Tag Archives: Transcontinental

Transcontinental kills the Chronicle and Examiner, the last of its English newspapers in Quebec

It’s true. Transcontinental, the publishing company that owns community weekly newspapers across the province, has confirmed that, for financial reasons, it is ceasing publication of the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner. Their final issues are next week.

The Montreal Gazette has the details, as well as some comments from former Chronicle/Examiner reporters.

But as much as people are reminiscing the official passing of two institutions (the Chronicle dates back to 1924, the Examiner to 1935), the mourning began long ago. The newspapers aren’t so much being shut down as they’re finally being put out of their misery.

The fact that only three people are losing their jobs because two newspapers shut down should be as clear an indication as any of how far these papers had fallen in recent years. Where once they each had a small team of reporters and editors covering stories as best they could, at the end there was only a single reporter being shared by both papers. At that point, to call what’s being done journalism might be a bit of a stretch. The reporters that have gone through there have accomplished herculean tasks, and many have better jobs at larger media outlets now, but there’s just so much that can be done with no resources.

You need only take a look at the Chronicle’s last issue to see how thin it has become, or how much of it is ads, or advertorials. There’s journalism there, too, but nothing even remotely close to what it used to be.

Fortunately, Transcontinental will give them one last issue, just after the federal election, where they can publish results and maybe say goodbye.

The shutdown follows the conversion of the former N.D.G. Monitor to an “online newspaper” in 2009. That no longer exists, its old website URL redirecting to Métro. And this summer, Transcontinental turned another old newspaper, the Huntingdon Gleaner, into an insert in a French-language weekly, getting rid of the Gleaner’s staff. (I’ll have more on that in a future story.)

So now what? Transcontinental made a reference to the western Montreal market being served by alternatives. In the West Island, there’s the weekly West Island section of the Montreal Gazette (my employer). In Westmount, there’s the Westmount Independent. And in both, there’s the Suburban. Will one or more of these boost their resources to attract the closed papers’ former readers (and their advertisers)? Or will less competition open the door to them cutting back?

More coverage:

UPDATE: A “wake of sorts” in memory of the West Island Chronicle is planned for Nov. 11 at Le Pionnier in Pointe-Claire.

Transcontinental sells 15 magazines to TVA for $55.5 million

The transfer of large collections of print media to and from Quebecor has taken another step, with the announcement that Transcontinental is selling 15 magazines to its Groupe TVA subsidiary for $55.5 million (or $3.7 million each on average). (Quebecor release, Transcontinental release)

The deal, which also includes a contract that will see Transcontinental continue printing those magazines for seven years, includes the following (with number of editions a year and average circulation where I could find it):

French magazines

  • Coup de pouce (general consumer magazine for women) — 12 x 209,260
  • Véro Magazine (women’s lifestyle magazine tied to TV personality Véronique Cloutier) — 4 issues/year
  • Décormag (home decorating) — 10 x 74,038
  • Fleurs Plantes Jardins (gardening) — 6 x 54,166
  • Québec Vert (horticulture) — 6 x 6,200
  • MaisonNeuves.com
  • Condo Maison Direct
  • Elle Québec (51%, with Hearst) (fashion and beauty) — 12 x 81,211
  • Le Bel Âge (50%, with Bayard Group) (lifestyle magazine for seniors) — 11 x 130,122

English titles

  • The Hockey News — 24 x 100,058
  • Canadian Living (general lifestyle) — 12 x 521,169
  • Style at Home (home decorating) — 12 x 233,878
  • Canadian Gardening — 6 x 92,624
  • Elle Canada (51%, with Hearst) (fashion and beauty) — 12 x 126,967
  • Good Times (50%, with Bayard Group) (lifestyle magazine for seniors) — 11 x 131,487

Digital

Not included are Les Affaires magazine or other business publications, or magazines regional to Western Canada, Vancouver Magazine and Western Living.

These would be the first major English magazines to come under the umbrella of TVA Publications.

