Tag Archives: The Gazette

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.

Continue reading

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.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Max Harrold to become CTV Quebec bureau chief

Max Harrold (Gazette photo)

Max Harrold, a news reporter for The Gazette since 2006, has been hired as the new Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV News. The move was announced this morning with mixed feelings by Gazette city editor Michelle Richardson. He leaves the paper on Nov. 20.

Harrold, who tells me he’s 47 but has always seemed so much younger at heart, has been a general assignment reporter, specializing in breaking news. He’s also the guy behind the weekly Squeaky Wheels column, answering readers’ questions about issues involving transportation in Montreal. Before joining The Gazette he wrote for it as a freelancer, wrote for the Discovery Channel program How It’s Made, and worked in off-air roles at Global Television and CBC. He also worked for the short-lived Montreal Daily News, and was there when the paper shut down in 1989.

He’s a native Montrealer, but lived and worked in Los Angeles and New York for 13 years, and studied at Columbia Journalism School.

Harrold told me he had informal discussions with CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane before the latest round of buyouts at The Gazette, with the possibility of having to look for a new job at the back of his mind. In the end that would become unnecessary, since there were no layoffs of reporters, but discussions continued.

“I thought it would be for an off-camera job or a research job,” Harrold said when he called me from the office, where he’s getting congratulations from his colleagues. But Kahane needed someone with excellent reporting skills for the Quebec City job, and Harrold fit the bill.

“It’s an interesting time in Quebec City, and it’s a bureau where I want someone who overall has an understanding of quebec politics,” Kahane said. “Max is a veteran, he’s an experienced editorial guy (and) he was the kind of person I was looking for.”

Harrold doesn’t have any on-air experience in television, though he went through a screen test that was enough to convince Kahane the jump to television could work. Kahane points out that other print journalists have moved to television with great success. He mentioned people like David Akin at Sun Media. Nancy Wood, an anchor at CBC Montreal, is another former Gazette reporter and print specialist who made a very successful transition into broadcasting.

Kahane said that with strong editorial judgment, learning the technical part isn’t a big problem. The former is valued far more than the latter in a television reporter.

Nevertheless, Harrold admitted it will be a transition, and he’s already been practicing proper standups in front of a mirror.

Harrold begins at CTV in December, and will spend his first few weeks training, learning the ins and outs of TV reporting in general and CTV’s systems in particular. Kahane said he expects Harrold will do some on-air work in Montreal (he couldn’t say when we should expect to start seeing Harrold on air) and be ready to report from Quebec City by the time the National Assembly reconvenes for the new year in February.

CTV’s last Quebec City bureau chief, you might recall, had a fairly public resignation in July 2011. Kahane said he didn’t make any special requests of Harrold, though he did ask if Harrold had a television at home (Kai Nagata famously did not even though he was a TV reporter). Harrold said he has two. The embarrassment for CTV meant a lot of hesitation at choosing someone new for the position, particularly for going with someone young and inexperienced, so the position remained unfilled for more than a year.

Maya Johnson has been filling in, covering Quebec City and the National Assembly for the past few months. She’ll return to Montreal, where Kahane said she will continue her reporting, which he qualified as excellent, from here.

Harrold’s new job means moving to Quebec City (and finding a fluently bilingual anglophone willing to move to the provincial capital is also a big challenge in filling this position). Harrold will look for a place in Quebec City and expects to live there for a little while before his husband Greg joins him.

There’s no word yet on whether The Gazette will be looking to hire someone to replace Harrold, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson is already getting unsolicited offers.

On a personal note, since Max is a friend, I’ll wish him well. But a warning: no mercy on the hilariously embarrassing gaffes that make live TV so much fun to watch.

UPDATE: Max’s first report aired on Dec. 12.

Posted in Media, Montreal, Navel-gazing

The new, slightly thinner, somewhat more streamlined Gazette

The transformation of The Gazette that has been made necessary by cuts from parent company Postmedia Network began this week in a way that readers will notice.

