Published in The Gazette Dec. 30, 2006
Blog: Montreal City Weblog
Author: Kate McDonnell, graphic designer
First post: Nov. 30, 2001
Updated: About five times per day
“I had done a job some years ago that involved pulling some stories off the wires and summarizing them for a cable system,” explains Kate McDonnell about the genesis of her Montreal City Weblog, which developed just as blogging was starting to first take off in 2001. She knows the people who owned the website Montreal.com, and began putting her news clipping habits to public use online.
One of the city’s oldest and most-read blogs, its posts are short and frequent, linking to interesting news stories, mostly from local mainstream media (both English and French). When inspiration strikes her, she adds her own comments to give context (or to take the media to task when they drop the ball on a story).
“I’m all over anything to do with how the city’s changing,” she says. “New buildings, proposed new developments or changes in the fabric of the city.”
Her fascination with urban development is apparent in her public Flickr account, which has pictures of graffiti, old buildings, dépanneur storefronts, and other pieces of architectural heritage that have changed or disappeared since.
“A secondary interest for me is finding stories about the city from other media sources,” she adds. “It’s interesting to see how we’re viewed (from abroad).”
That international reach works in reverse too: many expat Montrealers turn to McDonnell’s blog to keep abreast of the local news. “They no longer have the time or inclination to follow many Montreal media sites,” she explains, “but reading my headlines daily is a way of keeping in touch.”
Unlike most blogs, McDonnell’s doesn’t allow comments. She says she’s considered it, but hasn’t gone there yet because she doesn’t want to spend the time it would take to moderate them.
It also doesn’t have any personal stories (she keeps a separate, private blog for that). So readers are left with few clues about her family, friends or daily life. All they know is that she likes to read the news and has a strange fascination for dépanneur storefronts in Verdun and the word “agglomeration.”
Sample post: “A new commuter train has been inaugurated from St. Jérôme, and the mayor is still making vague promises about tramways for Montreal. Sounds like the tram may be Gérald Tremblay’s Olympic tower.”
What software do you use to update the blog?
Blogger and Safari. I have plans to migrate the thing over to WordPress or even Drupal sometime, but at the moment that’s how it’s done. The server’s running the usual Linux/Apache stuff.
You wrote recently about your first ever post (Nov. 30, 2001, happy anniversary by the way). Do you remember what that post was about? What were you writing about way back then?
My very first post was a link to a Kristian Gravenor column in the Mirror. The blog hasn’t changed much since I started it – it’s always been a news clipping blog.
Why did you start the blog so many years ago? Has its purpose changed since then?
A lot of reasons. First off, I know the people who have montreal.com, which made a dandy platform for a Montreal-focused blog.
I had done a job some years ago that involved pulling stories off the wires and summarizing them for a cable system, so I had a sense of how this was done.
Also, Montreal’s changing fast. I don’t know how old you are, but I have a very strong sense that the city was in a kind of stasis after 1976 – the 1980s especially were very low-key here (not necessarily a bad thing – it meant affordable rents, for example). Then after the mid-90s the city suddenly went into overdrive, tearing down and building up and renovating like mad. So it’s been an interesting time in Montreal with some good changes and some not so good. The blog gives me a kind of soapbox from which to comment on how I see various issues developing.
And then I found that whenever there was an interesting issue, if I read stories about it from (say) the Gazette, the CBC site, Le Devoir, La Presse, Radio-Canada, the weeklies, etc., I would get a more three-dimensional sense of what was really going on. Inevitably different media outlets have varying approaches and biases. So I thought, if I’m doing this anyway for my own interest, I could gather all the links in one place and, if the inspiration struck, make a few editorial remarks as well.
A secondary interest for me is finding stories about the city from other media sources. It’s interesting to see how we’re viewed from the rest of Canada, from the United States and from further abroad. Of course this waxes and wanes seasonally, peaking during international events like the Grand Prix and last summer’s Outgames.
Another thing to mention: I know that a fair number of my readers are expat Montrealers. They may no longer have the time or inclination to follow many Montreal media sites, but reading my headlines daily is a way of keeping in touch.
Do you have any favourite posts? Famous or infamous ones?
One of the most common criticisms of my blog is that I don’t have commenting turned on, but when there’s no commenting there’s little scope for a post to snowball into a flamewar or a scandal. I occasionally ponder embarking on commenting, but then I think how much more of my life would be used up responding to comments, moderating flamewars and quashing comment spam, so I haven’t done it yet.
I did a series of “then and now” photos in summer 2004 (they’re not available on the blog any more because of the server crash we had earlier this year, although I still have the photos, of course) which were quite a hit. They’re viewable on my flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtlweblog/sets/72057594127102635/
Your blog is basically just links to news stories with the odd remark thrown in. Is long-winded commentary not your thing or is there another reason you like to stick to the facts?
Sometimes I have a strong opinion on a subject, or a suitably witty or pertinent remark comes to mind as I’m organizing a post, but often I just put up links which I think have their own interest. Regular readers probably have a sense what I think about various topics and I don’t want to repeat myself or get tiresomely ranty about things.
Do you have a separate blog where you talk about personal stuff, or do you keep that stuff offline?
I have a small personal blog which I use mostly to keep friends updated on what I’m up to and things I’ve been thinking about. It’s not connected to the Montreal City Weblog in any way. I’m actually more interested in maintaining my Flickr account.
You must see far more stories in the papers than you post links to. What process do you use to decide what stories you link to and those you don’t?
I’m all over anything to do with how the city’s changing: new buildings, proposed new developments or changes in the fabric of the city. I don’t usually link to provincial or federal politics unless it’s something with a direct bearing on urban affairs, e.g. money being handed over for transit or infrastructure or something like that, or the Liberal convention being held here, or provincial tinkering with the agglomeration (how I love that word).
I usually do some cultural stuff toward the weekend, when better articles tend to show up on such topics, and the weeklies come out.
Shifts of opinion interest me. I’m curious about how the different papers try to influence opinion (or manufacture consent) on various topics. I can see myself doing a bit more meta-commentary on that kind of thing as I go on. At the moment, the infiltration of the city by suburban values is starting to irk me, and I can see that becoming an issue soon in many parts of town.
I don’t often link to crime stories, because they’re often legally a bit fraught – you have to be careful to keep saying “accused” and so on, and I don’t want the folks who own the site to ever get into any difficulties because of things I’ve written. Also, I’m aware that journalists very often know more about crime stories than they can report, but I don’t have that kind of access, so I can’t possibly say anything very insightful about ongoing crime or trial reporting.
My interest in sports is hit or miss, but like most Montrealers I have a general desire to see the Stanley Cup back here where it belongs.
One topic I’ve mostly steered clear of is language politics. Since the blog’s in English it would be too easy for it to become pegged as an angryphone platform. I know there are arguments and views there on both sides, but those aren’t the glasses through which I want to look at the city.
Is there anything else people need to know to fully understand your blog?
My great-grandfather was a blacksmith in Griffintown. He’s in the blog somewhere, I think.