Monthly Archives: November 2007

Don’t tase me, ho ho ho

Sorry for the headline, but it’s all I could think of after seeing this ad (via Muddy Hill Post) from the Taser folks:

Santa’s Taser ad

The ad is for the Taser C2, which comes in different colours and is apparently marketed as a form of self-defence mechanism for infants when they’re separated from their mothers.

It’s also “police proven”, as shown from the great Tasersaveslives stories we’ve seen in the news lately. It’s a track record to be proud of.

For those of you unfamiliar with the cultural reference, Wired educates.

Reasonable information on reasonable accommodation

La Presse has a myths vs. reality article on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation. It includes some enlightening figures about religion, immigration and language in this province.

Naturally, the facts make it clear that pur laine Quebecers don’t have anything to fear from a few thousand immigrants.

If only bus drivers had writers like these

Via Martine, the WGA, the American writers union which is currently holding us hostage by denying us House-isms on strike for the rights to more than mere pennies from DVD sales and all of nothing from online publishing of TV shows and movies, isn’t lying down or holding useless marches with picket signs. They’re creating media to rally support for their cause.

In essence, it’s a tactic we’ve seen before but on a much larger scale. When CBC employees were locked out in 2005, they started producing blogs and podcasts to keep communication going. After it was over, the blogger for CBC Unlocked, Tod Maffin, was given the job of running Inside the CBC, a decidedly uncorporate, uncensored blog about the inner life of the Mother Corp., with its blessing.

Locked-out journalists at the Journal de Québec are still, since April, putting out a competing daily newspaper as part of their pressure tactics. The move has rallied support among other unions (who have helped them financially) politicians and newsmakers (who refuse to deal with Canoe reporters, a fly-by-night “wire services” and other scabs) and readers (who have cancelled subscriptions and are picking up the competing paper).

With Hollywood, the tactic that’s getting the most play is online video (ironic since the dispute is over how little they get paid for online video). Writers for popular shows like The Office, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have been cracking jokes on YouTube, and the actors are coming out to support them. Some like McDreamy and co. talk calmly about the issues, others like Sarah Silverman make the funny, and then there’s Sandra Oh.

The latest campaign, called “Speechless“, involves short black-and-white clips of actors in a world without scriptwriters. Most of them are of the actor-stands-blank-faced-and-says-nothing variety. Others are pretty funny. There’s a new one every day.

Some of my favourites below:

Continue reading

Molson flub was about marketing, not Facebook

Molson, the U.S.-owned company that wants to make us feel Canadian, has pulled the plug on a Facebook campaign that encourages college students to submit photos of them drinking the company’s beer.

Because it uses the bloody F-word, this story is getting all sorts of attention from the blogosphere. Thanks to a Bloomberg wire story, it’s getting attention in international media as well.

Molson, for their part, blames this whole new social media thing and how unpredictable it is because it’s so new and stuff.

Oh please. Encouraging college kids to take photos of themselves partying and drinking is obviously going to lead to excessive drinking. For that matter, everything beer companies do encourages the party atmosphere of excessive drinking (not that college kids need much encouragement in that area). To claim that this was some sort of shock is a lame face-saver that all these new media bloggers are eating up because they want to turn this into something more important than it is.

Contests gone embarrassingly wrong is nothing new. (Whether this actually went wrong or not is a matter of judgment — I think they knew exactly what they were doing, and it was the media coverage that caught them flat-footed.) Either way, there’s nothing about this situation could not have happened if it didn’t involve Facebook.

But don’t let that stop the media and blogging firestorm that is ensuing, followed by analysis piece after analysis piece about the dangers of advertising in a medium you have no control over.

Everyone’s to blame for the state of media

According to Le Devoir, the FPJQ (Quebec’s professional journalists association) polled its members about the state of the media, and overwhelmingly they said that quality is deteriorating and sensationalism is replacing proper news judgment.

