Monthly Archives: February 2008

Getting biblical about spam

As promised, today’s article in Business Observer discusses brick-and-mortar companies who violate email netiquette and send unsolicited marketing emails to people. It’s based on three companies I talked about in my “not above outright spam” series:

  • Kanuk (which is still sending me such emails)
  • Rogers (my wireless provider, who seem to think being a customer is carte blanche for spamming)
  • CIBC

In all three cases, I can only theorize about why my email was added to these marketing lists, because not one of them responded to repeated requests for an explanation, the first as a regular spam victim, the second as a reporter researching a story. CIBC’s media relations guy asked for more information about the email, but I never heard from them or their email services provider Komunik again.

A fourth company, Chapters/Indigo, was left out because (a) the article was already way too long, (b) they responded to my request and investigated promptly, and (c) their investigation determined that my mother signed up for an account there two years ago. Here’s what it would have looked like:

Company: Indigo Books and Music
Date: Sept. 24, 2007
What they were selling: Book bargains
Email service provider: ThinData

Indigo’s email followed what has apparently become an industry standard of having people fill out web forms before they can unsubscribe from email lists. And like other companies, it assumed I have an account and wouldn’t let me unsubscribe unless I logged in. But Indigo responded promptly to my initial complaint with a thorough investigation.

Well, actually ThinData found a blog post I wrote with the complaint and then alerted the company. Within two days I had a response from Indigo’s customer service director explaining that someone else (my mother) had used the address to set up an account in 2005, and they have “only recently been reaching out to our past customers.” He unsubscribed me from the list and apologized for problems I had unsubscribing. Both Indigo and ThinData provided copies of extensive privacy and anti-spam policies.

The original message violated some best practices for email marketing that ThinData swears by, such as providing a simple one-click way to unsubscribe. Nevertheless, the provider accepted the response from Indigo and said they “consider this matter resolved.”

That last part sort of irked me. Despite promises that they’re 100% against spam, these companies seem to defer to their clients when it comes to actually determining whether policies are being followed. Explanations are accepted at face value and no independent investigations are done.

The article also includes some suggested best practices for commercial email marketers, compiled from industry sources and the Canadian Task Force on Spam. Hopefully some companies will be a bit more strict about conforming to them.

I’ll let you know if any of these companies decide to respond now that the article is out. In the meantime, do you have any spam gripes about companies that should know better?

Is “unedited” a good thing now?

CNN’s new social news site bills itself as “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.”

Is this a good thing? Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive since I’m a copy editor and I take my job very seriously. But I’d think that journalism in general is (at least in part) about filtering and editing to take out the junk.

Of course, filtering and editing requires human intervention, and that means hiring employees who cost money. Sucker-generated content is free, and also hip. So it’s worth it to take in the pounds and pounds of dreck with the occasional half-decent video.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe “Sleds on a Hill” really is the future of journalism.

Terry DiMonte’s secure financial future

The Calgary Herald has a profile of Terry DiMonte and Peppermint Patti in their new jobs as morning hosts at Q107 FM in Calgary. It discusses a bit of their history in Montreal, his challenges ahead and the fact that he missed half his first month sick.

You’ll recall DiMonte left CHOM FM here in November for a financially secure job at Q107 which pays him (according to the Herald’s sources) a sweet $450,000 a year, guaranteed for five years. (And really, who wouldn’t eat a steaming pile of dog poo for that kind of cash?)

Concordia’s first woman president?

The Gazette’s Peggy Curran apparently has the scoop on Concordia’s new president, quoting anonymous sources (no doubt among the search committee) that confirm it’s Judith Woodsworth, the current president of Laurentian University and a former Concordia professor and administrator. It’s unclear if this is supposed to be the “interim” job to be filled while a full bureaucratic search committee does its job, or if it’s the “permanent” position which would carry a five-year term (renewable for another five years). The wording seems to imply the latter.

If this is the case, it follows a disturbing trend in which search committees for Concordia University senior administrators have selected only a single candidate to present to the community for comment, instead of three or four shortlisted candidates. The first time they did this was also for the position of president, when they came up with only Claude Lajeunesse.

And we all know how that worked out.

UPDATE: Concordia confirms the recommendation in what I suspect was a rushed press release after the Gazette article.

