40 questions about MTL Blog’s ethics (UPDATED)

UPDATE: MTL Blog CEO Charles Lapointe just finished a Twitter Q&A. I’ve updated this post with what he said, some of which answer the questions, others don’t.

MTL Blog has its logo proudly stencilled on the windows of its storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. on the Plateau

MTL Blog has its logo proudly stencilled on the windows of its storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. on the Plateau

Since it launched in 2012, a website called MTL Blog has been increasingly popping up in people’s Facebook feeds, with short stories reporting on the viral news of the day. Its Facebook page is very popular, and your friends are probably among its 66,000 likes.

Recently, the blog has come under pressure from critics, who accuse it of everything from stealing their content to sensationalizing the news to getting basic facts wrong in their reporting.

Those accusations culminated in this blog post, titled “a love letter to Montreal”, in which the website starts off by saying “you’re welcome, and we’re sorry,” and by explaining how great it is with its “unmatched knowledge of events, parties, and general goings-on,” its “daily fountain of relatable content, one that never runs dry,” its “modern testament to the Montreal lifestyle” and its “level of interaction and interconnectedness” that “media megaliths” cannot match.

The letter was instantly derided as “terrible“, “incredibly bad“, “arrogant and insincere“, “breathtakingly tone-deaf“, “douchebaguerie arrogante“, “the worst apology ever” and “infinite arrogance“. The sentence “hate us, and we rebuttal” was oft-quoted as both an example of the website’s issues with the English language (which it also apologized for) and its self-centredness.

So after ignoring it for months, I decided to look into this website. During that process I learned a lot more, hearing accusations it asked for money in exchange for news content, that it employed unpaid reporters and photographers, and that it threatened legal action against websites that criticize or parody it.

I even heard an allegation that MTL Blog itself was stolen from one of its founders.

This is serious stuff. So I asked MTL Blog’s owners, Charles Lapointe and Josh McRae, and its news editor, Michael D’Alimonte, for an interview. All three signed the “love letter” (though Lapointe now suggests he was not an author.)

A week later, with no response, I called up Lapointe and identified myself. After realizing who I was, he asked if I was the guy who was bad-mouthing them on Twitter. He accused me of acting in bad faith and refused an interview. But he said he would be “happy” to answer questions sent to him by email.

I compiled a list of 20 questions and sent them on Aug. 5. I reiterated that I would be happy to meet in person or conduct an interview using whatever medium they would prefer.

I quickly got a response: “Although I do appreciate your interest in MTL Blog and your call, unfortunately nor I or my team has the time or resources to be able to answer your questions,” Lapointe wrote.

Instead, Lapointe directed me to this glowing profile written by a website called The Run-In, which did not answer most of my questions at all.

As I spoke to more people who had things to say about MTL Blog, my list of questions grew to 35 and finally 40. I sent those to Lapointe as well.

His next email to me made it clear he would not respond to my questions, and it had nothing to do with a lack of “resources”:

What I have seen from you online is not something I would like to associate myself or my brand with.

Never mind that I’m not seeking to “associate” with him or his brand.

All my emails were also sent to McRae and D’Alimonte. I never got a response from either of them.

(I also contacted Alex Melki, who hosts the MTL Blog TV series. He agreed to an interview but politely reneged after speaking with McRae and Lapointe, relaying their concerns that I would use it against them.)

So what follows in this long blog post with its intentionally clickbaity and (formerly) sensationalized headline are those 40 questions, as I asked them. Some of them are based on statements made to me that cannot be absolutely verified because the only people who would actually know are the people making the statements and either Lapointe, McRae, D’Alimonte or some combination of them. Nevertheless, all three of them have been given the opportunity to comment on these statements and had chosen not to do so before today.

Instead, Lapointe said he has agreed to only one interview about the criticisms of his website, with freelance journalist Pierre Chauvin, whose story about MTL Blog is posted on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland website. It, too, fails to answer many of the questions posed below.

The nature and purpose of MTL Blog

1. What is the purpose of your website? What is its goal?

It might seem like a straightforward question, but in order to properly frame this debate, we need to know what MTL Blog is, exactly. Is it a personal blog? Is it a serious journalistic enterprise? Is it a social network? Is it something else?

The website’s “about” page describes it as this:

MTL Blog is now one of Montreal’s biggest online networks, created by and catering to a new generation of Montrealers. We strive every day to deliver important news, the latest in pop culture, and showcase interesting things around Montreal and the world that inspire us.

I’m not sure what “online networks” is supposed to mean here, but the impression is certainly that this is at least in part a journalistic venture. A different description on its advertising page reinforces that:

Founded in 2012, MTL Blog began as a few hungry photographers eager to cover the coolest events around Montreal and showcase them on our own site. As MTL Blog grew, we started seeing a lack of online and English mainstream journalism in Montreal, so we started thinking of ways we could contribute to the industry, with our own special creative twist.

Now a team of over 10 journalists, 2 editors, and 10 photographers, MTL Blog is now one of Montreal’s biggest online networks, created by and catering to a new generation of Montrealers. We strive every day to deliver important news, the latest in pop culture, and showcase interesting things around Montreal and the world that inspire us.

Journalists. Journalism. News. I think the point is pretty clear here. But I reinforce it because I’ve actually seen some debates on social media from MTL Blog’s defenders (or devil’s advocates) saying that MTL Blog isn’t a newspaper or other professional journalistic media.

UPDATE: Lapointe didn’t directly address several questions about whether MTL Blog considers itself a journalistic venture. But he did say this:

2. Why do you identify yourself as a “newspaper” on your Facebook page?

Unless there’s a print edition of MTL Blog I’m unaware of, this is at least factually incorrect. Perhaps a more accurate term wasn’t available. I can’t really think of any other reason why it would say this.

Lapointe said this description, and a similar one on their website, was an error and would be corrected.

3. Who owns MTL Blog? Is it a for-profit company?

Thankfully, the government allows me to answer this question for them. According to the Registre des entreprises, MTL Blog was formed as a general partnership on July 26, 2012. It was then incorporated as 8683905 Canada Inc. on Nov. 21, 2013, and became MTL Blog Inc. on Dec. 11, 2013. Its only shareholders are Charles Lapointe and Joshua McRae.

Interestingly, it categorizes itself as an advertising company selling display ads and as photographers selling event coverage, in addition to being a “plateforme médiatique en ligne qui a pour but de créer du contenu local et culturel pour les Montréalais.”

It lists 1-5 employees.

4. Would you be willing to share any information about its revenue or whether or not it is profitable?

Obviously not. Though Chauvin’s piece says Lapointe and McRae have invested their savings into it, and that “it’s making money.” It has a storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. in the Plateau, it spends money to promote its Facebook posts, and it’s even been mentioned in radio ads.

5. Are you (Mr. Lapointe) the owner of the following domain names and websites?

These domain names are either registered with the same name and email as MTL Blog or are hosted on the same server. Some, like charleslapointe.com (pointing to Lapointe’s LinkedIn page) and lapointemarketing.com, are obviously connected to Lapointe, and mtlblog.co is MTL Blog’s former domain name. The others are projects in various states of unreadiness, including a dating website, a social events website, and other content sites apparently adopting a similar philosophy of spreading around stories, videos and other stuff that’s already online. (dailybabe.co is blank, but we can guess what its purpose was supposed to be).

There is, of course, nothing wrong with having other websites with unfinished projects. But they give some insight into how the owners of MTL Blog think.

The history of MTL Blog

6. Peter Ryaux-Larsen describes himself as a co-founder of MTL Blog and says it was his idea. Do you agree with this description?

I spoke on the phone with Ryaux-Larsen after another source told me about him. “MTL Blog was my idea, from the get-go,” he told me. “Josh was my first partner. I was the one that suggested the idea to him. He wasn’t sure at first. He wasn’t sure the idea would stick.” They brought on Lapointe later, he said. All three, who knew each other from their days at John Abbott College, are described as co-founders, with Ryaux-Larsen listed first, on an “about” page for MTL Blog contained in the Internet Archive captured in April 2012.

In neither of the interviews that touch on MTL Blog’s history is there any mention made of Ryaux-Larsen. His contributions nevertheless remain on the site, the last one dated Aug. 5, 2012, and the first one Feb. 8, 2012, making it one of the oldest stories on the website.

Ryaux-Larsen and MTL Blog’s owners generally agree on how the website got started: They wanted to take photos of Igloofest in 2012, and with just a Facebook page (started Jan. 23, 2012) and some homemade business cards, they got in.

