Monthly Archives: September 2008

Follow the Main with La Presse

La Presse’s Émilie Côté has put together an interesting little project, Michel Dumais points out: an audio guide to St. Laurent Blvd. The idea is that you download the “podcast” (media outlets need to learn what “podcast” means: putting audio or video online doesn’t automatically make it a podast – a podcast is something you subscribe to which doesn’t apply here), and listen to it as you follow its instructions and walk slowly up the Main from La Presse’s office to the Plateau.

The audio is very professionally done, and it shows that La Presse got professionals to produce and narrate this project instead of having some clueless in-house person to muddle their way through. I haven’t listened to the whole thing (I don’t have an hour and a half to spare), but it seems to work.

There is one nagging problem though: I can’t for the life of me find an MP3 download link, even in the extended user’s guide. You can listen to it live on the site (which is completely useless if you’re intending to listen to it while following its instructions), and you can click on a link to download it through iTunes, but if you don’t have iTunes you’re screwed. I don’t see the point in having website visitors forced to use a particular piece of software. Is Apple paying them or something?

UPDATE (Sept. 30): They’ve added a link to an RSS feed that has links to the MP3 files.

That said, if you don’t mind jumping through that unnecessary hoop, and you have a couple of hours to kill, it’s something to do.

Gazette editorial dept. votes 98% for strike mandate

At a general meeting Sunday afternoon, members of three bargaining units at the Montreal Newspaper Guild, which represents workers at The Gazette, voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate.

The results:

  • Editorial: 98% (Representing reporters, photographers, photo processors, desk clerks, graphic artists and copy editors including myself)
  • Reader Sales and Service: 100% (Representing what’s left of the department after the call centre was outsourced to Winnipeg)
  • Advertising: 59% (Representing sales staff and other advertising workers outside the classified department)

Turnout was 70% of the 182 members.

Two other units, representing the business office and classified advertising, are currently under contract and are unaffected by this.

This vote greatly strengthens the union’s bargaining position as the two sides return to the table on Tuesday. It does not necessarily mean there will be a strike, but it does give the bargaining committee the power to call one if negotiations break down and they decide it’s necessary. The employer is currently in a lock-out position.

The main issues on the table are:

  • Jurisdiction (a clause in the collective agreement that prohibits the employer from hiring non-unionized employees to do work normally done by the union, a clause that the guild argues is already being violated by the outsourcing of copy editing to Canwest Editorial Services in Hamilton, Ont.)
  • Wages (the employer is offering no wage increase, the union’s starting demand is 6% per year)
  • Job classification (the employer is asking that the distinction between reporter, critic, photographer and graphic artist be eliminated so employees can be forced to do jobs in more than one of these categories for no extra pay)

This strike mandate vote follows a similar one by the Ottawa News Guild representing workers at the Ottawa Citizen. They voted 83% in favour (though they had a higher turnout) and eventually settled on a 2-2.5% wage increase over five years (double what the employer had offered before the strike vote), with no jurisdiction guarantees.

UPDATE: Le Devoir has a brief about it. It describes the job classification issue as the “main issue,” which I think is debatable. The Gazette also has a brief, including a quote from publisher Alan Allnutt about how surprised he was by this vote.

Le Devoir enters the blogosphere

Le Devoir, the black sheep of Quebec media online (the only major paper in Canada that still locks articles to subscribers) has joined the blogosphere with an election blog.

It’s hardly a big splash considering the vast number of election blogs out there, but it’s a start. Here’s hoping some of their journalists continue to inch closer to the big scary Internet out there.

(via Lagacé)

CTV’s new Hockey Theme

CTV has released its re-recording (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) of the Hockey Theme (i.e. the ex-Hockey Night in Canada theme), which will be used on RDS and TSN hockey telecasts starting Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, respectively.

Here it is (MP3). TSN also has a story with video about the new theme.

Perhaps I should wait until it actually goes on air, or maybe it’s just my computer, but it sounds like elevator music compared to the rough-and-tumble CBC version.

The press release, which says it “revisits the original 1968 version” also gives plenty of praise for how awesome they think it is:

We’ve taken great pride in blending the heritage of the song with the best digital technology available, creating a stunning rendition sure to resonate with hockey fans across the country.

Colour me unimpressed.

Party leaders, only with more hair

CBC’s Archives, which has good stuff but unfortunately encodes it using Windows Media, which I have to play using my choppy, buggy Quicktime plugin instead of a universal Flash player, has found archival footage of the five party leaders. As you can see, they have wacky hairstyles (Duceppe’s mullet being the most awesome) and big glasses and stuff.

Dion, Harper and Duceppe are all from the same turbulent early 90s era. Dion a political scientist commenting on the Charlottetown Accord pre-referendum. Harper from when he was a Reform Party wonk and before he was elected an MP, and Duceppe after he was elected in a by-election as the first Bloc Québécois MP (and the whole he-swore-an-oath-to-the-Queen controversy).

