Tag Archives: The Gazette

Posted in Media

Montreal Gazette adds NP section, makes Basem Boshra columnist

A little over a year after it “reimagined” itself with redesigns on four platforms, the Montreal Gazette — my employer — made some minor changes last week, particularly in print.

The daily “Context” section, which included national and world news stories as well as the editorial and opinion pages, has been eliminated, replaced by “NP in the Montreal Gazette”, a section of content from the National Post.

National Post section in the Montreal Gazette

National Post section in the Montreal Gazette

The NP section, which will be six to 12 pages long, is National Post content presented using the National Post stylesheet. It includes national and world news, opinions and columnists like Andrew Coyne, Michael Den Tandt and Christie Blatchford. Similar sections exist in the Edmonton Journal and Windsor Star, and should follow for other papers.

Doing national and international news this way saves resources because the layouts are identical and can be copy-pasted between the local papers. And it makes it look like you get a free National Post in your Gazette.

The change comes with some challenges though. The A section, which is now just local news plus one page of local editorial, letters and opinion, gets more of the ad stacks that leave oddly-shaped holes for news copy. (Insert joke about ads disappearing from newspapers here.) And since national and international news is in another section, it might be a challenge finding local news copy to fill those spaces, especially around the holidays when there are a lot more ads.

The Saturday paper is changing a bit. In addition to Context being gone, the Saturday Extra section is being retired, and its contents scattered into other sections:

  • The main feature story will occupy clear pages in the A section (and still get that big splash on A1)
  • The weekly Viewfinder photo will go to a page in Weekend Life with Dr. Joe Schwarcz’s chemistry column and Mark Abley’s Watchwords.
  • The Instagram challenge is moving to (usually) Page A2 with Josh Freed’s column
  • Montreal Diary is being discontinued
  • Local editorial, opinion and letters move to the A section
  • Andrew Coyne and other national Postmedia columnists go to the NP section

Saturday Extra has been in the Gazette since Feb. 25, 2006. And I admit to a bit of mourning for the demise of Montreal Diary, a section with short stories about the city. My first freelance story for the Gazette was a Diary story, and many other freelance writers got their start there. But after a decade, these things get old and I can’t honestly say it would necessarily be a bad idea to move on to other things.

People who have comments or complaints are being asked to send them to feedback@montrealgazette.com.

Meanwhile, the Gazette has also added a city columnist, which it has been missing for a while. Basem Boshra, who has had many hats but was most recently the city editor, is now writing almost daily with his take on the news of the day. His first column, re-introducing himself, is here.

The Gazette has also launched its Christmas Fund campaign, including the daily anonymous profiles about needy families written by slightly less needy freelancers.

Oh, and since a bunch of people keep asking:

  • Don Macpherson is on leave, but is expected to return. Dan Delmar is filling in as a columnist in the meantime.
  • Stone Soup isn’t in the daily comics pages anymore because it’s no longer a daily comic. And the Gazette does not have the power to force Jan Eliot to work against her will.

Gazette 2.5 app

UPDATE (Nov. 30): Today the paper updated its smartphone app, combining the pull-full-stories-from-the-web functionality of the older app and the stories-written-specifically-for-smartphone aspect of the 2.0 version. This comes after many users complained that the 2.0 app didn’t let them read all the stories the Gazette published. Like with the NP section, the new functionality of the smartphone app started with the Edmonton Journal.

Confusingly, the app actually updates the 1.0 version in the App Store and Google Play. People who have the 2.0 app installed are being asked to delete that in favour of the other one.

Among the features of the new app, which is being referred to unofficially as “version 2.5”:

  • Live weather, with current condition visible on all pages and a full page of details provided by The Weather Network
  • Ability to turn notifications on and off from within the app
  • Continuous scrolling on stories instead of being broken up into pages
  • Font size preference (3 sizes)
  • A running count of the number of stories (X of YY) on each story
  • Better functionality for photos and videos (tap a photo to read the caption, ability to watch videos from within the app)
  • No more following stories to be updated when they change
Posted in Media

Postmedia throws in the towel on page-designed tablet apps

A final one-page edition of the Montreal Gazette iPad app asks people to download the old app instead.