They also seem to agree on how they built their brand at first by taking pictures at events. As McRae explains to The Run-In:

“I threw out about 300 [business] cards a night. Chuck created the card. It’s the easiest way to get follows. We put up pictures and [told people to] tag themselves and like the page. We would only upload the albums to Facebook. People would tag themselves in the photos and their friends would see that and they would like the page also.”

UPDATE: Lapointe admitted that Ryaux-Larsen was “part” of MTL Blog in 2012. He did not address the nature of their relationship, and whether Ryaux-Larsen had any ownership stake.

7. Ryaux-Larsen says you (Mr. Lapointe and Mr. McRae) locked him out of the website and forced him out of the group in August 2012. Is this correct? If so, why did you do this?

This is probably the most damning accusation against MTL Blog, and yet it hasn’t been made publicly until now. Ryaux-Larsen flat-out says his website was stolen from him.

“I was away in Africa for the better part of a month working with a foundation,” Ryaux-Larsen says. “And while I was there they decided to register the company name without me, remove me as an admin from the Facebook page and transfer the entire website to a new server. When I came back they said let’s have a meeting. They said basically we don’t want to work with you anymore. We will offer you $200 for the domain name for you to sell it to us. And then that was it.”

Is this true? Well, it’s impossible to prove what happened at that meeting, but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to back up Ryaux-Larsen’s case. He still owns the original domain name for MTL Blog at mtlblog.ca (old posts on MTL Blog’s Facebook page still point to now-nonexistent mtlblog.ca URLs). And he controls the YouTube account MTLBlog, dating back to 2011. At the very least, he was clearly involved at the very beginning and they can’t pretend they don’t know him.

UPDATE: Chauvin tells me that he asked Lapointe about Ryaux-Larsen, and that Lapointe had a different take on the issue. Lapointe described Ryaux-Larsen as someone who “helped start the site in 2012”, and take photos. When he left for Africa, Lapointe and McRae handled the entire site and started to transform it into something bigger. When Ryaux-Larsen returned, Lapointe and McRae gave him an ultimatum, telling him they no longer wanted him as a partner, and Ryaux-Larsen said he wanted nothing further to do with the site.

“I never said anything of the sort,” Ryaux-Larsen tells me. He said he left the country for two weeks and never abandoned his partners. “I was heavily involved and working hard on getting content for the site until the day they cut me out.”

Lapointe says in his Twitter chat that Ryaux-Larsen “did not have the same vision as my partner and I” and that the website was moved after he “refused all our proposals.” Lapointe doesn’t elaborate on what those proposals were or why he felt he could simply eject a partner from a partnership without any compensation.

Ryaux-Larsen disagrees:

8. I understand you (Mr. Lapointe and Mr. McRae) were friends with Ryaux-Larsen. Why are you no longer friends?

Ryaux-Larsen said he hasn’t spoken to Lapointe or McRae since 2012.

“We knew each other for years,” Ryaux-Larsen said. “I was very frustrated that who I thought were friends, the people I would go drinking at bars with, spent camping trips with, they were the last people I thought would be doing this to me. They showed absolutely no empathy.”

“They decided they didn’t want to work with me and they shut me out.”

UPDATE: Lapointe says in his Twitter chat that their falling out as friends “is all him.”

9. Are you worried about the possibility of legal action from Ryaux-Larsen as a result of your falling out?

“Because I gave them the keys to the website, they had access to do what they wanted with all the information and all the server whatnot,” Ryaux-Larsen said. They took control of the Facebook page and Twitter account and all the content of the website. Ryaux-Larsen still had control of the mtlblog.ca domain name. MTL Blog moved to mtlblog.co, and eventually to mtlblog.com (after apparently buying that domain name).

Ryaux-Larsen hasn’t initiated any legal action as a result of this. But he doesn’t rule out eventually doing so. And he said he has plenty of documentation to use in such a case.

MTL Blog's offices on St-Laurent Blvd.

MTL Blog’s offices on St-Laurent Blvd.

Treatment of staff and contributors

10. How many of your contributors or staff are paid vs. unpaid?

MTL Blog says it has “a team of over 10 journalists, 2 editors, and 10 photographers,” but Lapointe admits this isn’t true, telling Chauvin that they actually have “two paid writers, three to four unpaid contributors plus the occasional intern.”

As part of my investigation, I reached out to several MTL Blog contributors. Of those who responded, all said they weren’t paid by the website (including one who wrote sponsored content — stories that MTL Blog was paid for publishing), and these contributors suggested that others weren’t paid for their work either. In most cases, contributors are unpaid interns who stick around for about three months.

For photographers, it appears some of them are paid (out of the money that MTL Blog gets for covering events), some of them aren’t, and some have special arrangements. One said that there’s payment for paid club gigs, but not for bigger events, and that those are done for free in exchange for accreditation to the event.

If you pay attention to bylines, you see that, aside from the picture-heavy event posts, most articles (particularly newsy ones) are written by Michael D’Alimonte. In fact, at the time of this writing, an astonishing 1,366 articles dating back to April 2013 carry his byline, which works out to about 20 articles a week.

UPDATE: Lapointe said on Twitter that MTL Blog has a paid staff of six, including himself and McRae. Presumably this does not include freelance photographers.

11. Did you at any point tell contributors to get “pics of drunk sluts”? Do you encourage your contributors to take photos of women that you believe will draw traffic?

“I wanted to be a fashion writer but they would just send me to club events and told me to get ‘pics of drunk sluts’,” said one former contributor, who expressed reluctance to discuss her experience there, and noted that Lapointe and McRae were nice to her, “if a little douchey and insensitive at times.”

UPDATE: Lapointe said he does not recall using the term “drunk sluts”. He did not respond to a follow-up question about whether others had said this.

In speaking with other contributors, I understand that MTL Blog likes sex, and may have some issues with the objectification of women, but no one else has reported its owners saying something like this to them.

Despite its focus as a cultural website, MTL Blog’s owners expressed little interest in covering things like the Fringe Festival or Zoofest, and seemed more interested in clubs and party-like events like Osheaga, contributors told me.

Another former contributor, who didn’t want to be identified to protect a future career in journalism, said the blog’s favourite topics were “pot, bacon, sex, drinking … oh and making Montreal more hipster.”

MTL Blog’s attitude toward women is one of many things that has irked critics. The creator of Stop MTL Blog, a website whose purpose should be self-evident, said “what really pushed me over the edge” was this post about a British woman giving blowjobs in Spain in exchange for alcohol. It had nothing to do with Montreal, but was posted apparently as a cheap way of driving traffic at the expense of a young woman’s dignity.

Ryaux-Larsen, who still owns the mtlblog.ca domain, posted a single story to it, “9 Reasons why you should NOT cheat on your significant other“, as a response to a post on MTL Blog about why you should cheat on someone (which also had nothing to do with Montreal). Designed specifically to get people angry, it listed reasons that basically boil down to convenience, being selfish and having no respect for the other person.

12. How are stories assigned at MTL Blog? Who decides what stories are covered and which are not?

I’m actually not completely sure how it works. There isn’t much of a sampling of writing to draw from, since D’Alimonte writes most of the news pieces. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that virality is a big part of what stories get written about. Lots of sensationalizing simple stories, or listicles, particularly top-10 lists (where 10 can be any number, really).


Journalistic practices

13. You charge for coverage of events. Do you make it clear to your audience on your website and on social media that your coverage is a de facto advertisement? If not, why not? What other types of coverage can be bought at MTL Blog?

If you click on “submit your event” on MTL Blog’s website, you’re met with a page that makes it clear they charge for the privilege of telling their readers about it. The prices aren’t listed, but a rate card posted to this blog put it at between $80 and $160, depending on the event.

Those rates have since gone up.

Posing as a club owner, I inquired as to their pricing. For $200, an event can be listed on the website, suggested in the weekly newsletter (which has “5,000+ subscribers”), and tweeted. The website will also send a photographer to take pictures of the event for two hours, and post the photos on the website the following day with a “short article”.

“For $100 more, you can add the ‘featured banner’ in the events section and a guaranteed Facebook post of the photo album the following day.”

If you’re wondering why MTL Blog keeps taking photos at Tokyo Bar every week, this is why.

And the venues seem to be happy with this coverage. Some blog post comments from bar owners say the arrangement makes financial sense for them as a promotional tool.

(UPDATE: Lapointe said MTL Blog has refused to cover events in the past. He wouldn’t give any examples. And he said he would refuse sponsored content “if the product is not something that will do well with our readers”. He would not give examples of this either.)

I asked the person at MTL Blog for an example of such paid-for coverage, and was sent a link to their Osheaga coverage. Shocked that such a prestigious event would pay for something like this (they had their own photographers covering it, after all), I checked with Evenko.

