Monthly Archives: October 2007

Quebecor’s newsrooms 99.9% separate

Quebecor Media is getting a slap on the wrist from a committee setup to oversee the separation of its newsrooms. They found three instances where the Journal de Québec took photos from TVA, which violates the promise Quebecor made to the CRTC to keep their newsrooms completely separate.

I think the cat’s out of the bag when it comes to merging newsrooms. Quebecor has already combined its online properties into the monster Canoe. They’ll just keep finding ways to consolidate their assets without pissing off the CRTC too much.

Another thing that’s interesting about this situation is that two of the three instances happened while the Journal de Québec was in a labour disruption (which is still going on, by the way). The union might have something to say about that.

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I will not use the force

Oh petty Concordia Student Union political grandstanding, how I miss thee. (UPDATE: Now there’s video: Part One, Part Two)

Not that the grownups at Loyola and Sir George aren’t doing petty political grandstanding of their own, of course.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to hide my degree more than a protest or the prospect of some dirty hippies running the joint.

Couch potato journalism

So The Gazette has been running this Made For TV series since Saturday, with five of their writers describing what they watched on TV for a week.

We’ll set aside the inherent valuelessness of such fluff journotainment. What really sucks about Made For TV is the writing. Today, for example, they have this unknown freelance hack talk about watching Family Guy and the Discovery channel while surfing the net on his laptop. I’m sure this guy thinks he’s very funny. A look at his TV-watching diary shows he has plenty of free time being a couch-potato loser to cultivate that wit, watching Star Trek reruns until 3 a.m.

I for one have never heard of this guy before, though he seems to think he’s hot stuff talking about himself on his blog. What do I care what he’s watching on TV? Should I be pitying him? It’s just so sad.

But man is he really hot.

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New Galacticast is thrusterific

Fred NgoOhOhOh!

If you’re like me, you wake up every morning thinking: “I wonder if I’m going to see some sweet bare-chested Fred Ngo or other Fred Ngo-related softcore pornography.”

We got a sneak peek back in July with a water fight, but since then he’s been mostly clothed in public.

Well today Barechested Fred Ngo is back, with a bang, in Galacticast’s new episode. He thrusts.

The episode is a very funny Star Trek parody, filled with homosexuality, incest, bullying, sluttiness, simulated cunnilingus and Julien Smith. All things that other people wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Well… Fred Ngo would touch it with his 10-foot pole. But he’ll touch anything with his 10-foot pole.

Killing the plastic bag won’t be that easy

Today is Blog Action Day, which as I already described is a really silly idea. But I’ll humour them anyway by talking about an environmental issue that has gotten a lot of press here recently: plastic bags.

Plastic shopping bags, especially those from grocery stores, are considered one of the bigger environmental issues facing us (they’re not actually such a huge issue, but they’re treated that way). They line streets, clog sewers, choke children and make crank-calls to your boss. They have a high volume and low weight, which makes recycling them inefficient.

So various jurisdictions are looking into ways to reduce or even eliminate this urban blight. Quebec is considering imposing a tax on them to reduce their usage, while a Maxi store in Sherbrooke has decided to eliminate them in favour of reusable bags, bins and favourable publicity.

Other countries around the world have taken different approaches to these bags since bout 2002 (Wikipedia has a roundup), most being a mixture of financial disincentives and voluntary compliance. So far (unless I missed one), no industrialized Western nation has banned them outright.

No magic answer

Plastic bags are clearly detrimental to the environment and their use should be heavily reduced. Even the plastics lobby thinks so (though their propaganda literature suggests otherwise). But the proposed solutions all have problems:

Taxes: Serge Lavoie of the plastics industry makes some good (albeit extremely self-serving) points about why this is problematic. Well, actually he makes three points, two of which are bullshit. He says plastic bags aren’t a problem, but then says they’re a minor problem, and then points to other problems and asks why we aren’t tackling those (I’ve heard similar arguments about why we shouldn’t criticize Israel for human rights violations). He also points to legislation and public opinion polls, which only proves that their lobbyists are working hard. But the point that makes a lot of sense is that people are going to find ways around the law. It’s already happened in Ireland, where people are using bags that are worse for the environment but not subject to the tax. Simply put: when money is involved, the market will find a way around it.

Voluntary compliance: The argument against this one is simple: People say things that make them look good, but greed and laziness set in when nobody’s looking. People are already aware of the problem, and many are changing some of their habits, but voluntary compliance alone isn’t going to solve the problem.

