Monthly Archives: September 2007

National Post redesign: That’s it?

Well, today is the big day. The New Toronto National Post hit doorsteps across the GTA nation today, with an Amazing New Redesign That Changes Everything. They’ve been advertising it in their paper and others for days now, so I was really excited to see what Canada’s Most Pretentious Newspaper did with itself:

The New National Post

It put its flag down the side. That’s about it.

Calling it a “bold, new design“, the new Post keeps the same headline fonts, same body text font, same flag design (though rotated 90 degrees) and the same elements.

Of course, why should they fix something that isn’t broken? The National Post “earned 38 international design awards from the Society of Newspaper Design (sic), approximately twice the number of any other English-language Canadian newspaper.” — Translation: We beat the Globe and Star, but lost to La Presse.

The only other noticeable design changes are a slight increase in font size, a very noticeable (I might even say excessive) increase in leading (Torontoist has comparison pictures), and a few other so-hard-to-see-that-I-can’t-see-them changes.

The “redesign” also comes with editorial changes, most of which are vaguely described:

  • A new section on Mondays dealing with small businesses. (Kind of shocking that they don’t have this already.)
  • More “Investing” and “Marketing” coverage in the Financial Post.
  • Three new columnists: American atheist and Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Hitchens, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, and This American Life’s ex-Montrealer Jonathan Goldstein. (It’s unclear which of these will write original columns and which are syndicated, but you can take an educated guess.)
  • Page Two of each section will be devoted to printing stuff they blogged about the day before. You can see an example in the Arts & Life section with posts from Ampersand.

As part of its Big Launch, the Post even managed to get one of Canada’s TV news networks to do a two-minute package glorifying it. Go ahead, guess which one. If you answered “the one they own”, you’re right.

The Post is seeking comments on its blog. Perhaps I can use the comment feature to get them to stop making crappy videos of talking reporter heads awkwardly reading the articles they just wrote that morning.

Even student politics should be open

A mini storm is brewing at Concordia University over a subject so stupid I can’t believe there are actually two sides to it: student union councillors don’t want their public meetings videotaped for public broadcast, despite mandating it at the previous meeting.

A little history here. Many moons ago, Concordia University Television was founded as Canada’s first university-based television station. It doesn’t have a television broadcasting license, nor is it on cable anywhere. Instead, it has monitors on a closed-circuit system throughout the university, mainly in the downtown Hall Building.

Somewhere in the 1990s, the Concordia Student Union (which was still concerned with that “democracy” thing and hadn’t yet been taken over by the moderate/radical or Israeli/Palestinian political divides, each bent on using political corruption to eliminate the other and stay in power at any cost) had the bright idea that, because nobody cared about what they did, they should get the word out more. So they mandated (read: required) CUTV to film their meetings and “broadcast” them to students. But because of technical limitations at CUTV, this never happened. And with the inevitable turnover on both sides, this rule was eventually forgotten.

Fast-forward to this spring. CUTV station manager Jason Gondziola wins a seat on the CSU Council of Representatives, somehow believing that being a student politician and running a student media outlet does not present an inherent conflict of interest. He immediately starts lobbying for permission for CUTV to start filming meetings. Over the past few years, the station has been using student money to buy lots of new equipment and is distributing some videos via its website.

But CSU councillors, specifically John Molson School of Business councillor Catherine Côté, who apparently have no idea what politics mean, are concerned about their privacy. In some cases in the past, it’s been Muslim women on Council who didn’t want their faces exposed. Ditto some paranoid anarchists. I’m not sure who it is now, but I’m certain it’s either an idiot or someone who is trying to hide from constituents.

Student politicians are almost by definition stupid. It’s not their fault. They’re learning how to become real politicians. This means that, for example, their political dirty tricks are a lot more transparent (illegally paying campaign workers, bribing, appointing partisan hacks to electoral and judicial positions, etc.).

But it boggles the mind that a student politician, who has run in an election and appeared on hundreds of posters and thousands of ballots, would cite privacy concerns as a reason to prevent journalists from recording the public proceedings of the most important student-run body at Concordia, responsible for a budget of over a million dollars. The fact that Councillor Côté did so after the fact, using the excuse that the issue should be revisited because she couldn’t be bothered to show up to the previous meeting and should be given a chance to express her views, is the height of arrogance.

The Link agrees, calling her an “enemy of transparency”.

She, and the entire CSU Council, should be ashamed.

Too much A-section planning never works

The Hamilton Spectator is “going local”. I’m not quite sure what that means exactly, but good for them.

One of the plans as part of its “going local” strategy is remaking its A2 and A3 pages. In most newspapers, these are the continuations of major stories off the front page. But the Spectator is going to make them into local news pages, probably with some sort of fixed layout.