“Evenko has never paid for editorial with anyone,” said spokesperson Caroline Audet. “We did buy banners for some projects on their site but we will never pay for editorial. The coverage that you see is their own initiative.”

Leisa Lee, who handled media accreditation for Osheaga, confirmed the website was accredited like any other media.

The existence of this payola system has led some, like Katie Nelson, to suggest that all content on MTL Blog has been paid for. That’s not true, unless you think the STM paid for a factually incorrect story about how their new metro trains are too big to fit in the tunnels. Rather, this particular system seems to be limited to the Events section.

That said, there are news stories that are also paid for. Many stories, including this one about a Bixi sale on half-season subscriptions, have “sponsored content” labels on the posts themselves and on the homepage linking to them. This is not much different from how traditional media handles content that’s been paid for. And it’s a good sign.

A couple of caveats, though: The Events section does not specify that its photo gallery posts are sponsored content. And when it posts events or sponsored posts to Facebook and Twitter (which is part of that sponsorship), those posts also don’t make clear that those posts are paid for. They should.

(UPDATE: Lapointe says they’ll try to be clearer in the future. He might start with this post, which appears to be an undisclosed product placement by Keurig. The creator of The Main says Keurig approached them about a similar deal. — Aug. 21: The page with the Keurig plus now has a sponsored content label on it, though the post leading to it doesn’t. Lapointe says “we just forgot to put the sponsored tag on it”.

And maybe also be sure to sign contracts before showing up to events and then charging artists for taking pictures of their fans.

Michael Cota, who is in a band called Archery Guild, said he was contacted by MTL Blog looking to cover one of their shows. They accepted, of course, but then said they would charge for the privilege. Cota said he never agreed to that or signed any contract, but after the show got an email asking him to share the pictures that were taken (which were mostly of the audience instead of the band).

“I was trying to be nice and work with these guys at first, but they became so rude and non responsive online, telling me to email one person so they could tell me to email another person so I could figure out why, what, how much and where I could pay,” Cota said. “But I didn’t pay because I didn’t have the money.”

Now, Cota said, they’ve started adding interest to monthly bills. “It took a little bit of time for me to actually step back at what was happening,” he said. “It started so pleasant and then MTL Blog reared its ugly head.”

UPDATE: Lapointe says Cota’s statement is “completely false” and that there was an agreement to cover the event for payment. Lapointe did not produce documentation to prove this.

14. MTL Blog has been accused of exaggerating, misunderstanding, sensationalizing or even making up stories in order to generate traffic. Do you believe there have been some errors in your reporting? What measures, if any, are you taking to fix that?

“We are guilty of making many a mistake,” MTL Blog’s love letter says. “We are sorry to any we have led astray, or made weary with informational/grammatical errors.”

But the website doesn’t go into any detail about what those errors are. The word “correction” rarely appears on MTL Blog. And there’s been little apparent change in how it does its reporting.

Stories that have been heavily criticized for factual errors and sensationalism include this one, which falsely said there was a tornado warning for Montreal, and a story about $2 bills being worth $20,000, which resulted in a debunking piece in Huffington Post. Examples go as far back as posting a fake Osheaga lineup in March 2012.

15. Do you agree with the characterization of MTL Blog as using “click bait” in order to generate traffic?

Here’s another story that has nothing to do with Montreal. But it does feature a naked woman. Here’s another, which is just reposting leaked iPhone photos from TMZ. And another, which informs the world that TMZ says Robin Williams died.

I’ll let you decide for yourself whether these posts are designed to inform readers, to attract clicks from horny teenage boys or to suck up some traffic from trending search terms.

MTL Blog’s antics have already gotten it labelled a “spamblog” and a permanent ban on the r/Montreal subreddit on Reddit.

UPDATE: Lapointe admitted stories posted that have nothing to do with Montreal are “mostly” about capitalizing on viral content rather than actually providing a service to MTL Blog readers.

16. Are you interested in doing original reporting on MTL Blog, other than event coverage? If so, how will you do that?

In the time I’ve been following it, I’ve yet to see any story broken by this website. Chauvin’s article points to a single story that MTL Blog claims is original journalism, but it consists simply of embedding a recording that was posted to the Internet.

Lapointe tells Chauvin that he plans to hire more journalists to do more original reporting.

And maybe that’s what will happen. Websites like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed made so much money off of clickbait ripoffs that they eventually hired their own serious journalists. (Buzzfeed got into some hot water recently for trying to erase some of its history.)

17. Your website has many lists that appear to be rankings (“Top 15 Places To Get A Cold Iced Tea In Montreal” or “Top 30 Montreal Boozy Brunch Restaurants”). What ranking criteria do you use to evaluate these restaurants, places or other subjects of your rankings? How many don’t make the list?

MTL Blog has an entire section devoted to best-of lists, mainly restaurants and bars. But several factors make me question whether any quantitative analysis has gone into these rankings:

  • The stories make no mention of how the lists are evaluated, whether there is any quantitative measurement involved, how they are judged, or any indication of how they have been determined to be the “best” in Montreal
  • The number of items in a list varies
  • The lists are not ranked
  • Descriptions of items in these lists are brief and vague, the kinds of things that could be written without ever having gone there
  • Photos are sourced from the Internet rather than taken by the reviewer or a staff photographer

UPDATE: Lapointe says in his Twitter chat that “most” restaurants that are reviewed “have been tried by at least one member of our staff.” The others, he says, are gathered from the staff’s social networks. He said they ask those people whether they have personal connections to the restaurants or companies they recommend.

A contributor who writes these pieces confirmed that they use their social networks to fill in the gaps for restaurants they have not visited.

18. You state in the Canadaland story that you never give negative reviews to restaurants. Does this mean you won’t review restaurants you don’t like, or you just won’t say anything bad about them? Do you feel this might have a negative impact on your integrity as a restaurant review website?

Chauvin’s story quotes Lapointe as saying “You’ll never see us write a negative review of a restaurant, ever ever ever.” Which logically means that either they are reviewing places and not publishing the reviews because they are negative, or that they are publishing positive reviews of every place they review, no matter the quality.

Or, perhaps, that they aren’t actually reviewing restaurants at all. Just listing them.

UPDATE: Lapointe said on Twitter that “we try to our best (sic) to bring the good out from the bad. Most restaurants we review are amazing though.”

This doesn’t address how they separate the “best” places from the not-best ones. The best I could get on that was a reference to “a few internal check points”, whatever that means.

19. Your website says you want to “contribute to the industry” of mainstream journalism. What do you contribute to journalism?

Lapointe implies in Chauvin’s story that MTL Blog contributes by exposing stories to an audience that would otherwise not read them, citing The Gazette (my employer), which he says has stories that are “18 paragraphs of text, no images” and are therefore “boring”. (I don’t take that personally. The Gazette could definitely improve on the way it presents certain stories. Though I disagree that any story more than 300 words is boring.)

Another way of looking at it is that when stories become popular, the original source doesn’t get the traffic because sites like MTL Blog re-report them. But that’s hardly a problem that started with MTL Blog. News media have been “matching” each other’s scoops for decades.

Compare this to a website like Kate McDonnell’s Montreal City Weblog, which summarizes stories in a sentence or two but prominently links to the source. Rather than trying to steal traffic away from other news sites with hot stories, it’s designed in a way to send more traffic to them.


The apology

20. What exactly are you apologizing for, and to whom, in your love letter to Montreal? Can you give specific examples?

The letter does not give a single example of an error MTL Blog has made. It apologizes in general for grammatical errors, “informational” errors, for having “slighted” people in the “Montreal community” and for having “offended with our content.” It doesn’t explain what it means by any of this.

21. In posts where you feel you have made a mistake, have you edited those posts to include an apology? If not, why not?

I can’t find any posts with the words “apology”, “correction” or “regret the error” indicating an apology. The closest thing I could find was the metro train story, which the STM flat-out said was wrong, which was updated with “a few clarifications” (i.e. explanations about how each paragraph of the story is incorrect) but with the erroneous headlines left intact.

UPDATE: Lapointe said on Twitter that MTL Blog plans to go back into erroneous posts and correct them, and “hopefully we can get this done before the end of the year!

22. Do you believe you’re infringing on the copyright of photographers when you use their photos without permission? Is this part of what you’re apologizing for? What are you changing about the way you use photos? Do you feel it would be acceptable if other websites used your content without asking you first?

