Monthly Archives: February 2008

Journalism died today

OK, maybe I’m being a bit over-dramatic. But if you’re considering leaking a document anonymously to the media, confident that you’ve been promised your name will be kept secret by the journalist, think again.

Today, the National Post lost an appeal which pitted confidentiality of sources against the interests of law enforcement. And the court has ordered the Post to reveal the identity of an anonymous source.

The case stems from the Shawinigate controversy (I’m not a fan of “-gate” terms, but this one just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), in which then-prime minister Jean Chrétien had apparently helped to secure a generous loan for a hotel in his home riding, next to a golf course he technically still had a financial interest in.

Specifically, the case concerns a document received by Post reporter Andrew McIntosh, which appeared to be a loan application from the hotel. McIntosh gave his source a guarantee of anonymity in exchange for the document. But when he attempted to verify it with the bank, the bank declared it to be a forgery and began an investigation.

That investigation led to a court order for the Post to produce the document and the envelope it came in. The Crown wanted to determine the identity of the alleged forger and potentially file charges.

But (according to McIntosh) the source of the document claims he received it anonymously through the mail (hence McIntosh’s need to authenticate it), so if this is true the source would not have been the forger.

The ruling by the Ontario court of appeal argues that the interest of law enforcement to investigate a forgery intended to bring down a sitting prime minister outweighs the Post’s need to protect its sources.

In it, the court agrees with the Crown that the documents themselves are important evidence, and that the leak itself is the crime they’re investigating. Insert reference to the Valerie Plame scandal here, which also wasn’t very friendly to the media’s anonymous sources.

A key phrase comes in para. 75:

(Section 2(b) of the Charter, which guarantees freedom of the press) does not guarantee that journalists have an automatic right to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

Similarly, in para. 79:

The journalist-confidential source relationship is not protected by a class privilege. However […] the confidentiality of the relationship between a journalist and the journalist’s source may be protected on a case-by-case basis.

In para. 94:

Journalists can never guarantee confidentiality. There will be some cases – and this is one of them – where the privilege cannot be recognized. Refusing to recognize the privilege in appropriate cases will not, in our view, cause media sources to “dry-up”.

Nice to see the court is so confident. But to me, this ruling seems to say that a journalist can be forced to give me up if there’s a reasonable belief (whether it’s true or not) that knowing my identity may be important to the police investigating a crime.

Considering how many confidential leaks involve some issues of legality, I could certainly see more people clamming up about important issues of public interest in the belief that they could be prosecuted, fired or otherwise be punished for bringing it to light.

Confidential sources are confidential, except when the government decides it wants to know.

The judgment also includes a dig at new media* includes an argument from the Crown which suggests that new media journalists aren’t journalists, in para. 98:

[The Crown submits that …] Today, many persons, especially by using the internet, may be called “journalists” or “the press” because they disseminate information to the public, yet may not merit the journalist-confidential source privilege.

We reject the Crown’s first contention.  The case-by-case approach to privilege does not require us to establish the boundaries of legitimate journalism.

So feel free to ignore what I’m saying here. Because according to the Ontario court of appeal, I’m probably not a journalist.*

*I totally misread the judgment originally and read a summary of the Crown’s argument as the judgment of the court. My apologies.



I see I’m not the only one to notice an eerie similarity between the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign and the final two seasons of The West Wing (which coincidentally is airing now on CLT).

In the West Wing presidential election, the Republican primary is quickly wrapped up by a western, moderate, security-conscious old senator who has to struggle with the fact that he’s losing the support of the religious conservative right. The Democratic primary, meanwhile, drags on for months, with an inside-the-beltway establishment front-runner being unexpectedly eclipsed by an inexperienced lawmaker with modest roots, trying to break the colour barrier and avoid being characterized solely by his race.

