Tag Archives: Fagstein

Fagstein turns 7: Ask me anything

It was seven years ago today that I posted my first blog post, having no idea what would become of it. Since then, it has grown from a series of short, uninformed, simplistic sarcastic rants about a bunch of random stuff into a series of longer, somewhat informed simplistic sarcastic rants about a bunch of random stuff (but mainly about local media).

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of those who read this blog on a regular basis, or follow me on Twitter (just passed the 8,000 mark recently, and I assume at least a small portion of that is real people).

But I particularly want to thank those anonymous cowards heroes who have sent me tips over the years, about personalities being fired, scandals brewing or any other developments that don’t get summarized in press releases. A lot of the scoops that have appeared here came as the result of unsolicited tips, people emailing me out of the blue saying “did you hear about this” or “you probably already know this but” followed by my attempts (sometimes frustratingly long) to confirm the news.

To celebrate, I’ll open up this blog post to questions from the audience as I work on other more important stories spend the day watching the Olympics. I’ll sometimes get random questions thrown at me in off-topic posts that I have to delete because they have no value to the next person who reads that post. So here’s your chance to throw out questions that you’ve had at the back of your head, about me, about the blog, about local media, about public transit, or anything else you might want my opinion on. I don’t want to set limits on what can be asked, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer everything. Despite what some people think of me, there’s a lot of stuff I just don’t know. (History, in particular, is one of my weak points.)

So, I’m Steve Faguy. I run the Fagstein blog. Ask me anything.

Things look different ’round here

If you’re one of those super-sleuth detective persons, you might have noticed a slight change to the look of this blog.

Well, your eyes are not deceiving you. For mainly technical reasons (i.e. all the ways it was broken), I need to abandon the previous theme that was used on this website. I’ve replaced it with the WordPress stock theme Twenty Twelve, which I’ll be customizing to fit my personal preferences and the way things work around here. Until then, things might be a bit awkward, but everything should at least work.

If you see something that doesn’t, or want to suggest a change, or just want to tell me to go to hell, leave a comment or send me an email.

“Best” of Montreal? But seriously, thank you

Mirror readers offer their support

It’s a ridiculous popularity contest, and often it’s not even that, but more of an election, a contest of who can push more friends to fill out ballots for something whose prize is a bit of free marketing but more pride than anything else.

And yet, I’d be lying if I said I was untouched by seeing the name of my blog and Twitter feed listed among the Mirror’s Best of Montreal list yet again. Whatever my feelings about the survey, it’s clearly an indication that there are those of you out there who, when asked what their favourite local blog is, think of this one.

So let me take this opportunity to say thank you, for being fans, for subscribing, for reading some far-too-long posts, for adding insight in the comments, for following me on Twitter despite all the silly stuff I post there, and for justifying my existence and giving me the kind of audience that forces the people and organizations I cover to take me seriously.

Congratulations to my fellow honourees, whose readers also somehow thought of them when it came time to vote:

And, of course, a thought for those who didn’t quite make it, despite trying really hard, and for those who are inexplicably absent from this list, including some of my fellow journalists who were probably left out for not being alternative enough.

Seventh? That's ridiculous. I'm tweeting my outrage

Elsewhere in media categories…

The results of the survey always have to be taken with a grain of salt, despite all the efforts Mirror staff take to weed out duplicate votes and ballot stuffers. Nevertheless, some things of note in media categories beyond the brief analysis the paper itself provides:

  • Radio station: Kahnawake’s K103 (CKRK) isn’t featured in the Best Radio Station category, despite efforts and expense to increase its profile. (Ted Bird earns only an honourable mention in the radio host category). Similarly, CKBE is relegated to “honourable mention” after rebranding from The Q to 92.5 The Beat.
  • Radio show: CHOM’s Bilal Butt managed to leverage social media to push him and his show to top spots in the radio show and radio host categories. Aaron Rand, who was fourth with his Q morning show last year, disappears from the best radio show list with his move to CJAD, though he’s still on the best radio host list and the Beat morning show isn’t on the list at all either. Virgin’s morning show drops from first to 8th with the replacement of Lisa Player by Natasha Gargiulo. Daybreak is way up the list even though not much has changed there in the past year.
  • Radio host: Terry DiMonte unsurprisingly makes up for four years out of the city and quickly rockets up the radio host category, #2 behind Butt. Mike Finnerty is back in the radio host game, and it seems Lisa Player’s votes have shifted to Freeway Frank
  • Local newscaster: No surprises here. Every anglo anchor is on this list except Amanda Margison (CBC) and Richard Dagenais (Global).
  • Best newspaper: Mirror first, Gazette second, then French papers, free papers and student papers, as usual. Absent from the list this year is Hour, something Mirror didn’t note. (For that matter, nothing in the paper at all denotes the disappearance of its main competition.)
  • Elsewhere: Randy Tieman and Mitch Melnick make appearances on the best sports personality list, Mutsumi Takahashi and Orla Johannes are once again factors for most desirable woman, Richard Martineau’s anti-student rants have gotten him on the list for Montrealer closest to hell, and the tackiest personality list is headed by Mose Persico and features Ben Mulroney, Frank Cavallaro and Terry DiMonte.