One of the things MTL Blog has been criticized for the most is its liberal use of other people’s photos. Or as some would call it, stealing. From its news stories to its restaurant best-of lists, MTL Blog’s posts are picture-heavy, but it doesn’t have much of an image library. So it takes images from the Internet and reposts them, sometimes with a “photo cred” underneath.

“Sometimes we didn’t credit (the pictures used),” Lapointe says in Chauvin’s article. “That was a big mistake.”

Lapointe’s words suggest a fundamental misunderstanding not only of Internet ethics, but of copyright law. Giving credit does not allow you to use other people’s photos without permission, any more than acknowledging the source allows you to distribute movies, albums or other copyrighted material.

Many Montreal photographers, particularly those who have taken pictures of food, have complained privately and publicly that MTL Blog stole their photos without permission. Even one of my pictures was taken without permission.

One of those photographers was Jason Lee of Shut Up and Eat, who found many of his photos (identifiable by their watermarks) included in MTL Blog galleries like this one, despite a clearly stated policy not to use photos without permission.

“I had no clue until someone mentioned it to me that they were using my pictures,” Lee told me in an email. “If they linked back to the original post, I would have received a ‘ping back’ notifying me that a particular post has been linked to. Around the same time I had a scheduled meeting with the co-founders about potentially working in collaboration with them. I met them once at their Old Port office and I told them in person that I didn’t appreciate them using my pictures and that it wasn’t very cool. They said that they would fix it right away – to which I got a link-less ‘photo cred: shut up and eat’ under the photo used.”

They came to a deal in which Lee shared content with MTL Blog in exchange for proper credit.

But then Lee saw a ranking of pho restaurants that seemed suspiciously like one on his own website (the same top three restaurants in the same order).

“It didn’t sit well with me or my collaborator Emilie from Bouchepleine.com, especially since a lot of the pictures were used without attribution or credit and most were thrown into their article randomly and not representing the respective restaurant. Since we actually went around the city to try over 30 different bowls of pho to compile this list and spent a lot of money out of our own pockets researching this article – it was pretty shitty of them to ‘coincidentally’ list the same top three as us and paraphrasing most of our article.”

Now, Lee said, “I don’t know if they’re still using my pictures because I now refuse to click anything on their site to find out – I’m not getting any ping backs so even if they are, I wouldn’t know. I would only assume they’re giving me a ‘photo cred’ without a link, using a water marked picture. I don’t want to bother stirring the pot with them, so I’ll accept their half-assed attribution.”

In addition to local bloggers, MTL Blog stories have taken photos from The Gazette, The Canadian Press, Le Devoir, La Presse, Radio-Canada and others. Some photos were later removed after these organizations complained. But many are still there, either because the media outlets aren’t aware of the infringement, or because they don’t want to put in the effort to deal with it.

And that’s the big problem. No one I’ve talked to wants to put in the effort to do anything about what amounts to petty theft. And until someone does, it doesn’t look like MTL Blog is going to change the way it operates.

UPDATE: Lapointe admitted on Twitter that failing to credit photos was a serious problem. And he says contributors have a “sourcing checklist” to follow now. But he did not respond to repeated questions about why he believes it’s appropriate to use other people’s photos without their consent, except to say this:

23. You mention in your letter the “ethics of the Internet” that are “ever-evolving”. What do you mean by that? What do you use as your ethical compass? And what have you learned?

The other truth is that a lot of what it does isn’t that unusual. Huffington Post was notorious for “aggregating” other journalists’ stories and making them more search-engine and social-media friendly in order to hijack traffic. Buzzfeed was so notorious for ripping pictures off the Internet that it has been threatened with lawsuits from photographers despite its sketchy reasons for claiming fair use.

(For more on Buzzfeed, you can see this post and accompanying video.)

But just because Buzzfeed does something doesn’t make it right.

24. You say “Changes will be made, rest assured, and those who don’t believe us will simply see it in our actions.” What exactly have you changed? Can you give some examples?

MTL Blog is labelling some sponsored content. And it’s giving “photo cred”s to its pilfered images. Other than that, I don’t notice any changes. It’s still using clickbait and ripping stories off of mainstream media, Reddit, blogs and other sources.

25. Your letter states “we will do all in our power to remake our relationships into an equal exchange, where all can benefit.” What do you mean by this?

Lapointe’s response to critics suggests there has been no such effort. At least not until today’s Twitter chat. And many people left that disappointed.

26. You state that your “knowledge of events, parties, and general goings-on” is “unmatched”. Do you have any quantitative data to support this claim?

Of course they don’t.

27. You state “ask us, and we give you a response.” Your Twitter feed has sent out about 10 replies out of about 250 tweets in the past week (N.B.: When this question was sent on Aug. 5). And you haven’t replied to any of the comments in response to the love letter post. Does this statement require some sort of qualification? Do you not respond to people who criticize you?

Lapointe says the questions posed to MTL Blog were not constructive, which is why they weren’t answered.

28. Did you (Mr. Lapointe) have a Facebook conversation with Eve Martel on July 25 in which you asked how to make amends for using people’s content without their permission? Did she propose the “love letter to Montreal” to you as an idea during this conversation?

Martel publishes a food blog called La Pantry and a lifestyle blog called Tellement Swell, which include her original photographs. She called out MTL Blog for stealing her photos, and told me that Lapointe contacted her to try to make things right.

It was her, she said, who suggested the idea of publishing an apology in the form of a love letter to Montreal, explaining what they did wrong and promising never to do it again.

Four days after their conversation via Facebook chat, MTL Blog’s post went live.

“When I read it, I thought he was trolling me,” Martel said. “But it looks like they are that disconnected from reality.”

“I told him nobody will like this,” she said, calling the apology a “horrible self-serving crapload.”

On top of it all, they didn’t actually remove her photo until a week later when she asked them again to do so.

UPDATE: Lapointe apologized for that. He did not answer whether the two had communicated by Facebook.

29. Are you disappointed that Eve Martel is unsatisfied with the Love Letter to Montreal? Do you understand why?

I honestly have no idea why Lapointe would seem so interested in making amends and then so disinterested in following through.


Charles Lapointe, right, seems a bit sensitive to criticism

Charles Lapointe, right, seems a bit sensitive to criticism

Websites parodying and criticizing MTL Blog

30. Did you file a complaint against BlueHost requesting that it shut down the website stopmtlblog.com? If so, what intellectual property do you believe it has improperly used? And what has it posted that you believe is defamatory?

The defamatory part is obvious if you believe all criticism is defamation. But the claim also says it infringes on MTL Blog’s trademark. Which doesn’t make sense because the MTL Blog logo wasn’t used on that website.

Stop MTL Blog has changed domains, moving to stopmtlblog.to, in part because the original site was hosted on a friend’s hosting package, said its creator, who didn’t want to be identified by name (in part to protect against further repercussions from MTL Blog).

“They’re just an SEO/SMO company pumping out content to make themselves bigger,” he said in a phone interview.

I asked him how much money he’s spent on this campaign. He said it was under $300, but still significant. He’s been asking for donations via Bitcoin, which is a way to ensure they’re anonymous, untraceable and unappealable. Since I cannot verify this person’s identity, I would be very wary of sending any money this way.

He said he has no personal connection to anyone involved with MTL Blog. I am, of course, unable to verify that.

UPDATE: Lapointe confirmed they did act against Stop MTL Blog, and said it was because it had “mtlblog” in the domain name (which is not trademark infringement by itself). They did not, however, act against mtlblog.ca. He did not explain this discrepancy.

31. Did you file a complaint against Facebook requesting that it delete a page for Blog MTL, as described here? Have you also taken measures to try to have that website shut down? If so, why?

Blog MTL is an MTL Blog parody site, which posts stories filled with intentional grammatical and factual errors. It has since renamed itself SOOO MTL to avoid further legal trouble or any confusion.

The people behind this website also refused to give their names (they did say it was more than one person). But did agree to an interview over email.

“There are two of us (and one frequent contributor) and although we are ostensibly in the target demographic for MTL Blog we are not necessarily who they are speaking to,” the email said.

This group also claims no personal connection to MTL Blog or “anyone whose content was lifted to the extent of our knowledge.”

I asked why they put this site together:

MTL Blog was easy to ignore for the longest time, and then I guess it just reached a breaking point. It became a daily presence in our lives whether we wanted to or not and we started making fun of it amongst ourselves. Eventually we decided to post some of them on a WordPress site on a day where we felt particularly inspired by the stream of insipid nonsense they were putting out. We honestly thought that we’d reach about fifty people we knew and the joke would die out immediately, but we found out that we weren’t the only ones who felt that way about their content and their so-called ‘formula’.

