Posted in Media, Montreal

It’s just an earthquake, right?

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 10am 10pm 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.
Most of the news media not on these lists did the minimum – getting a short story out explaining what happened, enough so they could go back to bed and follow it up in the morning.

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.

17 thoughts on “It’s just an earthquake, right?

  1. Marc

    CHMP 98.5 also belongs on the shame side. They were speculating for far too long on how strong it was. On Twitter it was known within minutes that it was a 4.5

    Reply
  2. DrPleaser

    I was also disappointed with CJAD not having at least a note on the earthquake, we listened to them right after the earthquake until 1:05am and there was no news except for a pre-taped traffic report?

    Thankfully I went on reddit.com’s montreal section and I found people discussing it and soon after someone posted the link to the government’s earthquake site.

    It was nice to have someone talking about even if we weren’t sure of the W5.

    Reply
  3. Pat Obrien-Barn

    For Mr.Fabi, it took a whole lot of time for him to really start its coverage of the earthquake. When it happened he said that a big train just passed near the Bonaventure Place. And then, for an hour, he continued to interview its guest on the hot topic of WINTER TIRES! It continued for a whole hour, before opening the lines for real about the earthquake. It was also a shame, honestly.

    98,5 should have pushed on the breaking news button and let the top of the hour news anchor do a special report. And then, open the lines, interview a police spoke person, and reasure people quicker. Fabi lost his touch, I guess.

    Reply
  4. jackie

    I totally agree with you sir! I felt the quake, was in my kitchen feeding the cat’s and then the shake came, all 3 cats ran to the door really scared, at first I thought like you , maybe some outside problem caused it, I ran into the hall of my building and a neighbour was also trying to get answers, in the end we shrugged our shoulders and went back to bed, not before I tried all the radio and t.v stations to see if they could give answers, very frustrating not to get a thing!!! even this morning I was told by cjad to go on line and read this news, what if I didn’t have a computor!!! like a lot of elderly people these days…so yes thankyou for giving your views today, I fully agree, nice to know I am not the only one out there……..

    Reply
  5. David Pinto

    Ah, for the good old days, when Albert Noel ran night police at The Gazette until shortly before 1 a.m., which was
    also the time the switchboard closed.

    Reply
  6. Steve Kowch

    Should I say something about CJAD and its earthquake coverage (NOT)
    No … let it pass!
    No … I can’t let it pass.
    No … don’t be a sh*t disturber … be nice and say nothing.
    No … I’m in a conflict of interest.
    No … I used to work there and that gives me the right to say something.

    It pains me to see how low CJAD has fallen from the day when it was the go-to English radio station when something happened to sleeping through an earth quake or ignoring a weekend hurricane.

    How has this happened?

    I spent too many years at CJAD in news covering breaking stories at all hours of the day including overnights and weekends to not say something. I loved covering breaking news stories overnight.

    I hope the CRTC takes notice of CJAD not doing anything about the earthquake because we need the license for 600 AM to fill the gap left by a complacent CJAD. I don’t believe they’re lazy … they just lost their way and the fire in their belly to get out of bed and cover the news.

    I know when I was PD at CJAD there is no way we would not have hauled people out of bed to cover the story or do a newscast or take calls.

    So, for those who think I’m in a conflict of interest or just jumping all over CJAD because I have an agenda … you’re right. My agenda is very clear and I spelled it out at the CRTC hearings. It’s time anglos in Montreal (and francophones too because TTP MEDIA will have a French news and talk station) get the news when it happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Be patient Montreal radio listeners …. cross your fingers the CRTC will hand down its decision soon about granting TTP Media the 600 AM frequency.

    OK … I feel better now. Thank you CJAD for giving me the opportunity to promote 600AM.

    Reply
    1. Michael D

      Well put Mr. Kowch..you’re right many times, it was the go-to station, even in a blackout, people would get their battery powered portables and get the news and call up the host on the air and he or she could break away and throw the scheduled programming out of the window…..and re-schedule a guest another time…

      we all hope there is some competition in town soon..so we can find out what’s going on…it’s that sense of security that people want, is they key here. good luck to TTP Media with their licence application.

      Reply
  7. MBRT

    “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?”