A final one-page edition of the Montreal Gazette iPad app asks people to download the old app instead.

As traditional media, and newspapers in particular, attempt to deal with the rapidly changing technological universe by overhauling their business models, many experiments are being tried out. Some are successful, some are spectacular failures, and most fall somewhere in between.

It’s normal in a period of experimentation chaos that some of those experiments fail. And it’s with that mindset that Postmedia announced this week it is pulling the plug on new tablet applications it launched with the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald, instead reverting to an old application that provides a standardized template for every story, which it simply pulls automatically from the website.

The apps offered evening editions of content from each newspaper, including some national and international news that was done centrally for all three. The original plan was for every Postmedia local paper to get a similar app when it was “reimagined”.

Like the apps from La Presse and the Toronto Star, the “2.0” Postmedia apps involved a lot of work. A professional designer created each page (and most stories were told over multiple pages), which mixed photos, video, animations, graphics and all sorts of other multimedia and interactive elements to create a rich, visually appealing environment.

At its peak, the Gazette iPad app had seven people working on it exclusively full-time, including all of its designers. It was a significant investment (though nowhere near what La Presse or the Star are doing) at a time when otherwise the company was cutting back hard.

In the end, the audience — and advertising revenue — the app generated wasn’t sufficient to keep it going. When it came to Edmonton’s turn to reimagine itself on four platforms, the plan for a new tablet app was ditched. Instead, it would continue to use an older app that was fed stories automatically from the website without the need for human intervention.

The change in the tablet app was reflected in a change in strategy on another platform as well. A smartphone app in which each story was specifically written (or, more accurately, edited) for that platform also changed direction. The Edmonton Journal’s new app is a hybrid, offering some custom smartphone-friendly stories and others that are fed automatically from the website. The other newspapers’ apps will follow its lead, unless there’s another change in strategy before then.

Both tablets and smartphones can also still use the newspapers’ websites, which are responsive and readable on those platforms. The fact that so many of them choose that option is another reason for the change.

Postmedia, like Torstar, Gesca and others, is experimenting. In the big picture, it’s a good thing. But when something of such quality fails, and especially when it’s not clear why (though everyone has their theories), it’s no less sad and frustrating.

I’ll miss you, pretty app.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

CROP poll of how anglos and francos drink is garbage, based on sample of 30 people

Breakdown of results of CROP poll show sample size of 31 for anglo Montrealers.

Breakdown of results of CROP poll show sample size of 31 for non-francophone Montrealers.

This morning, Éduc’alcool, an organization devoted to moderation in alcohol consumption, released the results of a poll it commissioned from polling firm CROP related to how people in Quebec drink.

The results were offered to the media under embargo yesterday, and stories appear today in the Journal de Montréal, La Presse, Métro, Rouge FM, Radio-Canada, CJAD and elsewhere that focus on interesting results outlined in the organization’s press release: that there’s a significant difference in how francophones and non-francophones in Montreal drink. Francophones drink more and more often than the rest of the city.

You won’t find a story about this in the Montreal Gazette, despite how relevant this kind of information is to its readership. It’s not because there wasn’t a journalist to cover it — a story was written about it and was set to be given good play in today’s paper. But I had it killed last night.

Well, actually the city editor is the one who made the call, but I’m the reason why, and it sounds cooler to say “I had it killed” than “I noticed something and brought it up to an authority figure”.

The reason is simple: All that data about how non-francophones in Montreal drink is based on sample sizes of 30-40 people, which is laughably small for any survey. None of the conclusions on the difference between language groups could be taken seriously, and without that data there’s really no story here.

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Posted in Media

Montreal Gazette hires Quebec City reporter Caroline Plante away from Global

Caroline Plante

Caroline Plante

Good anglophone Quebec City reporters are hard to find. Montrealers don’t want to move because their families are based here and there isn’t much going on for anglophones in the provincial capital. Plus, as the National Assembly reporter, the bar is higher. You need to be an expert (or at least very interested and motivated) in politics, and your French has to be impeccable.