Naturally, management at the media outlets disagreed. Even the Journal de Montréal’s George Kalogerakis says with a straight face that they don’t sensationalize or exaggerate the news (full-disclosure trivia: He hired me for my first job at The Gazette, then promptly left the city editor position for a big-money offer at the Journal)

Patrick Lagacé, for his part, blames us, the readers. He says that with the Internet giving us access to so many points of view, we have no excuse not to be well informed about the news.

I think all three parties are at fault:

  • Journalists are increasingly lazy. The Internet brings all the information to you. You can rip off blogs, rewrite press releases, write about what you see on TV, or just rewrite what a politician tells you on the phone. Investigative journalism is the first casualty of a journalist’s busy schedule, and so local news tends to the tired old no-effort categories: he-said-she-said political battles, rewrite-what-the-police-PR-guy-told-me crime reporting, traffic accidents (also courtesy of the police PR guy), 100-year-old grandmas who want to see their photos in print, and of course the weather.
  • Managers are concerned not with promoting news stories that will change the world, but by making front pages that will get picked up at the newstand, or leading newscasts with ratings-rich attention grabbers. They’re editors but they’re also money people, and they know what people will pay for. Which brings us to:
  • Readers and viewers say they want more investigative journalism and hard news, but when nobody’s looking they’ll pay more attention to that Paris Hilton story than the 3,000-word feature on Sudan. Crap works because you buy it. You can’t turn around and blame these people for giving you what you want.

So how is this going to change? The Internet is one big step in the right direction, if only because it encourages the growth of niche communications. Major local media try to be all things to all people, and that worked in the past because there was no alternative. But now people with specific interests are finding others with similar interests, and those publishers who dare to be different are thriving.

The flip side to that is that when you get all your news from these niche sources, you lose the overall picture. Those world news stories you only pretend to care about go from I-just-scanned-the-headline to I-had-no-idea-that-happened. You end up knowing the most minute detail about the latest Battlestar Galactica episode but absolutely nothing about the political situation in Pakistan.

Time will tell us whether this new information access will increase or decrease our overall exposure to news.

Why are errors in online articles not corrected?

The Toronto Star’s public editor talks to Regret the Error‘s Craig Silverman about his new book (via J-Source).

The article talks about the reluctance of journalists to admit their own mistakes. It’s something you find in all professions, but journalists have a special duty to get their facts right. In fact, it’s the only thing they have to do.

Naturally, the article talks about how great the Star is at their corrections (few Canadian publications have corrections pages) and how they want to get better.

One suggestion, that Silverman has I think given up making because few bother with it, is to actually correct articles online when you issue corrections about them.

As a random example, this article about Ontario’s civil courts makes a simple error, saying that someone is currently in a position when she’s not. The correction is online and everything, but the original error is still there (about halfway down the article), and no mention is made of a correction.

For a more serious example, this correction notes that the Star violated a publication ban by revealing the names of victims in an inquiry. Unfortunately, at least one of the original articles, which has the full names of six children in it, is still online. (I won’t link to it because I don’t want to violate the publication ban myself, but it’s Googlable.)

In case the nature of the problem isn’t blatantly obvious by now, the original articles are emailed, del.icio.used, Dugg and otherwise passed around, and people can read them days after the fact, learning the false information with no clue that a correction has already been issued.

Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks can’t go back in time and unpublish something, but website articles can and must be altered to correct inaccuracies, preferably with a note describing the nature of the error and how it was corrected.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Political punditry is not journalism

Radio-Canada turns the lens on political has-beens turning to “journalism” by becoming TV pundits:

Coulisses Du Pouvoir Ex Politicien A LaTelevision
Uploaded by mediawatchqc

To their credit, my good friend Laflaque makes fun of the issue better than I could:

Laflaque Le Club Des EX
Uploaded by mediawatchqc

Sheila Copps, Liza Frulla, Michel Gauthier and their ilk say they provide a valuable service, they aren’t attached formally to their parties anymore and can speak their minds, and they can provide unique analysis as former insiders.

