Monthly Archives: November 2008

There be doors here

UPDATE (April 21): After being cancelled because the stickers peeled off, the STM has restarted the project.

The STM has begun a pilot project in an effort to reduce boarding problems at metro stations, particularly during rush hour. The idea is to mark where the doors open (they always open at the same place), and create a buffer zone so that people can exit the train safely while others wait off to the side to get on. Believe it or not, this is actually a problem: people are so desperate to get on that they crowd the doors and don’t leave any room for people to get off. Sometimes it can be like trying to get to the stage of a rock concert.

The project is in place at three platforms, each with a different design.

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The orange sky

Taken at 3 a.m. on Nov. 25

Taken at 3 a.m. on Nov. 25

I dislike snow. Or at least I always complain about it. Snow means it’s cold and winter has officially arrived. On the other hand, I enjoy playing with snow, even when everything I wear is soggy afterwards.

The other thing I like about snow is the night sky after a snowfall. The city’s lights bounce off the bright, white sheet that has covered everything, then bounce off the low, white cloud, and scatter off the millions of little snowflakes falling to the ground. The result is an orange, almost purple sky that creates a strange middle ground between night and day.

Usually by the next night, the snow has finished falling, the streets have been plowed or the thin sheet has melted, and the clouds have dispersed. And night becomes dark once again.

CTV, Global want to be like TQS

Hey, remember back when the CRTC let TQS get away with having virtually no local programming because it was strapped for cash?

Well now that a recession is on the horizon, the big guns – CTV and Global – are suddenly losing money by the barrel too. They want their local programming restrictions eased.

Considering local news and information programming from all the networks, including CBC, is a joke, they’ve got some nerve demanding more favours so they can cut even more.

Broadcast TV stations are given access to the airwaves (and preferential spots on the dial, assuming such a thing exists) in exchange for making a commitment to local programming. If we forgo that commitment, what’s the point in giving these people broadcast licenses?

Then again, with 90 per cent of Canadians using cable or satellite services, perhaps a broadcast transmitter isn’t as important as it used to be. They might be perfectly content moving to cable.

Here’s another suggestion: In exchange for lowering your requirements on local programming, we end the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution rule, which forces cable and satellite providers to replace U.S. channels (and commercials) with Canadian ones when they run the same programming.

Of course, simsub is a cash cow for the networks, and they’ll scream at the top of their lungs if there’s even a suggestion of removing it. But if the networks aren’t doing anything for us, why should we do anything for them?

The CRTC’s goal is the protection of Canadian culture and the regulation of its broadcasting industry, not ensuring the profitability of the big media empires. Let’s hope they remember that.

The Score unites really crappy sports blogs

The Score, that sports channel nobody gets because it doesn’t show anything, has launched what it calls the “ Sports Federation”, a network of independent sports blogs for the various Canadian NHL teams, the Jays and Raptors:

Toronto’s Score Media Inc. has launched Sports Federation, connecting together a network of independent sports websites, and empowering them to reach a larger audience – with the help and support of a national multi-platform sports network.

Here are the blogs they list, not one of which (except maybe CISblog) I’d heard of before today:

Now, I don’t follow non-Montreal sports that closely, so I’m not in a position to judge most of these, but is Lions in Winter really the best Habs blog out there? Better than Fanatique, Habs Inside/Out or François Gagnon?

Yes, my three examples are blogs backed by Big Media, but that’s kind of the point. Without the access and resources of big media (whether conventional big-city newspapers like The Gazette or La Presse, or hip new media like Branchez-Vous), all you have is some guy talking out of his ass (with all due respect to my fellow ass-talkers).

Small, part-time do-it-for-the-fun sports blogs are much more likely to be successful covering niches that big media ignore: university sports, junior leagues, soccer/golf/tennis, etc. The audience is smaller, but it’s also much less fragmented.

UPDATE: Getting some awesome linkhate from Drunk Jays Fans and RaptorBlog, who I guess dilligently check their incoming links. I must admit, calling me “Guy Faguette” is a rock-solid argument and really shows me how much I erred in suggesting these blogs might not be the most professional.

