More departures at The Gazette, but it still matters

Bernard Perusse's empty desk in the Gazette office

Bernard Perusse’s empty desk in the Gazette office

There’s been a bit of buzz in the media-navel-gazing sphere this week about the latest set of buyouts at The Gazette. J-Source had a piece on it. A bunch of others tweeted about it or retweeted my list of names. Some expressed disappointment that some big names were leaving. Others saw it as part of some larger trend.

And then there were the haters. Those who never hesitate to say The Gazette is a piece of garbage, that print media is solely responsible for its own fate, and that this is just another example of a money-grubbing fat cat gleefully cutting important jobs so they can get rich by publishing cat videos or something. Those who say The Gazette isn’t worth anything and they’re happy to get their news from Google, the radio, Metro or even blogs and Twitter.

As someone who works there, who goes through dozens of stories a week crafted by its remaining journalists, those comments are painful to read. They’re insulting to those who still come into the office and write, or take photos, or edit stories or design pages or do all sorts of other jobs there, many working very hard every shift because they believe in producing a quality product.

It’s funny because, in the office, on the copy desk when most managers have gone home for the night, or at a bar during (now less frequent) office parties or post-shift drinks, there’s no hesitation to criticize, sometimes sharply, the decisions that have been made that we disagree with, those we feel unnecessarily harm the future of the paper. I’ve been in many conversations with coworkers that look back on the old days with fondness, and on the present with frustration that the quality that was once there has been chiselled away.

Sometimes I’ve sat back and thought to myself whether it was still worth it, whether the paper had cut so far that it has lost that critical mass that makes it worth the paper it’s printed on.

And then I see an investigative report by Linda Gyulai, or a heartbreaking medical story by Charlie Fidelman, or a story about Quebec’s culture by Brendan Kelly that wouldn’t get noticed elsewhere by anglophone media, or another scoop or feature about the Alouettes from Herb Zurkowsky, or some fascinating and useful information about taxes and business dug up and elegantly explained by Paul Delean. Or I see the dozens of pages of coverage that the paper gave to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which involved practically setting up a bureau there overnight and keeping it staffed every day for weeks. And I remember that despite everything, despite how frustrating it is to see yet another round of cuts, that this newsroom I work for still produces stuff that matters.

It might not be as thorough as papers with bigger budgets like La Presse, the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, but there are so many stories it publishes on a weekly basis that would never see the light of day if it wasn’t for this paper.

The truth is that while at last report The Gazette makes money, its parent company is still struggling, as is the entire print industry. I suppose you could argue that almost every single print publication in North America has made the exact same mistakes, or that they have copied the worst mistakes off each other, but I think the simple fact that technology has revolutionized media is the biggest cause of the industry’s crisis. Everyone is trying their hardest to adapt, but adapting can be a very painful process, and one filled with trial and error.

And while this latest round of cuts might seem bad, it’s small compared to the much larger purge that happened a year ago, which saw many copy editors, picture editors, support staff and other less high-profile positions be eliminated. And while there have been many waves of cuts, management at The Gazette have consistently done their best to protect the jobs that really matter, the core of journalists who go out and find stories every day.

So by all means, criticize, but when you suggest that The Gazette is worthless, you’re saying that to the dozens of writers, photographers, editors, designers, managers and support staff who work there and are trying their best to put out something worth reading. Including me.

Six more off into the sunset

Anyway, back to the news: Six people, including two managers, are leaving The Gazette this week. They’re all leaving voluntarily, and while it’s nobody’s business but theirs whether they’re taking buyouts, it’s pretty clear that that’s what’s going on, at least for the non-managers.

