Monthly Archives: December 2007

Gazette reporters look back

Nudged deep within hundreds of other 2007 look-backs that are starting to make us go crazy wondering if this forgettable year will ever end are a series of short stories by Gazette reporters about some of the stories they’ve covered this year. Most of them are of the “it’s such an emotional issue it’s hard to stay objective” style, but there are some interesting ones too that I’ll outline in bold below.

They’re posted online in three parts.

Part 1

  • Peggy Curran aboard the CCGS Amundsen: Being objective is hard when you’re living with the people you’re writing about for 10 days in the arctic.
  • Jeff Heinrich at the reasonable accommodation hearings: An anti-semite refuses to give his name to the Jewish anglo reporter. Except Heinrich isn’t Jewish.

Part 2

  • Sue Montgomery on the trial and sentencing of the murderer of gas station attendant Brigitte Serre: How on Earth do you stab someone 72 times and not feel remorse?
  • Michelle Lalonde on asbestos in Thetford Mines: Residents and workers accept health risks inherent in asbestos mining as an occupational hazard.
  • William Marsden on the de la Concorde overpass collapse: I was right, the transport department was wrong about a telltale visible crack which should have warned engineers about an imminent collapse.
  • René Bruemmer on the life of fire victim Joe B.G.: Not every fatality is an anonymous nobody. Asking a simple question can sometimes prompt a long and interesting story.
  • Linda Gyulai on the City of Montreal’s cellphone recycling program: Not every story comes with a press release. Even the ones that make people look good.
  • David Johnston on a story about drug addicts: Sometimes the more interesting story isn’t the one that fits the article.

Part 3

Another eBay story too good to be true

Hey, remember that guy who sold a snowbank on eBay, getting $3,550 to donate to charity?

Yeah, it was a junk bid.

I appreciate that journalists did their due diligence and contacted the guy who was selling the snowbank, to determine that 1. He’s really selling a snowbank and 2. He’s really donating the proceeds to charity.

But once again, they seem to take an unconfirmed winning bid as if it’s a completed transaction. And when the bid is ridiculously high after lots of media coverage, there frankly should be an assumption that the bidder isn’t going to pay.

Same deal with the Guitar Hero auction, which sold at 100 times its suggested retail price just because it came with some story of a guy whose son smoked pot. Though the winning bidder in that auction is a long-time account with good feedback, the deal hasn’t been concluded yet so we shouldn’t assume it’s good.

Is a little bit of healthy skepticism (and patience) too much to ask?

TWIM: Griffintown and telemarketers

This week’s Justify Your Existence features a slew of “urban planning geeks” who met a few weeks ago to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Griffintown, a sad-looking area just south of downtown. They met at the behest of A.J. Kandy, who runs the Save Griffintown blog and lives in nearby Little Burgundy.

Proposed Griffintown redevelopment

They’re not opposed to the project necessarily. It would revitalize the area, be entirely privately-funded, and provide a lot of housing (social and otherwise). But they’re concerned about its proposed size, which would put an entire neighbourhood under the control of a single real estate company, and some measures they think will encourage car use and discourage pedestrian traffic. (Big box stores like Wal-Mart, for example, take forever to walk around and provide nothing but a brick wall for most of its street-level facade.)

They prefer a mixed environment that’s seen all over downtown Montreal: Commercial establishments at street level, with housing above. They also want more consultation with residents, a promise not to expropriate land, and a cookie.

(UPDATE Dec. 30: Kate mentions formatting problems. Unfortunately, The Gazette hasn’t been able to steal Chimples away to run their copy-paste online operation … yet.)

(UPDATE Dec. 31: AJ has a post on Save Griffintown going into more detail about where they are now.)

(UPDATE Jan. 4: I totally missed it (and I think everyone else did too), but coincidentally in the same issue, J.D. Gravenor interviews Griffintown residents Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer about their place. Both were part of the urban planning geeks and Gobeil is quoted in my article.)