As of Tuesday, the weekday paper has been reduced from three to two sections (with the exception of Mondays, which still has a separate Driving section). The Tuesday paper has a note from Editor-in-Chief Alan Allnutt explaining the changes. In it, Allnutt talks about how the focus of the paper will transition from covering the 24-hour news cycle to being more of a daily newsmagazine. If that sounds like something you’ve heard a few times before, you’re not imagining it. But such fundamental change to how a newspaper works takes quite a few big steps before it really sinks in.

The two-section format works as follows:

The A section will contain the same as it did before, with local, national and international news, followed by a two-page opinion section with editorials, Aislin’s cartoon, letters to the editor and opinion pieces. After that will be business news, sports news and arts and entertainment stories that used to be in the other two sections.

The B section will be a theme section that’s different by the day. Mondays and Thursdays it will be sports (Hockey Inside/Out on Thursdays during the hockey season). Tuesdays will be business, comprising the features that used to be in the Monday Your Business section. Wednesdays will be food, with the same features that were on the weekly food pages. And Friday will be movie reviews. Regardless of the topic of the day, the B section will include classified, obituaries, puzzles and comics, the TV grid, the weather map and Doug Camilli’s column (on days when that column runs).

There’s a reduction in the number of pages, though it’s not as dramatic as you might think. This Tuesday’s paper had 36 pages, down from 44 the week before. Wednesday’s paper had 44 pages (not including the West Island section), down from 52. When you discount the five special Olympics pages added to the Sports section each day last week, it’s a small reduction (the Wednesday paper has the same number of pages as one the week before the Olympics). It’s hard to make it an exact science because of the variance in the amount of display advertising.

The main reduction of content is wire stories that filled the back pages of the business, sports and arts sections. More of those stories will be replaced by briefs, with focus being left on local original content.

The Saturday paper remains in its multi-section format and is not affected in any significant way by these changes.

Some original content will be disappearing too, the result of difficult decisions to save costs. Dating Girl columnist Josey Vogels (whose column is actually syndicated, but who got her start at The Gazette and the now-defunct Hour) and bird columnist David Bird wrote goodbyes this week. The weekly This Week’s Child brief and Next Chapter boomer/seniors column are also being cut. Listings of events, shows and activities are moving online.

There are also some more minor changes in the way the paper looks. Section banners have become smaller and simpler, the look of the briefs column changes (it’s been renamed from “In the News” to “In Brief”), columnist logos have become smaller, and Web pointers have disappeared from a standard position on Page A2.

Buyouts and a few layoffs, most of which take effect on Sept. 1, will reduce by about 20% the number of people in the editorial department. Most of those leaving work behind-the-scenes, many as copy editors, photo editors or administrative staff whose names don’t get in the paper. The Globe and Mail explains a bit how things are going to work after the newsroom becomes smaller.

Thankfully, there were no forced layoffs on the copy desk, which means I will remain with The Gazette after the cuts.

The changes are obviously not going to please everyone (few changes do). Allnutt invites people to make their views known by email: changes@montrealgazette.com

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

(Some awesome pun involving the words “Red” or “Fisher”)

Updated June 20 with link to Ken Dryden’s story in the Globe and Mail.

The news hit pretty suddenly on Friday morning. In fact, I heard about it on CFCF’s noon newscast, having just woken up. Red Fisher, who has covered the Montreal Canadiens for more than half a century for the Montreal Star and The Gazette, has retired at the age of a billion and three (or, more accurately, 85).

There’s no farewell column, no big party. He’s not even giving interviews. Other media who wanted to report on the end of this long career had to settle for talking to some of Fisher’s friends and colleagues. Dave Stubbs, in particular, was busy talking to various media while preparing his own story on Fisher’s departure. It’s the only one I’m aware of that quotes Fisher directly speaking after his retirement was announced.

Fisher is a legend in more than just his hockey writing. He has a reputation as a friendly curmudgeon, who wouldn’t go after players unnecessarily but wouldn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence until they proved themselves worthy of it. The list of respected figures in Canadiens history who lauded Fisher speaks to the man’s reputation.