They are:

Raymond Brassard, Executive Editor: Brassard, who was the managing editor under Andrew Phillips when I started at The Gazette, has been the most senior manager in the newsroom since Phillips left (even though Alan Allnutt took over the title of editor in chief). Soft spoken with a thick Boston accent, Brassard was enough levels of management above me that I couldn’t tell you much about his day-to-day activities, except through all the calls from irate readers that were routed to his office. Brassard, like most managers, had the uncomfortable position of sitting between a newsroom they tried their best to protect and the upper management at Canwest and Postmedia that wanted things to be as lean as possible. He said earlier this summer that, having just turned 65, he would be retiring. He stayed to fill the gap until Lucinda Chodan, our new editor in chief, took her post, replacing Alan Allnutt who will be managing Postmedia’s western papers. A note to readers explains the two moves.

Dave Bist, Senior Editor: Known as the “night editor” on the desk, Bist’s job for the entire time I’ve worked at The Gazette was to manage the paper during the evening, until it was actually typeset. A decade ago, that meant looking over pages and handling any serious decisions. As the desk got smaller, the job meant putting together the front page, including the little things like the index and quote of the day. Bist started in August 1966, he covered things like the John and Yoko bed-in, and otherwise distinguished himself enough to win a Juno Award (!) and get a Wikipedia page. His last night on the job was Thursday. and he wrote on Facebook that he’s been “incredibly lucky” to have the career that he’s had. Though technically a manager, Bist was a strong advocate for the newsroom staff, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving of respect from his peers.

Henry Aubin, regional affairs columnist: Aubin has been at The Gazette for 40 years, he recounts in his final column. His opinion columns about municipal affairs have always been thought-provoking, even when I thoroughly disagreed with him. While some columnists fill their columns with “I think that” and knee-jerk reactions to already-reported news events, Aubin’s best columns would often include things like charts, and a good deal of original research. He would take contrarian opinions, or explain how conventional wisdom is actually wrong. He was a bit stubborn about some things, but it was hard to argue with his facts. Aubin says in his column that, after a break, he’ll continue writing a column on a weekly freelance basis for The Gazette.

Janet Bagnall, education reporter: Probably better known for her left-leaning columns, particularly about women’s issues, when she was in the opinion department, Bagnall moved to the city desk to take up education reporting in the past year. Her voice on the editorial board, which she’d been on since 1997, gave it a much-needed perspective. Though editorials are unsigned, many were written by her when she was there, earning her a National Newspaper Award nomination.

Bernard Perusse, music columnist: Perusse’s goodbye column appears in Saturday’s Gazette, explaining that while he’s retiring at 59, he’s not ready for the old folks’ home yet. Perusse took over the music columnist gig after T’Cha Dunlevy moved to film reviewing. But he had been writing about music ever since The Gazette disbanded its Gazette Probe consumer rights column, a decision I thought was unfortunate even though it happened before my time. He suggested that he will continue to write freelance.

Stephanie Myles, editor: At least one person asked me if the paper’s former Expos beat writer and tennis expert had disappeared off the face of the Earth. No, she still works full-time there. A year ago she left the tennis beat and put an end to her blog (which was consistently the paper’s most popular by far, mainly because of the large amount of work she put into it), and moved to the copy desk to compensate for the drastic staff reduction. She has been posting stories working mainly weeknights since then. She’s still pretty young, but she hasn’t mentioned jumping into another career yet.

I can’t pretend these cuts won’t hurt, badly. These are some quality people leaving us. But we’ll move on, try our best to adapt by having fewer people do more work, or cutting out work that is not as essential. It’s what we always do. Because that’s the only thing we can do.

34 thoughts on “More departures at The Gazette, but it still matters

  1. Dilbert

    Sadly, for the Gazette and others, you are nowhere near the end of the road yet.

    It’s not unreasonable to picture that local papers will become a two or three page “wrapper” for a national paper, made in one place and re-printed locally with the local brand name on it. Basically, the first page of sports, the first couple of pages of the front, and that’s about it.

    ” I think the simple fact that technology has revolutionized media is the biggest cause of the industry’s crisis. Everyone is trying their hardest to adapt, but adapting can be a very painful process, and one filled with trial and error.”

    Magazines are the canary in the coal mine here. Almost all of the weekly news / review / business news magazines have disappeared, there is no longer a market for information that is 10 – 20 days old. The weekly local papers are sort of suffering the same fate all over north america, as people are less likely to wait for their stuff.