CRTC roundup: new rules for converging newsrooms

The CRTC has given final approval for the “Journalistic Independence Code” proposed by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a self-regulation body of Canada’s private broadcasters.

The code is designed to replace CRTC rules about the independence of TV and newspaper newsrooms, which affect Canada’s three largest private TV broadcasters:

  • Global TV (owned by Canwest which also owns a newspaper chain including the National Post and The Gazette – which includes me)
  • CTV (owned by CTVglobemedia which also owns the Globe and Mail)
  • TVA (owned by Quebecor Media which also owns the Sun chain, 24 Hours/Heures and the Journal de Montréal)

Currently, the CRTC has rules that the television newsrooms and the newsrooms of affiliated newspapers cannot be mixed or merged. They must be completely independent of one another.

As if to underscore how bureaucratic everything is at the CRTC and CBSC, only three of the ten points in the code actually deal with rules for broadcasters. The rest deal with how the code itself should be administered.

The new rules are:

  • There must be completely independent “news management and presentation structures”
  • Decisions about journalistic content must be made “solely by that broadcaster”
  • TV news managers may not sit on newspaper editorial boards and vice versa (but news managers may “sit on committees or bodies intended to co-ordinate the use of newsgathering resources”)

The CRTC’s rules on cross-media ownership date back to 2001, when Quebecor Media bought Videotron, which then owned TVA. The transaction meant that Quebecor would own the largest private television network in Quebec, the largest newspaper (the Journal de Montréal) and the largest cable TV company. The CRTC decided that some journalistic rules would need to be in place to protect the diversity of voices in the newsroom.

Those rules were just as vague as the new ones proposed. Newsrooms and news management decisions must be separate.

Though they sound simple, the application of those rules is all about interpretation. For example, while newspapers and TV stations can’t decide on the other’s coverage, nothing prevents the parent company of both from dictating news. In fact, under the new rules, nothing discourages TV stations and newspapers from “co-ordinating newsgathering resources.” This could mean, for example, having TV journalists file both TV packages and newspaper articles on stories that have video, and having newspaper journalists file texts to both newspaper and TV on stories that don’t.

Journalist unions, who also protested the original Quebecor takeover, also spoke out during hearings about this code, saying it didn’t do enough to really separate newsrooms. But it seems the CRTC thinks it’s enough for them, and with the new code approved it is allowing networks to modify their licenses to remove the original rules (TVA was first off the bat)

We’ll see over the coming years how many loopholes can be found to cut down costs and introduce “efficiencies” by reducing “duplication” in the two media.

UPDATE (Nov. 25): TVA’s union has objected to the request to use the new rules, saying it threatens journalistic independence.

In other news

Oh, and Pauline Marois is flapping her gums again about creating a Quebec CRTC, further needlessly duplicating government institutions and burning through our tax dollars.

Vlog 2: The Review

Vlog's new logo: It's all about pastels

Vlog's new logo: It's all about the pastels

A little over a year ago, Dominic Arpin left the TVA newsroom to start work on a new television project. Called “Vlog”, it would be a weekly half-hour show that talks about (and plays) the hottest videos on the Internet.

The show launched in September 2007, and I had a review, and another review, and another, and another. They were pretty harsh, especially for a new show, but the goal was to be constructive.

Unfortunately, in December 2007 the show was cancelled after disappointing ratings which probably had more to do with the fact that it never started on time (Occupation Double, which preceded it, would always go long) than the quality of the show. Everyone (even Arpin) assumed that would be it, despite some vague suggestions of an online-only show or some revamped version for TV.

But then TVA decided to bring the show back, with some significant changes. Gone are co-host Geneviève Borne and the all-white studio, replaced with a fake home setup and webcam-style shots of Arpin.