So it’s no surprise that various Montreal anglo media have had trouble filling the position. CTV struggled for a while after the Kai Nagata fiasco before hiring Max Harrold from the Gazette. Now, with Harrold returning to Montreal, they’re back to figuring out what to do with the position.

The Montreal Gazette has been in a similar position since the departure of Kevin Dougherty last year. Young reporter Geoffrey Vendeville was recruited into the role, supplemented part-time by veteran Philip Authier doing analysis.

And then there’s Global News’s Caroline Plante, who has been filing reports for the little-watched Montreal newscast for the past nine years. It’s surprising that she hadn’t been poached by CTV or CBC during that time. (Global Montreal has surprisingly low turnover for a station at the bottom of the ratings — staff point to the feeling of family among its small news staff as a big reason nobody wants to leave for the competition.)

But Plante has finally gotten an offer she’s chosen not to refuse. The Montreal Gazette (my employer) has hired Plante to be its Quebec City bureau chief, effective Aug. 24.

In addition to her reporting duties, Plante is also president of the National Assembly Press Gallery.

The hiring will mean Global needs to find a new reporter in Quebec City. Its newsroom is undergoing other changes, with the departures of Domenic Fazioli, Richard Dagenais and possibly others, and the hiring of former Quebecor Media reporter Brian Daly and former City TV reporter Kelly Greig.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

The difference 10 years makes

Did they know what they were getting into?

Did they know what they were getting into?

This week marks 10 years since I walked into an office building at 1010 Ste-Catherine St. W. and began a career as a professional journalist.

It was the day after the Journée nationale des patriotes, and I began an internship as a copy editor at The Gazette, a newspaper owned by the Canwest media empire.

Through the decade, the path hasn’t been easy or always positive. I was laid off three times, the second one resulting in more than a year of unemployment in which I tried doing some freelance writing and started a blog for fun. But thanks to hard work on my part, and some managers who for whatever reason thought I was worth it, they always brought me back. And now with a permanent job, I don’t have to worry (as much) that I’ll be let go because not enough people got pregnant.

In those 10 years, I’ve made many mistakes, and learned from them. I’ve grown, matured, relaxed, and become more of an adult. I went from someone who had only a passing knowledge of sports to someone who can talk with some insight about the latest news (even if I really have no opinion on what to do about the power play or what position Alex Galcheyuk should play). I went from a green newbie who had no idea of the paper’s history to one of those veterans who brings out a “Back in my day…” during intern season. Plus, of course, I have a lot more money than I did 10 years ago.

But my employer has changed, too, and in much more dramatic fashion.

The Gazette added the word “Montreal” to its name, its parent company is now Postmedia, and it has no relation to Global TV (though we still share the same building). The paper has been radically redesigned, it’s smaller in both page size and thickness, it publishes only six days a week, it has colour on every page, and some features and regular columnists have disappeared, with other new ones taking their place.

The website no longer looks like this. Instead of stories being posted automatically by a machine importing them from that morning’s paper, stories are written directly into WordPress and then copies are made for print.

A bunch of ideas were tried, some of which were successful, others not so much.

We went from editing pages in QuarkXPress 3.32 (which was already nine years old when I started) on a Power Macintosh G3 to editing stories in a web browser using brand-new MacBook Air (reporters) and MacBook Pro (editors) laptops, with a stop in between when we used PCs.

And the team is much smaller than it used to be. I took out a schedule from 10 years ago, and it listed 34 copy editors, including myself, on the news desk, and a further 13 on the features desk, or 47 total. And all of them worked for the print paper. Today, there are 20 copy editors split between four platforms. The person who first hired me no longer works there. Neither does my first boss. Or her boss. Or his boss. Or his boss. Or the CEO.

Many of the print jobs have since been centralized, as Canwest and then Postmedia decided it was more efficient for stories that appear in different papers across the chain to be edited once. Others — including the Gazette’s entire printing plant — were eliminated as the company decided to outsource various functions it considered non-core.