    It’s a process that started back when newspapers were the only source – then radio came and took some, tv came and took some… there is point I can remember where the newspaper was still the best source for news, but that sort of faded. 24 hour per day news channels and such have turned newspapers from a primary source of information to a more historical document.

    The internet made it worse, and most newspapers responded very poorly to the internet. Canada dot com was a great example, your local newspaper online in a format that is hard to read, slow to load, and only updated when the newspaper gets printed. It was like someone didn’t get it at all.

    Now with twitter, instagram, and such people are standing at the scene of the action, sending us instant updates, making a daily newspaper that was put to bed at midnight almost useless. The paper is literally out of date before people read it. Newspapers were overtaken by technology, and OTBE at the same time.

    My guess Steve is that the Montreal Gazette has about 5 years left at most before it becomes a very small local operation offering up only a wrapper for a national newspaper. Tablets, high speed internet, and the ability to read the current news NOW (not tomorrow morning) means that for many people under 40, a newspaper is as important to them as a landline rotary dial phone.

    It’s sad, but then again, it was sad when the last of the brown buses stopped running on the MUCTC. Most of us will get over the loss and move along.

    Reply
  2. Lorne

    I am very sorry to see Stephanie Myles leaving The Gazette. I enjoyed her tennis blog very much and communicated with her about tennis quite often. She would always answer e-mails which is something not all the writers do. I find the newspaper’s quality is declining and not worth the new high price they are charging me.

    Reply
    1. Delta

      I’m sad to see Myles leave as well, as I am when any company is forced to downsize or buy-out its journalism staff. I was glad that she had found another beat at the paper last year, and had left her tennis writing behind. Her feud with other tennis bloggers, and anonymous trolling of their comment sections (which she admitted to, when caught by an IP sniffer), was certainly immature.

      http://cowbell.typepad.com/forty_deuce/2011/04/aliases-and-trolling-and-ip-addresses-oh-my.html

      It’s ironic that the target of a number of her attacks is now a writer on staff with Sports Illustrated, a great example of a media company recognizing a writer’s talent through their blog posts.

      Reply
  3. Pete P

    I so look forward to reading even more NY Times stories and advertorials for the Canada’s energy industry in the not-so-Montreal Gazette.

    Reply
  4. Stephen Sartori

    City Wise The Gazette was left to itself after the Montreal Star . Today it competes with Ctv Montreal – CBC – CJAD & Others.
    There was (and still is) an opportunity to come
    out ahead as the capital investment for a “newspaper” to include Video Aspects to it’s
    presentation is next to nothing compared to the
    traditional TV Operations.
    But our greatest obstacle to change is twofold.

    1) The Gazette isn’t used to having 3 or 4 competitors (as mentioned above)

    2) The Gazette sees itself as a newspaper
    instead of a Multi-media News Operation.

    I enjoy the work of All including Steve F’s.
    The individual efforts are in many cases second
    To none but the Presentation Platform will continue to allow the Gazette to fall back into
    history

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      City Wise The Gazette was left to itself after the Montreal Star . Today it competes with Ctv Montreal – CBC – CJAD & Others.

      To a certain extent it’s always competed with various other sources of news — TV, radio, French papers — that’s just become a bit easier as the various media have developed an online presence. But it’s not like 20 years ago The Gazette wouldn’t have felt the need to match an important story broken by CJAD or CTV.

      There was (and still is) an opportunity to come out ahead as the capital investment for a “newspaper” to include Video Aspects to it’s presentation is next to nothing compared to the traditional TV Operations.

      The Gazette does produce videos on a regular basis. Here’s its YouTube channel, which added 15 videos in the past week. But it’s never going to compete with a major television station, which has more people with more experience and more specialized equipment for shooting and editing video. Good video is expensive, time-consuming and requires a lot of people. These are things newspapers these days don’t have.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        The promotion of video even on the website apparently doesn’t work, because most of the views have very few views at all. So if you have a story getting thousands of views and the related video only getting dozens of views, perhaps the video is either poorly positions and promoted on the site, people have concluded that the video adds nothing to the story, or they just aren’t interested in video from a newspaper site.

