Tag Archives: La Presse

Posted in Media

La Presse+ turns 1: Has the gamble worked?

La Presse spent $40 million to develop its iPad app.

La Presse spent $40 million to develop its iPad app.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of La Presse’s $40-million gamble that its future lies in an iPad app.

La Presse marks the occasion with a press release (reproduced below) in which it lauds the fact that it’s now installed in more than 450,000 tablets, making it the most popular Newsstand app in Canada. It also reminds people that it’s about to launch its first Android app, which will be available on some Samsung Galaxy and Nexus tablets starting next week.

The company does a lot of self-congratulating, throwing out some statistics to suggest how successful it has been with this giant gamble. It points out how much time people spend with the app (44 minutes on weekdays, 50 minutes on Sundays and 73 minutes on Saturdays) as well as favourable demographics (58% are in the 25-54 demo, compared to 50% for a paper like the Globe and Mail), and even a stat suggesting people like the adds on the app.

The most interesting statistic is that “nearly 30% of La Presse’s overall ad revenue” comes from the iPad app. Even if we assume that print ad revenue is falling sharply, that’s still an impressive stat.

Because La Presse+ is free, its business model is entirely based on advertising. As I explained six months ago in my analysis, La Presse has priced its iPad ads along the lines of print ads, figuring that it can create an environment where the ads are noticed like print ads are, instead of ignored like most online ads.

We don’t have access to much financial information from La Presse, because the company is privately held by Gesca, which is in turn owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, which is in turn owned by Power Corporation. But even if some bad-news figures are being held close to the vest, that 30% ad revenue figure is pretty impressive.

We can also compare the 450,000 figure to La Presse’s goals. The company had hoped to reach 200,000 readers by September, but got that in May. It hoped to get 400,000 by December, and announced in January that it had surpassed that mark in installations.

When I met with La Presse last year, the estimate was an average of 1.5 readers per tablet, since many families share them. That estimate was later confirmed by a CROP survey. But when you consider the number of people actually reading at least one issue a week (versus those who download the app and rarely use it), the ratio is closer to 1:1. Late last summer, it gave a figure of 250,000 tablets installed and 196,000 people consulting at least one issue a week. At the end of November, it was 340,000 tablets and 250,000 weekly readers. That gap will probably increase as time goes on.

At 250,000 people a week reading at least one edition of La Presse+, the tablet has a bit less than a third of the reach of the print newspaper, or about half that of the printed Gazette.

From her on out, the road gets more difficult. There will be a surge once the Android app version comes out, but then with all the geeks and early adopters already on board, and a big chunk of the general population, it will be up to convincing the hundreds of thousands still sticking with print to shift over to the iPad. And then, eventually, the big decision of what happens to the print paper.

I was handed a free copy of La Presse — on a Saturday morning — at a metro station last week. So clearly they’re not planning on shutting it down any time soon.

La Presse+ is still not perfect. It’s improved its live-news system, even while the iPad edition itself remains a once-a-day thing. It’s also added crosswords and other missing pieces since it launched.

For online readers without tablets, it remains a bit annoying. Its pages can be shared online, but videos aren’t, and dossiers with multiple articles aren’t linked to each other, making it pointless to share many major stories from the app.

Unfortunately much of this is apparently by design. The environment of the iPad app is the reason they can charge so much to advertisers. Put those same stories on a website, and you’re back to the ignorable banner ads that get pennies on the dollar. If this is the future of newspapers, it’s going to be kind of an awkward one for people who read news on anything but a tablet.

So far I haven’t heard of any major media organizations making big changes as a result of La Presse+. But if it continues gaining readers and ad revenue, that may change in the near future.

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Posted in Media

Can La Presse save the newspaper industry by doing everything wrong?

La Presse+ ipads

La Presse has made a $40-million bet on a new tablet platform that it hopes will replace its newspaper.

The newspaper industry is dying. The data is conclusive. As baby boomers die off, so will the business model of the daily newspaper, and there’s no way to stop it.