But political punditry is the most pathetic form of journalism ever created. It fills airtime with people shouting at each other, debating along party lines, defending their friends and attacking their enemies. Even if they feel they’re free to speak their minds, they’re untrustworthy on their face (especially now that they admit they had to lie while in office).

Another problem, that nobody talks about, is that there’s an assumption among journalists that just because they have ex-members from each of the major parties that they’re fair and balanced. But what about the parties who aren’t represented in the legislature? What about special-interest groups with views that differ from the major parties? They’re unrepresented.

What we need are more political journalists uncovering stories, not political losers killing time yelling at each other about inside politics that nobody cares about.

Awarding excellence in Quebec journalism (with links!)

As part of a weekend conference, the Fédération professionelle des journalistes du Québec presented awards for journalism. Radio-Canada was the big winner for the Judith Jasmin awards for reporting, and La Presse the big winner in the photo category.

The coverage in the media was as you might expect, each media outlet trumping its own successes and downplaying others:

What was particularly annoying about the announcement of the winners is that neither the FPJQ announcements nor any of the news reports about them contained links to the winners’ articles, video reports or photos. This is 2007, for crying out loud. It should be beyond obvious by now that online reports are incomplete without us being able to see what they’re talking about.

So as a public service, here are the winners of the FPJQ’s awards this weekend, with links to the original pieces where appropriate.

Prix Judith Jasmin (reporting)

Grand prize: La leçon de discrimination
Pasquale Turbide & Lucie Payeur
Radio-Canada (Enjeux)

The winner, a TV documentary tackling the hot issue of discrimination, is already available on DVD.

Investigative journalism: Du sable dans l’engrenage
Guy Gendron, Jean-Luc Paquette and Monique Dumont
Radio-Canada (Zone Libre)

An in-depth look at the Alberta oilsands which are booming like nobody’s business now that the high price of oil has made them profitable. It also explores the environmental and (hence) political angles of this industry.

Feature: Inde, poubelle de la planète techno
Noémi Mercier
Québec Science

Mercier’s report on how so-called “recycling” of electronics overseas is really just a long-range garbage dump apparently involved a lot of personal risk on her part.

Opinion: Femmes en retrait
Manon Cornellier
Le Devoir

Cornellier’s piece was recognized not for its original subject (the lack of women in power in politics), but for the clear, well-written way it was presented.

Profile/interview: Monique Lépine, 17 ans de silence
Harold Gagné

Gagné’s interview with the mother of École Polytechnique killer Marc Lépine was one of those epic scoops, even if it wasn’t timely. The interview itself became news all over the country as other outlets reported on it (The Globe, CTV, CBC, La Presse). The timing was unfortunately perfect, coming just days after the Dawson shooting.

The fact that a runner-up in this category was Sue Montgomery’s portrait of Dawson shooter Kimveer Gill (breaking the silence of his mother) says something, either about their selection criteria or about the state of the media.

National news: Hérouxville dicte un code de conduite rigoureux pour ses futurs immigrants
Katia Gagnon
La Presse

The article that started it all. A reporter talks about a small town called Hérouxville which has some odd ideas about race relations (they polled residents asking “are you racist?”, the answer was 100% “no”). The rest is history.

Local news: L’érosion des berges (video)
Hervé Gaudreault
Radio-Canada Baie Comeau

Honoured for one simple reason: He made the issue of soil erosion sound interesting. I’ll add that it proves that real journalism can in fact come from small markets.

Prix Antoine Desillets (photography)

Daily life: Bernard Brault
La Presse

A this-must-be-photoshopped silhouette of a vacationer in the Antilles. Brault was a finalist last year for another photo from the Antilles.

Sports: David Boily
La Presse

This spectacular photo of F1 driver Robert Kubica having his vehicle totalled (I think, there were a few photos that got picked up) made the AFP and Canadian Press wires and got published around the world.

Photojournalism: Olivier Hanigan
La Voie du succès

The words “acid attack” don’t evoke much emotion until you see the photos of these victims in a Bangladesh hospital.