Five years of Fagstein

So meta.

It was just after midnight, five years ago today, that during a period of extended unemployment I published my first post on a website I had just set up to share random thoughts with the world.

Looking back at some old posts, I realize how little idea I had of what it would turn into down the road. Many of the posts are short, sarcastic comments about news stories, about all sorts of topics I knew little about. There’s no effort to really think too hard about what I’m writing, and the idea of actually calling up someone for comment would have seemed ridiculous at the time. Often I’ll go back to stuff written around that time and cringe a little bit, either because I was far too fast on the trigger or because my opinions were sorely lacking in nuance.

There are more subtle changes that have happened since then. The headlines at first made no attempt at search-engine optimization, and didn’t use tags. (This isn’t just a question of getting Google traffic, but making it easier to find old posts about a topic as well, which I do often to add context.) There were also far few pictures used back then. (It’s a lot easier now, in part because of the thousands of photos in my database I can use as file art.)

As the months and years went on, I started to focus on things that really interested me, that I could write more than a paragraph or two about. That turned out to mainly be media, but to a lesser extent Montreal urban life, public transit and other issues as well.

As a result, I’ve been branded some sort of expert on local media. I’ve slowly started developing contacts, actually going out and reporting on things, and even breaking stories (and learning hard lessons about how to separate rumour from fact). Whereas five years ago I would have easily passed incognito in an open house at a local TV or radio station, I’m now on a first-name basis with many of the players in local English media and am the go-to person for TV and radio coverage in The Gazette that Bill Brownstein and Brendan Kelly aren’t interested in writing.

Probably the biggest change to this blog came about when I started posting on Twitter. Those short one-sentence posts got replaced by tweets. The result was that the average post got longer, and the frequency of blog posts dropped from about three a day to about three a week. (Going back to work for The Gazette also cut down on the amount of time I could spend on blogging.)

And, of course, there are a lot more comments on posts now, and despite the trolls, the xenophobes, the stubborn radicals who are closed off to reason, the personal attacks, the off-topic comments and the hundreds of spam comments I have to flush out every day, discussion in comments is among my favourite parts of this blog.

I really don’t have any big plans for the future. I’ve had a few people inquire about advertising, but I’ve stupidly turned them down so far, being more than happy with the money I’m making from my job at The Gazette. As it stands, I’m planning to just continue, using this forum as an outlet for things I feel need to be said out loud, and for news that’s of interest to people who have the same interests as me.

Thanks for reading, commenting, linking, supporting, contributing ideas and everything else you’ve done to make this the one-time second-most-popular local English-language blog in the city. I appreciate it.

You failed my subscription challenge

I'm very disappointed in all of you

So a week ago, I asked you to participate in a fundraising event in which I spared you from the guilt trip of asking you for money. Instead, I promised to give away my own money in proportion to how much you helped to inflate my ego by subscribing to my RSS feed or following my Twitter account.

Kind of like those emails that say Bill Gates will donate money if you forward them. Only this one was real.

I gave you a week, so that news of my good deed would spread far and wide and everyone would have a chance to let themselves be counted.

One week later, here are the results: The number of Twitter followers has gone from 3,816 to 3,854, an increase of 38. Subscribers to my RSS feed haven’t changed, and could possibly have even declined.

So my grand total to be given to charity, under the generous formula I set, would have been $38. Enough for a family of four to … have dinner at a McDonald’s.

