I was going to do some interviews and put together a story about two major changes at senior management at Le Devoir, but it would be hard to top Le Devoir’s coverage of itself.
For those who don’t know yet, Bernard Descôteaux, whose title is “directeur” but basically meaning publisher, announced last summer he’s retiring after 42 years with the newspaper. That retirement took effect on Saturday. His replacement is Brian Myles, a former Le Devoir journalist and former president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec.
At the same time, the paper’s editor in chief, Josée Boileau, announced she’s also leaving the paper. Both La Presse and the Journal de Montréal report she was a candidate for the publisher job, suggesting not getting it was a reason for leaving. She would only say that the change at the top makes it a good time for her to go. Her replacement will be Luce Julien, who takes office on Feb. 22.
For more on Descôteaux, Boileau, Myles and Julien, here’s stuff related to them that has appeared in Le Devoir:
- (Aug. 12): Le directeur du Devoir annonce sa retraite — News story about Descôteaux announcing he’s retiring
- (Aug. 13): «Être le directeur du “Devoir” est un privilège» — Descôteaux’s announcement that he’s retiring
- (Jan. 19): Brian Myles à la tête du «Devoir» — News story about Myles’s nomination, with details on the selection process
- (Jan. 19): Same story, with the same headline, but by Presse Canadienne
- (Jan. 30): Bye bye, boss-e! — News director Marie-Andrée Chouinard’s homage to Boileau
- (Jan. 30): Message personnel — Boileau’s goodbye to readers, touching on the state of language, sovereignty and Quebec’s place in the world
- (Feb. 2): Merci Josée, merci «Le Devoir» — A letter from a reader thanking Boileau
- (Feb. 6): Rendre son «Devoir» — Q&A with Descôteaux
- (Feb. 6): Merci, Bernard! — A glowing homage to Descôteaux by Jean Lamarre, chair of Le Devoir’s board
- (Feb. 6): Plaidoyer pour l’avenir — Descôteaux’s final editorial, on the state of the French language, and a thank you to readers
- (Feb. 6): Garnotte’s caricature in honour of Descôteaux
- (Feb 8): Les patrons de presse — Stéphane Baillargeon on media moguls, in which he notes Le Devoir is not controlled by one
- (Feb. 8): Revenons à demain — Jean-François Nadeau’s homage to Descôteaux
- (Feb. 15): Luce Julien nommée rédactrice en chef du Devoir — News story on the announcement of Boileau’s replacement
As Canadian newspapers have gone back and forth over the idea of charging online readers directly for access to content, trying to find that sweet spot between encouraging them to subscribe to read high-quality reporting and getting as much ad revenue as possible through traffic to popular stories, one newspaper’s strategy has stayed the same for the past decade.
As it made its yearly announcement of its financial situation to the public recently, Le Devoir announced that it is opening up holes in its paywall. What was previously a hard paywall that restricted access to most of its exclusive content to paid subscribers has now become a metered system similar to what most paid newspapers (including my employer’s) have adopted.
People without subscriptions will now be able to access 10 paid articles per month before the paywall comes down. (And, of course, as with any metered paywall, there are many ways around that restriction.)
This news is good for those of us who follow just one particular subject. And it might help improve their ad revenue situation slightly. But Le Devoir is facing the same troubles as other major newspapers. And as this analysis shows, the numbers are getting worse.
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.
Though it remains the only major newspaper in Quebec to charge readers for complete access to its website, Le Devoir apparently wants to increase the scope of its paywall, and is starting a pilot project that could see users paying for Twitter updates.
Le Devoir’s journalists have been quietly setting up Twitter accounts (you can see media reporter Stéphane Baillargeon’s here) in preparation for this plan.
How it would work isn’t too complicated: It takes advantage of a Twitter feature that allows people to protect their accounts and only allow those who are authorized to receive their tweets. The trick is coordinating the paper’s subscriber database (those who subscribe to Le Devoir would get the tweets for free) with some way of automatically authorizing (and de-authorizing, as the case may be) access to the Twitter accounts.