As someone who works for a daily newspaper, it’s tough to hear this. People in this industry want to pretend that there’s some magic solution waiting, but everyone has that fear that maybe the death spiral will continue until the business model collapses in on itself and there’s nothing left but some novelty papers kept for the sake of posterity.

But what really got me wasn’t what I was hearing, but who I was hearing it from: Guy Crevier, the publisher of La Presse, one of Canada’s largest and most prestigious newspapers.

And he wasn’t just repeating some attention-grabbing phrases he heard at the latest industry conference. Crevier’s conclusions are based on numbers and analysis that his company has spent millions to produce.

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Posted in Media, Opinion

La Presse+: It doesn’t make sense

La Presse+

La Presse+, the iPad app that’s supposed to revolutionize the newspaper industry, launched this morning after a glitzy party last night.

You can read news stories about the new app from Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail and J-Source, or just go to the website and read the press release (also in English), or see the note to readers from André Desmarais or the introduction from publisher Guy Crevier.

I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t really review it (see links to early reviews below). Based on what I’ve seen and heard from others, it seems to be very well designed with plenty of cool features. It might be the best newspaper iPad app ever created. (A version for Android tablets is expected by December.)

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s true. Then what?

La Presse is giving this app away for free, arguing that there’s an “irreversible” expectation that content online should be free. This despite the fact that most other large newspapers in Canada have either adopted a paywall or are in the process. And despite the fact that many apps on the iPad actually do manage to get money out of their users.

The paper doesn’t stop there. Seeing this as a transition, from the printed medium to an electronic one, it is essentially encouraging its readers to cancel their print subscriptions and move to this new platform. If enough people do so, they could shut down the print newspaper completely.

In a world where print advertising and print subscription fees remain the largest sources of revenue for newspapers, where the increase in online ad revenue is met by a decrease in print ad revenue that’s an order of magnitude higher, all of this seems absolutely insane.

It’s not that I don’t think newspapers should be investing during this transitional time. Nor is it that I don’t want La Presse to succeed (though professional jealousy might be a small part of it). I just don’t see how the numbers work. They spent $40 million and almost three years producing this app. They’ve hired 100 extra people, who will work alongside the 200 journalists already on the print side. And they expect that all of this extra spending, plus the loss of subscription fees from people who abandon the print edition, will be made up for by iPad advertising alone.

The numbers just don’t make sense to me. Nor, according to the articles above, do they make much sense to analysts and competitors.

We’ve had a situation like this before. The Daily, an iPad newspaper launched by News Corporation, failed after two years because it didn’t get a large enough audience. To his credit, La Presse’s Guy Crevier has an answer to that, telling the Globe that The Daily didn’t have big scoops and its content wasn’t worth paying for.

But The Daily also had a much larger potential audience, while La Presse is limited to the French-speaking Quebec market.

That’s not to say that making this work would be impossible. It just sounds very difficult.

And the thing is, we won’t know whether it is successful, unless they tell us. La Presse is owned by Gesca, which is owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, which is owned by Power Corporation. Power, the only one of these that reports its finances publicly, doesn’t break that information down much, and so we know very little about La Presse’s balance sheet. Many critics of Power Corporation suspect that La Presse in particular is a big money-loser that is kept afloat as a vanity project of the Desmarais family. I don’t know if that’s true (nor am I necessarily against very rich people owning money-losing newspapers for reasons of ego, provided they’re at arm’s length), but the fact is we don’t know whether La Presse pays for itself, and we won’t know if this app will help or hurt its finances in the short, medium or long term unless something changes.