There are changes I agree with, and those I strongly disagree with. There are changes that made things better, and changes that made things worse. There are changes the union has fought (and is still fighting), and there are changes everyone has accepted or welcomed. I’ve heard all the complaints, and I agree with many of them. But I also know it’s a struggle to produce quality journalism when no one wants to pay for it. And if no one finds that magic business model that saves newspapers before it’s too late and they all die, then at least I’ll have done my part to keep its heart beating one more day. Because despite everything, newspapers like the Montreal Gazette expose stories that would not otherwise be exposed. And that’s something we need as a society.

Through it all, I remain grateful, to the organization and its employees past and present who helped me grow, who gave it their all even while they worried about their future or complained about things they didn’t like, and particularly those who thought this Steve Faguy guy was worth keeping around.


Posted in Media

Montreal Gazette loses veteran reporters, Pierre Foglia retires from La Presse

While students in Quebec were heading out on spring break last Friday, veteran journalists in two newsrooms were packing their boxes.

Friday was the last day on the job for five journalists and one administrative assistant at the Montreal Gazette. They leave as part of the latest wave of buyouts meant to reduce operating costs at the newspaper, which means they won’t be replaced. Instead, other staff’s responsibilities will be shifted to cover their work.

Sue Montgomery was the Gazette’s justice reporter. She covered the trial of Luka Magnotta and many other lowlifes before him. Reviews of her career inevitably bring up her trip to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, her coverage of the sexual abuse at Les Frères Ste-Croix at Collège Notre Dame, and her work with Antonia Zerbisias to create the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.

She was also very outspoken, sometimes to the displeasure of her employer.

In her farewell column, she writes:

I became a journalist almost 30 years ago, not so much because I loved the craft of writing, but more to give a voice to those who aren’t otherwise heard. I wasn’t interested in the politicians, who never seem to say anything meaningful, or the boring businessmen, incomprehensible sports stars or fake celebrities. None seemed real.

I was drawn to and intrigued by the everyday people like you and me who experience extraordinary loss, suffering and injustice and still manage to somehow carry on. We can all learn from such stories — about the resilience of the human spirit, empathy and strength.

You can read some of her work here. She also did an interview with CBC’s Daybreak.

Peggy Curran was the Gazette’s city columnist, returning to a writing job after a brief stint as city editor. Curran wrote in an almost poetic manner about the city and its problems (if I was nearly as good, I could have described her style better), and like Montgomery she preferred the stories about real people.

She has a wicked sense of humour, too. Along a wall of portraits of journalists past and present who have received awards for their work, there’s a photo of Curran leaning on the wall of her cubicle. Below her is a cutout of what looks like a tabloid headline she cut out and posted on her wall: “PSYCHO IRISH BITCH”.

In her farewell column, she worries about the future of the industry she’s leaving:

Being a journalist is a job of great intensity, more so as deadlines have multiplied. The daily miracle is now measured in minutes since the last update.

To do this right requires abundant energy and unconditional love.

Curran has compiled her five favourite stories here.

Pat Donnelly was the Gazette’s theatre critic (sandwiching a brief time as literary columnist), spending her evenings attending previews and performances, some of which were very good and many of which were very bad. Though in her farewell column, she focuses on the good:

As a theatre critic, I was privileged to witness one of the most exciting periods in Quebec theatre history, when Robert Lepage was first making waves, the Montreal Fringe Festival was born and Montreal’s bilingual Les Misérables won the admiration of the world. Sylvie Drapeau starred in all the best French plays. The Cirque du Soleil went from one triumph to another. Montrealer Richard Monette ruled the Stratford Festival. The biennial Festival TransAmériques, founded by the indomitable Marie-Hélène Falcon, expanded to became an annual hybrid of theatre and dance. And La Licorne, my favourite francophone theatre, began to lead the way with English surtitles.