Even though I work at the same paper, I’ve never spoken to him in person. Sports writers in general spend little time in the office, and Fisher even less. We’ve conversed over the phone, but by “conversed” I mean he called to confirm that his postgame column had arrived by email and after a quick reply of “yeah, I got it” we hung up.

There are many stories of younger (and by that I mean under 60) colleagues at The Gazette that involve the elder sportsman uttering the words “who the f*** is …” – I don’t think I even reached that level. Though I remember the first time I saw him file a story that had my name in the address list. I imagined him typing my email in and wondering who the heck I was.

Everyone knew who Red Fisher was, though. For years, his reputation was such that there was a column devoted to him, the only column devoted to writing about another columnist. Of course, that column was Mike Boone’s Eeeee-mail, and it wasn’t so much writing about Fisher as it had some fun at the man’s expense (consistently referring to him as the Living Legend of Sports Journalism or LLSJ). But still, I can only wish for status like that someday.

Fisher’s refusal to give interviews is unusual in today’s hypermediatized world, but not so much for him. Fisher wasn’t the type to appear on radio or television regularly, chatting with the TSN hockey panel or giving his take once a week on CKGM’s morning show. Even though his reputation and wealth of knowledge about Canadiens history would make him a fantastic guest, he’s said no to such requests from those broadcasters and others who haven’t long ago given up trying to get him.

There are some who say Fisher retired 10 years too late, that his relevance had waned significantly in the past few years. There are points in favour of this argument. He wasn’t the scoop machine he used to be, and many of the big announcements come via RDS, TSN, La Presse or some of the younger front-line journalists who cover the Canadiens, if they beat the official announcement at all. Fisher stopped travelling with the Canadiens years ago – Pat Hickey does day-to-day team coverage. And the weekly Red Line page sometimes felt more like a roundup of hockey news reported elsewhere than anything original from Fisher.

But Fisher was still influential, and he could still write things that made a difference. In 2008, Fisher won a National Newspaper Award - the most prestigious Canadian award for this industry – for a column saying the Canadiens should not retire the jersey of Patrick Roy (they did anyway, of course, but Fisher’s column provoked a lot of discussion). It’s hard to argue someone has one foot in the grave when he’s winning an award many of his colleagues only dream of one day getting once in their careers.

It’s unclear if Fisher will continue to contribute occasional freelance pieces for The Gazette. He was the go-to guy for Canadiens-related obituaries, for example. But it is clear that the Saturday Red Line is history, and nobody should be expecting a regular column in its place.

He’s done.

Coverage

See also

UPDATE: Mike Cohen says he moved this resolution at Côte St. Luc city council Monday evening:

Whereas Red Fisher is a longtime resident of Côte Saint-Luc.

Whereas Red Fisher has covered the Montreal sports scene for The Montreal Star and The Montreal Gazette, specifically the Canadiens for the past 56 years.

Whereas Red Fisher Fisher won the National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1971 and 1991 and has been nominated for that award on two other occasions.

Whereas Red Fisher was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada in 1999.

Whereas Red Fisher is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Whereas Red Fisher last week announced his retirement.

It was

MOVED BY COUNCILLOR Mike Cohen

AND SECONDED BY COUNCILLOR Allan  J. Levine

AND RESOLVED

THAT Council wish Red Fisher the very best in his retirement and that a formal letter of good wishes be sent to him signed by the mayor and council.

“I will now come back to council with some recommendations as to how we can further honour Red Fisher,” he says.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Blue Monday at The Gazette

It’s annoying when big news happens on your day off.

There was an email to all staff shortly before 3pm calling for a meeting about something “important”. I was at home, enjoying my first day off in a while,  so I couldn’t come in to attend.

I got most of the news first on Twitter, particularly Steve Ladurantaye of the Globe and Mail. Postmedia is engaging in another round of deep job cuts, which include “more than 20″ at The Gazette.

Eventually, we got the memos from the president of Postmedia and the publisher of The Gazette, the contents of which are being widely reported (see links below). But a lot is still unclear.

