It’s the biggest minor news story of the day, and many news outlets aren’t reporting on it yet.
At 12:19:28am on Wednesday, the ground shook under Montreal. According to Earthquakes Canada, it was a 4.5 magnitude earthquake centred near Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu. According to the United States Geological Survey, it was a 3.9 magnitude quake centred a bit further southwest. Either way, the quake was minor, being felt in a large area but causing no apparent damage.
I wasn’t sure what it was at first. As I remember it, it felt like a pair of sudden jolts, not the longer, low rumble of an earthquake I remembered from my last experience of a ground shake in Montreal. I went out on my balcony to see what was going on, thinking someone was doing construction or something. I saw a construction truck parked outside, but no obvious sign of any work going on. Then I noticed that people up and down the block were starting to appear on their balconies and front porches. Maybe this was bigger than I thought.
A quick look at Twitter confirmed that, with people reporting the ground shaking all over the city. Clearly, we’d all just experienced a minor earthquake.
Unfortunately for local media, it happened after midnight, which meant many newsrooms were dark. The 24-hour all-news channels were all running repeats from earlier in the evening, with no mention of the earthquake. Except for Metro 14’s morning show, local over-the-air television won’t have local news in English until noon, except as a ticker at the bottom of the screen. News radio stations also had no mention of the quake, even though they run hourly newscasts overnight. And newspaper websites were slow to update with news, the final editions for Wednesday having been put to bed.
Local news media, particularly on the broadcast side, have been criticized in the past for not reporting breaking news when it happens overnight or on weekends. And those critics will have new ammunition from the events of tonight, when thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of people were woken up suddenly, but couldn’t find news about what had happened through the usual sources.
In particular, Hall of Shame awards should go to the following:
- La Presse, which as of this writing (three hours after the earthquake) has neither a story on its website nor anything on its Twitter feed about it
- LCN, which repeated news bulletins from earlier and couldn’t be bothered to even update the ticker at the bottom of the screen with information about the earthquake
- CJAD 800, which ran its syndicated Coast to Coast AM show and hourly newscasts that were obviously prerecorded because they made no mention of the earthquake but had lots of information about planned overnight road closures.
- CBC Radio One and Radio-Canada Première Chaîne, which also had no mention of the earthquake in their hourly newscasts as of 2am. (Their websites had mention of it early.)
- CTV News Channel, which had no mention of the earthquake on air or in its ticker. (CTV Montreal did have a story on its website.)
On the other hand, some organizations deserve specific praise for their actions, distinguishing themselves by having timely information as their competitors were literally caught sleeping:
- CKGM (TSN Radio 690), whose late-night crew threw the sports talk out the window and spoke to listeners about the earthquake up until 2:30am. (They didn’t provide much useful information, but even acknowledging that something happened is helpful for people in situations like this.)
- CBC News Network, which had a report from Ian Hanomansing at the top of the hour at 1am, with CBC Montreal reporter Leah Hendry by phone. Though they didn’t exactly get him out of bed (it was
10am10pm in Vancouver).
- CHMP 98.5FM, which has live overnights with Jacques Fabi. He naturally made the earthquake the topic of conversation in his overnight call-in show.
But it’s just a minor earthquake
In the end, it’s not the end of the world if news about this has to wait until morning. Most people went right back to sleep. Twitter and other social media chatter died after about an hour or so (though not before someone started passing around a photo of last year’s New Zealand earthquake and pretending it was a shot of Montreal). So does it really matter?
My question is more this: What if this hadn’t been a minor earthquake? What if this had been a major one? How would the local media have reacted? Would the newsrooms have filled up faster? Would the TV news networks have cut from taped programming to a live anchor? Would the newspapers have gotten people out of bed to update their websites faster? Or would the news have had to wait hours no matter how big it was, simply because there was no one in the newsroom monitoring for breaking news?
Hopefully it’s a question newsrooms in Montreal and the rest of Canada won’t have to learn the hard way when something major does strike at an inconvenient time.
If you felt the earthquake, Earthquakes Canada would like to hear your report of how it felt.