Our goal was really to amuse ourselves at first, but at this point I guess we’re amusing a whole bunch of people. If it forces some people to learn to be more discriminating and less drawn to furiously sharing pictures of things with bacon on them, that’s good too.

I asked about their feelings about MTL Blog:

We have nothing against the idea of the blog or the people behind it. We don’t even mind that they want to adhere to the Buzzfeed model of clickbait. If they found a way to make a living out of the Internet, good for them, but they could reach as much of an audience by crafting better content.

A website ‘going viral’ also means many people will come back to your website afterwards. Many of them will stumble across information and take it to be a reliable source. It’s fine to talk about whatever you want online, but branding yourself as a reliable source of information and making no effort to make sure what you put out in reliable is frustrating. You’d be surprised how many people get into a blind rage at some our articles by taking them at face value without ever taking two seconds to verify what it is they’re reading.

A 20-second look through Google can show you that most of their articles are either lifted quasi-verbatim (sometimes thrown in Google Translate as in the case of one article about the metro) or repurposed from other ‘best waffles in Montreal’ type of articles.

Our problem is with the badly-written and badly-researched content, the questionable ethics in reposting or repurposing content from other sources, the lists that seem culled directly from Google searches and the omnipresence of their articles in our social media spheres. More so than directly attacking the ‘creators’ of the content, we aim to target those who blindly skim and share terrible articles full of factual mistakes, typos and empty padding.

It’s also very easy to parody.

And I asked them about MTL Blog’s love letter, which they also parodied:

Their apology was its own best parody. We wish we had written it. We understand their argument about the constantly evolving ethics of the Internet, but there’s no reason to be so shifty and evasive when people call them out on appropriating content. I’m sure no one would be this up in arms if MTL Blog went about their unoriginal hackwork with a minimum of honesty and transparency.


32. Did you accidentally copy-paste a complaint against Blog MTL and use it in a complaint against Stop MTL Blog? Either way, how many people have been complaining that they are confusing that website with yours? Can you provide their contact information and/or texts of their complaints?

The complaint against Stop MTL Blog contained this paragraph:

We have received multiple complaints from many users that think that this blog is our site (they call themselves Blog MTL). It is a misleading, ironic, sarcastic and slander website created by a group of individuals that want to ruin our reputation with local clients and users (in Montreal, Canada).

I can’t help being amused that MTL Blog plagiarized and failed to proofread its own complaint letter.

UPDATE: Lapointe was asked, but did not respond to, whether he could produce anyone who was actually confusing MTL Blog with these other websites.

33. Do you believe it’s ironic that a website accused of stealing other people’s intellectual property is having websites and Facebook pages that criticize and parody it shut down for infringing on intellectual property?

It’s funny how despite the fact that “the ethics of the internet are ever-evolving,” MTL Blog seems so confident that a website that parodies it and one that criticizes it are breaking intellectual property laws.

34. Do you believe in the right to parody and criticism? Would you accept these websites if they took measures to ensure they did not infringe on your intellectual property and clearly identified themselves as parodies or criticism?

Lapointe suggests to Chauvin that there will be no further action against SOOO MTL, so perhaps we can chalk this up to being a bit too protective over the use of “blog” and “MTL” in the same sentence.

35. Do you intend to take actions to take down other websites, such as http://mtlblog.sexy/?

The list of websites criticizing or parodying MTL Blog seems to be growing by the week:

  • Stop MTL Blog – A website devoted to straight-up criticism
  • SOOO MTL – A parody of MTL Blog’s grammatical and factual errors
  • mtlblog.ca – Ryaux-Larsen’s site with a single article responding to an MTL Blog post
  • mtlblog.sexy – A parody site that replicates MTL Blog’s layout and story titles, but replaces its text with lorem ipsum and all its photos with images of Nicolas Cage (before it was pictures of kittens)
  • mtlblogs.com – A website supposedly reviewing Montreal blogs that praises other media and trashes MTL Blog
  • mtlblogsucks.ca – A website set up by a Reddit user that has one article called “Top 10 Ways To: Create A Shitty Blog and Be an Asshole”
  • Plus some individual posts, such as this one from Katie Nelson

The explosion of some sites has led to at least one suggestion that some or all might be part of a campaign by MTL Blog itself to draw attention to itself. And while I can’t absolutely prove that isn’t the case, all the circumstantial evidence, from the website designs to their choice of domain and hosting providers suggests that they probably aren’t connected.

36. Do you believe that all the journalists, websites, bloggers and others who have criticized you are simply misunderstanding you? What do you believe are their motivations? Do you want to mend fences with them, or will you refuse to communicate with them as you have refused to communicate with me?

Lapointe described MTL Blog’s critics as a “hate movement” in one of his many emails to me refusing to answer my questions, and told Chauvin that Stop MTL Blog are “jealous competitors.”

Perhaps today’s Twitter chat will cause them to rethink that attitude.

37. Did you warn Ian O’Shaughnessy that you would “take away” any domains he attempted to register that had “mtl” and “blog” in it? Do you have any intention of trying to have mtlblogs.com shut down?

“The owner of [MTL Blog] had the audacity to email me and say that I was not allowed to register any domain with the words ‘Mtl’ or ‘blog’ in it, as he believes he owns those words,” O’Shaughnessy told me. “He threatened to have any domain I register ‘taken away’…”

O’Shaughnessy, who said he had never heard of Lapointe before two weeks ago, said he heard about the cease-and-desists going around, and spoke with the person behind Stop MTL Blog.

“I emailed Lapointe asking why he was threatening people with legal letters,” he said. “I insinuated I felt like registering a domain similar to stopmtlblog’s due to Lapointe’s anti-social behaviour. He replied, sending me a link to his recent trademark filing for his site’s logo. He followed that up with a threat: he would have any such domain taken away from me.”

O’Shaughnessy didn’t appreciate that. “I don’t like bullies,” he said. “I explained to him that even a fully registered trademark on a logo does not entitle him to the words displayed in it, just the specific logo. He has not changed his views.”

So O’Shaughnessy registered mtlblogs.com and started posting.

38. You have described your critics as a “hate movement”. Why do you think so many people dislike your website?

It’s hard to believe that so many people who had never met before have decided for no apparent reason to join together in some sort of movement to attack MTL Blog. Either MTL Blog’s owners are genuinely this paranoid about a massive conspiracy against them, or …

Coverage of this story

39. What specifically have I tweeted that you believe is incorrect? Do you believe I have been unfair in what I have said about MTL Blog? If so, how?

I won’t pretend like I haven’t taken the gloves off when posting about MTL Blog on Twitter. But I don’t believe anything I’ve written is incorrect. And I’m more than happy to correct anything that is.

Despite all of this, I am actually interested in hearing MTL Blog’s side, getting further into detail. My offer for an interview, in person, on the phone or via email, still stands. And I’m updating this post with their responses and statements from others. My goal isn’t to shut MTL Blog down or compete with it. I simply want to explain to everyone (including them) what’s going on here and why these are important issues.

40. Was anything written in Chauvin’s article incorrect? Is there anything you would like to correct about it, clarify about it or add to it for the record?

Lapointe pointed to the story and said I could get answers to my questions there. Except, of course, my questions aren’t answered there. Presumably he believes what it says is true, but he hasn’t said so explicitly. So I can’t be sure that he agrees with everything that is said in that story.

Unanswered questions

Today’s three-hour Twitter chat (storified here) gave answers to many of these questions for the first time. There remain some that were not answered:

See also

48 thoughts on “40 questions about MTL Blog’s ethics (UPDATED)

  1. Bruno

    Are you sure the name Charles Lapointe is the right one? In the links you are pointing (like the run-in and even the newsletter), the founder of Mtlblog is named Chuck and not Charles. It may be a pseudonyme but it is a bit confusing as Charles Lapointe was also the head of Tourisme Montreal for a while and this dude, Chuck, is clearly not the Lapointe who promoted Montreal internationally, being the first, for example, to encourage pink tourism and recognizing the village in 1995. I think an amendment to your article should be done to correct that error in the names, although i think your post is great.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Are you sure the name Charles Lapointe is the right one?

      Yes. His name is Charles Lapointe (unless he’s lying to the government). He goes by the name Chuck. This is not the same Charles Lapointe that was former president of Tourisme Montreal (who has his own scandals to deal with).

  2. Michelle Sullivan

    Charming. And since YOURS is a brand I trust ;) I’m going to share your article with the 28 people in my network who have “Liked” the Mtl-Blog page on Facebook. I think they might be interested in seeing who they’re associating THEIR brand with.

    Cheers for all the hard legwork. Always a pleasure to read you.