The job cuts are being described as “layoffs”, though it’s too early to say that. Voluntary buyouts will be offered, and if enough people take them, layoffs won’t be necessary. Despite all the rounds of job cuts at the paper in the seven years I’ve been there, no permanent union jobs in the newsroom have been forcibly cut.

People have asked me if I’m on the “list” of people being laid off, and the truth is no such list exists yet, and whether this ends up with me eventually losing my job is something I just don’t know. If it comes to layoffs, I’m No. 105 on a newsroom union seniority list of 107 (which also includes photographers, columnists, reporters, designers, clerks and other newsroom employees), so my chances of being bumped out of a job is high higher. Looking at that list, 63 of the 107 have more than 20 years of seniority (which is adjusted for part-time workers and those who take leaves of absence). Only seven (including myself) have an adjusted seniority of less than five years. It’s a simple reality of work in a union environment where hiring has been rare recently because of the industry’s struggles.

More details will come out as the decisions from higher up trickle down to the department level, and later when we know who is taking buyouts. But whether it results in layoffs or not, the result will be a blow to the paper. National and world news stories, which are no longer being edited in Montreal, may not even be selected by local editors, though that’s still unclear. The amount of space devoted to editorial content (stories and pictures in all sections) will be reduced 35% (though I’m told this is just during weekdays). Virtually all More editing for print will be done by editors at Postmedia Editorial Services in Hamilton, Ont.

I’m not in a position to criticize the decisions of upper management at Postmedia, who have to deal with a substantial debt load and declining revenues. There are plenty of pundits not employed by this company who can do that. But whether or not it’s the right decision, it’s still sad. It’s a blow to seasoned workers who may feel more pressure to retire early or face a newsroom with declining morale. It’s a blow to young workers like myself. And it’s a blow to people looking for jobs (people like Adam Kovac), who have just seen their slim prospects here get even slimmer.

Coverage

UPDATE: I’ve clarified a few items above where I made statements about things that will happen that I’m told are still not clear. Don’t put too much emphasis on the details, which still have to be worked out. We know there will be more centralization and fewer local jobs, but how that will play out exactly still has to be determined.

Posted in Media, Montreal

NADbank numbers: Newspaper crisis? What newspaper crisis?

The latest batch of numbers on newspaper readership from NADbank have been released, and in general show newspaper readership about the same as last year despite doomsayers who predict the swift decline of the print medium.

You can see some national trends on NADbank’s website in a PDF presentation. In general, it shows that print is still way ahead of online, that most people still get their news from newspapers in print form, and that rich people are more likely to be print readers. They also show, unsurprisingly, that online readership is continuing to grow, and is more than compensating any losses in print (at least in terms of eyeballs – advertising revenue is an entirely different story).

Unlike services that measure number of subscribers, NADbank gets its data through polling the general population, asking questions like “did you read this newspaper yesterday?” Its polling covers only the market and doesn’t measure out-of-market readership in print or online.

Infopresse crunches the numbers for Quebec newspapers, which for some reason doesn’t include The Gazette. Their chart (PDF) shows little change among La Presse and the Journal de Montréal (which is down slightly from 2010 – is that because the lockout is over?). Le Devoir, meanwhile, has held on to significant gains made between 2009 and 2010, though it is still the last-read paper in Montreal.

Among the free dailies, both have achieved significant gains in readership. 24 Heures is up 12%, profiting mainly from the fact that as of January 2011 it has exclusive rights to distribute in the metro system. But while one would expect competitor Metro to lose a significant amount of readership because of this, it has only continued to grow, up 3% in the last year. It’s undoubtedly more expensive for Métro to hire all those people to hand out papers in the morning, but it is clearly working to stop too many people from switching.

The slower rate of growth for Métro means that 24 Heures is catching up. While in 2009 Métro had 26% more readership on a typical weekday, that’s down to 12%.

The Gazette says its combined readership has hit a five-year high of 554,800 per week. Its print readership is 283,300 on weekdays, 318,900 on Saturdays and 498,000 at least once a week. 24 Heures’s gains have pushed it past The Gazette in terms of average weekday readership.

Posted in Media

Gazette kills soccer column over plagiarism charge

Monday’s Gazette includes a note to readers saying that it will no longer be carrying a weekly soccer column written by Paul Carbray.