One thing we do know, and that everyone can agree on, is that La Presse is taking a big bet on this project. If it succeeds, it could very well revolutionize the newspaper industry. And if it fails…

Reviews

  • Patrick Pierra, the former publisher of Branchez-Vous, reviews the app for the Tab Times, calling it “gorgeous”. But he also lays out the first criticisms: It’s landscape-only, the download is 100MB (at least for the first day), and the navigation options could be confusing
  • Michelle Blanc, the local social media/marketing expert, says she was skeptical, but quickly became convinced after trying it that the app with revolutionize the industry
  • Maxime Johnson, tech columnist, provides a detailed analysis and offers a more optimistic, though still realistic, take on its future
  • Radio-Canada talks to experts, including one specializing in digital advertising who points out that the La Presse+ rate card is a lot more expensive than other digital ads, that it charges extra to add interactivity (which means some ads won’t be interactive at all), and that it uses non-standard formats, which means advertisers will have to design ads specifically for this platform instead of designing a few standard web ad formats and using them on multiple sites.
  • Adviso does usability testing on the app by bringing an iPad to a café and asking random people to try it. The results are interesting. For one thing, many people don’t know how to read the articles. They tap and double-tap, unaware that they’re supposed to expand the text with two fingers. It’s a minor issue that people will get over, but the next version should also go to the text of an article on a double tap.
  • The Talking New Media blog calls it the best newspaper app it’s seen, and credit it particularly for the fact that it’s not just replicating the website or the paper in tablet form.
  • Garcia Media on how the app isn’t “newsy” enough
  • Open source advocate Fabian Rodriguez complains that La Presse didn’t just create an API and let people develop their own apps (which, of course, would mean people could circumvent the ads)
  • La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé explains how this new platform will change the way journalists think about storytelling
Posted in Media, Opinion

Quebecor’s media wars: It takes two to tango

It seems a week can’t go by without Quebecor or one of its journalistic outlets picking a fight with a competitor. Whether it’s an unwritten company rule to bias its news coverage in this fashion or simply an astonishing coincidence, I can’t say for certain. But either way the result is the same: lots of mudslinging in the direction of Quebecor’s enemies.

And, unfortunately, the response to a lot of this mudslinging is mudslinging in the other direction. Rather than see dispassionate analysis of important issues presented with balance, we’re bombarded with fact-massaging attacks from both sides and left to our own devices to try to pick out truth from truthiness.

Here’s a few examples of the battles it’s been waging recently:

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Posted in Media

The death of Cyberpresse

BEFORE: Cyberpresse.ca

AFTER: LaPresse.ca

When I heard last night about how Cyberpresse.ca was being transformed into LaPresse.ca today, I started planning a post in my head, about how the last great example of the “portal” concept from a decade ago had finally fallen, following in the footsteps of Canada.com and Canoe.ca, who for years forced its papers and other brands to be mere sections of the portal instead of having their own websites with their own domain names.

But … that doesn’t seem to be what has happened here. At least not yet. Instead, they’ve changed the name and the branding (one that has existed for more than 10 years), but not the concept, and for now anyway all the Gesca newspapers still share the same online brand.

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Posted in Media

Media hold out their hands (please don’t bite them)

As the holiday season approaches, La Presse is doing their annual thing and putting its vedettes up for rent in an auction.

The lots are familiar to those who have witnessed this stunt the past few years: Yves Boisvert, Serge Chapleau, Marie-Claude Lortie and others propose some activity related to their specialty. Patrick Lagacé also offers to let you shadow him for a day, but he’ll let just about anyone spend time with him for free.

And Paul Journet, despite coming in dead last in 2009, is willing to put his pride on the line again, proposing a trip to the golf course.

I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to revive my Anyone But Foglia campaign this year since the star columnist doesn’t feature among the 11 lots. This is most unfortunate, because we cannot defeat him if he doesn’t participate. It’s like going to the Stanley Cup final and the other team forfeits. That’s not fun at all.

So who can we use our money to defeat this time? Alain de Repentigny came in second last year, and this year is offering the upcoming U2 concert, which is pretty enticing.

Or maybe we can just use our money for good instead of evil. Put it all on Paul Journet. Make his Christmas a happy one for once.