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Transcontinental sells 14 community newspapers, shuts down 20 more

Following through on commitments made when Transcontinental bought Quebecor’s entire slate of community newspapers in Quebec, the company has received Competition Bureau approval to sell 14 community newspapers to smaller companies. And Transcontinental has responded by announcing it is shutting down 20 more, laying off 80 people.

The papers being sold, a mix of those previously owned by TC and Quebecor, are among 34 papers that Transcontinental was ordered to put on the market because they compete with other papers also owned by the company. (One of those papers, Le Courrier du Saguenay, which includes the Courrier du Fjord, Courrier de Jonquière and Courrier de Chicoutimi, was later removed from that list.)

Sold to Les Médias de la Rive-Sud:

  • Le Journal de Saint-Hubert (QMI)
  • Rive-Sud Express in Longueuil (TC)

Sold to Serge Langlois, Michel Langlois, Claude Langlois, Carole Côté and Pierre-Marc Langlois, who also own Les Éditions Blainville Deux-Montagnes:

  • L’Echo du Nord in Saint-Jérôme (QMI)

Sold to Néomédia, a division of iClic Inc., where they will become online-only publications:

  • Agri-Vallée in Valleyfield (QMI)
  • Chambly Express (TC)
  • Le Journal de Joliette (QMI)
  • Le Point du Lac-Saint-Jean in Saint-Félicien (QMI)
  • Le Réveil in Saguenay (QMI)
  • L’Echo de la Rive-Nord in Sainte-Thérèse (QMI)
  • L’Echo de Laval (QMI)
  • L’Echo de Trois-Rivières (QMI)
  • Pub Extra Magazine in Laval-Laurentides (QMI)
  • Sorel-Tracy Express (TC)
  • Vallée du Richelieu Express in Mont-Saint-Hilaire (TC)

The remaining 19 community newspapers are now Transcontinental’s to do with as they please. Of them, 18 are on the shutdown list:

  • Abitibi Express – Rouyn-Noranda (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Le Citoyen)
  • Abitibi Express – Val d’Or (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Le Citoyen)
  • Le Progrès Écho, Rimouski (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Avantage)
  • Le Rimouskois, Rimouski (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Avantage)
  • L’Impact de Drummondville (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Express)
  • L’Écho de Victoriaville (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s La Nouvelle Union)
  • Édition Beauce Nord, Sainte-Marie (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Beauce-Média)
  • Le Journal de Magog (QMI, competes with Transcontinental’s Le Reflet du Lac)
  • La Voix de la Matanie, Matane (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Avantage out of Rimouski)
  • La Voix Gaspésienne, Matane (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Avantage out of Rimouski)
  • Le Riverain, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Avantage out of Rimouski)
  • L’Écho de Repentigny, Repentigny (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s Hebdo Rive-Nord)
  • Point de vue Laurentides, Mont-Tremblant (TC, competed with Quebecor’s L’Information du Nord)
  • L’Écho de Shawinigan, Shawinigan (QMI, competed with Transcontinental’s L’Hebdo du St-Maurice)
  • Châteauguay Express, Châteauguay (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Le Soleil)
  • Roussillon Express, La Prairie (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Le Reflet in Delson)
  • Valleyfield Express, Valleyfield (TC, competed with Quebecor’s Le Soleil)
  • L’Écho de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (competes with Transcontinental’s Le Canada Français)

Also being shut down are:

The only paper that was put on the market and left unsold but will be kept by Transcontinental is Le Courrier du Fleuve in Rimouski.

Transcontinental is now left with 105 weekly papers, five biweeklies, six monthlies and one bimonthly in Quebec, plus the Métro Montreal daily, or 118 total newspapers.

UPDATE: The FNC-CSN union isn’t happy with the job losses, and worries about Néomédia, which it believes is more interested in advertising than maintaining editorial integrity.