Le Devoir’s Web technology team says it’s just about ready to begin wide testing of this new system, for a full public launch sometime in the summer. It’ll be up to the marketing and editorial sides to find a way to make readers want to pay to read updates from the paper’s columnists and reporters.
Whether anyone will pay for bits of information 140 characters at a time is the big question. But Le Devoir’s paywall exists, so why not extend it to Twitter?
In an effort to
be even more elitist snobs than they already are honour authors as the Salon du livre opens (and we’re in the middle of book awards season), Le Devoir hands over today’s issue to 33 authors.
The authors (including Dany Laferrière, Caroline Allard, Fred Pellerin and David Homel) were paired with Le Devoir’s journalists for the day yesterday – an activity chronicled in a two-part liveblog and photo gallery.
Though Le Devoir is one of the few remaining publications in Canada to use a paywall, all the authors’ pieces are currently free online. You can see them listed here.
There’s also a cartoon by Michel Rabagliati and a podcast of interviews about the issue (with bonus sounds of a fake typewriter in the background).
Continuing its year-long project of pretending everyone cares about its 100-year history, Le Devoir has launched a podcast (“baladodiffusion”, in the proper français), in which it invites people to tell stories about the past century. To kick it off, Clémence Desrochers talks about the 1955 Rocket Richard Riot, and Claude Robinson talks about Nelson Mandela.
They’re short vignettes, 7-8 minutes long. No interviews, just someone telling a story with a bit of music in the background.
Maybe this will appeal to some people, but to me, if you’re just going to read some text into a microphone and call it a podcast, why not just give us the text and let us read it to ourselves?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps there’s a value to having Claude Robinson read stuff to you. You be the judge.
You can subscribe to Le Devoir’s podcast here or through iTunes.
As part of its centennial celebrations, Le Devoir invited Hexagram to record audio from their newsroom. You can listen to a four-minute clip of it on their website.
But as much as I’m fascinated with the minutiae of the inner workings of the media, I’ll recommend giving this one a pass. It’s background noise, and there isn’t much said. No screaming of “on tue la une!” or other newspaper clichés.
Newspaper newsrooms are, in fact, very quiet places. There are reporters on the phone with police or other sources, editors conferring with each other on matters important and trivial, and the usual office gossip during downtimes. But otherwise, it’s quiet as reporters type their stories, and editors read and proofread.
Unless something crazy is happening, or you’re in a meeting, there’s just not anything interesting to listen to.
Michel David talks about politics and the changing media landscape.
Le Devoir has launched a YouTube channel, which features interviews with some of its artisans.
Now we don’t just have to imagine them being snooty about stuff, we can see it too.
There’s also Benoit Munger talking about the website, but I didn’t get anything new out of it.
The first issue of Le Devoir, Jan. 10, 1910
100 years ago today, Henri Bourassa published the first issue of a newspaper he somewhat arrogantly called Le Devoir. It was a different time then, both in terms of technology (there was no concept of desktop publishing as there is now) and in terms of politics (the paper was nationalist, but that meant they wanted independence from London, not Ottawa).
Despite nearly failing many times (see a full chronology and another piece focusing on finances), the paper survives. And it’s celebrating. It has an entire section on its website devoted to 100th anniversary stories, and has put its special commemorative magazine online for free in “virtual paper” and PDF formats.
They’re planning on milking this for the entire calendar year, with special events and publications. It starts today, when they’re inviting readers to meet the paper’s artisans at Marché Bonsecours, from 10am to 1pm. There will also be a special presentation and a commemorative envelope (they do those?) issued to honour the anniversary.
Le Devoir isn’t the only one celebrating. Among the celebrations from other media:
Allow me to add on: Happy anniversary. Try to stay out of bankruptcy for another century.
The Gazette, May 26, 1986
Mike Rivest points out that archives of The Gazette, from 1878 to 1986, are now available for searching on Google News’s newspaper archive.
For those unfamiliar with the archive, it scans countless newspaper pages, subjects them to optical character recognition, and encodes it all in a vast database. From there, you can search for stuff and it’ll take you right to the newspaper page in question, highlighting the appropriate text.