Lots of newspapers make plans like these. A2 will always look like this, A3 will always look like this, the front page will always have this kind of layout.

The problem is that as soon as a huge story happens (say, an election or a local school shooting), about half the A section gets turned into coverage of that story, and these rules start flying out the window. Eventually, the first few pages start reverting to their previous habits: turns of unrelated front-page stories jammed in together with second-rate top news stories that didn’t make the cover.

Why bother fighting it? The A section is about news. Almost by definition it’s the section that you can plan the least in advance because you won’t know what kind of news you have until you have it. Give it the fluidity it needs, because otherwise it’s going to find a way to sneak in.

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Maclean’s student activism series focuses on Concordia

Kate Lunau, a former Concordia journalism student (who interned at The Gazette last summer) writes Part 1 of a Maclean’s series on student activism, which focuses on Concordia University and the risk assessment committee which is headed by its VP services and … uhh … “doesn’t exist” according to the university.

It quotes David Bernans, the professional student behind the crusade against this secret committee after it “mistakenly” stopped a reading from his book last year.

It also mentions my alma mater, The Link, and its editorial demanding more transparency in the university’s handling of security issues.

Facebook does not fear Infoman

Yves Williams has a YouTube video of Infoman Jean-René Dufort saying we need to destroy Facebook. As if it somehow furthers that point, he created a profile for wanted murderer Sylvain Vincent and got Justin Trudeau to add him as a friend.

I guess we shouldn’t take Mr. Dufort too seriously, since his Facebook profile has almost 100 “friends” as well.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): Jean-René Dufort… Dominic Arpin… seduction… leather…  

YAGB: Fashion shopping blog

Basem Boshra, The Gazette’s new Arts & Life online manager, is very busy these days. He was hired as a copy editor in March after a four-year absence. Now he’s launching blogs like there’s no tomorrow (and posting almost 100 posts to them already) like Inside the Box (TV), Words and Music (music) and Year One (university freshman diary).

The latest is The Constant Shopper with fashion editor Eva Friede. (The fashion section, for the unfamiliar, is those couple of ad-filled pages on Tuesdays that feature photos of must-have garments and accessories on white backgrounds.)

The blog’s inaugural post (actually more like three posts) chronicles, among other things, her search for the perfect watch. She rejects a $5,300 diamond-studded timepiece because it’s “too big”.

This is where Eva and I differ. My watch was bought for $10 at a street sale, complete with fabric/velcro strap. And it has a stopwatch. And I couldn’t be happier (well, except for the fact that I have to press a button to check the date).

(Don’t get the wrong impression, she also shops at Winners. But don’t expect MTL Street here).

Chapters/Indigo not above outright spam

I just received this spam email from Chapters/Indigo:

Chapters/Indigo spam

At first I thought it might be a phishing exercise, since I’ve never received such an email before, I haven’t shopped at Chapters/Indigo in ages and I certainly never gave them an email address I haven’t used in about as long. But there was no “your account will be deleted within 24 hours” warning nor any request to log in. A few quick clicks confirmed that the email did in fact come from the organization.

I might be able to forgive a small-time local outfit who sent out a quick ad for itself to people in the CEO’s address book unfamiliar with netiquette… 10 years ago. This is just inexcusable. I did absolutely nothing to request this email. My best guess is that they dredged up their archives from years ago and just harvested the email addresses assuming no one would complain.

The unsubscribe process adds insult to insult. You’re asked to “sign in” using a password that you don’t know because you never signed up with them. You then go to the “forgot your password page” and input your email address. Then you click “submit” and … nothing happens. No confirmation page. No email with your password. You’re stuck on this list forever.

I have sent Chapters/Indigo an email demanding an explanation. I have also contacted Toronto-based ThinData, as the email was sent through their servers. I will update this post if one is given from either company.

UPDATE (9:30pm, 4 hours later): I’ve received an email from a VP at ThinData asking me for a copy of the email I received (do they not keep copies of the mass commercial emails they send out?). The email, naturally, came not after I emailed them as an irate web user but after they discovered this blog post. He promises to look into the matter “ASAP”.

The Marois Mansion (next to) government land

The blogosphere is buzzing (do two posts constitute a buzz?) about the Pauline Marois camp sending a lawyer’s letter to The Gazette (inaccurately described as a “lawsuit”) demanding they retract allegedly incriminating statements about her made in an article by William Marsden this weekend.