  3. Miriam

    I realized the blog was getting more and more clickbait-y but I didn’t realize how far down the rabbit hole went. It’s unfortunate. I just wanted a good website that tells me about different events around Montreal without being sponsored to do so and seemingly half-assing everything. This is disappointing, but good to know

  4. FNoMTL

    Thanks so much for putting this all together with thorough research and clear sentences and all these other funny old school things like in some black-and-white movie with typewriters and stuff– but where the reaction GIFs at??

  5. Terry

    Thank you for compiling this information.

    MTLblog and similar sites that hide advertising under the guise of journalism are a serious problem.
    They undermine freedom of the press and fairness.
    They take money away from anyone who has ethics and strives to do the right thing.

    Montreal has enough corruption issues, does this so called media need to add to the problem?

  6. Media Man

    Very interesting piece Steve, keep on the case..It is too bad, the overall intention I believe is good, the plugging and promoting of various events in town that are not covered by mainstream is somewhat commendable, There has been a lack of local arts coverage since the demise of the Mirror and Hour…

    They could be more credible if they hired a few reporters with good local sources and broke explosive stories..I recall one article last year, because I happened to live near one of the items in the particular pieces, and I receognized the writer from the local Transcon weeklies, , so I knew the story was legit and it actually got picked up by CBC Montreal and CJAD I believe..The Gazette didn’t do anything at all, It wa simportant, it was the story of the testing of the emergency systems, sirens and all, by plants such as LaBatt’s, Molson’s and Saputo.. We people with little kids weren’t aware that ammonia was that explosive…

    The gist of your piece and to be aware in terms of dealing with them but expose more news stories, and you might have something here..

  7. Andrew

    Heck of an article, took me quite some time to follow all the links, it was a journey reading this article and I am sad it is over. Great work!

  8. Dilbert

    Great story, but one with a secondary lesson for the old print media:

    your competition doesn’t seem to have the same morals as you, and will do what they need to get attention to their brands. MTL Blog has nice enough looking offices while weekly inkies are disappearing fast. Can you see a trend?

    This story really butts up nicely with the changes at the Gazoo, showing just how hard it is to play by the old rules in a new game.

  9. Rob

    Don’t you have anything better to do?

    Go try to create some real value and stop bothering entrepreneurs working extremely hard and learning along the way.

    This was a way for the CEO of MTLblog to reach out and say “hey we are listening and trying to make sure we do better in the future”, but all you have used the opportunity to capitalize personally and bring traffic to your website.

    It’s just sad. You are pathetic, plain and simple.

    1. Marc

      There’s a difference between hard working entrepreneurship and publishing demonstrably false stories to make as much money as possible. Here’s their latest pearl of wisdom today: “10 types of Montreal Drunk Girls.” Now they’ve entered the wonderful world of misogyny. Fuck them.

      1. Rob

        MTL blog provides value to it readers and has personally made my experience along with 10’s of thousands in Montreal much better and more informed about what is going on. It is clear that anyone supporting this does not understand the demographic who is reading it. The blog we are currently on does not create anything of value. It’s simply has used MTL Blog to gain it’s own viewership in a totally different demographic and its sickening that people are supporting it.

        This is a hard working entrepreneur building something of value and learning along the way. Not to mention trying to remedy any mistakes in the past publicly. If certain parts of the Montreal community keep this up they will be creating a incredibly stunted and fear oriented environment for entrepreneurs taking first steps, which is incredibly opposite of what Montreal has worked so hard to build.

        This just sickens me. The author needs to understand in his core how pathetic he and this is even if he does not acknowledge it publicly.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          MTL blog provides value to it readers and has personally made my experience along with 10?s of thousands in Montreal much better and more informed about what is going on.

          Can you expand on that, perhaps with some examples? Is the value in exposing you to stories you would not otherwise hear about, or do you find inherent value in MTL Blog’s reporting itself? Or are you referring to non-news content?

          The blog we are currently on does not create anything of value.

          And yet here you are leaving comments.

          It’s simply has used MTL Blog to gain it’s own viewership in a totally different demographic

          I’m not sure how I’ve “used” MTL Blog other than to write about it. And there are far less complex ways to gain readers than to spend weeks researching a story, as MTL Blog proves.

          If certain parts of the Montreal community keep this up they will be creating a incredibly stunted and fear oriented environment for entrepreneurs taking first steps, which is incredibly opposite of what Montreal has worked so hard to build.

          I don’t think an environment where startups are protected from all criticism is healthier for us.

          The author needs to understand in his core how pathetic he and this is even if he does not acknowledge it publicly.

          I don’t dispute being pathetic. I don’t need an anonymous Internet troll to tell me that. As for this post, I’ll let other people speak to its value.

          1. Dilbert

            I would have to wonder, do you think MTL Blog would use shill posters to shout you down? Just wondering… :)

        2. GTurner

          MTL Blog makes you more informed? How? By taking someone else’s “13 Things that will happen to you when you date a bartender,” dropping three of them, and namedropping 10 bars? By declaring that Montreal has the 12th most polluted air in the world when it isn’t even in the top 500 most polluted cities? By talking about how horrible Crescent St is in a bunch of articles only to include three Crescent ST resto-bars in it’s top terrasses? Yes there have been a handful of useful articles, but they are surrounded by stuff that is either stolen, trivial beyond belief, doesn’t really say anything about Montreal since it speaks to students in any North American city, or is outright false.

    2. K-oss

      Sorry, no, we are past the point of this whole “aw shucks we are just learning the internet same as everyone else” bull. They know exactly what they are doing and they come right out and say it – they could not have their site if they did not make it on the backs of other people’s work.

      Let me make this clearer: I am going to start a site that is nothing but full episodes of HBO shows. It is going to be incredibly popular. Maybe I will even put a few lines of summary or criticism under each video. Why didn’t anyone think of this before? It makes so much sense! Oh right. Because HBO is going to sue me. This is what MTL Blog is doing, they just know most bloggers don’t have HBO’s legal team.

    3. Pamela

      There is no way you are just a simple fan of MTLBlog. You must be some paid troll because no matter if you are just a fan, you should be able to accept the fact that not everyone is going to have the same opinion as you and that people will question how a company is doing it’s business. It’s called criticism, which is fair game. What’s pathetic is your attempt at trolling.

    4. Ali

      So real value, in your opinion, is provided through stealing, bullying, sensationalizing, and lying, to a broad audience, as opposed to someone who writes an articulate piece based on critical thought, research, facts and the promotion of ethical standards?

      I clicked on a Mtlblog link once and the content made me sick to my stomach. Never again.
      I second that Marc, fuck them. And fuck Rob too.

      Excellent piece Mr. Faguy. I recently went back to making the Gazette my main source of local news, because I grew disheartened with HuffPo and it’s 700 pt. font headlines. Their format overall is very reader friendly but the content is a cross between the National Enquirer, America’s Funniest Home Videos and CNN. Ugh how did things get to this point?

  10. Susan Lapointe

    That “blog” is among the trillions of nothings on the internet and is hardly worth mentioning, in my opinion. If you wanted to devote your time to reporting on non-journalistic online content, you’d be plenty busy for the rest of your life and beyond. Most of the net, including news organizations (find the article on Time and its reporters this week), is based on folks desperately trying to make money – it is not about content or honesty, or lord knows, journalism. Please don’t give them any more space.

  11. Anonymous

    Honestly, just drop it. You’re just wasting your time. If MTL Blog is destined for failure, then they will – whether you make your investigations or not IMO.

    For every post “like” or “share” you get for your efforts, 100 more get “liked” or “shared” by MTL Blog’s efforts to please their target audience. I’d argue that there’s a wider audience of people that don’t care nor will care about the ethics of MTL Blog’s methods — as long as they get that split second pleasure from reading their content, they’ll keep on reading, and MTL Blog will keep on driving the necessary traffic to eventually get above that “entrepreneurial hill” of doing things with mistakes until you learn from precedence and adjust your ways. By that time, they’ll probably have enough following / matured audience that they’re improved efforts may carry over and get them to succeed.

    I agree with all your copyright infringement claims, but any points that are brought up regarding past partner issues, editorial topics and general growth strategy are not for you to judge. It’s their business, let them chose their path. This post actually weakens your position and shows your personal vendetta against MTL Blog (some people know how to read between the lines as well). Until court rulings show that MTL Blog has been judged for any of the claims anyone makes, your words are like blank bullets. They mean nothing.

    As a seasoned entrepreneur myself, I tend to lead other professionals / entrepreneurs in good faith to help them, rather than bash them. No one knows how to do it right from the start, and while you sit in the comfort of your steady Gazette position, guys like MTL Blog are figuring out how to capture the attention of this “3 second attention span” audience.