The reason? Repeated instances of plagiarism, the paper concluded:

It was recently brought to our attention that a column which was submitted for publication used material from another source without attribution. A check of columns we published over the previous two months turned up two other cases where, again, extended passages were taken from articles and blogs that had been published online by other media outlets. The passages were repeated in the Gazette columns with very minor changes and no attribution.

Carbray, a former copy editor on the sports desk (one I worked with for a couple of years while he was there), wrote the weekly column and an accompanying notes package on the subject of European soccer for the past 15 years.

He told OpenFile Montreal that he had no excuse:

“I am well aware that plagiarism is a journalistic mortal sin,” Carbray said via email. “In 15 years of doing a column, my standards slipped on these occasions and I regret that extremely. Ultimately, there is no excuse. The fault was of method mostly, not intention. This is not how I envisioned ending 40 years in journalism.”

Local corrections specialist Craig Silverman writes about this case for Poynter, and suggests a more thorough investigation is needed.

The last time something like this happened was in 2006, when The Gazette found that language columnist Howard Richler had lifted material from reference sources without attributing it. His column was terminated and he hasn’t written for the paper since, though he has written for other publications including the National Post.

I haven’t conducted my own investigation into the accusation against Carbray, and due to the inherent conflict I won’t analyze this specific case significantly.

But this kind of thing is a constant worry at the back of any journalist’s mind, and if it isn’t it should be. The mistake can seem so minor at times – just forgetting to attribute a quote or a turn of phrase or a piece of information. The intentions can be honourable – not all cases are like a high school kid taking a paper written by someone else and putting his name on it. It could just be a question of rushing through a story on deadline and being lazy about a minor but still fundamental point.

But the consequences can be devastating. Being branded a plagiarist can end a journalist’s career.

A memo was sent to The Gazette’s newsroom staff reminding them of the seriousness of plagiarism and the need to attribute. Hopefully we can prevent such a thing happening again.

Posted in Media, Montreal

Gazette’s cryptic crossword maker Alan Lee dies

Many years ago, I witnessed family members of a friend of mine doing the cryptic crossword in The Gazette. I don’t remember how it worked. I don’t think I understood how it worked (and I still don’t). I just remember that for these puzzle addicts it was one of the things they did.

Alan Lee has been doing The Gazette’s weekly cryptic crossword since 1994. But his name soon won’t be gracing the weekly puzzles page anymore. Lee died suddenly on Friday at the age of 81.

Reporter Catherine Solyom has an obituary for Lee in Saturday’s paper, a brief glimpse into the life of the man behind the black and white squares and list of clues. He’ll be remembered at a special gathering at McKibbin’s Irish Pub on Friday.

But what of the puzzle, which last Saturday published No. 938? There are some still in the bank, which will take us to April. But after that, it’s still not clear. Maybe his daughter will take it up. Maybe someone else. Or maybe they’ll replace it with another puzzle. Either way, there’s going to be a change.

Posted in Media

Gazette, mailroom strike deal to end six-month lockout

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but The Gazette has just finished going through a labour conflict.

On Friday, the paper reports it has struck a deal with the union representing mailroom employees, who have been locked out since Aug. 7.

The deal will result in job reductions – seven buyouts and three layoffs with severance for a total of 10 jobs lost out of about 60.

On the other hand, the jobs will remain four days a week. The employer had wanted them to switch to five days a week.

Both sides say they are satisfied with the deal, which is good. It’s just unfortunate that it took six months to get to this point.

The lockout also affected a bargaining unit of two platemakers, who came to a deal in December.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Six years later, security

WARNING: This post is about me. If you don’t care about me, stop reading. Here, you can watch this YouTube video of a cute cat thing and browse from there.

It was so long ago that it’s hard to remember what it was like back then.

It was seven years ago this month that, while attending a national student journalism conference in Edmonton (thankfully that year there were no debilitating illnesses), I got a call on my cellphone from the city editor at the Gazette offering me a paid internship that summer.