Concordian interviews Boisclair

The Concordian interviews André Boisclair, who recently started giving lectures on crisis management at Concordia as a teaching assistant under former Liberal Party activist John Parisella. It starts off with marketingese about how happy he is to teach there (in response to questions about the controversies surrounding his appointment) and then descends into a confrontational debate over whether sovereignists should teach at anglo universities:

Is coming to Concordia a sign that you’re no longer a sovereignist?
What are you getting at?

Well, I don’t know, a lot of people say that a sovereigntist might have rather chosen to go to Universite de Montréal or UQÀM to teach.
Why is that?

Well. Because they’re French universities.
Are you defending the principle of segregation sir?

Boisclair also says pretty definitively that he’s done with politics.

No word on whether he spent any time doing lines with CSU executives or checking out the stalls in the Hall Building’s 8th floor men’s bathroom (ok ok, that one was unfair).

On being a local blogebrity

Being subscribed to as many feeds as I am, I see a lot of different types of posts come up repeatedly. The meme post, the viral video, the apology for lack of blogging.

Among them is the anniversary post. One year of blogging, three years of blogging, 1,000 posts, 666 posts, etc.

On the occasion of Fagstein’s first anniversary, I’ll add some content so this isn’t a wasted post. But that content will be about me.

Media blogger Julien Brault interviewed me for his blog (reposted at CentPapiers). His questions included some FAQs that I figure I’d repost here in English:

You blog really late at night. Why is that?

My sleep schedule, mainly. My job is an evening one, that sometimes goes as late as 1:30am. There’s also the much more pathetic reason that I find late-night TV much more interesting than early-morning TV. So I tend to sleep between 3am and noon instead of more sane hours of other people.

I tend to blog near the end of the day because that’s when I compose my thoughts. Earlier parts of the day involve reading newspapers and other blogs and making note of those I want to talk about.

Why did you start your blog?

Because I like to talk. I had been blogging personally between friends and eventually decided some non-personal stuff should have a wider audience. I also wanted to build a personal brand, prove to potential employers that I understand the Internet and have an excuse to go to Yulblog meetings (since I write about blogs).

What’s the difference between your blog posts and articles?

I don’t have to have blog posts approved by editors before I write them. On the other hand, I’m not paid for blog posts. Articles involve much more attention to the writing, more interviews and research, and are written for a different format. With blog posts, I can have a bit more fun, talk about myself, and use links and comments to do stuff I couldn’t do in newspaper articles.

Do you ever expect to make money from this? Are you planning to add ads?

Let’s be realistic. My traffic isn’t bad for a local blog, but it’s nowhere near what I’d need to be able to make money off of it, much less enough to live on. Even the celebrity bloggers here have other jobs that pay them more money. If it gets to the point where ads will bring in some money, I might add them, if only to offset hosting costs. But there’s not much point now.

I also look at it as having an indirect impact. I’ve gotten story ideas from this blog, developed contacts, and learned quite a bit. These non-tangible things might help me later on. But mostly I do this for fun.

Will blogs be the end of newspapers?

It depends on what you mean by “blog” and what you mean by “newspaper.” Blogs aren’t some magical force, nor are they all the same. Blogging is simply a publishing system that has articles in reverse chronological order. What you put on it defines what it is. So it’s very hard to make blanket statements about “blogs.”

As for newspapers, their main feature is their team of journalists. TV and radio don’t come close, mainly because they have to devote so much of their staff to technical matters and their journalists have to spend more time on each story. So the stories everyone talks about (including the bloggers) mainly come from local newspapers. That hasn’t changed yet.

Right now, the primary source for newspaper revenue is print advertising. Eventually, that might change and online advertising will become the primary revenue source. Once that happens, you’ll see a lot of newspapers shifting gears (beyond the current lip-service they give to online media) and focusing on digital distribution methods.

I think the newspaper as a format may be on the decline (though it will take decades before they truly disappear), but the journalism that comes out of them is what matters, and there will always be a market for that.

What’s your traffic like?

Not sure how to rate it quantitatively. It’s higher than some, lower than others. I get about 15,000 unique visitors a month, or 1,000 visits a day. Most of it is from other bloggers, friends, people in the media stealing my ideas, and of course myself. I have about 65 subscribers through Google Reader, plus another 20 or so using other services. My top referrers include Montreal City Weblog, Spacing Montreal, Dominic Arpin and Patrick Lagacé. The latter creates a firestorm when he links to me in one of his posts (as he did today), tripling my regular traffic for that day. So I don’t pretend I’m all that.