News: Ivanoh Demers
La Presse

(I’m assuming it’s this photo – it’s part of a gallery with the rest.) A photo of mafia boss Nick Rizzutto being arrested, honoured for its excellent composition of elements denoting the once great man’s being taken down by the law.

Portrait: Bernard Brault
La Presse

Bernard Brault wins again, for a photo of a security guard at the University of Oxford. Chosen for the way it captures the essence of British style.

The winning photos will be on display in Montreal starting Dec. 4.

Prix Judith-Jasmin hommage (lifetime achievement)

This career award went to former Journal de Montréal justice reporter Rodolphe Morissette, who retired last year after 22 years of service.

Bourse Arthur-Prévost (aspiring rookie journalist)

This $2,000 financial award went to Marie-Hélène Proulx, who’s currently at Jobboom Magazine but has had her name just about everywhere since starting a freelance journalism career in 2003. Her magazine articles have already won grownup awards.

Prix Jules-Fournier (quality of language in print writing)

This $5,000 prize for quality of writing in a French-language Quebec newspaper went to Valérie Borde, an independent journalist who works for l’Actualité and writes about science.

Prix Raymond-Charette (quality of language in electronic media)

This $5,000 prize went to Hugues Poulin, Radio-Canada’s European correspondent.

These last two awards are sponsored by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française.

Ann Bourget using YouTube in Quebec City race

Ann Bourget, the leader of the renouveau municipal de Québec party and front-runner in the race for Quebec City mayor (a special election was called to replace Andrée Boucher, who died in office in August), is using a blog and YouTube videos as part of her campaign.

Using the Internet isn’t new for Bourget, who has had an online presence since at least 2005, but she’s still kind of getting used to the YouTube thing (she giggles quite a bit in her latest video).

The Internet presence is a huge improvement over the boring party website and she spends time tackling real issues by answering real questions from her website’s visitors. It’s a lesson for people who want to run a local campaign.

Her latest video, which answers a bunch of questions, starts off with the most important one: Will you bring the Nordiques back?

Sports parody songs

I’m a fan of parody songs in general, and sports parody songs (at least the funny ones) specifically. Some are musically enjoyable in addition to lyrically entertaining. Others take annoying songs and make their topics infinitely more interesting by tying them to sports teams.

Sadly, I can’t find any central repository for them (nor any links to some Montreal-based ones created by local radio stations I find particularly funny). But to demonstrate, I’ll show you this one (via), a song by Ryan Parker that makes fun of the Boston Bruins (in contrast to the success of that city’s other major sports teams):

Loonie tunes

Apparently on Thursday, for the first time (in recent history, I’m guessing), there were more stories worldwide about the Canadian dollar than about Paris Hilton in the mainstream media. Apparently for no particular reason either.

Talk about a horrible job, counting Paris Hilton articles on a daily basis.

And take a wild guess which of these two topics La Presse used to illustrate the story.

No more no more late fees

Hey, remember No Late Fees? Yeah, not so much anymore. Turns out economic reality still requires a financial incentive for a high turnover of new releases, otherwise video rental outlets would have to have huge stocks of these films and then get rid of them after a couple of weeks.

It makes sense. How many people really need to rent a movie for seven days? It’s better to pay a set price per day (or even per hour) and leave it at that.

Personally, I don’t remember the last time I rented a movie.

Lise Payette joins Le Devoir

Lise PayetteLise Payette, the journalist turned radio personality turned TV personality turned politician turned TV writer turned TV producer turned newspaper columnist, has joined Le Devoir seven months after quitting the Journal de Montréal because of her steadfast refusal to cross picket lines.

Payette quit the Journal in April because her columns were being republished in the Journal de Québec, whose editorial employees had just been locked out. She refused to cross picket lines, and declared that her articles would no longer appear there.

Payette’s leftist leanings, combined with her sovereignist politics as a former PQ cabinet minister make her a good fit for Le Devoir. Let’s hope she takes a few readers with her.

Her first column, which discusses how the Yvettes destroyed her political career and how she never thought she’d write for Le Devoir, appeared this morning.