As someone who does most of his grocery shopping lugging around a big green bin, I can attest to other problems with the system as it is now:

  • Bags are still considered proof-of-purchase. It’s ludicrous when you think about it, because it’s easy to slip something into a bag, but it’s how many stores distinguish between stuff you’ve bought and stuff you haven’t. Re-using bags leads to confusion and suspicion. Half the time when I go by the cash at Loblaws, the cashier has to ask me whether or not I’ve purchased the reusable bin I’m using.
  • Minor inconveniences at the cash. Aside from the aforementioned suspicion, there’s other annoying problems. Groceries are placed in bags automatically unless you ask for something different. Rebates offered for not taking plastic bags aren’t always applied. My favourite is when trying to use the self-checkout at Loblaws. Not only is the system geared for bags (using a bin means balancing it on the scale and hoping it doesn’t fall), but you need operator assistance before you can start scanning your groceries. If a big chain like Loblaws makes it difficult, imagine what it’s like for smaller places.
  • Remembering to bring your bags. I don’t own a car, and a lot of the time I do groceries it’s on the way home from something. So I don’t have my big cumbersome bin. Plastic bags are small enough to put in your pocket, but not everyone will think ahead necessarily.
  • Merchants give good PR about protecting the environment, but in reality they just don’t care. They have no problem polluting as much as they can behind the scenes. They build massive buildings with ultra-high ceilings and keep them super-heated in the winter and super-chilled in the summer with wide open doors. Merchants in San Francisco promised to put a lid on their plastic bag use to avoid a tax on them, but ended up doing nothing.

Outright banning: This extreme step has been proposed in some developing countries as well as many small cities and towns. But they run into similar problems as taxing above: people will simply find a way around the problem, and that way might have even worse environmental consequences.

Finally, any drastic measure also ignores the fact that most households have already found ways to reuse plastic bags. There are two most common:

  1. Garbage. Put the bag in the kitchen garbage can, dump everything unrecyclable in it, tie it up and throw it in the big garbage bin at the curb. Depending on your output, households can go through at least a couple of these each week. (That would survive a reduction, but not an elimination of plastic bags)
  2. Poop scooping. One or two bags a day, per dog, are used to scoop and dispose of dog poop.

In both these cases, an alternative would need to be found. Using no bags would be impractical, because humans would have to get their hands dirty touching the slimy grossness. Purchasing bags is an option, but would probably be unpopular since we currently get them free. Instead, I can imagine a lot of dog poop going unscooped as a result of this ban.

Biodegradable bags: This is the solution that seems to be the magic solution to all these problems. BioBag Canada certainly thinks so. But these bags are still in development, and very expensive compared to plastic bags. The industry also argues that biodegradable isn’t necessarily better in landfills, because it releases methane and carbon dioxide, while plastic bags just sit there and do nothing. Despite that, I think this will eventually be a favourable option.


Finally, I’ll add one bit of ludicrous hypocrisy to this debate: Cities who are starting green projects are requiring use of disposable bags where they aren’t necessary:

  • In Côte-Saint-Luc, residents who are part of a pilot curbside compost pickup project are being given a short supply of compostable bags, which they will then have to replenish by paying for them out of pocket. They then place these bags in a special bin that will be emptied into trucks. But why the middle man? Why not just throw your food scraps directly into this container? Yeah, stuff might stick to the inside, but what’s the worst that’ll happen? It’ll decompose?
  • Even worse, Ville-Marie has phased out recycling bins in favour of clear plastic bags that look a lot like garbage bags. They seem to think it’s better that way. Maybe they’re right, but I see a lot of confusion between garbage and recycling, bags ripped open by raccoons looking for food and homeless people looking for returnable containers. Not to mention that it costs money and looks awful.

Baby steps

So what’s my solution? Everything in moderation. Voluntary measures will probably be the most successful in the short term. You don’t want plastic bags clogging your sewers? Don’t bring them home from the grocery store. Bring reusable canvas bags when you shop. Get retailers to do more to encourage use of reusable bags and bins, as well as collecting used bags.

Innovative ways to reduce bag use, combined with phasing in of compostable/biodegradable bags where preferable, will probably be the eventual solution to this problem. But any solution has to be cheap, convenient, practical and aesthetic if it’s going to succeed. Trying to force it is asking for it to backfire.

Vlog: Getting better

I just finished the third episode of TVA’s Vlog, which I’ve been following since its debut with a critical eye.

I find myself liking the show a bit more this time around, partly because of subtle changes made to it, and partly because I think I might have been a bit harsh in my original analysis.

The show is showing more videos I haven’t seen before, and is showing more of them. The hosts also seem a bit more comfortable in their roles, and their banter seems a bit less fake. The fact that host Dominic Arpin is listening to his audience is also worthy of praise.