Meanwhile, Radio-Canada’s eastern Quebec bureau gets some reaction to the closing of six papers in that region. And the FPJQ’s regional offices denounce the cuts in the Montérégie and Gaspésie regions

Competition Bureau: Transcontinental can buy 74 Quebecor papers, but must (try to) sell 34

The Competition Bureau has ruled that Transcontinental can acquire Quebecor Media’s 74 regional newspapers in Quebec, but in order to preserve competition, it must then sell 22 of those papers and 12 of its own.

In its decision, the bureau said it looked closely at the financial situation of the Transcontinental and Quebecor papers, noting that rivalry between the two intensified in 2009:

Since 2009, Transcontinental and Quebecor Media have engaged in aggressive competition for advertisers, entering markets where the other Party was the historical incumbent and cutting advertising prices. While a few independents remain in certain markets, Transcontinental and Quebecor Media own the only community newspapers in many of Quebec’s local communities and, as such, the Proposed Transaction may allow Transcontinental to have the only community newspaper(s) in numerous local markets.

The Bureau determined that at least one of the Parties’ newspapers was in financial distress in the vast majority of markets where the Parties compete. These were typically the newspapers that had been launched in recent years.

The competition rules by which the bureau operates allows for mergers that would reduce competition if the alternative is that one of the parties goes bankrupt and nobody picks up its assets, which would reduce competition anyway. The bureau’s assessment shows the community newspaper sector isn’t doing that well, but that Transcontinental should nevertheless put the newspapers on the block, and for no minimum price, for a period of 60 days, and managed by a third party.

“Following the completion of the sale period defined in the Consent Agreement, if no potential purchaser is identified for a particular paper, Transcontinental will be entitled to retain ownership of the newspaper,” the bureau writes. So Transcontinental could end up keeping many of these papers (or being allowed to shut them down and merge them with their competitors in each market) if no one else is interested in buying them for even $1 (with printing and distribution provided by Transcontinental for a limited time).

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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.

Quebecor ends community newspaper war with Transcontinental by selling them all their papers

It was 2010 when it really started to heat up. Quebecor Media started up new community weekly newspapers in Laval and the north shore, encroaching onto territory served by Transcontinental Media. A few months later, new papers in Joliette and Repentigny. It was clear at this point that Quebecor was starting a war.

Transcontinental responded with papers on Montreal’s south shore, in Sainte-Agathe, Mont-Tremblant and Abitibi.

Before then, both companies had dozens of community newspapers across Quebec. There was sort of a gentlemen’s agreement, or maybe just a fear of competition, so they didn’t encroach on each other’s territory. Until Quebecor decided it would expand into fast-growing areas and take on Transcon directly.

But on Thursday, that ended, with this matter-of-fact announcement from Quebecor that it is selling all 74 of its community weeklies to Transcontinental for $75 million. The announcement comes a day after it said it would cut 200 more jobs at Sun Media, including 50 in editorial positions.

Quebecor has 600 employees at these papers.

“The digital revolution has brought profound changes in local print media markets,” Quebecor CEO Robert Dépatie said in the press release. “Advertisers now have a multitude of platforms available to them that did not even exist little more than 10 years ago. We believe in the future of print media but we cannot ignore the new market realities”.

Quebecor talks about how the papers are in good hands, but the reality is that with many papers in overlapping markets (and many of those in fierce, unfriendly competition with each other), some mergers and shutdowns are inevitable.

The fact that this leaves Quebec with only one major community weekly publisher will mean it should get attention from the Competition Bureau. Sun Media will keep running the papers until it gets approval.

UPDATE (Dec. 19): Quebecor has also killed Le Sac Plus, its Publisac competitor. The shutdown will result in the loss of about 30 jobs, not including all the people who actually deliver it. Selling the regional weeklies prompted it to re-evaluate Le Sac Plus’s viability as a business, Quebecor said.

The list of papers TC Media is acquiring is below.