    Final words: If you’re such a pro at what you do, call these guys up, offer advice and try to lead them towards positive success with your learnings as a professional in the industry. From a journalist’s perspective, you may look strong with your research, but from an entrepreneurial’s view — you look totally ignorant about the realities of what it takes to compete in the world today.

    Look at precedence of other successful brands in the world today, and you’ll realize that no one ever has had a pristine perfect track record. Realities of the world my friend.

    I really hope you take a more positive outlook as to how you plan to lead your career as a professional. No one remembers the guy who bashed “between the lines”. They remember the guy who gets quoted by successful entrepreneurs for his mentorship.

    Best of luck,

    ~ An entrepreneur who once met Chuck himself, and saw potential.

  12. Greg James

    ”Do you have any quantitative data to support this claim?”
    ”Why are you not friend with him anymore?”

    This sentence illustrates how absurd the anti-MTLblog haters now act. It gooes way too far.

    MTLblog is not a news source, it is a light urban blog. It compares to the BlogTO.

    It is far from perfect, but they offer Montreal a great way to shine. They don’t have to respect journalistic deontology, they can have content made from advertisments if they want (especially if it is clear),…

    For decades, content has been shared and taken away. In the morning radio stations read stories from papers, most of the time without giving the source. But ultimately, the goal is to expose stories and news to the most people possible, no?

    ”There is, of course, nothing wrong with having other websites with unfinished projects. But they give some insight into how the owners of MTL Blog think.”

    Yes, they are online creators and creative minds.

    …you know what, I am not a fan of MTLBlog. I think it is boring and for someone informed, you won’t learn much, but it is a great startup and should be an inspiration on many levels for journalist who want to open their own websites in the coming years to compete with the big guys. But of course, journalist should them respect deontology.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      MTLblog is not a news source

      Is it? This is the basis for Question 1. It certainly seems to define itself that way. It mentions journalism and the news media when describing itself. It even has a section called “news”.

      They don’t have to respect journalistic deontology

      I suppose legally there are aspects of journalistic ethics that they don’t have to respect. But they also shouldn’t expect not to be called out on it.

      For decades, content has been shared and taken away. In the morning radio stations read stories from papers, most of the time without giving the source.

      And the papers are still annoyed by that. It’s a solid point. But the stories usually aren’t read verbatim, which I think is the difference between stealing facts (which is douchey but not illegal) and stealing content (which breaks copyright law).

      But ultimately, the goal is to expose stories and news to the most people possible, no?

      I don’t know. Is that MTL Blog’s goal?

      it is a great startup and should be an inspiration on many levels for journalist who want to open their own websites in the coming years to compete with the big guys.

      What’s great about MTL Blog, exactly? How does it inspire young journalists?

    2. K-oss

      This is so poorly written you are giving yourself away as either a founder or a contributor. Possibly the person around their hilarious and terrible #sorrynotsorry post.

  13. Ed

    For those supporting MTL Blog based on their entrepreneurship and journalistic endeavours….

    This is 2014. Every 10 year old knows about copyright infringement. There are no excuses. The entrepreneurs we should be supporting are those getting their content stolen.

    Charging for event coverage? Fine, I might not like you (in fact, I won’t like you). Stealing others’ hard work and claiming it as your own? That’s lame. It’s also illegal. And it’s certainly not “journalism”.

  14. Janelle

    MTL Blog should absolutely be called out for their spelling and grammatical errors. It’s one thing to use slang and internet lingo, but all of the unintentional spelling and grammatical errors are cringe worthy.

    MTL Blog should also absolutely be called out for using photos without consent. I completely understand the point of view of those photographers, and how simply receiving a “photo cred” would not necessarily be adequate enough. If they were my photos, I would expect that I would be contacted in advance for my consent.

    That said, MTL Blog’s more petty, insipid and at times misogynistic articles appeal to the audience that they set out to reach. They’ve successfully captured the attention of that audience. Why should they be forced to defend that content?

    Their entire business exists in a grey area. They don’t appear to be striving to rival The Gazette. They don’t appear to be only driven by ad revenue. They do appear to be trying to reach a certain demographic, to make a name for themselves individually and/or as a brand, to make enough ad revenue to pay their bills, and eventually make a profit for themselves. On all of those points, they have succeeded, or are well on their way to doing so. They clearly grew too big, too fast, and their mistakes were based on inexperience and naivete.

    Several points in this blog post are guilty of the same sort of drama that it accuses MTL Blog of. For example: who really cares about arguments between the co-founders, or if they’re still friends? The current administrators of the blog claim one thing, the ousted administrator claims another. Reality surely lies somewhere between the two stories, but again, what does this really have to do with what MTL Blog is or is not striving to be?

    I personally think the majority of the blog is ridiculous. There are the rare occasions where information can be found that is pertinent to my own interests and life, but it is not often. I appreciated the list of where to find good pierogies in the city. I enjoy some of the articles with photos of Montreal streets and neighborhoods in past decades. When their absurd articles, such as the one about reasons to cheat on a significant other, pass in my news feed, I simply choose not to click on them. Sure seems that their 65k followers are doing the same.

    In the end, good on them for carving out a niche for themselves. With mentions and links from all of the major Anglo radio stations in the city, it’s clear they’re making a dent in the Anglo scene. They’ll end up being a flash in the pan if they do not seriously rectify the mistakes they’ve made up until now, but it seems as if they’re starting to realize that.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      who really cares about arguments between the co-founders, or if they’re still friends?

      I do. Especially if it leads to a legal battle between them over ownership of the website. It’s not that I care about their friendship, it’s that I’m trying to figure out what happened and why.

      Reality surely lies somewhere between the two stories, but again, what does this really have to do with what MTL Blog is or is not striving to be?

      I think who owns MTL Blog and who created it is somewhat relevant to what it is.

      When their absurd articles, such as the one about reasons to cheat on a significant other, pass in my news feed, I simply choose not to click on them. Sure seems that their 65k followers are doing the same.

      Indeed. Nobody is forcing anyone to click. And while that particular story may be in bad taste, I don’t consider it unethical, except for the part about encouraging people to deceive each other.

  15. James Campagna

    I have been firing warning shots about these guys since they started to pick up steam in June 2013 and was very vocal about it. Remarkably at the time, one of the posts that kicked them off traffic-wise had nothing to do with Montreal and was a repost of a Sophia Bush / Urban Outfitters story that happened in 2010.

    I suspect they are biding their time until Post Media or someone offers to buy out their super cool, super engaging online publication if the shakeup in strategy at the Gazette doesn’t pick up. The reality is anyone over the age of 25 with a brain or an ounce of discerning critique will never take it seriously or ever consider buying anything they are selling as sponsored ads.

    Essentially what we have here is a couple of dorks got together and figured out how Facebook works using Arianna Huffington’s model of not paying anybody ever– having perfected the shortcut philosophy and giving not one damn about who they are affecting. Take a look at Joshua McRae’s Facebook profile and you’ll start to get the full picture here that greed is running the show, and this whole fiasco with their ex-partner (which is news to me) is damning evidence to say the least.

    What they have done is nothing that can’t be replicated many times over in a small-time market that left a black hole after English alternative media was eradicated. All you need is a credit card, $50,000, a whole lot of time on your hands, a small battalion of desperate, naive unpaid interns you can find on Craigslist and you could put a serious dent in their operation, fighting for the same scenester scraps. Unlike the Gazette, who pay their employees, there is a difference between conversion traffic and low buying power traffic. The ‘stats’ they tout so highly about are skewed, much like their journalistic integrity and basic ethics.

    Take some solace that no matter what happens, the buck will stop in Montreal, as the other larger and similar cities are well dug in and represented at this point using the same SEM-based saturated model.

    I will say this though; the sheer amount of kickback going on does NOT bode well for them at this stage in the game. The adage that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true, unless you are in a small and weak market like Montreal and you happen to be catering to an even smaller community within it of English speakers where word gets around pretty fast if you are being an asshole. This storm is, and continues to be, of their own making, and I’m not sure trying to flip the switch now to try and be ‘legitimate’ is going to work. MTL Blog is banking on the fact that the majority of Virgin Radio listening clueless zombies out there are none-the-wiser, and they are right to a degree, or we wouldn’t be wasting our time talking about this.

    At least the rebellious souls whom Chucky Cheese refers to as ‘jealous haters’ listed in this piece proves to me there are still decent people in this city that won’t flood people’s devices with complete and utter stolen, lame-brained garbage.