Any other questions?

Live hits gone mad

Dear Rob Lurie, CTV News,

I see you’re reporting on Habs Ryan O’Byrne and Tom Kostopoulos being arrested. OK, sure.

Why are you standing outside in the cold? This story happened in Tampa, Florida. You’re clearly not in Tampa, considering the fog coming out of your mouth as you talk. How does being outside instead of in studio (as you did this afternoon) help us understand the situation any better?

As for you, CBC News, is a streeter really necessary here? Are you going to find someone on the street who’s going to take the players’ side? Why did you waste a reporter on getting idiots on the street to say they don’t approve of stealing ladies’ purses?

And why is that reporter, Stéphanie Tremblay, reporting on her streeter package live from the middle of a forest somewhere? It hardly needs an introduction anyway.

(CTV took a more nuanced approach, asking viewers if this would have an impact on the team. Their streeter ran as-is with no introduction)

There’s gimmickry for gimmickry’s sake and then there’s wasting resources on stupidity.

Incidentally, tonight is Frank Cavallaro’s debut on CBC News at Six. Though the production quality is much lower than CTV News, the voice is the same and I don’t think his groupies will take issue with the transition.

PicApp: Ads for copyright compliance?

If you know what Getty Images is, chances are you’ve seen some of their stock photos used on blog posts to add some visual flair. Some times they’re used under a license, other times not so much.

In an attempt to capitalize on bloggers who steal photos without permission, an outfit called PicApp has reached a deal with Getty in which they’ll provide photos free of charge, along with ads to offset licensing costs.

The service is in private beta, but you can see it in action on PicApp’s blog. Basically, it’s a complicated JavaScript/Flash combination that, if you’re lucky, won’t crash your browser. It’s also annoying as hell, but that’s the entire point.

Perhaps I’m just being cynical, but I don’t see bloggers going through setting this up and dealing with these ads just so they can comply with copyright law, something they tend not to care too much about anyway.

Halifax Daily News gone, replaced by Metro

The news was announced this morning, with some Daily News employees hearing about it from other media (how classy). Transcontinental, the publisher of the Daily News, as well as free daily Metro newspapers in major cities (including Montreal), and community weeklies including the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, is going to replace a small daily newspaper with a free one that relies mostly on wire copy mixed with advertising.

The paper will go from 92 employees to 20. And journalism in Halifax suffers.

The Chronicle Herald, the other (and much larger) Halifax daily, naturally has the story.

Some other coverage:

UPDATE: The King’s Journalism Review has an entire section on the Daily News and its history, including interviews with now-unemployed staff. Meanwhile the Canadian Association of Journalists calls the paper’s demise a “dangerous trend” towards “news lite”

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 12

What’s at 1200 Atwater Ave., Montreal, QC?

UPDATE: OK, time to let y’all off the hook. A couple of you clued in on it a bit. The answer is not the Atwater Library, which is at 1200 Atwater Ave. in Westmount. It’s a small two-storey semi-detached home near the roundabout at the southern end of the Atwater Tunnel.

It’s a pretty horrible location, with the train tracks and the highway within spitting distance, high-voltage transmission wires overhead and lots of traffic going through the Atwater Tunnel or down Centre St.

And I totally didn’t put this question up here because I got the two confused and ended up spending 20 minutes more than I wanted to walking in the freezing cold…

TWIM: Mitsou-inspired cultural blogging

My latest blog profile is the relatively new Comme les Chinois, by Spacing Montreal contributor Cedric Sam. It talks about Chinatown, the local Chinese community, profiles local Chinese people, and basically talks about everything that relates to being Chinese in Montreal.

The blog’s name comes from Les Chinois, a 1988 pop single by Quebec singer Mitsou, the lyrics of which suggest Chinese people treat their lovers well. On his blog, Sam took a lyric from that song, “regarde les chinois” literally, and one of its regular features is interviews members of Montreal’s Chinese community.

UPDATE: Kate blogs about Spacing’s blogging about my article about Cedric’s blog. So I figured I’d blog that.