Nevertheless, there’s still some issues with the show, and I hope Arpin & Co. will take this criticism constructively:

  • A fantastic video of George W. Bush singing Sunday Bloody Sunday was shown with subtitles explaining the lyrics. I’ve always gotten annoyed by Quebec media (and especially Montreal media) who seem to ignore the fact that 40% of Quebecers are bilingual (in Montreal, the percentage is even higher, around 50%). But even if you ignore the statistic, what’s important isn’t so much the lyrics as the editing that made the words match. (Or am I on the wrong track here? Francophones who can’t understand English can respond below)
  • Can we be done with the Occupation Double Top 3 videos please? They’re not funny, they’re not interesting, and for some strange reason they’re not even of very good quality. Due to how fast they go through them, it seems the Vlog people are being ordered by TVA to plug the show in this way, which would be a shame. It serves no useful purpose.
  • Any chance you could start on time once in a blue moon? I’m sure there’s a valid reason why the show is always delayed by up to half an hour. But this is not the way to gain viewership to a new show. The few who remembered to tune in an hour later than “usual” this week saw some woman being interviewed on a terrace. If you don’t care about anyone but those who watch Occupation Double and want to stick around, that’s fine, but some of us don’t want to watch that crap on Sunday night.
  • When asking people to submit videos of themselves doing things, don’t relegate them to a tiny corner of an otherwise blank screen showing the credits while an announcer promos upcoming shows. Give them at least a bit of spotlight, or they’ll stop producing.
  • And Dominic, as for your dancing…

One thing I’ll stop criticizing the show for, however, is using old videos. The Sunday Bloody Sunday video referenced above is good, and many people haven’t seen it. I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be showcased on the show. (If anything, an old video that’s out of the spotlight will have been seen by fewer viewers than one that’s burning up YouTube.) Unless it’s tied to some dated news event, go ahead and show it.

Your website still sucks

I’m debating putting that subhead in bright orange just so the powers that be at Canoe figure it out. As far as I can tell, not a single improvement has been made to the website for the show since its launch, despite some very serious problems with it:

  • The URL ( is way, way too long
  • The homepage automatically plays a video with audio without asking permission
  • Navigation is done using Flash instead of HTML links (overuse of Flash and Web 2.0-ish bad design is a problem all over the site)
  • There’s a button to watch the show live, but it only works when the show is on TV. This goes against the entire point of the Web.
  • Links to videos featured on the site force new windows to pop up instead of just being HTML links that people can control based on their browsing preferences
  • Clicking on the link for “Blogue” still brings you to a page that’s devoid of content and is missing the navigation buttons related to the show.
  • Doing anything on the website requires going through the 17,000-step Canoe registration process.

All these things need to be dealt with before we can even get to suggestions to improve it (like having an RSS feed with links to all the videos seen in the show).

Star PM: Good on paper, but still a failure

Just over a year ago, with much fanfare, the Toronto Star launched a new service called “Star P.M.”, which was a dozen-page letter-sized PDF file that could be downloaded on weekday afternoons.

The idea was simple: Office workers would download the paper, which had afternoon updates of important stories, as well as things like Sudoku puzzles, print it out and take it with them on the ride home. There are certainly lots of people who take public transit to whom this might appeal.

And from some who fit that criteria there was initial praise of the project, which was the first of its kind in North America.

But there was also criticism with what now looks like keen foresight, pointing out that people won’t download as a PDF what they can get faster in HTML. And then there were numbers to back that point up.

And so it was, this week the Star announced it is killing Star P.M. to focus more on its mobile website, which is a format more friendly to the cellphone-toting workforce. The last issue will be Wednesday, October 17.

The format is what ultimately killed Star P.M. The Star underestimated the amount of effort involved in printing such a document every weekday. They overestimated how fast non-junkies need to get their news (busy workers could just wait until the next morning to read stories in the paper). They underestimated how much time news junkies would spend bored at work reading the paper’s website, or getting any news they cared about from their favourite blogs.

The new mobile website (“mobile version” is the new “non-Flash” or “low-bandwidth” — making me wonder why the rest of the website can’t have such a simple design) is a better way for the Star to spend its time. It updates faster and it’s much more interactive.

But what about the other PDF papers out there? The Ottawa Citizen has Rush Hour, which is still running. Other such papers in the U.S. and Europe have quietly shut down. Expect Rush Hour to have a similarly sad end.