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Montreal’s community weeklies must make do without journalists

Can you have a newspaper without journalists? Transcontinental certainly seems to think you can. It announced that the 22 community weeklies in the Montreal area, which include the West Island Chronicle, Westmount Examiner and papers that cover various boroughs in Montreal, will be cut down from 23 to 12 journalists. That’s about half a journalist per paper.

The CSN union got angry about this and sent out a press release on Monday, which prompted stories from the FPJQ and Projet J. La Presse’s media columnist used it to lament the decline of newspapers in general. Everyone seemed to agree it was sad news.

And it is, for the people who are losing their jobs, plus those who may have had some connection to these once-respectable papers that have since been left to rot into empty shells for advertising.

The two journalists at the Chronicle (Marc Lalonde and François Lemieux), and Toula Foscolos, who is the news director for the Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, will survive the cuts, Foscolos tells me. Union rules dictate that those with less seniority will get the boot. That means part-timers like Morgan Lowrie, who had been doing most of the reporting for the Examiner and will be looking for a new job in a few weeks.

What the papers will look like after these cuts is unclear.

According to the FPJQ, the remaining journalists won’t even really be journalists. They’ll be community representatives, tasked with desperately filling the space available the cheapest way possible. The papers will lean harder on free content from citizens, people with axes to grind or things to promote, and businesses who want free advertising.

The point of no return is long gone. Does anyone still read the West Island Chronicle, or the Messager LaSalle, or the Courrier Ahuntsic? Now there will be even less of a reason to do so.

It’s a shame. But if Transcontinental had any shame, it would have let these papers shut down with some dignity many years ago.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post said there was just one journalist left at the Chronicle. There are actually two. It also failed to mention Morgan Lowrie, who is among the cuts.

UPDATE (May 7): Projet Montréal plans to present a motion to city council denouncing the cuts. It’s an entirely symbolic move that will change nothing, but I’m sure the laid-off employees appreciate it.

A new front in the Transcon-Quebecor war

The all-out war between Quebecor and Transcontinental continues. Only a few months after announcing new community weeklies in Laval and the north shore, Quebecor is opening up two other free weekly newspapers northeast of Montreal:

  • L’Écho de Repentigny (59,000 copies), serving Le Gardeur to Lavaltrie and competing directly with Transcontinental’s Hebdo Rive-Nord
  • Journal de Joliette (62,000 copies), serving Joliette, Berthierville and St-Michel-des-Saints and competing directly with Transcontinental’s L’Action

Quebecor says it will create 120 jobs with these new papers, which sounds like a lot, even from a company that is looking for creative ways around Quebec’s anti-scab law to get cheap content for the Journal de Montréal.

So far, there’s been no counterattack from Transcontinental in areas that Quebecor has historically covered, like the south shore. It remains to be seen if they will raise the stakes and create real competition in community newspapers, or if they’ll just give up and watch the media giant slowly erode what’s left of Transcon’s readership.

UPDATE: Seems I’ve missed the Rive-Sud Express, which was launched in April and competes directly with Quebecor’s Courier du Sud. Last week, Transcontinental added Point de vue Sainte-Agathe and Point de vue Mont-Tremblant, and Abitibi Express, that compete with Information du nord Sainte-Agathe, Information du nord Mont-Tremblant and La Frontière, respectively.

The Point de vue papers are actually a split-up of the formerly independent Point de vue Laurentides, which Transcontinental has acquired and turned into two weeklies, each running with a single journalist, a freelancer and a shared photographer, and a bunch of people doing ad sales.

Can the West Island Chronicle be saved?

West Island Chronicle's Talk of the Town: Advertorial or business section?

If you haven’t read it already, this piece by David Yates (former Gazette business editor, and one of my journalism professors at Concordia) is worth reading. It appears on Thursday’s Business Observer page in the Gazette, and takes direct aim at another newspaper, or perhaps more accurately its owners.

