bell customer to mental health initiatives.

To promote this, the campaign has pulled out all the stops, and has … partnered … with news organizations to spread the word. CTV, which Bell is in the process of purchasing, has devoted just about everything it can – including TSN and MuchMusic – to the campaign, forcing each one to mention it somehow. Hughes has been doing non-stop interviews today. She was on Canada AM. She was on CP24’s breakfast show. She was on the Marilyn Denis showShe was interviewed on CFCF. And that’s just daytime. There’s an entire channel online devoted to this stuff.

And, of course, during the actual commercials, Hughes appears again – over and over – in ads paid for by Bell talking about the campaign.

It doesn’t stop with CTV, though. My own newspaper The Gazette has two pages devoted to this subject today, one of which has a giant ad featuring Hughes and the Bell logo. I’m sure it won’t be hard to find other examples in other media.

Fighting mental illness is a laudable goal. No one with even a trace of a soul can stand up and say they oppose this campaign. I salute Hughes and Bell for their efforts, and wish the campaign success (though I’m not quite sure what that would mean – they’ve already said they’re spending $50 million over five years, so are the donations in excess of that, or did they just estimate how much it’ll cost them? UPDATE: The money from this event – more than $3 million – was in fact in addition to the $50 million they’d already pledged)

This also isn’t the first time that a big, rich company has bought news for a good cause. Newspapers often have pages devoted to issues chosen by advertisers. They have various names for this, referring to them as “partnerships” or “joint ventures”. “Directed content” is my favourite term. A step beyond the advertorial, the content is presented as news, it doesn’t talk about the advertiser directly, and the advertiser has no say in the content of the news pieces themselves, other than their subject.

Oral B and Listerine sponsor coverage of oral care. Big oil companies sponsor articles about the environment to greenwash their image. Banks and other financial institutions sponsor entire sections on the importance of RRSPs. It is, in the eyes of the publishers and advertisers, a win-win: the news outlet gets much-needed advertising money, the advertiser gets to see its logo all over the place, and the issue gets public exposure.

The only drawback is the crumbling wall between editorial and advertising. The precedent is established that an advertiser can get all sorts of journalistic outlets to contribute to its campaign, provided it’s for a good cause (or something that can be interpreted as a good cause), and that big media companies will use the power of convergence to please those advertisers, if given enough money.

Most importantly, it means that issues advertisers want to bring up – whether because they want to appear charitable or because it is in line with their business interests – get more exposure than those nobody wants to spend money on. People who want their causes to get news coverage are better off pleading to large corporations’ marketing departments than to journalists. And good luck getting anyone to pay attention to a cause that puts one of those big corporations in a bad light.

To be clear, I have nothing against this cause. Bell is spending a lot of money it could have just as easily given to its shareholders or spent on ads lauding its services. I don’t think the good PR that will come from this will bring in more than $50 million in new subscribers. And I hope the campaign is very successful and helps a lot of people.

But I think it sets a bad precedent when a company like Bell can simply dictate to all its divisions, including news, that a certain topic is covered on a certain day. It’s hard not to think of that as a slippery slope.

UPDATE: A response from Bell worth reading. And another blog post that goes a bit farther than mine, suggesting this is more of an advertisement for Bell than a campaign for mental health.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Welcome to the Cogeco radioverse

It’s official. Despite an after-the-fact plea from Astral to overturn CRTC approval and block the purchase, Corus Quebec’s radio stations officially became part of the Cogeco family on Feb. 1.

The new owners wasted no time imposing the new order, escorting previous bosses out the door (assuming they didn’t quit) and appointing a new executive team.

As part of the agreement with the CRTC, Cogeco can continue to own three francophone FM stations in Montreal (98.5FM, Rythme FM 105.7 and CKOI 96.9), but has to sell some stations in other regions:

  • CKOY-FM 104.5 (since renamed CJTS-FM) in Sherbrooke, which operated under the CKOI brand
  • CFEL-FM 102.1 in Quebec City, also a CKOI-branded station
  • CJEC-FM 91.9 in Quebec City, under the Rythme FM brand

If you’re interested, feel free to bid. It’s unclear what will happen after the sales are complete (will they be able to keep the same brand? Will they want to?), but for now it’s business as usual.

Another station that was part of the Corus network, CKRS in Saguenay, was sold separately to local investors.

On the anglo side, the only affected station is CFQR 92.5 “the Q”, which switches from Corus to Cogeco. Astral Media owns the other stations, CHOM, CJFM “Virgin Radio” and CJAD. There’s no word on any changes to management or programming or anything else at that station so far.

Posted in In the news, Media

Some reading on Quebec’s anti-scab law

Hearings began today (finally a reason to watch the National Assembly channel!) into Quebec’s labour laws, specifically the provisions against strikebreakers (scabs). They are prompted by the enduring two-year-old lockout at the Journal de Montréal, and the union’s argument that laws forbidding the use of replacement workers during a labour conflict need to be updated because they only apply to workers who physically enter the employer’s workspace.

An example to illustrate this is a company called Côté Tonic in Quebec City, which has been doing copy editing and page layout work for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout. Stories in Rue Frontenac and La Presse show that the small company did production work during the Journal de Québec lockout and had to fire people after that was resolved, but learned about an impending lockout at the Journal de Montréal before it was launched and even before the end of the labour contract for Journal de Montréal workers.

This information comes out now for a somewhat ironic reason: an employee who was laid off when she took maternity leave complained she was fired illegally. Her complaint was rejected because it was determined that the layoff happened after the Journal asked the company to reduce its workforce. But because labour relations board decisions are public, the dirty laundry comes out into the open.

The union representing locked-out workers claims there are all sorts of fly-by-night operations doing their work in secret, from customer service to page layout to accounting. But they’ve had difficulty gaining evidence about how they work, and under the current law there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

Also worth reading:

There’s also the Twitter feed of Rue Frontenac’s David Patry, or the hashtag #commissionJdeM. The hearings can also be viewed online, in case you have a few hours to waste.