Though theatre tends not to be on the radar of most people, Donnelly did manage to stir up some controversy, when she highlighted the use of blackface at a year-end review show at Théâtre du Rideau Vert. The story spread for more than a month afterward as people (mostly white) debated how offensive it is for white actors to put on dark makeup in Quebec.

Donnelly has compiled some highlights from her career here.

Lynn Moore was a journalist in the Gazette’s business department. She specialized in natural resources until she became the coordinator of the business section, tasked with the thankless job of putting together a section with few journalists and lots of news. She was also responsible for commissioning freelance pieces, including many from me.

You can read a small selection of her stories (including several Jazz Festival reviews) here.

François Shalom also worked in business, where he specialized in aerospace, an important beat in the city that is not only home to big industry players like Bombardier, Air Transat, CAE and Héroux-Devtek, but also the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Air Transport Association.

His last day as an employee came on the same day that Bombardier did its first flight test of its CS300 aircraft, though he didn’t get a chance to cover it.

You can read some of Shalom’s stories here.

These five people were colleagues, and I could probably write a lot of the same things about all of them: they had a good sense of humour, they cared about their work, they cared about the organization they worked for and the damage it has taken from its reductions in staff and quality, and they were kind people who nevertheless had little tolerance for bullshit.

And the Gazette will be worse off for having let them go. (Matthew Hays articulates part of what the paper is losing in this piece for Rover.)

The Gazette also lost a member of its support staff: Helen Ciampini had the title of “executive assistant” but was effectively responsible, with newsroom manager June Thompson, for all the little things that kept the operation running. The Gazette has lost almost all of the administrative staff it had when I was first hired, and has struggled to cope as a result.

None of the departing staff have indicated any future plans other than vacation.

« Ceci n’est pas une chronique d’adieu »

On the same day the Gazette lost staff with a combined experience of more than 100 years, La Presse lost a columnist who just about matches that by himself. Pierre Foglia announced in his Saturday column that he’s retiring, though he plans to contribute occasional stories about books.

Foglia, who has been with La Presse since 1972, according to Presse Canadienne, has been described as a unique columnist with a poetic style and wisdom that made him the envy of his colleagues.

Journal de Montréal blogger Marie-Claude Ducas writes a piece appreciating Foglia. As does Louise Latraverse a week later in La Presse.

UPDATE: Roberto Rocha, who held jobs including technology beat writer and, more recently, data journalist, left the paper a few weeks after his colleagues.

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 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 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

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 Media, Navel-gazing

Changes at The Gazette this fall

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

The Gazette printing plant on St-Jacques St. will be decommissioned and the land sold.

Things are changing at my employer this fall. I can’t spill all the beans, partly because as an employee I’m given some information that’s not meant for public consumption, and partly because there’s a lot of details I just don’t know. But here’s some stuff that has either already been reported publicly or that I’ve gotten permission to share:

Four-platform redesign

The biggest change will be a relaunch of The Gazette on four platforms — print, web, tablet and smartphone. Each will have its own design, content and strategy. No date has been set for the relaunch, but it should happen some time this fall.

For an idea of what it will look like, you can look at the Ottawa Citizen, which went through a similar relaunch and redesign in May. The Gazette’s will be very similar. The Calgary Herald will be the next paper to go through the process, followed by all the other Postmedia papers (except the Vancouver Province and the National Post).

Rather than present the same stories written in the same way on all platforms, the redesigned environment will see stories done differently for the different platforms. Smartphone users will get short stories and breaking news. Tablet users will get a more magazine-like experience (with one edition a day coming out in the afternoon). Print users will get a design-y paper that’s more visually interesting and presents news in context. And website users will … uhh, I’ll throw in some buzz words here later.

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Posted in Media

Postmedia outsourcing Gazette printing to Transcontinental

You’ve probably already heard this news, but just for the record, Postmedia announced this week that it is outsourcing the printing of The Gazette to TC Transcontinental Printing, beginning August 2014. (Transcontinental has its own press release.) The decision will mean the layoff of 54 full-time employees and 61 casual employees. (Transcontinental says it doesn’t need additional resources to take on the Gazette contract.)