Yates sets his sights on the West Island Chronicle, which used to be much larger than it is now. Many eons ago, people used to pay to get it, it used to have a reporting staff. Now, he says, it “is barely a shadow of its former self, as are other community newspapers taken over by Transcontinental Inc. … almost indistinguishable from the advertising fliers for grocery stores and other retail outlets that it accompanies.

Yates doesn’t pull his punches. He accuses it of running advertorials, of running pictures of its publisher with advertisers to keep friendly with them, and of contributing to its own demise by slashing its quality and inviting competition. He says similar papers like the Westmount Examiner are doing the same thing, which is why we now have independent papers in Westmount and the West End.

Yeah, it’s true

This piece comes as the Chronicle is struggling to get back on its feet editorially. Just before Christmas, news came down that its editorial staff of two would be reduced to one with the dismissal of reporter Raffy Boudjikanian. Editor Albert Kramberger refused to be demoted to reporter and left the paper, leaving it with an editorial black hole.

(Since then, Boudjikanian has been seen heard working for CBC radio in Montreal, while Kramberger has had freelance pieces in the West Island Gazette.)

Announcement welcoming Sarah Leavitt in April 7 issue

After a rough few weeks, in which stories were borrowed from other papers (some translated from Cités Nouvelles, which covers the West Island in French), they hired Concordia journalism student Sarah Leavitt as the new reporter.

“I’m going to try my best to bring the Chronicle into the Web 2.0 world and make it better than David Yates thinks it is,” she tells me, figuring out that my email inquiry about her new job was in part related to Yates’s piece.

Even without the dramatic staff turnover, the paper is struggling. People within Transcontinental agree with that (though, of course, they asked me not to identify them). People simply aren’t going to pay for a community newspaper anymore, and declining ad revenue means less money to spend on staff, which means the quality goes down, which means fewer people read it, which means less advertiser interest, and the spiral just gets worse.

Transcontinental is looking to fix that, in part because of competition from Quebecor. But the threat Yates talks about is from a mom and pop organization.

Let freedom reign

With the NDG Monitor reduced to online-only status and the Westmount Examiner barely worth reading anymore, newspapers have moved in to steal the readership. One is the Suburban, which publishes separate editions for the West Island, the central city and the East End. Two others are published by David Price, the weekly Westmount Independent and twice-monthly NDG Free Press. Both claim a distribution of about 13,000, have more high-end ads (mostly from real estate agents) and a lot more editorial content that ruffles feathers instead of placating businesses.

Yates’s suggestion about a similar thing happening in the West Island (where it would also go up against a weekly section of The Gazette) comes at the same time as a rumour that Price is starting up a third newspaper to focus on the West Island.

Price denies such a thing is in the immediate future. “Fun as that sounds, there is no expansion plan at this time,” he tells me.

Ethical lapse?

As for those standalone photos of business leaders with the newspaper publisher, a Transcontinental insider tells me that the Chronicle’s “Talk of the Town” page and similar pages in other newspapers doesn’t involve a quid pro quo with advertising. In other words, there’s no requirement to buy anything to get covered. Instead, the purpose of the pages seems to be to allow the newspapers to tell businesses that “yes, we had something about your Subway franchise opening in the strip mall” without actually wasting a reporter on the story.

Whether that’s a big enough distinction for you is up to you. Smaller papers have a particular problem with keeping the walls between advertising and editorial separate.

Awards season

All this controversy also comes just after the nominees finalists for the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards are released (PDF), showing a lot of honours for the Chronicle’s two departing staff. Reporter Boudjikanian got seven nods, Kramberger one, and the paper a total of 12, second in total behind the Low Down to Hull and Back News (still my favourite name for a newspaper) at 17.

Though Leavitt is no doubt a capable journalist, it is expected that the paper will sink in quality compared to its peers over the next week or two as it re-establishes its institutional memory. The Chronicle, which has often been a dominant force at the QCNA awards, could come into them next year without making a very big splash.

What do you think?

