Posted in Media

Even more journalists of tomorrow

Once a year, my employer the Montreal Gazette hands out bursaries to promising Concordia University journalism students. For the past four years, I’ve been interviewing the winners after they receive their awards to ask them about themselves and their thoughts on the future of journalism. I posted one set of interviews in 2010 and another in 2011.

Though I did more interviews in 2012 and 2013, I never got around to posting them. Today, another set of students will be coming in to receive these bursaries, so I figured it’s time to find those dusty notebooks and finally post what these people told me, along with some updates of what they’ve done since.

So here we are, another series of profiles of, if the selection committee is right, journalism’s latest rising stars:

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Posted in Radio

Hudson radio station The Jewel 106.7 begins testing

The Jewel 106.7

Less than two months after getting CRTC approval for a new transmitter site, CHSV-FM 106.7 in Hudson has begun transmitting.

The station, owned by Evanov Radio subsidiary Dufferin Communications and carrying the brand The Jewel, is currently in its on-air testing phase, which began Nov. 4. Another Evanov station, Radio Fierté 980 AM, is also testing and will launch in January with about 10 full-time employees.

The Jewel is an easy-listening format and has six stations in Ontario and another in Winnipeg. The Hudson station at 1,420 watts ERP should easily cover the western off-island area, plus adjacent areas like Oka, the West Island and Ile Perrot. Reception in the Montreal area is complicated by co-channel interference from WIZN 106.7 in Burlington, Vt., and in eastern Ontario it should be wiped out by Jump 106.9 (CKQB-FM).

Like Fierté, The Jewel is playing music and station IDs. It asks anyone who finds problems to email signal@jewel1067.com.

UPDATE: No word on a launch date, which has more to do with when Industry Canada gives its approval than anything else. If there are no problems reported, “we should be officially on the air by Christmas,” says Evanov VP Carmela Laurignano. “For the first while we will have a music intensive program. The full format will roll out in the new year.”

The station expects to have about 20 employees. No names have been released yet.

Posted in Radio

Bell Media kills Bob FM in Ottawa, turns it into country station

Bob FM OttawaIt’s been almost eight months since the last time an Ottawa radio station suddenly abandoned its format and pissed off its listeners, so I guess it was time to do it again.

On Monday evening, Bell Media, owner of CKKL-FM (Bob FM) announced via the station’s website and Facebook page that the station is no more.

“Market conditions have changed, and it’s time for us to pursue a new opportunity,” reads the vague message, which suggests not so much a shutdown but a rebrand and format change.

Brief announcements on the station that said “something new is coming” confirmed this.

Bob FM is an “adult hits” format, meaning songs your parents remember (or you remember if you’re a parent yourself).

newcountry94On Wednesday morning, a press release announced that the new station, to be launched today, will be called New Country 94, and will be a country music station. (Its webiste is newcountry94.com, registered on Oct. 9.)

The new format puts it up against Rogers station New Country 101.1 FM (CKBY-FM) in Smiths Falls, whose 100kW signal reaches Ottawa but also places like Renfrew and Brockville.

Five on-air staff let go

The change means that five on-air personalities have lost their jobs, according to The Canadian Press. But they will be replaced with new talent.

Among those laid off is John Mielke, the owner of Milkman Unlimited, which posts job opportunities at radio stations in Canada. He posted an update to that website about his own job cut.

The Ottawa Citizen has some online reaction from fans about the disappearance of Bob FM. They also have this story looking into the business of the Ottawa radio market and this timeline of major changes at local stations.

Ratings information from Numeris this spring showed the station with a 2.6% share, or about the middle of the pack for English-language music stations. But the share was in decline, which might have convinced management that a change in format was the way to go.

That same data showed Country 101 having a 6.1% share in the Ottawa market.

Posted in Opinion, TV

24 myths about the CRTC, TV and Netflix

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn't made or positions it hasn't proposed.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn’t made or positions it hasn’t proposed.

Over two weeks of CRTC hearings over the future of television in September, I monitored discussion over Twitter. And I saw a lot of crazy ideas being thrown out about the commission, some of which I might simply disagree with, but much of which is just plain inaccurate or misinformed. Since then, the volume has died down, but the same points keep getting brought up.

So to try to clear things up, here are some things people are saying about the CRTC and how television is regulated in Canada that could use a reality check.

