The end of Hour (for realz)

I wrote a brief story about Hour’s demise for The Gazette. You can read it here.

The final issue of Hour Community - Vol. 20, No. 18, dated May 3-9, 2012

Hour died a year ago. But now they’ve made it official.

Word leaked out Wednesday night that Communications Voir was pulling the plug on Montreal’s second English-language alternative weekly newspaper, 13 months after a purge that saw everyone associated with the paper lose their jobs or regular freelance cheques. The paper was renamed Hour Community, got a new editor in Kevin LaForest, and crawled along with even less content and advertising than before. Near the end, the paper was embarrassingly thin, with few ads that weren’t from the government or from Voir itself. Its content consisted of little more than a column from Anne Lagacé Dowson and a handful of music and restaurant reviews.

On Thursday, Hour Community publishes its final issue.

The war was long over. In the end the question wasn’t about whether the paper would recover and compete with Mirror again, but whether it could pick up enough advertising by default that it could continue operating while spending peanuts on content. It’s perhaps fortunate for the journalistic industry that the answer to that second question was “no”.

The final columns from LaForest and Dowson are online. Neither makes mention of the finality of the issue. LaForest said he heard of the decision only late Wednesday afternoon. Dowson called the news “sad” on Twitter.

“We gave it our all,” LaForest wrote to me, “but, as you wrote a year ago, I guess there’s just no room for two anglo weeklies in Montreal.”

It was an anomaly that in a place like Montreal there would be two English-language alternative weeklies but only one French-language weekly, ever since Ici closed in 2009. Though LaForest and Dowson tried to breathe new life into the crippled publication, it was just a matter of time until it too was shown the door. When one paper has eight articles and the other has 42, it’s not even a contest any more.

Hour will be remembered as a place that acted as a breeding ground for many journalists and writers, from Josey Vogels to Linda Gyulai.

Now the question will be: Will Mirror profit from this and get a boost in advertising and readership that ensures its continued success, or is this another step in the death march of this form of media?

Also being terminated are the Saguenay and Mauricie editions of Voir. In the cases of the Saguenay Voir and Hour, the news came out via Twitter messages from staff. For the Mauricie paper, it came out only after the fact.

There has been no comment from Communications Voir aside from this statement, which gives no source. It blames the advertising market for not doing enough to support the papers. Former Hour editor Jamie O’Meara disputes that, putting the blame on management that just didn’t care about Hour once it was clear it had lost the war against Mirror.

A petition has been started to convince Voir to change it mind on the Saguenay edition. It has 300 signatures online.


You’d think this would be a pretty big story, but … it’s not. Of the three local anglophone newscasts, only Global even mentioned Hour’s demise, and that was a brief apparently based on the Gazette story. (It also posted it on its website.) But aside from some blog posts and a very small number of stories, the shutting down of a newspaper in Montreal was given little attention.

That’s sad.

UPDATE: Saguenay Voir’s Joël Martel gives a proper goodbye column online, since the news came too late to make it into the paper. Now Martel is trying to use social media to help him find his next job, and has released a YouTube video and started up a Facebook campaign to help him.

UPDATE (May 22): Voir has also shut down sister paper Ottawa XPress in similarly noncommunicative fashion. Coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen.

15 thoughts on “The end of Hour (for realz)

  1. Kate M.

    You say “It was an anomaly that in a place like Montreal there would be two English-language alternative weeklies but only one French-language weekly, ever since Ici closed in 2009” – I can’t remember the exact timeline, but the Mirror, Hour and Voir also shared the scene for quite a while *before* Ici came along.

    It’s also something of an anomaly that the first alt-weekly here, the Mirror, was in English – but it was inspired by alt-weeklies elsewhere in North America, inspirations that didn’t exist on the francophone side.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      the Mirror, Hour and Voir also shared the scene for quite a while *before* Ici came along.

      This is true. Hour launched in 1993, and Ici in 1997. I guess my point is that once Ici closed, it seemed not to make much sense that the market could support two English weeklies but only one French one. Turns out it can’t, at least according to some.

  2. Jim

    Re. Josey Vogels, what was the reason Hour dropped her? If I remember correctly, she had appeared on Dennis Trudeau’s morning show on 940 News (another defunct anglo media outlet) in Autumn 2008 or 2009 to explain what had happened. I never got to hear it. Why was she let go?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Re. Josey Vogels, what was the reason Hour dropped her?

      No reason was given that I can remember. But I suspect cost-cutting had a lot to do with it. Vogels was replaced by another writer, and it wasn’t long before the sex column was abandoned, along with a lot of other content.

  3. Helen

    Montreal does not have any alternative English-language newspaper. The Montreal Mirror is not “alternative.” You cannot be owned by Sun News/Quebecor/Peladeau and be alternative.

    1. sco100

      While you may not want to believe that one can “be owned by Sun News/Quebecor/Peladeau and be alternative”, I fail to see why that couldn’t be, objectively.

      While “The Mirror” is not your typical Sun Media paper, from an operational standpoint, it most probably benefits from belonging to that whole ecosystem and I see no sign of those business links so far interfering with content.

      I’d certainly reconsider my position if things like, say, “Ezra’s Corner”, were to suddenly sprout among the pages of “The Mirror”, but for now, the paper does seem to have retained its editorial freedom.

  4. Rob P.

    Actually, REARGARDE preceeded both the HOUR and MIRROR by a few years.

    Sad to see The Hour go, but it’s been dying a slow death for the last few years now. The classifieds really suffered with the demise of most of Montreal’s call centers, who seemed to be the major advertisers in that section. Those that did survive, switched over to cheaper/free sites such as craigslist and kijiji. I know I managed the HR for the company I worked at back then, and we’d run 1/4 page ads at $400-600/shot every week for years until I convinced my boss that we could be just as effective promoting that we were looking for people FREE online, I always loved the hour back then, but dollars is dollars right?
    There was also the issue, that the HOUR and the MIRROR constantly had duplicate content that made you question why 2 weeklies? They were similar to a fault. And it seemed at times, that they had no idea what audience they were targeting – students, hipsters, metro riders, etc. Both the METRO and 24 newspapers on the other hand, seem to be thriving- they know what they are, know what kind of content to deliver – and do it well for the most part.
    I would also say, that the HOUR made a HUGE mistake with their online contests, where they had a reward system for people commenting on stories/articles. It encouraged people to come back and participate in the community, that kept them in people’s minds. Once that stopped, I’m betting their onlibe traffic/awareness went way down.

    1. lop

      I remember reargarde, man, that goes back!! Dutchie’s record cave days!!

      I feel METRO is popular because it dominates in our Metro system, even having people hand you a copy when you entered a station. Don’t care for it though, as the usual ‘language question’ is implied. Finding a Mirror or Hour was tough.. you had to plan to pick one up en-route to read. Yes, some stations had them, but few..

      Even now, finding a Mirror stand is hard. Espeically so, that I’ve grown up, drive a car, and live in a house on the west island..

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