Unlike editorial, advertising, reader sales and business office employees, which are represented by the Montreal Newspaper Guild, a local of CWA-SCA Canada, the plant employees are represented by a local of the Teamsters union.

This will also mean the same of the presses, the building and the land it sits on, with the money from it going to pay down Postmedia’s debt. Whether its vocation as a printing press remains depends on who buys it, but there isn’t much optimism of that happening. So expect that land on St-Jacques St. W. in N.D.G. to be repurposed for some industrial or commercial purpose.

Since I’m an employee of The Gazette, I won’t go much into detail about this decision. Even though I’ve never met most of the people at the plant in person, I haven’t had any bad experiences with them either. Same thing for Transmag, the Anjou-based printing plant that will put out The Gazette. I worked with them a decade ago when I was editor of The Link at Concordia University. Deadline was a fluid concept to us, but thankfully they were much more reliable than we were.

Transmag is unionized, by the way. Their current contract goes until October 2015, and the details of it are here.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing, Opinion

More departures at The Gazette, but it still matters

Bernard Perusse's empty desk in the Gazette office

Bernard Perusse’s empty desk in the Gazette office

There’s been a bit of buzz in the media-navel-gazing sphere this week about the latest set of buyouts at The Gazette. J-Source had a piece on it. A bunch of others tweeted about it or retweeted my list of names. Some expressed disappointment that some big names were leaving. Others saw it as part of some larger trend.

And then there were the haters. Those who never hesitate to say The Gazette is a piece of garbage, that print media is solely responsible for its own fate, and that this is just another example of a money-grubbing fat cat gleefully cutting important jobs so they can get rich by publishing cat videos or something. Those who say The Gazette isn’t worth anything and they’re happy to get their news from Google, the radio, Metro or even blogs and Twitter.

As someone who works there, who goes through dozens of stories a week crafted by its remaining journalists, those comments are painful to read. They’re insulting to those who still come into the office and write, or take photos, or edit stories or design pages or do all sorts of other jobs there, many working very hard every shift because they believe in producing a quality product.

It’s funny because, in the office, on the copy desk when most managers have gone home for the night, or at a bar during (now less frequent) office parties or post-shift drinks, there’s no hesitation to criticize, sometimes sharply, the decisions that have been made that we disagree with, those we feel unnecessarily harm the future of the paper. I’ve been in many conversations with coworkers that look back on the old days with fondness, and on the present with frustration that the quality that was once there has been chiselled away.

Sometimes I’ve sat back and thought to myself whether it was still worth it, whether the paper had cut so far that it has lost that critical mass that makes it worth the paper it’s printed on.

And then I see an investigative report by Linda Gyulai, or a heartbreaking medical story by Charlie Fidelman, or a story about Quebec’s culture by Brendan Kelly that wouldn’t get noticed elsewhere by anglophone media, or another scoop or feature about the Alouettes from Herb Zurkowsky, or some fascinating and useful information about taxes and business dug up and elegantly explained by Paul Delean. Or I see the dozens of pages of coverage that the paper gave to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which involved practically setting up a bureau there overnight and keeping it staffed every day for weeks. And I remember that despite everything, despite how frustrating it is to see yet another round of cuts, that this newsroom I work for still produces stuff that matters.

It might not be as thorough as papers with bigger budgets like La Presse, the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, but there are so many stories it publishes on a weekly basis that would never see the light of day if it wasn’t for this paper.

The truth is that while at last report The Gazette makes money, its parent company is still struggling, as is the entire print industry. I suppose you could argue that almost every single print publication in North America has made the exact same mistakes, or that they have copied the worst mistakes off each other, but I think the simple fact that technology has revolutionized media is the biggest cause of the industry’s crisis. Everyone is trying their hardest to adapt, but adapting can be a very painful process, and one filled with trial and error.