UPDATE: It’s over, with $34,161 raised. The results:

  • Émilie Côté: $1,000
  • Éric Clément: $1,100
  • Paul Journet: $1,250
  • Alain De Repentigny: $1,600
  • Nos 3 directeurs: $1,700
  • Patrick Lagacé: $1,850
  • Bernard Brault: $2,200
  • Serge Chapleau: $2,500
  • Marie-Claude Lortie: $3,000
  • Sophie Cousineau: $3,901
  • Yves Boisvert: $4,025
  • Canadien: $5,200

It’s Michel C. Auger-tastic!

Radio-Canada is also doing a similar event, auctioning off cool people and/or cool things, including some time with Joyce Napier and Michel C. Auger, or an autographed Canadiens jersey. Or you can go winter biking with Emmanuel Bilodeau.

The choice is yours. But this is the one time during the year that you can help some needy people and give journalists a rare indication that people actually care about them.

We’ll take your spare change too

If the auctions are a bit too expensive for you, the Grande Guignolée des médias is coming on Dec. 2. And, of course, there’s always the Gazette Christmas Fund, which is bombarding you with stories of the people it’s helping until you either open your wallets or acknowledge that your heart is dead and that little bit of soul left in you has long ago bitten the dust.

Posted in Media, Opinion, Technology

La Presse’s social media policy: Is it realistic?

La Presse has set new rules on how reporters can use Facebook and other social media

Patrick Lagacé has published on his blog a new policy on the use of social media by journalists at La Presse and Cyberpresse.

Having such a policy is a really good idea and I wish more media organizations would develop their own (or adapt those used by other organizations) and have frank, constructive conversations with their staff about using social media as part of their jobs.

But while Lagacé describes his employer’s policy as “le gros bon sens”, I wonder how seriously it can be taken and how rigidly it can be enforced in real-life situations.

Let’s explore it point by point:

  • Don’t republish (or “retweet”) unverified information. As Lagacé says, this is the “Pat Burns” clause, and it just makes sense. Some social media experts argue that journalists should republish unverified rumours and explain that they’re unverified, but I think even retweeting incorrect information can be damaging to your reputation. That said, how far should we take this rule? If a competitor has a major scoop, should it not be mentioned or even linked to on social media until the journalist has independently confirmed it? What about reports from so-called citizen journalists? Or celebrity gossip?
  • Journalists (except columnists and editorialists) should avoid publishing their political or religious opinions or taking sides in societal debates. I’m guessing this refers more to taking sides on, say, the euthanasia debate than the latest episode of Mad Men. I like the idea behind this, but I think journalists suppressing their opinions gives a false impression to news consumers that they have none. I’d rather have a journalist who expresses their point of view and keeps an open mind than one who keeps it bottled up and lets biases show up in print.
  • Journalists (except columnists and critics) should avoid giving their opinion on an event they’re covering. This one is more straight-forward. If you’re at a press conference given by Pierre-Karl Péladeau, don’t tweet “QUEBECOR SUCKS”. But would this mean, for example, that Fabrice de Pierrebourg couldn’t comment about politics?
  • Unless an agreement has been reached beforehand, journalists should report breaking news to Cyberpresse before publishing it through social media. This one bothers me a bit. Beat writers constantly have little bits of news that they publish on Twitter. Waiting for Cyberpresse editors to create a story and publish it online can waste valuable minutes and give competitors a speed advantage (looking at Cyberpresse’s Twitter feed, I don’t see a single breaking news tweet over the past two weeks that doesn’t link to an already-published story). Besides, why encourage people to follow journalists if you don’t want them to publish important news? I can understand wanting to make sure breaking news is on Cyberpresse’s website as soon as possible, but I think both should try to publish information as fast as possible, without one waiting for the other.
  • Journalists should indicate in social media profiles their employment for La Presse. Agreed. It’s something a bunch of people forget to do, but it’s important for the sake of disclosure. (Of course, context is everything – I’d expect this information on a beat writer’s Twitter account, but is it necessary for an online dating site?)
  • Profile pictures should be “professional” and not carry any campaign material (like those “twibbons”). I’m not entirely sure what “professional” means (no party pictures on Facebook, or just no pictures of drunken debauchery?), but it makes sense, provided the profile on the social media site is being used in a professional context. As for the “twibbons” (those little flags in the corner of profile pictures that show support for a cause, whether it’s supporting Haiti or bringing the Nordiques to Quebec), I’ve seen quite a few on journalist profile pictures and I wonder if a blanket ban is realistic here.
  • Journalists should inform their employer in writing if they have a personal blog outside of Cyberpresse. Having it in writing seems a bit much, but ok. But does this include, say, a LiveJournal account that’s restricted to friends? Does it include anonymous blogs? (Can you be disciplined if they find out you run an anonymous blog and didn’t tell them about it?)
  • Journalists should avoid publishing photos, videos or commentaries about meetings or other private events at the office. This sort of goes to one of the rules that many people overlook but is one of the most important: Don’t publish information meant for internal use only. Sometimes it can be something that seems innocent but turns out to be damaging, like inadvertently disclosing a colleague’s secret source or tweeting about office gossip. It may seem odd that media organizations would want to be anything but fully transparent (and I certainly believe in having as much transparency as possible), but there are things that are kept from the public for good reason.