(via TV Feeds My Family)

Conventional wisdom is crap

This article says so many good things about how newspapers have no idea how to run websites, I feel I should quote it all. But some brief points I wish I could spraypaint on a local overpass:

  • “Conventional wisdom says that newspapers are caught in a business model which doesn’t support the changes to digital media, and despite huge efforts, the newspaper industry is in decline. Maybe there’s no longer a place for traditional newspapers. That’s what the Register’s publisher seems to be saying. The conventional wisdom is crap.”
  • “Most digital operations are seriously under-staffed and under-resourced. They don’t employ even the basic traffic-building strategies that independents are using with great success.”
  • “Digg, Reddit, Newsvine and others are experimenting with community selection of news, while newspapers pay little more than lip service to reader involvement.”
  • Social networking has changed the way young people interact, yet newspapers have failed to meaningfully take the plunge.”
  • The back end digital news production structure at most newspapers is a mess.”
  • ” Reporters and editors are pressed to add digital duties – blogs, podcasts etc – as add-ons to their “regular” jobs instead of incorporating the digital world as essential tools that should make their ability to gather and tell stories and interact with their communities easier.” (I would add: They’re expected to add these duties without extra pay, which means they’re absolutely unmotivated to do so.)
  • “So I want to advertise on the website of my local paper. How about those 2.2 million P-I readers? I go to the website. Look for how to do it. Not easy. I have to call someone, negotiate a deal.” (Small, niche advertisers should be able to buy online ads in minutes with a credit card, and without having to call anyone.)

Makes sense, no?

Media != celebrity, CBC

Dear CBC,

I subscribe to your “media news” feed, because I have a keen interest in journalism and the media.

I do not, however, have any interest in Britney Spears or Michael Jackson. What do celebrity gossip stories have to do with the media, other than showing us that non-paparazzi outlets will stoop to this level too?

Please separate your celebrity gossip from your media-related stories.

Thank you.

Welcome to the blogosphere

As part of Matt Forsythe‘s citizen journalism class at Concordia University, students are being asked to create their own niche blogs.

Though most are very basic (after all, they’re beginners), this has greatly boosted the size of the Montreal anglo blogosphere, which is good because I’m running out of blogs to profile.

Here are a few of the blogs that seem pretty interesting, and we hope they continue to grow:


A New Brunswick TV personality has failed in his “looking at child porn online for research” excuse and found guilty of being icky.

Though I don’t particularly believe his story (after all, how much can you learn about child porn just by looking at it?), it makes me wonder if there should be an exception in these kinds of laws for journalists with legitmate interest, and if so whether laws should even exist in the first place that restrict what information we can expose ourselves to.

Should looking at dirty pictures be illegal? And if so, where does one draw the line? Am I breaking the law if I watch a Tatu video?

Headline fun

You know, the job of a copy editor can seem unfulfilling at times. You work during prime-time, you don’t get your name in the paper, and the only creative thing you can do is write headlines.

But every now and then you get to write a headline you particularly enjoy. Like this one, over a story about a study showing computers in schools can actually be counter-productive to learning.

This is about all the fun we get. Well, that and the occasional impromptu pun-off.

This Morning Live is no more

Global Quebec’s morning show This Morning Live signed off for good this morning. There had been rumours for months now that the show was being cancelled, but no official announcement.

In this video, host Tracey McKee breaks down on air along with other TML staff who, I guess, are now out of a job.

In TML’s place, Global Quebec will be bringing back an evening newscast, News Final, 11pm daily, seven days a week. It will be one hour long, except on Saturdays when it’s a half-hour before Saturday Night Live.

As far as I can tell, this is the only regional programming that will be added to replace the cancelled morning program, and that’s assuming the weekend newscasts will be local ones and not national ones. No official announcement has been made yet. News Final starts Monday, March 3.

The addition of News Final adds 6.5 hours a week to Global Quebec’s regional programming schedule, far below the 15 hours a week TML represented. Added to Global Quebec’s regional evening newscast, this means 9 hours a week of regional programming.

Violating its license?