Layton is from a decade earlier, when he was elected in a surprise upset to Toronto City Council.

But the most interesting clip is of Elizabeth May, 30 years ago in 1978. It’s actually a feature piece for The Fifth Estate, about a debate in Nova Scotia on whether to spray the forest with insecticide to fight the spruce budworm which was devastating forests. Forestry executives were for it, wanting to protect their trees and fearing an epidemic. May was against it, saying the spray had health risks associated with it.

Curious, I looked up the Wikipedia article to see what happened with the whole debate. It seems the infestation died out on its own, as May predicted, and an environmentally-friendly insecticide was created to deal with the problem as well.

(via Tea Makers)

HBO Canada coming, but it won’t be any cheaper

Corus and Astral have put the word out that they’re creating HBO Canada, a channel that will be part of the Movie Network/Movie Central premium packages that will offer all-HBO programming (when it’s not fulfilling its CanCon requirements). This will mean simulcasting of HBO shows and, for the first time, the legal airing of Real Time with Bill Maher in Canada.

Reports from the Globe and Sun Media.

UPDATE: Digital Home has a good history of satellite TV in Canada and why HBO is illegal.

Missing links

You know, the fact that a website considering linking to other websites is news… that’s one of the many many things that’s wrong with corporate media’s approach to the Internet.

I hope that, for the sake of their continued existence, a major strategy overhaul takes place among the higher-ups at certain traditional media organizations. But I expect that it won’t happen, and that corporate media will continue to be half a decade behind the rest of the world in understanding how to exploit new technology.


Those of you who had Sept. 23 as the day when “erection” would be used in an election story and not be a typo, pat yourselves on the back:

But that statement was contradicted by a retreat participant, who said the New Democrat had a partial erection in front of the young girls.

So let’s discuss: How much of an erection is it appropriate for an MP to have in front of young girls? What qualifies as a “partial erection”? What if you just have to pee?

Who cares about issues when we can talk about penises?

(Though seriously, stories like this make me wonder: If the choice in a no-hope riding is between some unknown party loyalist and nobody at all, perhaps it’s best to go the latter route?)

Cyberpresse redesigned

Cyberpresse today went live with a redesign of its entire site, ditching the old coloured box motif in favour of a grey, white and red OMGWEB2.0 deal that seems to be in vogue with media sites recently.

The first thing you notice, as you do with all these new news websites, is that it goes on forever. You see, some web marketing genius decreed that users no longer care about vertical scrolling (which is true) and some web designer at an important media outlet decided this meant the homepage should be infinitely long vertically. And now everyone is mindlessly copying each other with these layouts that have no structure and look absolutely haphazard as far as placement of stories on the homepage:

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Still with me? Good. Since the page is so freaking long, I had to shrink it down considerably, so let’s take a zoomed-in look here:

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

It’s a very boring, unoriginal layout. Some account-specific links at the top, then a horizontal bar for links to individual sections. Oh wait, it’s actually two horizontal bars. One is for sections, the other is for “websites” that Cyberpresse owns for sections special enough to get their own domain. If you’re not familiar with that system, you’ll probably get confused here and have to read the entire thing a couple of times to figure out which link is the best one to click on. Below that are main stories on the left, a search box on the right and some editor’s picks. Looks OK so far.

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Here’s the meat below. It goes on like this for about four or five screens worth, and they’re all basically the same. Can you tell the logic behind what goes in which columns?

If you answered anything coherent to that question, then you’re wrong. The first column has sections like news and business, except for fluff sections like home, auto, environment, movies that are in the second column, except for arts, technology and lifestyles which are back in the first column.

Oh, and they have names like “Automobile” and “Maison” even though their names are “Mon Volant” and “Mon Toit” elsewhere. Whatever, consistency is for losers.

The third column at least has some consistency. It’s where all the interactive stuff goes. The polls, the “most emailed stories,” the user-generated content, etc. In fact, you’re encouraged to submit your own content (click on “Soumettre une nouvelle,” a page I can’t link to directly), which requires you fill out a form and agree to an 800-word terms of service (which I also can’t link to directly) with gems like these:

  • Lorsque vous soumettez Votre contenu à Cyberpresse, vous concédez à Cyberpresse une licence mondiale illimitée, irrévocable, non exclusive, perpétuelle et à titre gratuit : i) d’utilisation, de reproduction, de stockage, d’adaptation, de traduction, de modification, de création d’œuvres dérivés, de transmission, de distribution, d’exécution publique ou de mise à la disposition du public de Votre contenu à quelque fin; et ii) de concession en sous licence à des tiers du droit illimité d’exercer l’un ou l’autre des droits précités. Outre la concession de la licence susmentionnée, par les présentes, vous i) convenez de renoncer à l’ensemble des droits moraux dans Votre contenu en faveur de Cyberpresse; ii) reconnaissez et convenez que Cyberpresse ne saurait être tenue responsable de quelque perte, endommagement ou corruption de Votre Contenu; et iii) reconnaissez et convenez que Votre Contenu sera considéré comme non confidentiel.
  • Vous devez être âgés de 14 ans ou plus afin de pouvoir soumettre Votre Contenu à Cyberpresse.
  • Les Règles de Contributions des Utilisateurs peuvent être modifiées en tout temps par Cyberpresse à son entière discrétion.
  • Vous vous engagez à coopérer avec nous dans la contestation de toute réclamation.

