Monthly Archives: October 2008

Good luck, Allen

With NDG MNA Russell Copeman’s decision to quit politics and become a lobbyist* VP of government relations for Concordia University, Affiliation Quebec’s Allen Nutik has announced that he’s running in the by-election (or as he calls it, “bye-election”) to succeed Copeman.

Let’s see if he does better than the other anglo rights activist, Howard Galganov, who got pummeled in an election recently, finishing fourth in his riding. (But don’t worry, it’s still a win somehow.)

The chance of a Liberal candidate losing in NDG is laughably remote. Especially when you consider that even ADQ members are lining up behind Charest.

*(I crossed out “lobbyist” above because nobody is using the term. Certainly universities have to liaise with the education department on non-political issues, but the fact that you’ve put a politician in this role would suggest that politics are important. Interestingly, the law that got people questioning Philippe Couillard’s departure from government doesn’t apply to Copeman since he wasn’t in the cabinet. So he’s free to lobby as much as he wants as soon as he leaves office.)

Petition time

17 79 413 983 1944 2599 3165 3849 4668 signatures and counting…

UPDATE: Link love from CJAD, Montreal City Weblog, Montreal LJ and various Facebook pages, blogs and twitter statuses.

Of course, some people seem to think outsourcing editorial work is a good idea.

UPDATE (Oct. 24): I’ve seen some reactions on the level of “good riddance” from people who don’t like The Gazette or who think its quality has already degraded to the point where they don’t care. That’s really sad. Especially since I doubt any news outlet that swoops in to replace it would be any better. Instead, you’d see a version of Metro or a Sun Media paper or something. It’s a scary thought. Besides, if you’re not crazy about the paper’s management, why not support the union against them?

The Champlain bridge

In case you missed it, last Thursday’s Gazette included a four-page insert called “Champlain’s Gazette”, which showed what a fictional newspaper might look like back then (mind you, it wouldn’t have had pictures or process colour, nor would the text have lined up perfectly, but you gotta take some creative license).

Editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips explains the history of the project in his blog. He also links to the associated website, as well as a page with teaching materials for educators who want to make this part of their classrooms.

The slow death of TV guides

Erik Kohanik and the disappearing TV column

Erik Kohanik and the disappearing TV column

Next time you’re browsing through your digital cable or satellite on-screen guide, give a thought to Eric Kohanik, who until recently provided what little editorial content was left in Canwest’s TV Times. Now even that was deemed too much, according to Bill Brioux.

TV Guide in Canada ceased paper production long ago, and the TV Times that’s distributed in Canwest’s newspapers (including The Gazette) is a shell of its former self (now it’s just a few pages of daytime and prime-time grids for the most popular channels).

This is what you talk about when you’re talking about technology cutting jobs and creating others. Some people with basic analog cable are still attached to their paper-based guides, but more and more are throwing them straight into the recycling bin.

It seems no one watches The Watcher.

Worse than Olbermann

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC photo)

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC photo)

You know, I’m starting to understand why the Republicans don’t like MSNBC (and, by extension, NBC News).

For those of you who don’t subscribe to this digital cable channel, your exposure to MSNBC might be limited to those “Special Comments” of Keith Olbermann that get so much play on the intertubes. They’re popular because they’re well researched, very well written, and well delivered. They don’t mince words and don’t try to be diplomatic. They call out the administration (and, more lately, the McCain campaign) on those things they have done which are wrong.

It’s part of what got me to subscribe to the channel (other reasons include the fact that I’m interested in how various media outlets cover important events, and the fact that most cable television is a crapfest of old reruns that I refuse to hand over even the most nominal amount to support).

But the rest of Olbermann’s Countdown infuriates me, even though I agree with him. He picks on the most trivial of missteps by his political opponents, making fun of them for simple errors. His comments are sarcastic and mean-spirited, and not nearly as funny as he thinks they are. It’s ridiculously one-sided, especially for a supposed “news” network. His interviews consist mainly of regulars who agree with him on everything and laugh at his jokes. On the occasion when he has an actual, respectable journalist on the air, the guest becomes visibly uncomfortable as Olbermann blurts out leading questions that assume he is right and the Republicans are wrong.

And then, of course, there’s his childish feud with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, which he insists on wasting airtime pursuing. He’ll run off demographic ratings whenever an outlier puts him ahead, or take any opportunity to make fun of O’Reilly for whatever reason.

It’s the Fox News of the left. Daily Kos on TV. The ultimate in preaching to the choir, and hence educating and informing no one. Olbermann is like a schoolyard bully who thinks he’s cool because all his friends like it when he picks on the nerd.