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Posted in TV

Radio-Canada shutting down its costume department

Here’s a story that’s getting very little attention in the anglophone media: Radio-Canada is shutting down its costume department at the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal, which will cease activities on Dec. 7 and shut down entirely at the end of March.

It’s a cut that’s expected to result in three job losses.

What’s upsetting about this to people like C’est juste de la TV’s Dave Ouellet, seen in the video above, is that the costume department isn’t just a closet of dresses. It’s a tool used by television and theatre productions, whether associated with Radio-Canada or not (Les Appendices, a Télé-Québec show, makes use of it), and it’s a cultural archive with many pieces that are historic because they were worn by important figures in Quebec’s cultural history.

And because it rents out costumes, but few people seem to know about this, there’s an argument that it could be made to pay for itself or even make a profit for the CBC if properly managed.

There’s a Facebook page and a petition to save the costume department, but it looks like the decision is made and unlikely to be reversed.

The good news is that heritage costumes won’t be thrown into the garbage. Radio-Canada has identified 72 of the more than 90,000 costumes that would be saved. The rest would be auctioned off, given to the highest bidder — presumably a private costume company — who can continue to make them available to Quebecers.

That wouldn’t be the worst outcome. If the CBC can’t make a collection of 90,000 costumes profitable, then maybe it should go to a private company who can. But taking this collection out of the public control and leaving it to the whims of a private company is a big risk.

I can only hope that Radio-Canada structures its tender for bids and eventual contract so that our cultural institutions can still make use of these costumes without paying through the nose for them.

More from La Presse and Radio-Canada.

Posted in Media

Le Devoir launches tablet app

After La Presse and the Montreal Gazette, Le Devoir has become the latest Montreal newspaper to launch an enhanced tablet app.

Le Devoir’s app, which like its website is available only to paid subscribers (but is free until Dec. 8), isn’t as flashy as its competitors, but it does offer some nice features, including working crossword puzzles and the ability to read in portrait or landscape mode (La Presse+ and the Gazette app are landscape-only). The app is also meant to be read offline after downloading.

It’s available for both the iPad (iPad 2+) and Android tablets (OS 4.4 and above). It promises each edition (Monday to Saturday) will be ready by 4am.

If you don’t subscribe to Le Devoir, you can buy each issue for $1.99. Or you can get a web-and-tablet subscription with no delivery for $17.75 a month, or a digital subscription plus Saturday-only paper delivery for $19.75 a month.

For more details, Le Devoir has an information page with frequently asked questions, and an introduction from publisher Bernard Descôteaux. He also explains that the print edition isn’t going anywhere, and that they don’t have the means to compete with La Presse+ directly.

And Mario Garcia has an interview with designer Lucia Lacava.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Montreal Gazette loses senior manager to sudden death

Ross Teague (photo: Allen McInnis for the Montreal Gazette)

Ross Teague (photo: Allen McInnis for the Montreal Gazette)

On the copy desk of a major newspaper, like in other newsrooms, the employees have developed somewhat of an immunity to the horrors of life. On a daily basis they deal with terrible stories about people dying, whether it’s in war overseas, in a car crash in your home town, or in unusual circumstances just about anywhere. We make macabre jokes that could easily cost us our jobs if they were ever made public. Not because we don’t care about the lives lost, but because it’s how we have learned cope with the exposure without sacrificing our souls.

Ross Teague knew all about this, because he was one of us. He started working at the Montreal Gazette in 1990, and spent many nights working late putting the paper together on deadline (back when paper was the only medium, and the only deadline that counted).

By the time I got to the Gazette in 2005, Teague was a manager with a day job. In fact, he had just become the paper’s city editor, replacing the man who hired me and got poached by the Journal de Montréal before I started my first shift. Most recently, Teague was the “executive producer” of montrealgazette.com, the man responsible for everything having to do with that website.

Until Tuesday night, when he died suddenly. A heart attack, I’m told through the grapevine. He was 56.

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Posted in In the news, Media, Opinion

Some things to consider before your next Jian Ghomeshi think piece

This post was updated Oct. 31 with some new information that has come forward, particularly about how the CBC handled this affair.