My reaction was subdued. The man who offered me the job even remarked on that point. It’s not that I wasn’t happy – I was over the moon – but for some reason the only thing that I could think of was how much this conversation was going to cost me in roaming charges.

Though it occurs to me now that I’m not the kind of person who pulls out the theatrics when someone gives him really good news.

After a short, unpaid internship at the West Island Chronicle that I actually enjoyed even though it wasn’t exactly hard-hitting journalism, and another at CBC Montreal that resulted in a few paid shifts at CBC Radio over the previous holidays (which in turn convinced me that being a guest booker wasn’t quite my cup of tea at the time), I was really excited at the idea of working at a major newspaper in my home town.

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Posted in Media, Navel-gazing, Video

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

My Grey Cup screwup

I have, in the past, made light of errors made in various media. In some cases they’re minor and entirely understandable. In some cases there is a fundamental problem with something that has been reported.

And in some cases, it’s technically minor but incredibly embarrassing. I always sympathize with unintentional errors, even when I expose them for all to see.

If this had been any other Montreal media, I’d be posting it here with, I admit, a little bit of childish glee. But it was my paper.

And worse than that, it was me.

Erroneous Grey Cup scoreline in Monday's Gazette

I got an email this morning from Sarah Leavitt at OpenFile asking if I was working last night “when the Grey Cup mess up on the front page happened.” Since I had no idea what she was talking about, I turned on my laptop and looked at the electronic version of the paper (I’m too lazy to walk downstairs for the print version). I read the pointer text I had written, looked at the photo of the players and of the Grey Cup, looked at the page number it pointed to. I looked at the score to make sure it went in right. Yeah, it was 34-23 for the Lions…

Oh crap.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you, the error, which appears downpage on A1 on Monday, is that the name “Hamilton Tiger-Cats” should be “Winnipeg Blue Bombers”. It’s not like I wasn’t aware the Blue Bombers were the ones playing. But for whatever reason it didn’t hit me as I was filling in the rest of the text that Hamilton wasn’t the right team.

And it didn’t strike the other editors who read the front page, who are not big sports fans and had specifically asked me to write this text because they were worried about getting something fundamental wrong.

Naturally, this error did not go unnoticed. Influence Communication saw it and told its 12,000 followers. Mike Finnerty noticed it (and was nice about it, comparing it to one of his own errors). OpenFile has a story on it, by Leavitt, which quotes me trying to explain myself.

But really, there is no excuse. Just a very embarrassing correction in Tuesday’s paper, some teasing by fellow editors on the sports desk, and some reader email questioning our competence, all of which is clearly deserved.

Correction printed in The Gazette on Page A2 on Nov. 29

UPDATE (Nov. 29): I got some good-natured ribbing from my colleagues at work, and the newsroom manager said she got about a dozen phone calls from readers, many of them dripping with sarcasm. (I didn’t see any emails about it, though. Perhaps because the mistake wasn’t repeated online.)

News of the mistake made it to the Hamilton Spectator, which posted a story about it on Monday afternoon and included an image of the error in Tuesday’s paper.

The Gazette correction appeared in Tuesday’s edition on Page A2. I’m hoping my mom doesn’t add it to the scrapbook Too late, apparently. There are also two letters to the editor on the subject.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): Craig Silverman wrote this up for his column in the Toronto Star.

Posted in Media

More journalists of tomorrow

A year ago, I introduced my readers to some Concordia University journalism students who visited The Gazette to receive awards (and a little bit of scholarship money) named in memory of some of the paper’s dearly departed.

A few weeks ago, the next crop of journalism students came by to receive awards, and I repeated the process, not wanting these new kids to feel left out. (Apparently some of them found that blog post when they researched the awards.)

These awards are an early indicator of strong candidates among the field of upcoming graduates. Two of the five winners from last year ended up as interns this year – Mel Lefebvre on the copy desk and Katherine Lalancette as a reporter. I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence.

But, of course, it’s not absolute. After all, I didn’t win any of these awards when I was a journalism student, and look how awesome I am now!

Yeah.

Anyway, here are this year’s honourees:

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