Seriously? I can’t get you lazy bums to do something as effortless as hit “follow” or “subscribe” even if I’m paying for you to do it? At that rate, I’d wonder if you’d even remember to breathe if there wasn’t an unconscious brain function that forces your lungs to expand and contract. What do I have to do, deliver a pizza? Show you porn?

Look, I know, lots of people already follow me, and not everyone has more than 3,000 Twitter followers. Well, I’m not everyone. My extended family (which includes a lot of those aunts whose sole purpose in life is to initiate awkward converstaion) thinks I’m some sort of Internet superstar, and my attempts to dissuade them of that notion are interpreted as false modesty, which only makes it worse. Put simply: I have a reputation to build, and such a piss-poor participation rate in a yearly charity exercise is embarrassing. Like a reader poll that only gets two responses.

And if those great aunts stop believing in the legend of Fagstein, they’ll move on to even more uncomfortable questions, like wondering why I’m not married and don’t have kids yet.

So you know what? Screw it. Screw the whole formula. Screw the “subscription challenge” and counting Twitter followers like some narcissistic douche.

The Gazette Christmas Fund is getting a cool $1,000 from me this holiday season, which will be used to write eight cheques for $125 each to families in need. And I’m not going to put something like “on behalf of Fagstein readers” as the name that goes on that list of donors, because you had nothing to do with it. If you couldn’t care enough about these families to even get off your ass and setup a few hundred fake Twitter accounts to follow me with, then you don’t deserve to be associated with this donation in any way.

You want to make Christmas brighter for someone, you’re going to have to do it with your own money this time.

That is, except for the 38 new Twitter subscribers. To you, I thank you from the bottom of my ever-expanding credit card balance.

To the rest of you, you can all go to hell.

Merry Christmas.

Fagstein’s Fourth Annual Subscription Challenge

I'm giving away some of these (the money, not the condoms)

To celebrate yet another year of employment, I’m giving away some of my money again.

And as in previous years, your participation does not involve you spending any money, just helping to inflate my ego a little bit.

In the past I’ve given to Dans la Rue, the Welcome Hall Mission and the Old Brewery Mission. Now all of them are annoying me regularly with letters in the mail, which I find annoying not because they’re charities asking for money but because they’re wasting so much on printing and postage. It just seems weird that there’s someone who has gone through the calculation and determined that this money needs to be spent to get people to donate.

This year, I was told by my boss that I’ve reached the five-year rate of pay at work. Under the current collective agreement, that’s the maximum rate, even though I’m still a part-time temporary employee whose future there isn’t at all set in stone.

While I could use some more job security  … and my own weekly column too, while you’re at it, imagination … my bank account can attest to how much I’ve benefitted from these people paying me to do something I enjoy so much, so I’m giving back by sending my big donation to the Gazette Christmas Fund. Or The Gazette Christmas Fund. I’m still debating whether the “T” should be capitalized.

Anyway, here’s how it works: I’m going to give $1 of my own money for every new (legitimate) follower to my Twitter feed between now and one week from today (Dec. 21), and $2 for every new subscriber to my RSS feed. The former is currently 3,816 and the latter is 1,196 (though I don’t know how reliable that Feedburner count is). And to save myself going bankrupt in case this goes super-viral, there’s a combined limit of $2,000, which I can totally waive if I feel like it, because I set the rules, man.

So go forth and sing my praises, and together we can give away a bunch of my money and make me cool at the same time.

And if you insist on donating your own money, go ahead. I’m not going to stop you.

Want to watch me talk in front of a brick wall for half an hour?

Last month, I gave a talk to some student journalists from Ontario and Quebec who gathered in St. Henri as part of a regional conference of Canadian University Press.

I occasionally get asked to talk to students, and like most professional journalists I’m happy to do so, because it gives me a chance to help others and because it totally inflates my ego to see so many people look up to me.

As it happens someone was there with a camera and recorded the whole thing.

About half of the talk (which is in English but has questions answered in English and French) has been posted to YouTube in three parts (keep in mind I was low on sleep and didn’t have enough time to prepare a script or even a list of talking points, so you’ll hear a lot of “uhh”s and awkward pauses – the question period is better):

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Welcome to my new home

If you’re reading this post, it means you have successfully reached this blog on its new server.

After three years with U.S.-based SiteGround, and not particularly impressed with their customer service after an unfortunate emergency a little while back, I decided to wait until my two-year agreement had expired and move the site to Montreal-based iWeb. It’s not an endorsement (ask me in a couple of years and we’ll see), but the fact that they’re closer to home and don’t charge extra for things that should be free make me more comfortable.