When news broke on Friday that Jian Ghomeshi, one of CBC’s biggest personalities, was taking a leave for unspecified “personal reasons”, it seemed suspicious. When news broke on Sunday that the CBC had terminated its relationship with him, it seemed unbelievable. And then it got worse: a $55-million lawsuit, and reports of eight women (oh wait, make that nine) coming forward and saying he abused them, with stories that seem disturbingly similar.

I don’t have any exclusive reporting on the subject — Toronto media personalities are not my specialty and there are plenty of Toronto journalists covering that — but I’ve been seeing so many misinformed comments on social media that I thought it would be useful to round up what is being said and make a few points to better educate those who are talking about this. I’m not an expert in employment law, human sexuality or most other fields, so I’ll try to link to experts where possible. Feel free to suggest other points or improve existing ones if you’re more of an expert than me.

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Posted in Radio

Radio Fierté begins testing on 980 AM

Montreal’s newest radio station, and its first new general-interest commercial AM station in just about forever, is now transmitting as it undergoes the final stage before launch.

For a couple of weeks now, radio watchers have been noticing an open carrier — silence instead of static — on 980 AM. Now that signal is starting to carry music as the station begins its on-air testing in preparation for launch.

Radio Fierté CHRF is owned by Evanov Radio Group, which also owns Proud FM in Toronto, and the two have the same purpose, to serve the local LGBT community. Fierté will be Evanov’s first French-language radio station. Evanov told me last month that the station is expected to be on air by mid-November, so it’s a bit ahead of schedule. The actual launch is expected in January.

Evanov hasn’t announced hires yet, but Marie-Noëlle (Marino) Gagnon has announced she will be the station’s music director and one of its hosts. The general sales manager is Alain Tanguay, and Yvan Ruel is the project coordinator.

The station’s application to the CRTC proposed a format of half music, half talk. The proposed program schedule was vague, but indicated mainly music on evenings and weekends. Though it would be mainly directed at the estimated 5-10% of the population that is gay (Evanov believes it could be even higher than that), its music and information is also designed to appeal to a wider audience.

Its application promises some shows “will take a deeper look at issues of a more serious nature such as relationships, sex, health, politics and current events” with invited experts and call-in shows. Other shows will be music with “light banter.” It proposes 4-6 minutes of hard news an hour, and another 3-7 minutes an hour of sports, weather and traffic.

The application shows a projected annual budget of $1 million to $1.5 million a year, based on ad rates averaging between $42 and $72 a minute.

The station is playing mainly pop music in French and English (Tegan and Sara, Coeur de Pirate, Daft Punk, and a bunch of the songs you’d hear on The Beat or Virgin), but promises a mix of pop, disco and techno. Between songs, it’s airing several recorded messages noting the testing period, and identifying the station as “the first francophone LGBT station in North America” and “radio arc-en-ciel”. People who identify issues related to the transmission are asked to email info@radiofierte980.com.

Fierté was approved by the CRTC in 2011, in the same proceeding that gave approval for CKGM (TSN Radio) to move to clear channel 690 AM. Fierté had originally been approved to take over the vacated 990 frequency and the same pattern as CKGM formerly had, but found that moving to 980 AM and adopting a less directional pattern at reduced power would result in better coverage at night. The CRTC approved a frequency and pattern change last December.

Posted in Media

NADbank: La Presse has more readers overall than the Journal de Montréal

NADbank, the organization that measures newspaper readership, has come out with its mid-year national survey. Based on its large-market readership numbers:

When combining print and digital readership, La Presse and the Journal de Montréal both reach 1.241 million people a week. The difference in the official numbers is only 300, or 0.02%, which is far below the margin for error in such a survey.

Even more surprising, the daily readership of La Presse, measured by asking survey respondents which papers/websites they read the day before, is significantly higher than the Journal de Montréal, at 750,000 to 582,000.

La Presse has closed the gap with the Journal mainly through a huge increase in digital readership. The survey doesn’t distinguish between digital methods, but La Presse’s publisher Guy Crevier says this is mainly due to its now-flagship product La Presse+. Its digital readership jumped from 571,000 a week to 721,000 a week, a 26% increase.

In fact, more respondents said they read La Presse on a digital medium the day before than read the print paper. Other than the national papers Globe and Mail and National Post, no other major-market daily has more daily readers online than in print.

Even more amazing, La Presse reported slightly more daily digital readers in Montreal than the Star did in Toronto.