And while this latest round of cuts might seem bad, it’s small compared to the much larger purge that happened a year ago, which saw many copy editors, picture editors, support staff and other less high-profile positions be eliminated. And while there have been many waves of cuts, management at The Gazette have consistently done their best to protect the jobs that really matter, the core of journalists who go out and find stories every day.

So by all means, criticize, but when you suggest that The Gazette is worthless, you’re saying that to the dozens of writers, photographers, editors, designers, managers and support staff who work there and are trying their best to put out something worth reading. Including me.

Six more off into the sunset

Anyway, back to the news: Six people, including two managers, are leaving The Gazette this week. They’re all leaving voluntarily, and while it’s nobody’s business but theirs whether they’re taking buyouts, it’s pretty clear that that’s what’s going on, at least for the non-managers.

They are:

Raymond Brassard, Executive Editor: Brassard, who was the managing editor under Andrew Phillips when I started at The Gazette, has been the most senior manager in the newsroom since Phillips left (even though Alan Allnutt took over the title of editor in chief). Soft spoken with a thick Boston accent, Brassard was enough levels of management above me that I couldn’t tell you much about his day-to-day activities, except through all the calls from irate readers that were routed to his office. Brassard, like most managers, had the uncomfortable position of sitting between a newsroom they tried their best to protect and the upper management at Canwest and Postmedia that wanted things to be as lean as possible. He said earlier this summer that, having just turned 65, he would be retiring. He stayed to fill the gap until Lucinda Chodan, our new editor in chief, took her post, replacing Alan Allnutt who will be managing Postmedia’s western papers. A note to readers explains the two moves.

Dave Bist, Senior Editor: Known as the “night editor” on the desk, Bist’s job for the entire time I’ve worked at The Gazette was to manage the paper during the evening, until it was actually typeset. A decade ago, that meant looking over pages and handling any serious decisions. As the desk got smaller, the job meant putting together the front page, including the little things like the index and quote of the day. Bist started in August 1966, he covered things like the John and Yoko bed-in, and otherwise distinguished himself enough to win a Juno Award (!) and get a Wikipedia page. His last night on the job was Thursday. and he wrote on Facebook that he’s been “incredibly lucky” to have the career that he’s had. Though technically a manager, Bist was a strong advocate for the newsroom staff, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving of respect from his peers.

Henry Aubin, regional affairs columnist: Aubin has been at The Gazette for 40 years, he recounts in his final column. His opinion columns about municipal affairs have always been thought-provoking, even when I thoroughly disagreed with him. While some columnists fill their columns with “I think that” and knee-jerk reactions to already-reported news events, Aubin’s best columns would often include things like charts, and a good deal of original research. He would take contrarian opinions, or explain how conventional wisdom is actually wrong. He was a bit stubborn about some things, but it was hard to argue with his facts. Aubin says in his column that, after a break, he’ll continue writing a column on a weekly freelance basis for The Gazette.

Janet Bagnall, education reporter: Probably better known for her left-leaning columns, particularly about women’s issues, when she was in the opinion department, Bagnall moved to the city desk to take up education reporting in the past year. Her voice on the editorial board, which she’d been on since 1997, gave it a much-needed perspective. Though editorials are unsigned, many were written by her when she was there, earning her a National Newspaper Award nomination.

Bernard Perusse, music columnist: Perusse’s goodbye column appears in Saturday’s Gazette, explaining that while he’s retiring at 59, he’s not ready for the old folks’ home yet. Perusse took over the music columnist gig after T’Cha Dunlevy moved to film reviewing. But he had been writing about music ever since The Gazette disbanded its Gazette Probe consumer rights column, a decision I thought was unfortunate even though it happened before my time. He suggested that he will continue to write freelance.

Stephanie Myles, editor: At least one person asked me if the paper’s former Expos beat writer and tennis expert had disappeared off the face of the Earth. No, she still works full-time there. A year ago she left the tennis beat and put an end to her blog (which was consistently the paper’s most popular by far, mainly because of the large amount of work she put into it), and moved to the copy desk to compensate for the drastic staff reduction. She has been posting stories working mainly weeknights since then. She’s still pretty young, but she hasn’t mentioned jumping into another career yet.