But, for the same reason Rush Limbaugh has high ratings, Olbermann is also popular (enough so that he’s starting to catch up to CNN and Fox News). And not having any better ideas to increase its ratings, MSNBC has decided to replicate him.

That brings me to Rachel Maddow (hence the picture above). She’s the host of her own one-hour show which airs right after Olbermann’s. At 10 p.m., MSNBC repeats Olbermann’s show, proving I guess that nobody watches MSNBC for more than two hours.

Maddow, an Air America radio host and former Countdown contributor, is essentially the same thing as her lead-in. The same sarcastic remarks. The same partisanship. The same ego.

It irritates me. But what irritates me more is that the network has taken all three hours of primetime and devoted them to these two characters.

And yet, like Olbermann, Maddow seems to be drawing in the ratings (by MSNBC standards, anyway).

So look for this not to change anytime soon. Fox will have its Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, while MSNBC has Olbermann and Maddow. CNN, which is already giving too much airtime to blowhards like Lou Dobbs, is the only one left that seems to make any attempt at staying neutral, of being cautious in its declarations, and seeking the truth no matter which side it may favour.

Maybe we need to create a place for these kinds of people. An all political opinion channel could put them all under one roof so they can be quarantined. You could create two – one run by the Democratic Party and one by the Republican Party – so they don’t have to see each other in the parking lot. And you can leave the news networks to doing what they’re supposed to be doing: bringing us the news.

Oh, and leave the political commentary for Stewart and Colbert (and, to a lesser extent, SNL and Bill Maher). They, at least, use partisan politics to improve their humour, not the other way around.

RadCan ReDesign

Radio-Canada is publicizing a beta version of its redesigned news homepage, and is asking people what they think of it. Comparing it with the previous version, and you see the main story is much more prominent, there are some colour changes, and elements are rearranged, but there’s little else to speak of (except, perhaps, the “Error processing SSI file” messages I keep seeing).

This comes on the heels of its new Zone Musique site.

Free Press dispute gets nasty

(Not that I’ve ever witnessed a labour disruption that didn’t get tense)

Normally, in a show of good faith and to allow the bargaining process to proceed, both sides of a labour negotiation will keep the details of what’s said during talks to themselves. The union will advise its membership of any major issues, as well as give a general idea how talks are going, but that’s about it.

When the door closes and workers are on strike or lockout, that changes. It usually starts with the union, which decides to negotiate through the media. Inevitably, the employer responds to correct any “fals” or “misleading” statements that sully its good name.

The Winnipeg Free Press is on that course. Workers went on strike last week and quickly started up a competing news website at, which includes news about the strike itself.

Yesterday, the Free Press (which can’t put out a newspaper and is instead just posting updates to its website) issued a statement correcting the record and offering its side of the dispute. Its main argument is that workers are paid well (better than at other papers) and get good benefits (like sick leave and holidays and stuff!). That statement led to stories from Canadian Press and CBC (the latter also talks about some silliness involving pork).

The striking workers countered with their own statement that many workers are paid at or near (or even below) minimum wage, and that it has been open and honest, posting offers on its website for all to see.

Unfortunately, both statements make both sides look childish in this process, and are good indications for why this kind of thing is normally not done. Both sides essentially accuse the other of being unreasonable and refusing to negotiate. It’s like two three-year-olds complaining to their mother that the other one is being mean.

Meanwhile, talks resumed this morning, as the union issued another statement that it had begun picketing a non-union shop that was distributing flyers for the FP (the publisher does not understand why a union on strike would have a problem with that?)

Here’s hoping those talks go well.

On s’en fou un peu

You know, every time I see Prenez Garde aux Chiens, I wonder: What are these people doing on VOX?

The video above is a good parody of the whole TQS situation with the CRTC that I found on Richard Therrien’s blog. (Incidentally, there are some people – mostly male – who wonder if Bleu Nuit will return to the airwaves.)

Also be sure to check out member David Lemelin’s interview with Christiane Charette on Première Chaîne.

Habs Inside/Out does guest blogging

The immensely popular Habs Inside/Out blog (run by my employer, who will be cutting me a cheque shortly for the plug) has introduced some guest blogging, bringing in devoted Canadiens fans to blog on the site in a section called The Other Wing. What I find interesting about this is that two of the four people are also blogers: Eric Engels writes about the Habs for and David Kellerman is one of the Four Habs Fans (you know, the one with boobies all over the place). They may not have all the access that a mainstream media outlet does, but they make up for that in enthusiasm.

In other Habs links (also from HIO):

Tell La Presse what to do

La Presse is running ads in its paper asking readers to become part of an online panel (read: focus group) to take surveys and say what you like and don’t like about the newspaper.