You might also see obituaries being written for “Game Day” issues, which are special afternoon before-the-game downloadable PDFs with rosters, last-minute updates and other stuff the newspapers think you’ll want to take with you to the game. The Ottawa Citizen has one for Senators games, the Vancouver Sun just started one for Canucks games, and the Montreal Gazette runs one for Alouettes games. Considering these publications have even stricter audience limitations, I just can’t see them getting popular enough to support the work put into them.

There’s also G24, the PDF paper produced by the Guardian, which has the advantages of being somewhat customizable and more up-to-date because the PDFs are produced automatically. This also means that even if nobody reads it, it doesn’t cost the paper anything. Sure, it doesn’t have the newspaper-like modular layout, but is that really necessary in these kinds of circumstances?

By the end of the year, we’ll probably be able to conclude once and for all that these PDF papers are a failed experiment. But, as one blogger commented, at least it was an experiment. We have to at least give them that.

UPDATE (Jan. 9, 2008): The London Daily Telegraph has killed its “Telegraph PM” PDF paper. So I was off by a few days…

Irving really doesn’t like competition

The CBC has a story this week about how the Irving Family (which owns New Brunswick) is suing a former manager who is starting a competing paper.

Though a search of William Kenneth Langdon’s home found documents from the Woodstock Bugle-Observer, he swears he just forgot about them and anyway they would be useless in making a newspaper.

Besides the stupidity of having such documents at your home, don’t managers leave for competing news media all the time? Imagine what would happen if they could all be sued for it.

This case, of course, takes on added meaning because Langdon is starting a new newspaper in a province where every major newspaper is owned by one company. And he left the old paper because of Irving’s ruthless anti-competitive activities. In the end, the Irvings come out looking like megalomaniac supervillains of comical evility.

But perhaps more important, is Woodstock, New Brunswick (pop. 5,000) really the town in that province most in need of a second competing newspaper?

UPDATE (Oct. 26): J-Source gives a roundup of some more coverage of the case, including allegations that Irving papers aren’t reporting on it fairly.

UPDATE (Nov. 5): J-Source’s Deb Jones says Langdon has won a court case and will be allowed to compete against Irving’s papers.

TWIM: Racial profiling, dream listener and dancing!

This week was a productive one here at Fagstein WorldMedia Ltd., so much so that I’m three days behind on reading my newspapers. Here’s what’s in Saturday’s paper from yours truly:

No racial profiling here

First up is an interview with Paul Chablo, the communications director at the Montreal police department. He’s the first anglophone to hold the job and has been trying to reach out to anglophone media. He’s also a really nice, charismatic fellow.

But we weren’t talking about him. Instead, the interview is about the police’s response to allegations of racial profiling. It was prompted by allegations from Kamrol Joseph, a 25-year-old black man who was questioned by police after stepping into the street to hail a cab in Cote-Saint-Luc last month. He refused to provide ID and was arrested so he could be ticketed. He was released after his identity was established, with a ticket for jaywalking. He went to the press.

Chablo says this wasn’t a case of racial profiling, and that Joseph only told the officers he was trying to hail a cab after he was arrested. Instead of targetting a black man in an affluent neighbourhood, they were responding to a man in the street sticking his hand out, thinking he was gesturing at police to get their attention.

Believe it or not, that’s the explanation. There were some other insightful comments he gave during the interview:

  • No Montreal police officer has ever been found guilty of racial profiling. There are about 20 complaints per year, but they’re all either shown to be unfounded or inconclusive.
  • A case that went in front of the ethics committee involving Gemma Raeburn, a woman who got a visit from police after neighbours mistook two black men helping her clean her garage for burglars, also wasn’t racial profiling, even though the officers who responded were sanctioned. The police ethics committee ruled against the officers and imposed short suspensions for the comments made to Raeburn, which included “bullets don’t see colour” and “why don’t you go back to your country?” Though the comments were racist, the committee said, the initial reason for the intervention was apparently considered justified from the police’s perspective.
  • In addition to lots of training of new recruits, the police are outreaching to the community, employing the services of Community Contact editor Egbert Gaye as a mediator. (Despite an email asking me to verify, some well-meaning copy editor changed his email address to a grammatically correct but factually incorrect spelling. It’s
  • In all cases where a complaint is brought against officers, the department likes to have sit-down meetings with the citizens and officers involved to solve the matter informally. And such meetings often work, giving people a chance to vent and clear up misunderstandings. A lot of these complaints, Chablo says, come from people who think they’ve been singled out for minor offenses, only to later learn that dozens of other people were ticketed for the same offense on the same day.