Anyway, the transition should be entirely transparent (in fact, considering my experience with software projects in general and dealing with servers in particular, I’m a bit surprised how easily and seamlessly it all worked). The entire database has been moved over, so all 3,157 posts, 17,678 comments and about 240MB of photos and audio clips are still here at their same URLs. Hopefully, nothing except this post should give any indication that anything has changed.

If there is something obscure that I missed, please let me know by commenting below.

And now that this project is over, I can get back to working on content again.

Wait a second, I’m giving money to a brewery?

Now I feel slightly less guilty about not giving my spare change to panhandlers

I asked you to show your support, and once again the response was “whatever”, but I have enough of an existing audience that the Old Brewery Mission will still be slightly richer for the Christmas season.

For the record, my Feedburner subscription count went up a whoppingly massive nine, while my Twitter follower count went up by a slightly more respectable 46. So $650 for existing feed subscribers + $9 for new feed subscribers + $23 for new Twitter followers + a bonus $214.7 for existing Twitter followers ($0.10 each) = $896.70 to help society’s forgotten.

So as the charity thanks me for my donation, I thank you for your continued support, and particularly thank the Gazette, my employer for 11 of the past 12 months, whose union wage scale (combined with my lack of dependents and serious medical issues) means I have the kind of money to stupidly give away like this.

Merry Christmas, folks.

p.s. If you totally want to show me up, or even just feel a bit less bad for the fact that I’m donating my money in your name, you can make your own donation. The Old Brewery Mission accepts money online through CanadaHelps.org.

The Third Annual Fagstein Subscription Challenge

I got so much money, I'm giving it awaaaaaaaay!

I made so much money this year, it made me go CRAZY!

I don’t know why, but I still have a job. And because I don’t have a life a dozen kids, pets and other regular expenses, I’ve decided once again to give away some of the cash I’ve been hoarding to a different financial black hole: a local charity. And the amount will depend on you.

If you’re new to this, you can see the posts from 2008 and 2009, but the idea is the more people who subscribe to this blog via feed readers (like Google Reader), the more money I give away. According to my spies at Feedburner, the current subscriber count is 1,250, which is pathetically similar to what it was a year ago. Like last year, I’ll start with $0.50 for each of those people as a base ($650), and add $1 for every new subscriber after one week, to a maximum of $1,000 (just in case this goes viral and I end up having to pay a quadrillion dollars or something).

As a bonus, I’m also donating $0.50 for each new Twitter follower (spammers and other non-human accounts not included, along with those who have astronomical following counts). At the moment of writing this, that number is 2,147. Again, this will be up to a maximum of $1,000 (so don’t bother following me if the count hits 3,147, I guess) – yeah, I know everyone’s doing it, and for more money, but I don’t have Véro cash.

The recipient of my stupid crazy giveaway this year will be the Old Brewery Mission, who will no doubt then add me to a mailing list like Dans la Rue and the Welcome Hall Mission, where I will be reminded regularly through the mail of how my contributions are helping people.

As if I care about helping people. I’m in this to get famous, and giving money to readers directly doesn’t give me a tax receipt.

This not-contest ends exactly one week from now, at noon (ish) on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

P.S. Speaking of giveaways, I have a small collection of swag – some media-related, others of local interest – that people have handed me over the past little while that I can’t really use because it offends my ethical sensibilities. I haven’t figured out the most fun way of distributing this stuff to those who might enjoy it, so I welcome your suggestions below. A charity auction? A party? A contest? Use it to bribe people into becoming friends with me? Just throw it in the garbage? Hand it to Jean Naimard where his burning rage will cause it to immediately combust?

The lure of the Digital Life

I was recently invited to appear as the guest on an episode of The Digital Life, a half-hour show on Radio Centre-Ville (CINQ 102.3 FM). Pre-recorded last Wednesday, it aired on Saturday afternoon and is available as a podcast on their website. I was asked about the origin of the name “Fagstein”, what I think of journalists who look down on bloggers, and a few other things.

Digital Life host Reisa Levine and producer Mark Korman

The half-hour went by pretty fast, even though there were no commercials or breaks for news, traffic and weather.