Also this week is a bluffer’s guide to Canada’s Do Not Call registry. Bell was awarded the contract to run the list (as the sole bidder), and now we’re left wondering if the fox is guarding the chicken coop. The list, which will be free and binding on telemarketers who aren’t charities, politicians or newspapers (haha, suckers) is to be up and running by Sept. 30, 2008.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer have an op/ed in Le Devoir about Griffintown’s future.

“It’s like the State of the Union”

Looking for something to watch on TV tonight? Here’s some suggestions:

  • CTV: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • RDS: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • TSN: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • CBS: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • NBC: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • NFL Network: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

The back story for those who are curious. Note that not only will these six networks be covering the same non-playoff game, but all but RDS will be carrying the same feed from the NFL Network, including the same people doing analysis.

Astonishingly, the CBS and NBC feeds are being shown (at least on Videotron’s network) unsubstituted, which means you’ll get the original U.S. commercials. I spoke too soon. Simsub began at 8:15 on the dot, just before kickoff. You’re stuck with CTV’s commercials on all the above channels except RDS, but still the NFL Network’s analysis with Bryant Gumbel.

Be careful with your clever ironic leads

From a CanWest News Service story last week:

Prince Edward Island’s West Point Lighthouse is an icon. But now that icon is in danger of being claimed by the very element it guards against.

Water has eroded the dunes near the lighthouse so badly that there are concerns the building might collapse into the ocean.

So lighthouses guard against … water? That’s odd, I could have sworn that lighthouses were invented to warn ships about land. You’d think they’d already be well aware of the water surrounding them.

Bhutto assassination: Why is it big news?

Major newspapers around the world and in Montreal gave huge play to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Montreal front pages - Dec. 28, 2007

Which of these reasons best describes the near-unanimous decision to put this on front pages?

  1. The news media is starting to seriously pay attention to international news, giving it the importance it deserves.
  2. The news media hasn’t changed. The assassination of a top political figure is an unusual and important story.
  3. The news media is desperate for a real news story in the otherwise dead year-in-review banked-feature time around Christmas and New Years.
  4. She’s hot.

940 News announces new lineup

Via MediainMontreal, 940 News has announced some significant changes to its weekly schedule in the new year, the most significant of which will see Aphrodite Salas split with Dennis Trudeau and move to an early afternoon slot. The full schedule is already online.

  • Aphrodite SalasAphrodite Salas moves from the morning show to early afternoon, going solo for The Aphrodite Salas Show, weekdays 12:30pm-2pm starting Jan. 7. The show will have “roundtables on important issues, great regular contributors and celebrity profiles.” The show mainly replaces Dave Ramsey’s afternoon slot (see below).
  • Dennis TrudeauDennis Trudeau goes solo for The Dennis Trudeau Show, which will end a half-hour earlier at 9:30am, starting Jan. 3 (the weekend edition clip show will still air 7am-10am Saturdays). He’ll have a “supporting cast” of Michael Dean (news), Shaun McMahon (sports) and regular contributors including:
    • Lou Schizas (Business News Network has-been) at 6:21 and 8:21 weekdays
    • Dr. Mitch Shulman (emergency room physician) at 6:51 weekdays
    • Guy Thibodeau (does anyone else report on ski conditions in this town?) at 7:25 and 8:55 weekdays
    • Jacques Demers (hockey has-been) at 7:35 weekdays
    • Jean Lapierre (federal Liberal has-been) at 7:41 Tuesdays
    • John Gomery (judicial has-been) at 7:41 Fridays
    • Brian Burko (advertising has-been now doing movie reviews) at 7:51 Tuesdays and Fridays
    • Orla Johannes (“Entertainment Reporter” — look at her website to see which “talents” she thinks are important) at 7:51 Mon-Wed-Fri
  • Joe Cannon‘s show shifts a half-hour earlier, from 9:30am-12:30pm weekdays starting Jan. 3.
  • The Dave Ramsey Show (syndicated) loses its 1pm-2pm weekday shot to Salas. It will continue to air 8pm-10pm weekdays.
  • Chick Chat, an American syndicated talk show about women’s issues, gets dropped from the lineup where it aired 10pm-midnight weekdays. It will be replaced with American syndicated talk show Coast to Coast with George Noory, which will add two hours to the beginning of its overnight timeslot.
  • Orla Johannes starts “Table Talk with Orla”, which will air noon-1pm on Saturdays, replacing alternative medicine show “Wellness within with Gigi Cohen.” Her “Saturday Night Soul” program is unchanged.
  • The syndicated Dr. Art Hister health show, 1pm-2pm Saturdays, replaces “VIP Business.”
  • Former city councillor Jeremy Searle hosts “Searle’s Montreal,” bringing his YouTube-ial outspokenness on municipal issues to a much more public forum, Saturdays 5pm-6pm. He replaces “Get Connected with Mike Agerbo,” a syndicated technology program.
  • Natasha wins!Natasha Hall launches her new Talk Show Idol-winning program (generically called “What’s Up Montreal”) on Jan. 6. It will air Sundays, noon-1pm, and “focus on unique events and personalities in this city.”
  • Zack Spencer of Global TV’s boring driving show hosts a syndicated driving issues show, 1pm-2pm Sundays.