I think my biggest issue with these new rules is that their goal is to dehumanize journalists, to present them as if they’re infallible beacons of objectivity and have no views of their own, even on society’s most polarizing issues. It encourages journalists to go underground with their personal feelings, either through locked-down personal social media profiles or by using pseudonyms to express themselves. It goes in the opposite direction of recent moves by La Presse and Cyberpresse to put their journalists in the spotlight, putting their photos with their stories on Cyberpresse and encouraging them to start blogs.

Of course, few of these rules apply to columnists, of which there are an increasing number. So Patrick Lagacé can be as irreverent as he wants on Les Francs-Tireurs, and Hugo Dumas can still say what he wants about Tout le monde en parle. Becoming a columnist now becomes a way of gaining freedom of personal expression, even if a columnist’s role is mainly journalistic in nature.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that my blog probably goes against the letter of about half of these rules. I wonder how much of what I do here would be considered inappropriate by the authors of this policy.

A good first step

Despite my concerns, I think this is a step in the right direction. News organizations need to have discussions with journalists about social media, and this policy was the result of such discussions. It might need a few tweaks to consider various contexts, but the fundamentals are sound. Journalists shouldn’t be advocating on one side or another of the debates they cover, and social media doesn’t change that. Nor does it provide a way to escape being as a journalist, because people will judge you as much for what you write as your Facebook status update as what you write in the lead of your next news story.

Even those journalists without formal policies should look at the above and consider following these rules (or at least understanding why they exist and thinking hard before breaking them, like I do regularly).

Because when it comes to journalists using social media, the most important rule to follow is to use common sense.

UPDATE: NPR has sent out a memo to employees warning them about attending rallies organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The memo has some common-sense rules about journalists engaging in political activity.

UPDATE (Oct. 20): The Washington Post is the latest to weigh in with warnings, saying that reader engagement is important in social media, but that journalists shouldn’t actually, you know, engage with readers.

UPDATE (Nov. 14): A piece in Trente calls for honesty if not absolute objectivity.

UPDATE (April 5): Mathew Ingram, formerly of the Globe and Mail, criticizes a similar social media policy at the Toronto Star that suggests reporters shouldn’t discuss articles in progress or engage with readers in online forums.

Posted in Media, Montreal, Opinion

Fab Fabrice does the unfathomable

Fabrice de Pierrebourg

La Presse scored a major coup last week, hiring investigative reporter Fabrice de Pierrebourg, who has been breaking stories for Rue Frontenac since he and 252 others were locked out from the Journal de Montréal in January 2009, a lockout that just marked its 18-month anniversary.

De Pierrebourg was the posterboy for the lockoutés’ argument that the true value of the Journal de Montréal came from hard-working investigative journalists, which their newspaper has replaced with wire stories, freelance opinionators and overhyped reporting from managers.

Henry Aubin named him one of the “watchdogs of democracy” in December for his scoops about city hall and the municipal election campaign. He was just as useful before he got locked out, perhaps best known for breaching security at Trudeau airport to prove a point.