Is there room for a new West Island paper with the Chronicle, Suburban and West Island Gazette already fighting over the anglo market? Have Trancontinental’s papers, like the Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, gotten so bad that there’s no journalistic value in keeping them going? Could a community paper that invests in staff become profitable before it’s run out of business?

Can the Chronicle be saved? And if it could, should it?

Chronicle, Cités Nouvelles editors refuse demotions

On Friday, the West Island Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles, the two Transcontinental-owned weeklies covering the West Island, each had two full-time editorial employees – an editor and a reporter.

On Monday, they may have none.

Layoffs announced just before Christmas of the papers’ reporters (Raffy Boudjikanian for the Chronicle, Olivier Laniel for Cités Nouvelles) took effect on Friday. Technically they’re not permanent, but for an indeterminant period. But Boudjikanian doesn’t expect to return to the job and is now unemployed. Laniel was a temporary worker, replacing a reporter on maternity leave.

Albert Kramberger

Hearing about the job cuts and their own demotions from editor to sole reporter (and sole journalist), Chronicle editor Albert Kramberger and Cités Nouvelles editor Marie-Claude Simard told their employer on Christmas Eve that they would refuse their demotions and wouldn’t work for their papers if they were expected to do so solo.

Their superiors “seemed shocked to get the news”, Simard said, and they have been holding meetings this week with the union to discuss the matter.

Whether those meetings will go anywhere is another matter. A decision could be weeks away, and the demotions take effect on Monday.

As far as Kramberger is concerned, unless some stunning reversal on the employer’s part takes place, he’s already worked his last shift at the Chronicle, and he’s looking for another job.

Wayne Larsen, who was also demoted from editor of the Westmount Examiner, saw the positive side of his new role and is expected to stay on.

The emptying of the Chronicle is particularly distressing. Only five years ago, I spent a week there as an intern, and it had a skeleton staff, but still a staff. News reporters, a sports reporter, an editor and a photographer. The Chronicle was a perennial winner at the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards, mostly because they had more resources than the other papers.

Now they’re all gone.

Transcontinental might choose to hire a new reporter at each paper, perhaps some kid straight out of university or a laid-off journalist who’s desperate to make ends meet. But the loss of institutional memory would be huge. They would end up as shadows of the shadows they once were.

With the Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles on their last legs, a void opens up for West Island community coverage. The best of what’s left is the weekly West Island section of The Gazette, which has four full-time editorial employees and relies on the resources of the larger paper. Beyond that, there’s little. Unlike Westmount or NDG, there’s no mom-and-pop paper running out of someone’s basement trying to compete with the big guys. Even The Suburban hasn’t really reached out to the West Island yet.

Transcontinental may have seen this as just two layoffs, but they’ve essentially abdicated their responsibilities to the West Island.

Now, who will fill that void?

Other coverage from CTV Montreal and The Suburban

Transcontinental and the freelance union oxymoron

Over the past few years, a group of Canadians fed up with increasingly restrictive standardized freelance contracts from large print publishers (combined with stagnant or even declining freelance fees) has been toying with the idea of starting up a union.

It’s not clear what form such a union would take, since the entire point of being “freelance” is to negotiate deals on your own. But the media environment that has developed, with just about every magazine and large newspaper owned by one of only a dozen or so major media companies, has meant that freelancers face a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that leaves no room for negotiation. Groups of professional freelancers have been looking at banding together to get these standard contracts changed so that publishers have to pay if they want to re-use freelance content on other media, particularly on the Internet or in electronic databases.

This all came to a head this week when the Canadian Writers Group, the Periodical Professional Writers Association of Canada and a bunch of other similar groups called on all freelancers to boycott Transcontinental, which publishes Canadian Living, Elle Canada and dozens of regional newspapers. The press release is here (PDF).

The groups argue that the so-called Master Agreement (PDF) that Transcontinental is forcing all its writers to sign is over-the-top, even to the point of licensing TV rights for free.