Bell Canada, our Do Not Call overlords

Bell Canada has been awarded the contract to manage Canada’s anti-telemarketing Do Not Call list.

Because when you think “customer service” and “convenience,” the name “Bell Canada” inevitably comes to mind.

No doubt the Bell Canada-run Do Not Call list will be fast, efficient, error-free and in no way a nightmare for thousands of Canadians stuck in customer service hell.

Oh, and the reason Bell won the contract? It was the only bidder.

Can you feel the irony biting you in the ass?

VISA reports from the future

The news outlets were buzzing today about the fact that spending on Boxing Day went down this year compared to previous years.

I find that funny because, you know, Boxing Day hasn’t happened yet.

The news, naturally, comes out of a VISA press release, which they based on a survey that asked people what they planned to do. This, I guess, is somehow infinitely better than waiting two days and just finding out what they did.

But VISA knows a slow news day when it sees one, and the news fell for it.

Craig Silverman on Reliable Sources

For those who missed it, Regret the Error‘s Craig Silverman was on CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend, shamelessly plugging his book discussing some of 2007’s most hilarious corrections:

UPDATE (Jan. 6): The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein also writes about Silverman, crediting him as having been interviewed by CNN for his newspaper-corrections expertise.

Your guide to holiday transit service

As the holidays approach fast, radio stations are switching to all-Christmas-music formats, malls are packed with desperate last-minute shoppers, and TV starts to suck really bad.

What better time to contemplate that most exciting of holiday traditions: complicated transit service schedules!

Fear not folks. Below is a day-by-day guide to what you can come to expect from the Montreal-area transit networks. Take a glance at it if you’re planning to take a bus anywhere near Christmas or New Year’s this year.

And have a bit of sympathy for that bus driver who has to spend midnight on New Year’s Eve stuck at a traffic light handing out transfers.

Continue reading

15 reasons I’m not crazy about Capazoo

Roberto Rocha has an interesting article in today’s Gazette about Capazoo, a Montreal-based social networking website that wants to take on Facebook and MySpace.

What’s interesting about this project, unlike the thousands of other social networking sites, is that it’s starting big. Millions of dollars big. Before it even has 100,000 users, it’s going to flood the Web with advertising, spend millions on servers, and get as many famous people involved as possible to lure the young’uns on board. In other words, it’s going to use traditional marketing methods instead of the word-of-mouth methods that created Google, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and everything else.

Their gimmick is a social currency (“zoops”) that people can exchange by “tipping” each other. Voluntary contributions toward people whose content you approve of.