Specifically, here’s what’s changed, for better or for worse:

  • Its timeslot is solid instead of moving back and forth (and losing audience). Thursdays at 9:30pm.
  • With Borne gone, Arpin isn’t making lame jokes with his co-host but talking directly to the audience, a big improvement
  • The set, which in the first season was an all-white room with big flat-screen TVs, is now a nondescript but very clean condo (nobody lives there, it’s just used as a set for the show)
  • The show seems more focused on true web sensations (instead of, say, SNL clips that were uploaded to YouTube) — though showing a Guitar Hero commercial hints to the old ways
  • No more Occupation Double tie-ins
  • Videos are shown in a box, which also shows where the video came from, what it was titled and who the author is. There’s also more voiceover from Arpin explaining the video’s history. Clips are still short, partly because of the limits of television and party because of copyright concerns.
  • Where applicable, an explanation that a video is fake and why it was faked
  • No user-generated content from TVA viewers

The biggest problem with the show remains its website, which has an overly long URL ( and most importantly doesn’t let you see the show except Thursdays at 9:30, simultaneously with the TV broadcast. Sadly, neither of these things are under Arpin’s control but are based on odd TVA policies about web broadcasts of its programs. The website does, however, link to all the videos used in the show so you can see the original versions (on the websites they came from).

In general, Vlog v.2 is an improvement. And if you accept that a TV show of this format makes sense (showing clips of web videos with voice overs explaining them), then it’s probably as good as it’ll get. Arpin is more than enough of a personality on his own and he’s a welcoming host for such a TV show.

Vlog airs on TVA Thursdays at 9:30pm. Subscribers of Videotron’s Illico digital cable can also watch archived episodes for free using its video-on-demand service (Channel 900, under “Variety”).

Bell wins throttling case

Bell Canada has won a case that went to the CRTC about peer-to-peer throttling.

In April, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers complained to the CRTC because Bell was using traffic shaping techniques to slow P2P traffic on both its network and the networks of DSL Internet resellers (because of Bell’s telephone monopoly, it is required to sell wholesale net access to companies at government-set rates).

The CAIP argued that this was unfair and unnecessary. Bell argued the opposite.

The CRTC took Bell’s side on the case, in a decision which is pretty well uninteresting otherwise. The only caveat: Bell will have to inform its resellers at least 30 days in advance of similar changes in the future.

Despite the apparentloss to net neutrality advocates, Michael Geist says it’s not the last word on the subject, and there’s still hope.

UPDATE: Geist has some quick reactions from Bell and the CRTC.

STM releases 2009 fare rates

There were rumours that the fares would go up again (not exactly going out on a limb), but the STM last night made it official. The new rates (PDF) are as follows:

Regular Reduced
Monthly CAM $68.50 ($66.25 + 3.4%) $37 ($36 + 2.8%
Weekly CAM $20 ($19.25 + 3.9%) $11.25 ($11 + 2.3%)
Three-day tourist pass $17 (no change) N/A
One-day tourist pass $9 (no change) N/A
10 trips (Opus card only) $20 ($2/trip) $10.75 ($1.08/trip)
Six trips $12.75 ($2.13/trip, $12 + 6.3%) $6.75 ($1.13/trip, $6.50 + 3.8%)
Single fare $2.75 (no change) $1.75 (no change)

Transit agencies have to give 30 days notice for fare changes, which means they have until 11:59pm on Dec. 1 to announce any changes to take effect for Jan. 1, 2009.

Are cash journalism awards unethical?

Crazy lefties are up in arms about a $2,500 award given to Le Devoir journalist Alec Castonguay by the Conference of Defence Associations, a military lobbying group. J-Source has some more details about the controversy.

The argument is that this award, which is given to journalists who write about military issues, is essentially a bribe for providing the industry with good coverage. The association is hardly going to award journalistic work it considers biased against it, after all. Knowing this, journalists might be tempted to skew their reporting in favour of the industry to boost their chances of getting the award.

Though the motives of the lobbyist group may be honourable, strict ethical standards should force respectable journalists to reject the award and especially any cash associated with it.

But what’s not mentioned is that the CDA’s award is hardly the only cash prize given to journalists by non-journalism industry associations for a specific type of coverage. A quick Google search gives me these:

Should we look down upon journalists who receive these awards as well?

My knee-jerk answer is yes. Journalists should be honoured to be recognized for their achievements when judged by their peers. They should be thankful for recognition from industry. But they shouldn’t accept money from non-journalism groups – even non-profit ones – when they present a clear conflict of interest.

But then I’ve never received such an award, and probably won’t any time soon, so it’s easy for me to sit here and judge.