    Common sense would apply to this question. If if was a major earthquake where the Autoroute Métropolitaine was severely damaged, and 1250 Rene Levesque was on the verge of collapse, no question there would still be rolling coverage of this event at this time. But it wasn’t. It was a jolt that didn’t result in anything. Nothing was damaged, no one was hurt, nobody died. If some TV or radio news outlet did bother to do some rolling coverage, it would just be speculations in the form of phoners, tweets, and rambling streeters.

    Having said that, yes CJAD, CTV Newschannel, LCN, RDI, et al should have at least mentioned it on air. CJAD and CBC, in particular, should have updated their hourly newscast.

    Reply
  8. Karine

    I don’t think it’s a big deal that the media largely ignored it precisely because it was minor and there was no damage. It would be like a special report on a regular rainfall Had there been reports of major damage, I bet the news crews would be all over it. Since there was nothing to report I don’t see why the media should create a story out of something that barely gets a 5 minute “where were you when it happened?” conversation. All you’d get is speculation at 12:30 am would have been endless speculation.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I don’t think it’s a big deal that the media largely ignored it precisely because it was minor and there was no damage.

      And yet it was mentioned on every newscast the next evening. So was it a story or not?

      Reply
      1. KARINE

        I knew I should have come back. Earthquakes felt by people are rare so I think that’s why it was newsworthy but, at the same time, most of the reports were basically “where were you?” or “Did you feel it” type of vox pops with a phone interview (and a horrible headshot in one case) with a seismologist. Did we really learn more beyond the fact that an earthquake happened?

        As for your reply below, I’d say all we’d have are looped interview with the authorities saying nothing major happened. At best, other then an update at the top and bottom of of the hour saying what happened, I don’t think it deserved anything more then that. Only our culture of dissecting all news items with the same level of scrutiny no matter how unsignificant would demand that this be covered as it it was a repeat of Japan’s earthquake.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I’d say all we’d have are looped interview with the authorities saying nothing major happened.

          And that would be fine. I’m not suggesting that all programming be eliminated and that anchors fill time for six hours talking about this. But an update at the top of the hour saying there was an earthquake and that there was no damage reported would have been more than sufficient. CBC News Network did just this at 1am.

          Reply
    2. Fagstein Post author

      All you’d get is speculation at 12:30 am would have been endless speculation.

      By then there had already been official word from both Earthquakes Canada and the USGS that an earthquake had occurred. We already had an idea of its magnitude and location of its epicenter. And, most importantly, journalists could have called local police and firefighters to determine if there had been any major damage.

      Reply
  9. Steve Kowch

    OK … just a clarification for all those who have commented.

    Most people are saying what’s the big deal. It was a minor earthquake. No one was injured. No one was (thankfully) killed. No damage. Why do we need wall to wall coverage of a nothing story and listening to people react to a non news story.

    The point being missed – even by students of journalism – is that the role of the media is to inform 24/7. Especially radio stations like a CJAD that is supposed to be the station of record in Montreal.

    Inform those shaken awake in their bed during the middle of the night who would instinctively go to their radio to find out what happened. In most cases Montreal radio didn’t meet their needs.

    I never advocated wall to wall coverage all night. The window of opportunity in a story like this is about 60 minutes. Tell people what happened … take some calls because believe it or not when things like this happen, people want to talk about it, share their stories of dogs barking, plates rattling, waking up a bit frightened etc.

    Like it or not, this is what newstalk radio does. Get the expert on … tell the story. Calm people down and tell them it’s OK folks. Go back to bed. No one was hurt. No damage.

    But that didn’t happen on most of the LOCAL radio stations. Local Montreal radio let listeners down by not being there for them when they turned on the radio to find out what happened.

    Steve, you are right. CBC national news mentioned it in the 1am newscast – 40 minutes after people would have gone to the radio to find out what happened. CBC is a network radio station. Not a local station. Local stations should have been all over this when it happened.

    That was my point.

    Reply
  10. Keith Perron

    4.5 is a tiny quake. We get on average between 20 to 22 earthquakes a week ranging from 3.5 to 5.3. with a 5.5 or 6.0 every few months and 7.1 or 8.0 every ten years. Anything under 5.0 does not even get any media coverage here.
    I think it was a more serious quake there would have been more coverage, but for 4.5 where depending on your location the vast majority of people missed. I don’t see it as an important story.

    Reply

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