I’ll reproduce here some of the concerns I expressed (and some new ones I’ve added) about the project on his blog:

Here’s my issues with Capazoo:

  1. The name. It’s a random nonsense word like every other forgettable Web 2.0 startup. And it tells me nothing about what the site does.
  2. Yet Another Social Networking Site. People assume they put up a website and they’ll get Facebook/MySpace-like success within months. That’s just not going to happen unless their site is much better or they have a distinct advantage with newcomers. Microsoft took advantage of the latter (leveraging its Hotmail and MSN services) to outseat ICQ in instant messaging. Google used the former to build its search engine and Gmail. I see neither as the case for Capazoo.
  3. It’s bad enough for startups that social networks require a large critical mass before they can take off. Nobody wants to join a social network that none of their friends are in. But their virtual currency system requires an even larger critical mass before any content producer sees real money.
  4. I got the same weird feeling as TechCrunch about tying virtual currency to referrals. It sounds like a pyramid scheme. And the value of a Zoop is about equivalent to the value of a Zimbabwean dollar.
  5. Content creators getting money is great and all, but the entire payment process is based on tips. And those tips might be worth a penny or two. I don’t see even moderately popular people making a lot of money this way. And even if they did, wouldn’t they feel obligated to zoop all of their supporters?
  6. What’s to stop someone from stealing a popular video off YouTube, putting it on their Capazoo page and profiting off it? How will they ensure originality of content? Any system that involves money will attract people who will try to game that system.
  7. You have to pay them money in order to get money. Which means you have to make more money. Thousands of these “zoops” just to break even.
  8. Deals with major content producers is a red herring that sadly a lot of people use. MySpace is good for listening to unsigned bands. Facebook doesn’t have any of these content deals (that I know of). Reprinting articles from wire services and major magazines is a gimmick, and isn’t going to overcome problems with the concept.
  9. I don’t like the layout. Facebook took away MySpace people (including myself) because it has a simple uncomplicated layout. Capazoo goes back to a giant mess with no apparent structure.
  10. The walled garden. I know Facebook uses this approach (requiring people to login to see anything), but that only works when the desire to see what’s behind the wall overpowers your frustration at having to register yet another account.
  11. Their terms of use. They have the right to terminate your account and take all your zoops for any reason at their sole discretion. Capazoo claims non-exclusive, unlimited royalty-free rights to your content for anything they want. They’re not even required to inform you of changes or ask for your consent.
  12. They don’t allow people under 16 to use the site. (At least not officially.) That’s going to cause problems if the site gets popular. They also allow only people 18 years or older to earn money. So the site seems to be completely pointless to a key demographic for these kinds of sites.
  13. Even if it’s successful, what’s to stop Facebook and MySpace from stealing the currency idea? Revver was started up as a competitor to YouTube in much the same fashion. So YouTube began compensating its top contributors. YouTube is still king.
  14. The entire premise is based on what I think is a faulty idea: That most users of social networking sites feel they should be compensated for the time they spend there and the content they provide. While there are some people who put up videos and blog posts and other stuff because they’re creative and want the world to see them, most people use social networking sites to comment on friends’ photos, see who’s broken up with whom, or communicate with old high school buddies they lost touch with. Nobody expects to get compensated for this.
  15. And finally, like the others, I think it’s silly to start with such a huge organization before the product is off the ground. Computing gives companies the ability to start small even when they’re starting big. It’s foolish to squander such an opportunity.

TWIM: Violence in the NHL

For those wondering, today’s paper has another Bluffer’s Guide from yours truly (Page B5, but not online) about violence in the NHL. It deals mainly with Chris Simon, who was suspended for 30 games (the longest suspension the NHL has ever given for an on-ice event) for stepping on another player’s foot with his skate. This, after he had just come back from a 25-game suspension (which itself had set a record) for a deliberate slash to the face.

The debate over the level of acceptable violence in the NHL is going to continue forever, and probably only get worse, until the seemingly inevitable point where someone dies on the ice as a result of a slash, a collision or a fight. Players (at least those who speak out publicly) tend to be in favour of fighting because they think it regulates tempers and protects star players. That is, until they themselves become the victims of violence.

Others, like Gazette columnist Pat Hickey, say this is all nonsense. Football doesn’t allow fighting, and it’s a much more physical sport.

UPDATE (Dec. 25): The Toronto Star says the NHL only pretends to hate fighting, while Dave Stubbs reminds everyone of Billy Coutu, who was banned for life in 1927 for attacking a linesman off the ice (though he was reinstated 5 years later to play in minor leagues — he never played an NHL game again). This is why we hear the term “on-ice” in most explanations.