Excluding digital media and focusing just on print, the Journal de Montréal is still tops on weekdays and weekly, and that’s what it focused on with its press release. But on Saturday, La Presse has slightly more readers in print alone.

This dramatic increase in digital readership — and the fact that it has resulted in an increase in readership overall instead of just cannibalizing print readers — is yet another statistic justifying La Presse’s new strategy. And as if on cue, publisher Guy Crevier has another interview, in which he says 35% of La Presse’s revenues come from La Presse+, and that he doesn’t expect the print edition to still be around (at least as a daily) by 2020, or maybe even 2018.

Other facts in the NADbank numbers:

  • More than three years after 24 Heures became the official newspaper of the metro system, Métro still has more readers overall (300,000 vs. 270,000).
  • Métro and 24 Heures both get more than 90% of their readership from their print product. Their online readership is so low NADbank warns the numbers are statistically unreliable.
  • Only two papers in Montreal had more than half their weekly readers reading on any given day: La Presse and The Gazette. Readers of these publications are more likely to be everyday readers, compared to occasional readers for the others. (The Gazette has more daily readers than Métro or 24 Heures, but fewer weekly readers, because of this.)
  • More people said they read The Gazette online the previous day than the Journal de Montréal, despite the Journal’s gains online. The Gazette’s weekly online readership is up 37% from the previous report.
  • The Globe and Mail beats the National Post in both print and digital in all major markets. (In Edmonton, the Post has more daily digital readers, but fewer weekly digital readers and fewer readers overall.)
  • This isn’t new, but I just noticed it now: The Journal de Montréal has more readers in its home market than the Toronto Sun, daily and weekly.
Posted in Media, Opinion

When “confirmed” doesn’t mean “true”

Was there a second shooter? Was there a shooting at the Rideau Centre? Was the victim dead? Was the gunman carrying a rifle or a shotgun? What was the name of the shooter? What was the name of the victim? Was it the sergeant-at-arms who finally took the gunman down? Was this an act of terrorism?

Throughout the day on Wednesday, these questions were asked, answered and in some cases those answers were retracted by the media. It’s the nature of the beast when dealing with a breaking emergency situation like this — nobody really knows the answers at first, even the authority figures you normally go to for those answers.

What does “confirmed” mean?

After these kinds of events, there are inevitably media criticism think pieces telling us that we need to verify facts before publishing them, that we can’t repeat rumours that are unconfirmed, that getting it right is more important than getting it first.

But those kinds of pieces always annoy me, because they assume there’s some standard of correctness that a piece of information can achieve, and once it has it’s guaranteed to be true.

As we learned in Ottawa, it’s a lot more complicated than that. It was the Ottawa police that said there was an incident at or near the Rideau Centre shopping mall, only to retract that statement later in the day. It was a federal cabinet minister who tweeted on his verified account that the victim in the shooting had died, only to later walk that statement back. In the end, one of those events turned out to be false and the other true.

But in both cases they were referred to as “confirmed” by the media. When those confirmations were walked back, the power of the word diminished.

Attribute everything

As Craig Silverman (the local expert in media getting things wrong) would say, an important question to ask a source when compiling information is “How do you know this?” A source may seem official because they’re a police officer or an official spokesperson or a company CEO or an expert in the field, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their information is rock-solid.

In emergency situations, asking those kinds of questions is a luxury, and often impractical. But one thing that is neither is attribution, even when the information appears to be fully verified and unquestionably accurate.

Strictly speaking, the statement “Ottawa police posted on Twitter that there was an incident at the Rideau Centre” is correct, even though there was no shooting there. It’s not just about covering your ass; it provides a publicly verifiable trail of information, and breeds trust in the news outlet while it breeds skepticism in the news.

There’s a tendency for news organizations to want to seem authoritative, to say things like “we have independently confirmed“. But that statement is meaningless if the confirmation comes from the same anonymous source as the initial report, and just as likely to be wrong.

On the other hand, there’s a different tendency to be vague when referring to competitors, to refer to vague “reports”. This can give the illusion of authority, even when all the reports out there inevitably come from the same source.

These things cause facts to spread, and the more they spread, the more people believe them to be true.

Show your work

One way to avoid this is simple: everything should be attributed where possible. And that’s not just good advice in reporting on breaking news, it’s good advice in general. It may not look cool, but I’m more likely to trust a report that explains how it knows what it knows.