    Perhaps there is ironic justice on the horizon. What a story it would be that all who have stood up for themselves and their fellow artist in this city against these clowns got together, raised some funds and beat them at their own game? After all, the only thing stopping Cult MTL and The Main from truly competing is money, and I can tell you from experience, not much of it either.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      The ‘stats’ they tout so highly about are skewed, much like their journalistic integrity and basic ethics.

      Do you have evidence that they’ve been dishonest about their stats?

      1. James Campagna

        Skewed as in deceiving to potential advertisers. In industry terms, their conversion rate (which they probably don’t even have any reliable tracking in place other than adsense & DFP) of reach vs actual sale must be the absolute lowest on the scale (>0.10%). People in Montreal are broke, and the 18-24 demographic they cater to even more so. I can attest to this because it is my job. The junk BuzzFeed type audience are what we refer to as bottom feeders.

        Basically what I mean is you will never see big-ticket item campaigns being run on their site as you do on the Gazette for example, such as real-estate or auto dealers… and if you do they will experience subpar lead or sale conversion. For the same prices they are charging, you’re better off going direct to the source of their traffic, Facebook, which represents about 78% of their draw, and launch an ad campaign where you have more control, especially if you are after that demographic.

        But if you’re a retailer or local shop after a fairly uneducated bunch who don’t notice grammatical errors, reposted content from years ago or can identify blatant clickbait… by all means Mr. Lapointe will be happy to send you a bill.

        Just a quick visit to similarweb or alexa: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/mtlblog.com shows they have already started to hit a plateau; the wall that has been inevitably been waiting for them because they are an English publication in Montreal.

        1. Dilbert

          Actually, their stats look pretty good – low search traffic, but high traffic from social media sites (see the list of sites visited before them). That’s a pretty good indication that they are getting solid play in the social media scene, which generally shows engagement.

          However, you are also right to point out that their target demographic generally are not the big spenders, and most media tends to shy away from them. It’s why radio stations tend to try to skew towards an over 25 audience, because advertisers are much more likely to pay for that sort of exposure.

          Dollar for dollar, the clubs and events advertising / getting listed on their site are probably getting out okay on it. High exposure levels to their target markets can help. Remember, night clubs want as many 18-25 year old FEMALES in their establishments to attract the slightly older, going to spend money to impress the girls type of man who will make the club a ton of money. That’s why most of them have crowd control lines, it’s about getting the right mix of people to make money!

  16. Mario D.

    Wow ! Good work sir ! A bit on the heavy side but thourough !

    Another example of the anything goes law that rules the internet. One must be able to read between the lines but still, some make it very credible and actually get sincere followers from it. There is such a culture of being on top of the world even if you are exposed for the fraud you are.

    One must remember that there is a whole generation now that do not mind stealing ,pirating , illegally downloading and what not ! Free stuff man who cares if it`legal or not ! And please do not bother them with the political correctness !

    There are no limits in what they will do or write because there is no police , CRTC or whatever that follows and regulate their work so it is up to guys like you to expose them and for a guy like me not to fuel their website i guess. But then again some will thrive with the forbidden…

  17. James Campagna

    Anyone in digital advertising will tell you that organic search traffic is way more valuable than social traffic because the difference is impulse (fb newsfeed click) vs
    direct interest (google). The same reason an FB click is worth pennies and Google’s are worth dollars. Ideally a site should have a balance between the two, with a slight edge on organic search.

    The nightclub/event coverage model is not lucrative enough to sustain more than a handful of employees. Remember Big Moe productions from 5 years ago? They had no choice but to stop what they were doing and try to turn into a boutique ad agency because club/resto owners and their venues came and went like the seasons. Another issue is trying to collect off most of these disreputable and notoriously cheap people. Again, bottom feeder marketing. This is why MTL Blog is trying to get into the Native Advertising / Advertorial game that BuzzFeed– and more down their alley Elite Daily– is attempting to shove down the throats of their audiences who still don’t care for it unless you do something sneaky like not mark content as sponsored, which MTL Blog still does and blames their unpaid monkeys for. They’ve come up with this model because conversion rates on display banners is bloody awful. Despite that they still do a shitty job on these advertorials as I never see strong usage of tracking urls or call-to-action links being evident.

    1. Dilbert

      Oh yeah, agreed – organic search is always worth more than FB traffic. However, throw enough of the proverbial shit at the wall, and some of it sticks. Remember too, this is all about social (getting people to night clubs and social venues), so FB may be somewhat closer to the value of organic traffic because of who it’s hitting.

      I also think that these guys pretty much have the market to themselves, as most people don’t want to play down there. So while it may not be that lucrative, it’s certainly enough to keep a few of them on the payroll, and that may be the goal here – that and of course plenty of potential for freebies, right?

      1. Mary Lamey

        I used to follow them on FB and Twitter but just private messaged to complain about their ethics and have unfollowed. Excellent work, Steve.

  18. Pingback: MTL Blog: le « meltdown » d’un média | Marie-Claude Ducas

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  20. Alexandre

    Must have been out of the loop but I hadn’t really noticed the D’Alimonte/McRae/Lapointe site until I saw this post. Even then, it’s only after this post was commented elsewhere that I started to pay attention.
    And while I agree that there’s a serious issue at stake (and I salute Faguy for his tireless work), I do get to wonder why we care.}
    One reason I come up with is some base level emotion, as called upon by “reality” TV and “soap operas”. We may not enjoy Buzzfeed or most Gawker sites, yet we get some pleasant sensation when we notice that others aren’t dupes either. Nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s still about critical thinking. But it’s an interesting phenomenon.
    Then, there’s the whole issue of the “Future of Journalism” (#FoJ). Many of us do care and, clearly, Steve does. Though ##AskMtlBlog was a textbook case of failing at social media (as Catherine Gendreau states so adeptly), there might be something about linkbait which misdirects important resources. Here, as in other aspects of (post)modern journalism, it may be appropriate to ask about advertisers. Who, in their right mind, would associate their business with such a tarnished brand? Are they really so desperate to reach those “demographics”?
    A friend described this post as well-meaning but, eventually, whiny. Can’t agree with that characterization, as it’s easily taken as the work of an experienced blogger shedding some light into a shady operation. Yet one might wonder about the longstanding effects of discussing that Montreal-themed Buzzfeed-wannabe.
    There might even be something specific about Montreal, here. With that same friend, the topic of Montreal’s “coolness” came up. Ever since the whole kerfuffle over SPIN and NYT coverage of one of Montreal’s best-known music scenes, it’s been clear that Montrealers have diverse reactions to praises about their/our city’s claims to fame. Miranda Campbell has done a lot of work around this issue, and there’s some nugget of something there which would warrant further research. Maybe our reactions to the way Montreal is covered has to do with more than arguments about the best bagel, smoked meat, ph?, or “hangover breakfast”. Maybe there’s something “sooo Mtl” about our love-hate relationship with what people say about the city.

    That said, it almost makes me glad I don’t live there, anymore.

  21. Terry

    Mtl blog is at it again with their blatant unethical plagiarism of local writers’ content.

    see these links for comparisons of original text from montreal.about.com and mtlblog text, almost verbatim. Ms. Reid can prove that her text was written long before mtlblog’s copy.

    15 Free Montreal Things To Do With Your Significant Other …
    2 days ago – You will fall for these activities in the city. … From mid-September to early November, Montreal’s many trees reveal an array of colors … Some Montreal fall foliage destinations are particularly picturesque, if only for the variety of tree species they offer, a mix of shapes and colors you just can’t find everywhere.

    Montreal Fall Foliage – 6 Montreal Fall Foliage Destinations
    montreal.about.com › … › Seasonal Attractions In Montreal
    Montreal fall foliage can be found on practically every street corner, but the following Montreal fall foliage destinations are particularly picturesque, if only for the variety of tree species they offer, a mix of shapes and colors you just can’t find … From mid-September to early November, Montreal’s many trees reveal an array of …

    see these google search links for direct comparison.





  22. Nathaniel

    Great work! Very eye opening. I actually was convinced there was something very sleazy about them before I read your article: the fact that they block people trying to read their articles on a mobile phone with the adblock browser and use an ominously sad popup message with the “poop” emoticon to underline the point that they’re not happy.

  23. Bradley Sales

    I read one of mtl blog articles that tried to summarize Trudeau’s performance. It lacked factual information, ignored the most important issues, etc. This immature journalism confuses everyone especially our youth and new Canadians, and contributes to voter apathy. I immediately tried to see if the mtl owners had a party affiliation. Regardless, mtl would be a waste of time for any person seeking information on Canadian politics


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