Here’s the problem: Global Quebec’s CRTC broadcast license (as approved in 1997 when the network launched and renewed in 2001) requires 18 hours of regional programming a week (“regional” meaning “Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke”). Unless I missed some license amendment or I’m missing 9 hours of regional programming that’s suddenly going to appear, this would put Global Quebec in violation of its license, which is up for renewal in August.

Oscar Peterson metro won’t be easy to accomplish

The local media have been all over plagiarizing The Gazette reporting on a Facebook group that advocates renaming the Lionel-Groulx metro station after Oscar Peterson. Groulx was a racist, the suggestion goes, and Peterson would be much more befitting of a metro station name.

The group has exploded in popularity, due to both the media coverage and regular word-of-mouth. It has over 1,000 members now.

The idea isn’t new, actually. It’s been going around for quite some time. Other proposed new names for Lionel-Groulx include Yitzhak-Rabin and Gabrielle-Roy.

Unfortunately, it’s somewhat of a non-starter for two reasons:

  1. The Lionel-Groulx metro, like most metro stations, is actually named after a street nearby, namely Lionel-Groulx Ave.
  2. The STM currently has a moratorium in place against station renaming, thanks to the rather unpopular Longueuil-Université-de-Sherbrooke mess.

And that doesn’t get into the whole mess about renaming something from a francophone name to an anglophone one.

Personally, I think it should be renamed The-Jackal.

UPDATE (Feb. 28): The inevitable backlash group has already been formed.

UPDATE: Elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Freelancers vs. The Gazette

The so-called Electronic Rights Defence Committee, a group of former Gazette freelance writers, finally had its day in court this week to seek class-action status for a lawsuit against the newspaper over online rights to their content.

The lawsuit, launched in 1997, was actually filed against Southam, which owned The Gazette at the time. That’s how old it is. Besides freely reprinting writers’ stories on the website, the lawsuit takes issue with Canwest-owned Infomart, which sells archived articles individually or as a group, without giving a cut to the writer.

Precedent exists in the case, thanks to a woman named Heather Robertson. She sued the Globe and Mail over electronic archival and won a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The hearing continues today, in Room 16.01 of the Palais de Justice, starting at 9:15am.

For more information, check out the blogs of ERDC members Mary Soderstrom and Jack Ruttan (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). (UPDATE: And Craig Silverman.)

(Full disclosure: I’m both a freelancer for and an employee of The Gazette currently. I don’t take a position here on the merits of this lawsuit.)

Just ask Huey

You know, when I first heard of Jimmy Kimmel’s response to I’m f**king Matt Damon, I figured it would be your classic sequel: A slightly more refined copy of the original, trying desperately to recapture that spark but coming just short.

I’ve clearly underestimated Mr. Kimmel. Though some of the lyrics are a bit lame, the video is still epic.

My only complaint: Why not put an unbleeped version online, like NBC did when Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg’s Dick in a Box went uber-popular online?

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 14

6, 10, 24, 28: What do these numbers indicate?

(Hey, it rhymes!)

OK, OK, a small hint: You have to look left and right for the answer.

Still nothing? Hint #2: Look at a map of Montreal. You can’t miss it.

No? Another hint: It’s among the most visible of Montreal’s landmarks. (Or perhaps it’s “land”marks?)

UPDATE (March 3): Time’s up.


6, 10, 24 and 28 are the numbers that indicate runways at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

Runways at airports are numbered based on the direction a plane must be pointed in to take off or land on it, rounded to the nearest 10 degrees. So Runway 28 would be a takeoff or landing at 280 degrees, or almost due west. If the plane was using the same runway in the opposite direction, the runway would be designated Runway 10. Each runway’s two numbers therefore have a difference of 18, or 180 degrees.

Because its two longer runways are parallel, they are designated “left” and “right” depending on the pilot’s point of view (so 6L is 24R and 6R is 24L).

It’s the most visible landmark (airmark?) in the city. How could you have missed it?