In math class, we’re asked to show our work, to prevent us from using calculators to find the answers to problems or simply asserting the conclusion without understanding how it got there. We should ask the same of journalists.

Rather than criticize the media with the benefit of hindsight, let’s use Wednesday’s events as an example of what to do. When the name of the alleged gunman came out from a CBS News report, many Canadian media attributed it to them. If CBS got it wrong, then we’d know the Canadian media got it wrong too, and there wouldn’t be “conflicting reports”.

I personally think more caution should be exercised before naming someone in a case like this — the media got the shooter’s name wrong in Newtown, remember, and getting this kind of thing wrong, attribution or no attribution, could have serious consequences for the person named, his or her family and people who know them. But if it has to be done, attributing it is the way to go.

That way, we can better evaluate the credibility of information, and just as importantly, so can other media, so we can all separate what’s been “confirmed” from what’s just been repeated. And we can give the audience as clear a picture of the facts as possible, even if the facts are murky.

I think, in times of emergency especially, that’s the least we can do. And kudos to those journalists who did exactly that.

Posted in TV

Bell files CRTC complaint over GamePlus feature on Rogers NHL GameCentre Live

One of Rogers’s attempts to use its $5.2-billion NHL rights purchase to drive subscriptions to its telecom services has prompted competitor Bell to file a complaint with the CRTC.

The complaint is about GamePlus, a feature of the new Rogers NHL GameCentre Live online streaming app. While GameCentre Live is available to anyone for purchase (though free for Rogers customers until the end of the year), GamePlus is exclusive to Rogers Internet, TV, home phone and wireless subscribers. It offers additional camera angles like the ref cam (a camera mounted on a referee’s helmet), sky cam (a wide-view camera that goes up and down the length of the ice at the Air Canada Centre) and star cam (a camera always focused on an individual player).

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Posted in Media

Montreal Gazette redesigns paper, launches new website and iPad and smartphone apps

Monday and Tuesday editions of the Montreal Gazette

Monday and Tuesday editions of the Montreal Gazette

The project called The Gazette Reimagined went live at 12am on Tuesday, with a four-platform relaunch that includes a dramatic print redesign, a new website and new iPad and smartphone apps.

The new website went live at midnight, though it may take a bit of time for the DNS changes to propagate through the Internet. The new smartphone apps are in the Apple app store and Google Play store, and the new iPad app is also in the Apple app store. (The old smartphone and tablet apps will remain available, for those who want to read website stories on their smartphone but don’t want to use the mobile website.)

Editor Lucinda Chodan explains the general changes in a note to readers that appears on Page A2. There’s also a news (well, business) story about the changes and a podcast interview with Chodan an managing editor Michelle Richardson. But for the more attention-to-detail crowd, here’s some nitty gritty about what’s going on that I can finally tell you.

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Posted in My articles, TV

Videotron adding TSN1, TSN3 and TSN4 after customer complaints

Two months after TSN expanded from two to five channels, and after a bunch of complaints from subscribers missing programming that didn’t air on TSN2 or TSN5, Videotron is joining all the other major TV providers in the country and offering all five feeds.

I wrote this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette, after a regional Senators game in Florida meant that Videotron customers couldn’t get the Monday Night Football NFL game on TV.

That problem, which generated a flood of complaints to both Videotron and TSN, has apparently pushed the former to move up the launch date of TSN1, which will now be added on Monday, in time for the next MNF game (even though that game will also air on TSN5, the main TSN feed in Quebec).

TSN3 and TSN4, whose main feature will be blacked-out Jets and Leafs games, and occasionally a different Premier League soccer match or college football on weekends, will be added on Oct. 29.

Some information for Videotron customers:

  • All five channels are free with TSN. And selecting TSN1-5 will count for only one channel in custom packages. So you won’t be paying any extra for these other channels.
  • All five channels will be in high definition. And they will be available in all regions.
  • The TSN channels will be moving to keep them together. Starting Oct. 29, they will be at 186-190 in SD and 786-790 in HD.
  • Analog subscribers will continue getting just TSN5, which includes regional Ottawa Senators games.
  • About the same time, TSN and RDS will be pulled from Videotron’s Illico TV mobile service. Videotron blames blackouts for making these channels less desirable. Though it is looking at alternatives.

For details, read the Gazette story or this previous post on TSN’s expansion.