An irony, of course, is that when you enter the registration form (which is huge), you’re greeted with the words “Loading (please wait)”. I guess Research and Analysis of Media, which runs this thing, doesn’t have a French version of its software.


Taking a page from the Journal de Québec workers who started their own publication when they were locked out, the striking workers at the Winnipeg Free Press have started up their own website at with local news.

It includes an FAQ as well as embarrassing coverage of Free Press owner FP Newspapers (though pointing out that your employer is bleeding money doesn’t sound like it will get the public on your side when you demand more money)

(via Michel Dumais)

Media’s election post-mortem

Looking at my feeds, here’s a roundup of links about media coverage of the campaign and especially election night:

My big screwup (and other election night anecdotes)

There’s nothing quite like working as a journalist on election night. Reporters, editors, TV anchors, data analysts, managers and technicians are all running on adrenalin, impatiently awaiting results, and excited about all the surprises.

But before I go on, a little mea culpa: I screwed up. Big time. The worst mistake you could make on election night: calling a race for the wrong candidate. Throughout the night, I was editing two pages, each with a close election: North-end Ahuntsic and south shore Brossard-La Prairie. Both were stolen from the Liberals by the Bloc in 2006, and throughout the night the results went back and forth between the two sides.

As the final deadline approached for late editions at 1:30 a.m., both ridings showed the Liberal ahead slightly. For Brossard, it was a difference of only 42 votes, so the final headline expressed that it was probably going to head for an automatic recount. The final margin was 143 votes, or 0.24 percentage points, above the 0.1% cutoff for automatic recounts.

In Ahuntsic, the margin was larger, and we declared victory for the Liberal Eleni Bakopanos. The Bloc wouldn’t concede, but we were as sure as we could be. After the paper was sent out, the race turned again, and the final margin was 142 votes, with the Bloc’s Maria Mourani coming out the winner. So this story didn’t end quite the way I thought it did.

The error was compounded elsewhere. Not only was there the riding story itself, but there were general recaps with seat totals, there were pictures of prominent Quebecers (including Bakopanos) saying how they fared (she was given a win), and the results page, which actually marked Mourani as elected even though at that point she was trailing in the number of votes.

It’s the kind of thing that happens in every election, but it’s no less embarrassing.

My election night

This wasn’t my first election working for the Gazette. I was there on election night in 2006, as well as the 2005 municipal election. But I’m still new enough to find the atmosphere during an election fascinating. And this time I was closer to the action than I’d ever been.

I was one of three people whose sole job of the evening was handling election pages. But in reality, it was all hands on deck. Eight pages in the A section, plus an eight-page B section meant 16 pages of election coverage. My responsibilities were B5 and B8 (if you notice any other mistakes, feel free to blame me for them too).

The shift started at 6pm, which isn’t all that unusual for me. What was unusual was seeing so many managers and reporters around at a late hour. For the occasion, we got treated to free food, and naturally I overindulged.

On each of my two pages were three articles for three Quebec ridings that were expected to be close (links go to the late-edition articles that appeared in this morning’s paper):

Each of those ridings had a reporter filing live copy. (Having six reporters under my control did leave me a little drunk with power.)

At first I felt a bit sad that I didn’t get any cool ridings like Papineau, Outremont or Westmount, but as it turns out I had plenty of excitement.

With three editions, whose deadlines are an hour and a half apart, each article needed to be filed and edited three times (and headlines, decks, pullquotes and even some photos also had to be changed between editions).

The reporters, of course, were mostly out at the ridings themselves getting quotes from the candidates and reactions from the campaign supporters. They would file their stories by magical methods from their laptops. That worked out brilliantly until the system broke down for almost an hour.

Oh, I should add one other difficulty. You see, there’s a byline strike currently in effect, so when a reporter would call and say “it’s Brenda” or “it’s Charlie”, I’d have to go through my notes to figure out what riding they’re in and what page the story for that riding is on. Even at the end I couldn’t remember which was which.

The early stories, which had to be in by 10pm, didn’t have any results. We knew by then that it would be a Tory government, but most of the meat inside was filled with background. It’s rather difficult to come up with headlines for stories about races in individual ridings when you don’t know who won yet. As the first edition deadline approached, we had the option of including the first few polls (literally two or three), but that would have told just as little.

Because I was so busy with my own work, I wasn’t keeping track of what was going on elsewhere, including a crisis with the website that resulted in it being down for about an hour and riding results pages not working during the most important period on election night.

After the final deadline at 1:30am, the newsroom quickly evacuated as everyone headed across the street for drinks on the boss (thanks boss). Most of us ended up closing the bar, discussing the upcoming U.S. election, reporters’ stories from the field (one had just driven back from Brome) and all sorts of random other stuff.

I finally got to bed about 5:15am. Thankfully, I had today off.