        I suspect (no proof, no press release, no empirical studies) that bad video is worse than no video. People dismiss the product, and from there, well… they stop looking.

        It’s probably also an issue because the videos are “self hosted” on the newspaper site, so the videos on youtube are sort of orphans, unless people have specifically subscribed. Do you have any idea how many people actually watch the videos on the Gazette site?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The promotion of video even on the website apparently doesn’t work, because most of the views have very few views at all

          What are you basing this on?

          So if you have a story getting thousands of views and the related video only getting dozens of views, perhaps the video is either poorly positions and promoted on the site, people have concluded that the video adds nothing to the story, or they just aren’t interested in video from a newspaper site.

          Every story with a related video has a tab that says “VIDEO”. And yeah, some people just aren’t interested in watching video. Nothing to do about that.

          I suspect (no proof, no press release, no empirical studies) that bad video is worse than no video.

          I agree, for the most part. I also think newspapers shouldn’t be trying to do the same daily news stories that TV inevitably does better.

          Do you have any idea how many people actually watch the videos on the Gazette site?

          Sadly that information isn’t public knowledge. But they’re always looking for ways to promote the videos better.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “What are you basing this on?”

            Looks at the Youtube numbers, it would appear that people are not viewing the videos in that manner. If the channel was popular (or the videos often discussed) they would get more views – doubly so because of the “pay wall” on the Gazette which discourages internet grazing.

            “Every story with a related video has a tab that says “VIDEO”.”

            That may be the issue. Having the video inline (as part of the story) rather than as a separate click required action may be part of the problem. People aren’t expecting video from the Gazette, and so the video tab may go mostly ignored because they have no idea that you have reasonable in depth interviews and such in there.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Looks at the Youtube numbers, it would appear that people are not viewing the videos in that manner.

              Right, but that says nothing about video views on the site. People viewing videos on the Gazette website or through its apps are not seeing them on YouTube.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                Yes, I agree. However, as Youtube is the only way for people to reliably share the videos without the constant nag for people to pay, it’s surprising to see that most of the videos have background noise levels of views on youtube.

                I also don’t generally see a lot of comments in regard to Gazette videos anywhere, another indication that people generally aren’t connecting.

  5. Stephen Sartori

    That certain extent of competition was at best very minimal and in years gone by the varying systems of delivery were very much insular.
    Their you tube channel is Montreal News’s best
    kept secret – And whose fault is that ?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Their you tube channel is Montreal News’s best kept secret – And whose fault is that ?

      Videos are attached to stories all over the Gazette website. The iPad app has its own videos page. The Gazette’s website has a page with all its videos that’s mentioned all the time in the paper. I can’t see how it could promote its videos any better.

      Reply
  6. Stephen Sartori

    Ok one example of how they could promote their You Tube Channel
    – they could use some of the unsold ad space on
    their smart phone app version (they never ever
    did this) and there are thousands of people who only see the Gazette on their smart phones
    Who Don’t know there is a Gazette You Tube Channel
    and there are many many other inexpensive promotional opportunities they have never
    thought of or bothered with.
    If they keep this up they will disappear or become a mere shadow of their former relevance.
    They really don’t get it or refuse to accept it.
    Either way they’re almost history.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Ok one example of how they could promote their You Tube Channel – they could use some of the unsold ad space on their smart phone app version

      The apps show videos themselves. And the in-house video player is more easily monetized than the YouTube channel. Using the app to promote the YouTube channel is the opposite of the point. It’s the YouTube channel that markets the paper, not the other way around.

      and there are many many other inexpensive promotional opportunities they have never thought of or bothered with.

      If you have some magical no-cost solution to marketing I’m sure The Gazette would be happy to hear it (as would everyone else).

      Either way they’re almost history.

      Well then I guess it doesn’t matter what they do, huh?