UPDATE (Oct. 23): Gemma Raeburn has a response opinion in Saturday’s paper, which takes issue with the “criminal profiling” vs. “racial profiling” comments Chablo made about her case. Some of her outrage I feel might have been my fault, as she understood from my article that Chablo supported the officers in this case. To be clear, he didn’t condone the racist remarks (and freely labelled them as such). His point was simply that this wasn’t “racial profiling” because the police were acting based on a phone call.

I dreamt I read this weird blog

This week’s blog is dream listener, a blog about the hand-painted cardboard signs being posted around the city by its author. It’s a project that started last November and runs for a year, with the author (who wants to remain anonymous due to her quasi-legal activities) writing about her dreams. An audiobook of the project is being released next Friday, with all proceeds going to the St. James Drop-in Centre.

So You Think You Can Pun?

Finally, an explainer about U.S. TV series (mostly reality shows) having their formats licensed to Canadian companies who create Canadian versions and sell them to the CRTC as Canadian content. It was based, of course, on this blog post where I wonder what this is doing to Canadian television. That, in turn, was based on news that CTV has secured the rights to make So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Apparently the Idol franchise is worth more than $2 billion.

The spooky metro car

I got on the metro the other day to do some grocery shopping and I finally stumbled on the one metro car that’s been retrofitted as part of an art installation.

For those who have never seen it, it’s easily recognizable by its dark blue interior (there are also buildings painted on the windows). When you get on, you don’t notice anything else unusual (it looks like just another one of those wrap-around ads they always have), but then you start hearing the sounds. Some are literally bells and whistles. Others are children talking. (There’s at least one video of it on YouTube)

It’s not immediately clear where it’s coming from. A lot of people on my train turned their heads wondering who was carrying speakers. The sound is surprisingly clear, and just a little bit louder than the station announcements. Reaction was sadly underwhelming. People coming home from work are amazingly uninterested in things going on around them.

I ended up taking the train all the way to Laval (with my groceries) to experience it (tangent: It’s surprising, anecdotally at least, how many people ride the metro to laval. Almost half of those passing Jean-Talon seem to go to either Cartier or Montmorency stations and transfer to the buses.)

Radio-Canada has a radio interview (third item down) with the artist, Rose-Marie Goulet, who explains that the purpose is to bring art galleries to people who don’t go to them. She also says that the STM was eager to help her with the project (though the fact that she went straight to the top with her request probably has something to do with that.) The interview also includes a couple of audio clips from the train.

The car (#78-007, at the centre of the 9-car train) is currently on the orange line, and will make the rounds on the blue and yellow lines over the next six months.

A little bit of irony: I would have missed the train entirely had there not been a metro delay earlier in the evening caused by a stroller on the tracks at Plamondon.

More CFCF12/Pulse News nostalgia

Speaking of old YouTube clips from CFCF, here’s some more fond memories of Montreal’s 1/2 Watch:

And as a special bonus, a pair of clips of Tarah Schwartz (Tarah Black back then) doing a light-hearted Halloween-themed anchoring on the Weather Network in 1996.

Howard Schwartz, Pulse News

The progression of Howard Schwartz

Remember Howard Schwartz? Yeah, neither did I at first, until investigative reporter J. D. Gravenor (who’s a great guy by the way) pointed out this video he posted interviewing Luciano Pavarotti at the airport in November 1982.

Schwartz was a reporter for Pulse News (which has since been de-branded into the pathetically generic CTV News Montreal) from 1982 to 1995. He left the station to enter the evil world of public relations (for, among other things, giant pharmaceutical companies), and now lives in the U.S.

He’s also a prolific YouTube user, having posted a couple of dozen videos. Perhaps the most interesting one is this video of him anchoring Pulse News in 1994:

No geographic tax breaks, except these geographic tax breaks

Hey, remember last week when the city, receiving complaints from businesses along St. Laurent Blvd. that construction was running them out of business, refused to consider tax breaks because they couldn’t legally offer them on the basis of geography? (“If we give one, we will have to give one to everybody.”)

This week, the City of Montreal has announced a $60-million new “business subsidy” program, called réussir@Montréal, which would offer tax breaks for companies who expand or renovate (allowing them to not pay taxes on the increase in property value for a few years).

Here’s where it gets interesting:

The remaining $12 million of the funds would be available to merchant associations on some commercial streets the city wants to revitalize. The money would go to facade renovations and for the association to prepare a business plan.

St. Laurent Blvd. is one of the streets that would be eligible, executive committee member Alan DeSousa said. Other streets include Fleury St. in Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough and Monkland Ave. in Cote des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grace.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that sound like a geographically-targetted tax break?