The article is long and deals mostly with efforts to get areas of land rezoned from agricultural to residential (not too difficult when your party is in power — but if you can get through this part without lapsing into a coma, give yourself a cookie). These changes were made before Marois and her husband bought the land, but were supposedly done on their behalf. The really incriminating stuff — bribes in exchange for lies to get through loopholes — are based primarily on the statements of a retired construction worker who says he took $1,600 $500 in cash (see update below) after signing an affidavit about his use of an old cottage.

The other interesting part is the allegation that part of the estate (but no fixed structures besides a gate) are built on government-owned land (specifically, land reserved for the construction of the 440 highway extension, which would certainly have a negative impact on property values should it ever come). I’ve used the Google Maps aerial view of the property to draw a picture here based on details from the article:

The Marois Mansion

As you can see, the “built on government land” part is basically just a driveway, a couple of ponds and a gated entrance. And while I don’t mean to lessen the political implications of taking government-owned land for personal use (and because it doesn’t belong to you, not paying any taxes on it), I’ve seen many examples of homeowners using adjacent undeveloped land to walk their dogs, plant gardens or otherwise informally expand their backyards. (Though none would be so bold as to build a gated entrance to it.)

As for The Gazette, they’re not exactly sweating bullets. Marsden’s story seems very well researched, and the paper is standing by its reporter. And since Marois’s lawyer won’t comment on what he says they got wrong (seriously folks, why announce to the media that you’re taking legal action and then immediately refuse to comment on it?), I’m guessing this is more to save face than it is to right any real factual errors.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): The Gazette repeats its story from yesterday saying Marois’s husband Claude Blanchet sent a lawyer’s letter and is threatening to sue. (They’re milking this story for all it’s worth — as well they should.) The article creates one small hole in the original story: The neighbour now says it was actually $500 instead of $1,600 and that Marsden misunderstood him.

Meanwhile, Cent Papiers wonders why TVA is giving The Gazette lessons in journalism as shown in this LCN video (in which Marsden speaks funny-sounding French and is grilled over whether or not this is a “real story”). The funny thing is that this wasn’t such a huge story until Blanchet made it one. His threats to sue is what got every media outlet in town focused on the story.

Oh, and Pauline won her by-election yesterday. Congrats.

UPDATE (Sept. 27): Marsden updates his story with news that Marcel Turcotte, the neighbour whose affidavit is at the centre of this controversy, has issued another affidavit reaffirming his previous one, and contradicting what he told Marsden. It also mentions there was a 5-year lease from the government (1994-1999) for use of the public land. (The paper made it clear in the original article it couldn’t determine if such a lease exists.) Managing Editor Raymond Brassard is still standing by his reporter.

Meanwhile, Marois holds a press conference at her Ile Bizard home and vows to follow through with her threat to sue the paper. She takes issue with the suggestions of impropriety, though not with any of the facts of the piece, except for the previously-corrected figure of $500 instead of $1,600 (which she insists was a gift in exchange for the work he went through on their behalf, and not a bribe or pre-negotiated compensation for signing the affidavit). She plans to donate any money she gets to help promote sovereignty (because The Gazette is deliberately targetting sovereignist leaders, she says).

UPDATE (Sept. 28): The 5-year lease was cancelled in 1996, according to Marois, because of snowmobilers using the land. She also says they got permission to install the gate and gate posts at the street entrance.

Marois’s lawsuit has been filed and asks for $2 million.

And this funny letter in the Gazette today, defending Marois against the paper’s “cheap shot”: “If the English are smearing her, she must be very good.” The writer vows to vote for Marois next time around, which I’m sure will come as sad news to anglo rights groups who were counting on his support.

When is a dépanneur not a dépanneur?

After road work is done on Decarie Blvd. in Saint-Laurent, the borough is planning to start enforcing its by-laws on commercial signage. The law is pretty sensible, with a moderate restriction, a three-year grace period, and even some help funding new signs. That, plus the consultation and negotiation it went through with local business owners prior to enforcement makes it pretty ideal.

But the law has one additional restriction: No signs, posters or neon lights in windows. For most stores this is preferable to give it a more classy look, but what about dépanneurs?

Dépanneur window signage has gotten so ubiquitous in Quebec that the easiest way to spot them tends to be a hand-made sign in the window saying how cheap a case of Molson Dry beer is. (The linked article contains one such example.)

Can the Saint-Laurent borough really bring class to its corner stores? And what will that make them look like?

Another one burns the DVD

If you’ve ever watched a hockey game in the old Forum during its last 20 years of existence, you’ve no doubt heard recordings of Queen songs. We Will Rock You before puck drops certainly, and We Are The Champions at least a couple of times.

But have you ever heard Queen perform these songs live at the Forum? Now may be your chance. A CD and DVD of a November 1981 Queen concert at the Forum is being released. OK, it’s not quite as good as watching the 1993 Canadiens win the Cup, but what is?