      Reply
    2. Vincent G.

      they could use some of the unsold ad space on
      their smart phone app version

      Stephen, it’s that simple. Right? Do you want to try and sell ad space for them since it’s that simple? I’m sure from the sounds of things you’ll make tons of money in no time.

      And by the way, once that paper is gone, who’ll be paying your local reporter to cover your local news? Oh yes of course, YOUTUBE will !

      Reply
  7. Stephen Sartori

    The Videos Shown On The App are few and far
    between and Their You Tube Channel (with 15
    new videos last week) could work “miracles” for
    them if more people knew about it.
    The Problem and “WHAT MATTERS” is what they aren’t doing.

    Reply
  8. Kenneth T. Tellis

    But soon with no English language in Kebec, the Gazette will go back toits original format in Joual (French patois), when the Frenchman Fleury Mesplet began publishing it as Le Gazette de Montreal. You will then be ablr to buy it for a Kebecois Paistre, approximately one CENT in Canada..

    Reply
  9. Sharon McCully

    Long live The Gazette. Because when there is no longer a newspaper to reflect the English-speaking community, the demise of the community will be imminent.

    Reply
    1. Kenneth T. Tellis

      No one has control over time or tide. Thus, as the end comes to any thing we all feel that something is missing. I remember the Montreal Star, because I felt its loss. I cannit say that about the Gazette. What I can say is Goodbye and GOOD RIDDANCE to bad rubbish!

      Kenneth T, Tellis

      Reply
  10. Mary Lou Gustin

    Very interesting topics ,I was one that took a buy out in 1993 after a long Career at the Gazette,having a job that I loved ,now I susre do enjoy my retirement .all the Best to Ray and all the others retiring now .and now I wish all the best to Lucinda in her new position ,all the best to all
    Mary Lou

    Reply
  11. Nancy

    I’ve been reading The Gazette my entire adult life and will continue to do so until it folds, which I hope won’t be for a while. Every time it gets thinner or loses good columnists I feel a little more discouraged.

    Reply
  12. Claude

    Why no mention in Janet Bagnall’s blurb about her issue with plagiarism? I would have thought that would have been a highlight for her career.

    Well at least we won’t have to put up with her insulting lectures any more. She should have been fired years ago.

    I can honestly say the Gazette is actually better without her.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why no mention in Janet Bagnall’s blurb about her issue with plagiarism? I would have thought that would have been a highlight for her career.

      It’s not. Nor am I trying to make these exhaustive summaries of these people’s careers.

      Reply
      1. Claude

        Of course it is THE highlight of her career. She claims she is a reporter yet stole other peoples thoughts and words and had them published as her own.

        She should have been fired right then and there. The fact that the Gazette kept her on was and is disgraceful.

        Reply
  13. Vincent G

    That story sure does sound familiar. Unfortunately, most people are quick to criticize without ever stopping to think the realities that bring about limitations of operating a business.

    It’s unfair to criticize the Gazette , comparing it to the G&M or the Post. People don’t realize that almost as much effort and costs go into operating a paper like the Gazette as the other major papers, the sole difference being that the former is doing it with a fraction of the revenues due to its dwindling subscriber base, a result of migration and politics which is no fault of the paper.

    Critics also don’t realize the many faceless human beings that gave their 200% for many years, often times working long hours in difficult conditions and for lower wages, all so that readers can get their daily local stories.

    To those who view the internet and to websites such as Youtube as their panacea, just remember that when it’s free, you’ll get what you pay for. Keep in mind that even professional bloggers have families to feed !!!

    Reply
  14. Tom

    Several of the people “let go” had over 40 years service. At my company departures of that nature are celebrated by all, including those who are leaving. We are in a communications boom time. The voices, words, of the affected people will be heard or read elsewhere, perhaps in a different format.
    The Gazette is dead, long live The Gazette!

    Reply
  15. David Pinto

    Feb. 13, 2014 — I have it on good authority that another six bodies are leaving the paper soon, possibly around the end of the month. This includes — this is a definite fact — a support staff person who has been there for 30 years.

    Reply

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