I can’t pretend these cuts won’t hurt, badly. These are some quality people leaving us. But we’ll move on, try our best to adapt by having fewer people do more work, or cutting out work that is not as essential. It’s what we always do. Because that’s the only thing we can do.

Posted in Media

Mike Boone still has the last laugh

Mike Boone in the suburban man cave he blogs Canadiens away games from

Mike Boone in the suburban man cave he blogs Canadiens away games from

“I don’t feel a burning desire to write.”

That’s the last thing I scratched into my notebook when I sat down with Mike Boone at his home last fall. It’s funny because it’s coming from a newspaper columnist. I just did a search, and from 1985 (when the Gazette’s electronic database starts) to his goodbye column on Sept. 1, 2012, it counts 5,182 articles with “MIKE BOONE” in the byline. That works out to 192 a year, or 3.7 a week, on average, over that 27-year span, most of which he spent as the paper’s TV and radio columnist or city columnist.

In case you haven’t heard by now, Boone was one of many Gazette employees who took a buyout last fall. Sports writer Randy Phillips was another. Hockey columnist Red Fisher had taken his a bit earlier. Most of the rest of those who left were editors, photo technicians and other behind-the-scenes staff. People unrecognized by readers, but whose work all contributed to make The Gazette a quality newspaper, and whose departure caused it to suffer, despite valiant attempts by those left to compensate.

Unlike Fisher, whose retirement prompted news stories in The Gazette and in other media, Boone’s retirement (at a much busier time of the year for news) didn’t get much notice. He wrote a goodbye column, and quietly departed, striding off into the sunset toward that cul-de-sac in Pointe Claire.

Except he wasn’t entirely gone. He continues to blog Canadiens games for Hockey Inside/Out, and like he did when he was an employee, he’ll be at the Bell Centre for home games and in his basement for away games, providing live commentary with his classic funny flair.

As the Canadiens begin their playoff run today, attention toward the team, and traffic on the website, should go up.

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Posted in Media

Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman unveils herself

Lesley Chesterman does her debut column on Radio-Canada's Cap sur l'été on Wednesday.

Lesley Chesterman does her debut column on Radio-Canada’s Cap sur l’été on Wednesday.

Restaurant critics have the best and worst jobs at newspapers. They get paid to eat at fancy restaurants all the time, and have the power to make or break them with a review. On the other hand, they’re not recognized in the street because they can’t have their picture in the paper. They have to toil in obscurity so they can remain anonymous while reviewing.

At least, this is the way it used to be. Lesley Chesterman, the fine dining critic for The Gazette, came out and abandoned her anonymity in last Friday’s paper. She did so because she had accepted to become a contributor to the Radio-Canada television talk show Cap sur l’été, which would necessarily put her face in public.

That was the tipping point. But as she explains in her piece, anonymity had already become difficult to maintain:

No doubt, the anonymous approach to restaurant reviewing is desirable, but as the years wore on, it also became less and less doable. A constant challenge was that I knew some chefs long before I began reviewing, and once a waiter has you pegged, he will blow your cover every time you show up in a new restaurant (waiters move around a lot). Also, as a freelance writer, my articles are not just limited to restaurant reviews. I write many feature stories about chefs for several publications, and though I often interview by phone, I have to meet chefs face to face as well.

However, the greatest challenge to anonymity that is unmasking countless critics at a rapid pace is social media. Unlike in the early years, today I have little control over who takes my picture and posts it on the Internet. Though I have asked people many times to delete pictures of me from websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., eventually you don’t even know who to contact to remove an image. I accepted the fact that anonymity is a pipe dream, but I still strove for it.

Despite this, she’ll still at least try to maintain some sheen of anonymity, reserving places under fake names and paying in cash. But being recognized will be an unavoidable consequence:

Chesterman’s first appearance on Cap sur l’été, doing its “Un monde de saveurs” column, was taped on Friday and aired on Wednesday. You can watch it here and marvel at her impressive command of the French language.