The move prompted reaction from Transcontinental, which said it was surprised and it thought the contract was fair. It argues that the language is misunderstood, and that the rights grab is only for properties tied to a particular brand, and that Transcontinental can’t re-use content across brands (read: magazines and their associated websites) without paying an extra fee. The writers’ groups dispute those arguments.

So the campaign has begun, and writers are asking people to boycott anything published by Transcontinental. They’re even asking people to unfollow The Hockey News on Twitter, since it’s a Transcontinental publication.

This is all coming at the same time as Transcontinental is considering a lockout of its employees at community weeklies in and around Montreal. Not a good week for the company.

Freelance for free

The problem with this boycott campaign is the same one that has caused these contracts to be put forward in the first place: writers are a dime a dozen, and so many of them are willing to work for peanuts that publishers find they can demand more rights for less pay and still have people climbing over each other trying to get a byline.

The erosion of freelancer rights has already hit newspapers, where Canwest, Sun Media and others have forced their freelancers to accept these terms or stop contributing. Now Transcontinental is trying to move this to the magazine world (with a contract that’s still much more generous to freelancers than the newspaper freelance contracts), and the professional writing community has said it’s not going to take it anymore.

Even with a writers’ boycott in place, expect plenty of journalism school students, part-time writers and others to jump at the chance to take the place of the professional freelancers for the few bucks an article that Transcontinental will offer them.

This slide to mediocrity won’t end because of a boycott by the cream of the crop, it’ll end when either publishers decide that the content they’re paying peanuts for is too crappy to justify the savings, or when young status-hungry writers figure out that an eight-point byline nobody will remember and a cheque for $100 isn’t worth all the work they’ve spent crafting a magazine feature.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for either of those to happen, unfortunately.

Print media isn’t dead yet, SF Chronicle hopes

The San Francisco Chronicle’s 15-year deal with Montreal-based Transcontinental to print its newspaper officially began today, and the paper heralded the new (outsourced) presses that allow for more colour. That, of course, is being mocked in the usual places.

You’ll recall that Transcontinental signed an 18-year deal with the Globe and Mail to print their newspaper last year.

UPDATE: A short piece in the New York Times that questions the point.

Courrier Laval loses half its reporting staff

Transcontinental

The fallout from the cuts at Transcontinental are starting to trickle down. The Courrier Laval has lost two of its four reporters, leaving two people to write all the news from across the island.

One of the reporters losing her job is Nathalie Villeneuve. You might remember her as the person whose story TVA picked up without attribution. Now what will TV news report on?

Meanwhile, the union representing employees at Transcon’s community weeklies is bemoaning the situation at papers in the centre of the island of Montreal (Villeray, Rosemont, Ville-Marie, etc.) who have even fewer journalists and can’t do much journalism of their own.

I can attest to that. There’s plenty of syndicated content (mostly about cars), but very little of local interest comes out of those papers.

UPDATE: Voir’s Steve Boudrias calls this cut “absurd”, with some thoughts on the state of community journalism.

Globe thinks colour will solve newspaper crisis

The Globe and Mail and Transcontinental have signed a $1.7 billion, 18-year deal for the Montreal-based printer to print the newspaper everywhere but the prairies.

The highlight of the deal (from the Globe press release) is a promise from Transcon to buy new presses capable of printing full-colour on all pages. Currently newspapers have to budget which pages get colour and which stay black, mainly because colour is a four-plate process (CMYK) and black requires only one plate and one colour ink. (The change will also mean a shorter paper and another redesign)

That sounds pretty cool. But spending $200 million on new presses to satisfy an 18-year deal (2010-2028) when we’re not even sure that newspapers are going to last that long?

Like the New York Times and other larger papers, the Globe will probably weather the crisis a bit longer than most (the fact that it hasn’t drastically cut the number of journalists recently certainly helps). But 20 years is a long time in the future, especially when you consider where we were 20 years ago. In 1988, newspaper staffs were at their peak, television production values practically nonexistent, and nobody knew what the Internet was.