De Pierrebourg was also one of nine employees fired by the Journal for storming the office while locked out – as part of a peaceful but illegal demonstration – in July 2009. While Patrick Lagacé says it’s unrelated (because negotiations began weeks ago), de Pierrebourg tells Rue Frontenac that was the final straw.

The news of de Pierrebourg’s hiring was met with mixed reviews. It’s a huge move for La Presse (though not unprecedented – the guy who made the announcement was himself hired from the Journal de Montréal back in 2006).

And speaking of La Presse, I guess those financial problems that nearly forced them to shut down less than a year ago, until the union made serious concessions, are a thing of the past. Not only did they take on a new high-profile hire, but they’ve made 17 temporary workers permanent. (One of those workers I spoke to had no idea why, though that person wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

Aside from being good news for La Presse, de Pierrebourg’s hiring is also good for him. He has a proper job again. The anxiety and stress is gone.

It’s bad news for the Journal de Montréal (at least at first glance), which has lost a solid investigative reporter.

But it’s also bad for Rue Frontenac. And if the comments attached to its story are any indication, his now ex-colleagues are supportive of his escape but still saddened at losing a high-profile member of their cause.

The beginning of the end?

Though I hate to use the term “trend”, I have to wonder about who else might follow in de Pierrebourg’s footsteps. Bertrand Raymond, the most high-profile columnist on the picket lines, announced in January that he would “retire” – and never again return to the Journal.

Raymond has, of course, hardly retired. He writes now for RDS, putting out a column about twice a week on average. Like de Pierrebourg, Raymond has simply found an employer that he can live with.

Both Raymond and de Pierrebourg gave similar reasons for leaving: they couldn’t fathom the idea of going back to work for the Journal de Montréal, for Quebecor and the managers who put them out on the street.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jean-François Codère, when I interviewed Rue Frontenac’s technology guy in January. I asked him how they would be able to work out their differences with their managers once the conflict ends, and he said he didn’t know. Codère has turned down other job offers to stay at Rue Frontenac, but can he and the rest keep this up forever?

The Journal de Montréal isn’t showing any signs of cracking. It’s still publishing seven days a week (soon it will be the only Montreal newspaper to do so), and so much of the work of producing it is outsourced that they’ve made it seem almost transparent to its readers. (The number of people who have moral objections to reading a newspaper produced during a lockout are far outweighed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about it.)

De Pierrebourg said he felt bad leaving his colleagues at Rue Frontenac. He should. Not because what he did was wrong, but because whether he wanted to or not his departure hurts the cause of those still locked out.

As this labour conflict drags out into the long term, more departures like this are inevitable. Some who are close to retirement age will just decide to give up. Some who aren’t might take better jobs elsewhere. And as the union’s strike fund starts running out, the rest might not have a choice.

And as the cream of the crop gets poached, what’s left will be those who can’t get jobs elsewhere. Those who work in classified sales or other non-editorial jobs, who have spent decades in a highly specialized function that doesn’t translate well into the job market.

By then, the argument that the Journal is a lesser paper without these people begins to fall apart.

Posted in Media, Montreal

Nathalie Collard: Look at my words, not at me

Like other La Presse scribes, Nathalie Collard appears larger-than-life in a window of the La Presse building

It wasn’t Nathalie Collard’s idea to become La Presse’s new media columnist.

Not that she was against the idea. But it was her boss that first suggested it. Collard had written about media issues for Voir and La Presse, but for the past five years was writing editorials as a member of the editorial board.

When she got that job, she told me during a recent interview, “I said I would stay for five years.” And she was coming up on that five-year anniversary, so she decided to run for her life before she becomes like André Pratte … err, that it was time for a change.

At the end of March, Collard started a new weekly column on media issues, as well as an accompanying blog. There was no introduction, no grand entrance, she just dove in and started writing.

Not inside baseball

“I’m not writing for journalists,” Collard said, explaining that her column and blog shouldn’t be seen as a newspaper version of Trente or Wired. “I’m addressing everyone. Journalists will read me, but so will my mother.”

So, for example, she wouldn’t write about the latest debate over freelance rates, but she might write a piece about copyright in general.

Collard sees her job as trying to explain the issues affecting media to a general audience that reads La Presse. Media is used in the broadest term here. She might write about the latest tech experiment at The Gazette, the local community radio station and whether Tou.TV will be accessible on the iPad, but also about travellers using Twitter or a vox-pop box installed on St. Laurent.

Though that general outline seems clear, the specifics are not. “I just started,” she said, “I haven’t yet found the tone I want to have. I’m really in a period of experimentation.”

I asked her if she thought there was too much or too little media self-reflection in Quebec. She admitted that there’s a lot of talk about journalists. “If we talked this much about doctors or professors,” she said. “Maybe there’s a bit of narcissism. But at the same time, it touches everyone. Everyone watches the TV, listens to the radio, reads the newspaper. They don’t always stop to think about it.”

So while a dozen journalists losing their jobs is given more weight than a dozen factory workers losing theirs, maybe it’s because people are more directly affected by the former.

Collard also says there isn’t that much talk about media in Quebec. There’s Trente, but most people are unaware of it. There’s the New York Times and U.S. media blogs, but not much in francophone Quebec that’s really exploring the topic and making people think.

She synthesized her thought into this little sound bite: “We talk too much about journalists but not enough about media.”

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Posted in Media, Montreal

La Presse will survive

Two pieces of good news for La Presse today: They’ve reached a deal in principle with their last union – representing distribution workers – and the editorial union has voted 93% in favour of a new contract. Later today, two smaller units, representing IT workers (11/11 in favour) and office workers (29/55, or 53% in favour) also approved their new contracts.

This effectively means that La Presse won’t be shut down on Dec. 1 as it had threatened to do.

The distribution workers will vote on their deal Monday, so we won’t know the details until then.

But we know what’s in the editorial contract (or at least most of it). I’m waiting for a copy of the full contract, but here’s what’s being reported (Radio-Canada, CP, Gazette, Trente, Rue Frontenac):

  • The work week changes from 32 hours over four days to 35 hours over five days, at the same salary. Those who want to keep the four-day work week can become part-time employees (28 hours a week).
  • Salaries remain frozen for 2010 and 2011, but will go up by 2% for each of the last two years. The maximum salary goes to $90,000 in 2012 and $95,000 in 2013. Those who work 40 hours a week have their salaries frozen until 2017.
  • Employees will now pay 100% of dental insurance premiums, and 60% of medial premiums
  • As of Jan. 3, pensions will no longer be adjusted to the cost of living
  • Less vacation: they get 5 weeks at 14 years of service instead of nine, 6 weeks at 22 years instead of 20, and the 7-week vacation plateau has been eliminated. But employees get six more mobile vacation days a year.
  • Employees of La Presse and Cyberpresse are merged under the same unit and will be treated equally.

As a result of the deal, La Presse foresees no layoffs of permanent editorial employees, but expects five to take voluntary departures.

Posted in Media, Montreal

La Presse: Two weeks and counting

UPDATE (Nov. 20): At 3:30am, an agreement in principle with three of the remaining unions, including the journalists. All that remains is distribution, but that’s the bargaining unit that La Presse wants to fire half of.

The deal still needs to be approved by the members, and we don’t know which side caved on the various demands, but the union seems to think this is the best offer they could get.

In case you forgot, La Presse is shutting down on Dec. 1.

While many have dismissed this over-the-top threat (they’d also shut down cyberpresse.ca) as an insane bluff, Gesca has reinforced it, reportedly arranging for BlackBerrys to be returned next week. Managers and employees are clearing out their desks, and the atmosphere in the newsroom is very tense.

The union, which was in negotiations today and will meet with members on Saturday, released this video in which Richard Labbé and Isabelle Masse sing (!) about what people would lose if La Presse gets shut down:

Mind you, I think Patrick Lagacé could find employment elsewhere, and there are lots of options for crosswords.

UPDATE: Rue Frontenac watched the video.

Posted in Montreal

Now it gets interesting

From Friday's La Presse

From Friday's La Presse

The first opinion polling after the Labonté scandal shows the three parties really neck and neck (and neck). Though Harel comes out on top, the real story is Richard Bergeron, whose party is living the wet dream of being a contender.

According to the poll, the number of undecideds has plummeted from 30% to 10%.

Election day is Sunday, and (as a journalist who will spend the night in the newsroom) it’s gonna be fun.

Posted in Media, Montreal

La Presse union deal … or not

La Presse announced on Wednesday it had reached a deal in principle with half its unions (those affiliated with the FTQ), representing advertising, printing and other workers.

The news caught the other unions (affiliated with the CSN) off guard, and they shot off a communiqué accusing La Presse of negotiating in bad faith.

The CSN unions are the more important ones, because they represent editorial and distribution. Without their okay, nothing really changes.

La Presse is about two-thirds of the way to a deadline it has set for its employees to accept wage concessions. It has threatened to shut down the paper on Dec. 1 if its demands are not met.

Posted in Media, Montreal

La Presse still on the path to destruction

In case you forgot, La Presse is about a month away from being shut down.

Negotiations between the paper and its unions have apparently been stalled, prompting editor Guy Crevier to send out a letter to employees, which lays out some of the employer’s offer. They have withdrawn their demand for salary cuts, but are still demanding a five-day work week, laying off 48 people in distribution, and moving from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.

The unions responded with a letter of their own, saying they have accepted the principal demand of moving to a five-day work week but that the employer is refusing to negotiate on compromises. They say they will ask for a conciliator to be brought in.

Posted in Media

Shockingly, people still reading newspapers

NADbank, the national newspaper readership monitoring service, released a report on Wednesday with some new numbers (PDF) for newspaper publishers to chew on. And, of course, with all the data there, each newspaper cherry-picks facts to make it look like they’re doing better than their competitors:

So what do the numbers show?

For the sake of comparison, I’m using the “five-day cumulative” number, which measures how many people read the newspaper (in printed form) at least once over the previous five weekdays. The numbers are compared to the last annual report released in March.

  • Journal de Montréal: 1,027,400, up 3.3% from 994,600 despite the lockout
  • La Presse: 678,200, up 0.9% from 672,300
  • Metro: 630,100, up 2.0% from 617,900
  • The Gazette: 454,200, down 1.1% from 459,200
  • 24 Heures: 516,400, up 13.9% from 453,200

Note that no numbers are given for Le Devoir.

The big news here is with 24 Heures, which has shown a huge jump in readership, surpassing The Gazette for fourth place in the market overall.  This is most likely due to more aggressive distribution as well as the increased number of journalists now employed by the paper since the Journal de Montréal was locked out. It also may have picked up some former ICI readers, since ICI is now a weekly supplement in 24 Heures.

For online readership, the numbers are all press-release-worthy:

  • La Presse (cyberpresse.ca): 359,000, up 10% from 326,200
  • The Gazette (montrealgazette.com): 134,900, up 6.5% from 126,700
  • Metro (journalmetro.com): 36,900, up 12.2% from 32,900
  • 24 Heures (24hmontreal.canoe.ca): 27,100, up 24.3% from 21,800

NADbank is also, for the first time, counting Journal de Montréal online readership (the Journal doesn’t have its own website, but Canoe groups some of its articles on a page here). It measures weekly readership at a paltry 130,700, just a bit less than The Gazette.

It’s unsurprising that online has grown quite a bit (in most cases it really has nowhere to go but up), and while Metro and 24 Heures have seen huge gains percentagewise, their numbers are still so small that NADbank puts an asterisk next to them to indicate the sample size was too small to be reliable.

Speaking of small sample sizes, the numbers also include Montreal readership for the Globe and Mail (97.600 Monday-Friday, 79,800 weekly online) and National Post (71,400 Monday-Friday, 41,100 weekly online).

So I guess the newspaper crisis is over, huh?