It was my first time at Centre-Ville’s studio (which, despite its name, is actually at St. Laurent and Fairmount – closer to a geographic centre of the city than downtown). I’d say it’s tiny compared to other radio studios, but I can’t really think of any big radio studios these days.

Small studio at Radio Centre-Ville

The show was recorded in the smaller of two studios – another down the hall used for live broadcasts has a much larger table and more microphones. But the quality was fine.

Reisa Levine and Mark Korman have been doing the show for about a year now, since the former hosts stepped aside (as tends to be the case for volunteer work). Levine works at CitizenShift (formerly of the NFB) and is a veteran media producer. Korman is the author of the Montreal Radio Blog, which is worth reading for locals interested in radio.

Recent topics covered include PodCamp and the Citizen Media Rendez-Vous. If you know what those are, this show is probably worth listening to.

I asked them why they do it. Why, when just about everyone is a social media expert and has their own podcast, they would have their own show on the subject and devote so much time at a community radio station that barely anyone can hear.

Levine’s answer was simple: It’s a labour of love. It’s the same reason I write this blog. You do it for yourself.

Makes perfect sense to me.

The Digital Life show airs on Radio Centre-Ville (102.3 FM) every Saturday from 2:30 pm to 3 pm. It also streams live from Radio Centre-Ville’s website and is available as a download from the Digital Life blog.

Front-seat driver

A woman sits on the bus driver's armrest greeting passengers

Maybe I’m being a bit of a prude, and insufficiently open-minded. And I know it can get boring when you’re driving a bus late at night.

But it just seems somewhat … inappropriate to have someone sitting with you in the driver’s seat as you’re driving the bus. Not only does it look rather unprofessional when people start to board the bus, but I’m pretty sure the people who tested the bus for safety don’t recommend people sit there.

There’s a seat right by the front door, and at this particular moment it’s unoccupied. Maybe you can sit there instead. Don’t worry, your conversation shouldn’t suffer.

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The new boss, same as the old boss

So, funny story:

A little under two weeks ago, my record of employment came in the mail, along with the pay stubs for my last two paycheques at the Gazette. It was about then that it hit me that I didn’t work there anymore. Now I was unemployed, and I needed to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

As I figured out what that would mean, a week ago Sunday I went on the government of Canada’s website and filed for unemployment insurance benefits. At least it would seem like I was still getting a salary while I looked for a new job.

That’s when Murphy’s Law (or a corollary thereof) took effect. Shortly after I woke up on Monday afternoon, I got emails, Facebook messages and telephone calls from my former colleagues, telling me about a job opening at The Gazette for a part-time copy editor on contract.

The paper is in the process of switching to a new content management system for both print an online, which will notably include a change of page layout software from QuarkXPress (version 3.32, released in 1996) to Adobe InDesign. This will mean a lot of training for existing copy editors, so they decided to hire a few more to help put out the paper. My name, apparently, was one of the first to come up.

Yeah, she’s dumped me a few times, but I keep going back. Funny what love does to you.

The interview was pretty short. It’s not like I needed to provide references. “Can you start Monday?” I was asked over the phone. And just like that, I had my old job back.

There was a bit of paperwork to deal with (actually none of it on paper, it was all getting electronic accounts setup and a security pass reactivated), but at 4pm Monday, exactly one month after leaving for what I thought could easily have been forever, I entered the office and went to work as if I’d never left, stopping occasionally to hear a “welcome back” and a joke from a colleague.

I felt a bit weird. I mean, there was some drama exactly four weeks ago. I sent a going-away email, had a going-away party. Everyone knew I’d be back, even though they didn’t know how or when. It seems they were right.

Instead of venturing into the unknown and beginning on a new path, my unemployment turned into little more than an unpaid month-long vacation, ending the day after the closing ceremonies of the Olympics.

This will be my fifth contract at The Gazette, my fourth as a copy editor. And the length is unknown, even to my bosses. It could be measured in weeks or months. It could last forever, or I could be back on EI benefits before you know it. I’ve gotten accustomed over the past five years to not knowing what’s in store for the future beyond the two or three-week notice that’s given on the posted schedule. Living a contract life is a sacrifice I’ve made in exchange for being able to work at my favourite job in my favourite city, and without a wife and kids to support it’s hardly a burden to be occasionally unemployed or underemployed for short periods.

So like I have for the past few years, I’ll enjoy it while I can. Particularly the awful, awful puns.

I’m a hypocrite again. All hail The Gazette.