The system isn’t perfect. Some dates are wrong, some newspapers mislabelled. And the text you’re looking for might have gotten garbled up in the OCR machine.
And not every issue is there, so you might get disappointed if you’re looking for a particular issue or article.
But considering the number of requests daily to The Gazette about accessing old newspaper archives, I’m sure this will come in handy to many. (Kristian Gravenor just creamed his pants, for one)
Some quick searching has found me the Habs’ 1986 Stanley Cup win (above), and these two below:
The Gazette, Oct. 15, 1966: Metro opens, but it's not the main story of the day.
The Gazette, July 21, 1969: Something about a ladder?
There’s also all 172 pages of the bicentennial edition in 1978.
Le Devoir’s archives are also online, though Google’s newspaper search algorithm seeks out block of what it considers legible text, so what comes out are those bits of English that have been published in the newspaper.
Also available are archives from:
Non-Quebec papers include the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen.
Happy hunting. (Just remember, if you’re searching for something significant, that newspapers are yesterday’s news, so you have to search for the day after.)
A month ago, Le Devoir launched a redesign of its website. It lasted only a few hours until, crippled by technical problems, it reverted back to its old design.
Now the newspaper has tried again, with the same design, but hopefully a more robust back end.
The look is a huge change from the previous design (you can see a gallery of previous designs at the end of this article explaining the new website). It looks a lot more professional, in both the good and bad ways. It’s slick, but it’s very busy. It has a lot of unnecessary text on homepages. Those homepages are also long:
Really long Le Devoir homepage
Despite the visual changes, the essentials are the same. Le Devoir remains one of the few dailies in the country to restrict some content to paid subscribers. Uncoincidentally, it also features ads very prominently offering subscriptions.
Nicolas Ritoux has some details about the genesis of the new design, from this article published when they tried to launch it a month ago.
One thing I notice right off is that while they now have photo galleries, there is no way to link directly to a Garnotte cartoon (unless I link directly to the JPEG file). It’s a common problem with newspaper websites big and small.
Le Devoir turns 100 on Jan. 10.
Le Devoir today has a series of articles about the 15th anniversary of Canal D, the documentary/educational network launched on Jan. 1, 1995. About half are subscriber-locked, but there’s some open ones worth reading:
Stéphane Baillargeon also discusses the changes happening at Canal Savoir, which turned 25 this year.
Le Devoir has a whole special today on Wikipedia (I’m not quite sure why). Half of it is subscriber-blocked, but the main story is free. Seems they’ve found some errors in Wikipedia articles about Quebec history.
The article repeats the same tired refrain of the mainstream media: Wikipedia can’t be trusted because we found all these errors.
It ignores the fact that Wikipedia has never said it should be trusted. It doesn’t want to be trusted. It asks people – pleads with them – to check every fact in every article (and correct/cite those that are wrong). It is not designed to be a source of information, it is designed to be a summary of information with clear citations.
And, of course, Wikipedia would never have achieved all this popularity if it wasn’t immensely useful as a resource in the first place.
The problem isn’t Wikipedia, it’s that people have been taught to believe everything they read without question. You could argue that this isn’t a proper way to setup an encyclopedia, and if so you’re welcome to use all the other failed Wikipedia-you-can-trust experiments out there.
UPDATE: More from Martin Lessard.
You know, you can tell the media is paying a bit too much attention to itself when a newspaper writes a 600-word article on the retirement of one of its accountants.
After writing what is essentially an obit of its former printing plant, Le Devoir looks to the future, and lists some improvements that are coming with is new Quebecor-owned presses. Many of them are the opposite of what you’d expect from a newspaper in this economy:
- First edition deadline is now 10:30pm instead of 8:30pm, allowing the paper to have election results, sports results (including most Canadiens games) and concert reviews in the paper the next day.
- A larger paper (though this part is a bit vague) “en haute saison”
- An increase in the point size of text
- More use of full-colour inside the paper
- Weekly Agenda section printed using a heat set process, which means the ink won’t rub off on your hands
- Reduction in the top and bottom margins, meaning the paper will be 4cm shorter without losing any content