Well, when you put it that way…

One thing the website emphasizes is its Dossiers, in which stories on a single topic are packaged together, like the U.S. presidential election. Organizing stories by topic instead of more broadly by section is something you’d think media web types would have concluded long ago was boneheadedly obvious, but the news sites are only now really picking up on that. And there are plenty of important, recent topics that don’t have their own pages yet and really should.

Cyberpresse’s launch article also mentions a more powerful (i.e. less crappy) search engine that better finds what you’re looking for. I typed in “Patrick Lagacé” and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo, biography and even email link. Except nowhere do I find a link to his blog. I tried again with “Patrick Lagacé blogue” and the response was “Aucun résultat.” Bravo.

Putting in other search terms for important stories of the past few weeks, I become even less impressed with the search engine.

The blogs also got a redesign. The authors’ pictures are moved to the side, leaving a big space for “le blogue de X”in stylized letters. (Though it seems poor Sophie Cousineau and Nelson Dumais got left behind.) These designs range from the obvious clichés to the we-don’t-know-who-this-is-or-what-she-writes-about generic.

Finally, there’s the RSS page, which has lots more feeds for specific topics. This is good, though the wording on many of these feeds is strange and confusing (what does “ctrl::dossiers cbp” mean?). I managed to decode a few of them which have been added to my Google Reader.

And now, the really bad intro videos

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Oh, and I just noticed there’s a video tour of the new website (honestly folks, if you have to give a video demonstration of how your website works so people understand it, then you didn’t design it properly in the first place). I say “just noticed” because the article announcing the new website has no link to the videos nor does it even mention them.

The videos star some tech dude or blogger I’ve never heard of. His intro video is unintentionally hilarious, as he invites people to see another video “en cliquant ici” (clicking on the video per his instruction does nothing), and then sits there and does nothing but stare at the computer screen for a minute and a half while we make up our minds.

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

In fact, it goes on for so long that he twice looks off camera wondering if he can stop yet:

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

The content of the video is basically him repeating the same thing that was in the introductory article, although he strokes his ego by using himself as a search example. Even though he got the same result I did (i.e. a picture of himself but no link to his blog), he pretends that it works.

Other than all that the site is great. I mean, it’s got gradients and JavaScript-controlled content tabs, so how could it not be?


UPDATE: Michel Dumais has a positive review of the new Cyberpresse. Steph looks at it from a Web 2.0 perspective.

Empty nest

Interns once sat here.

Interns once sat here.

September is always a sad time around the office, though perhaps my opinion is somewhat biased because I’ve had two contracts run out during that month. It’s when veteran staff return from summer vacation, when new mothers return from maternity leave, when retirees return from the dead and when Red Fisher returns from suspended animation for the new hockey season.

The result is that understaffing issues suddenly disappear, and the young contract workers they bring in as temporary replacements are no longer needed.

That, combined with the summer interns returning to school or otherwise continuing on with their lives, means that a lot of young, talented people are leaving the office (and raising the average age back above “back when I worked at the Star” level).

It’s not all “tough luck kid, you fall off the ladder.” Some are leaving voluntarily and have other plans. A couple are going back to school (one to law school where he’s concluded that he can get a real career), three others are moving to Europe for some reason, and the rest have a vague idea of what paths their future careers will take.

It’s a fact of contract life, temporary work is by definition not permanent, but it’s still sad when the end finally comes. This past weekend I gave a big hug to a departing coworker who failed to escape the culling of temps and is already being missed by her colleagues.

Kate Molleson: Behold her adorableness (Gazette photo)

Kate Molleson: Behold her adorableness (Gazette photo)

One of the more visible faces to leave the office is Kate Molleson, who joined as an intern last year on the copy desk and has been blogging about cycling issues since April (she also wrote and blogged about classical music, because she’s just that much more cultured than I am). She has already left to London to study music, and gives her goodbye post in which she introduces three experts who will replace her on her blog.

Kate practices her Queen's wave

Kate practices her Queen's wave

By my count, the paper is losing five reporters, two copy editors, a graphic designer and at least one web editor. And they will be sorely missed, at least until next May when a whole new crop of interns and temporary workers comes in to fill gaps in the schedule.

(In case you’re wondering, I’m sticking around at least until January, assuming there’s no strike or lockout before then.)

Of course, since many of the people who leave the Gazette go on to bigger and better things, perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad.