Monthly Archives: January 2009

Corporatization of fun

Friendly game of tag, or an ad for Orange Crush?

Corporatization of fun: Friendly game of tag, or an ad for Orange Crush?

As an observer of society, I belong to some Facebook groups that may or may not turn into things. One of them was a generic flashmob group, which had hopes of organizing something fun at some point, but never actually did so.

Today I get an email from the group, which has been taken over by a “street marketing company” with big ambitions:

Objet : Hi flashmobers !

I am taking in charge your group.
My name is Ludovic and I am working in Trako Media, a street marketing company. We want to create an EVENT. A giant EVENT with thousands of flashmobers. We are already planning some future events where we would like everybody to activly participate. We gonna work full days and weeks to make it better than any other one in any other town.
Montreal is full of enthousiastic people who love having FUN.
We are already 46 members. Can you send invitation to your friends ? Talk to others ? Print and pomote the group on school or university walls ?

We need 1000 flashmobers for the first offical Flash Mob. Don’t worry, I’m sure you ‘ll like our ideas :D

So let’s start and feel free to message me !

Sorry for my english :P Je parle un peu mieux français…

Maybe I’m just picky, but nothing kills the spirit of a flashmob than having it be organized by a marketing company, which will no doubt have some commercial motivation behind such events.

Butter! Living Montreal stays inside this week

Sue Smith and Catherine Cullen

Catherine Cullen (right) totally not flirting with Living Montreal's Sue Smith

Sue Smith, the host of Living Montreal (perhaps the only English television program left that’s produced for a local Montreal audience) apparently ran out of ideas this week and did five shows themed on CBC Montreal and the Maison Radio-Canada.

Above is some little-known nerd reporter from CBC Radio who on Thursday’s show did a chocolate-chip cookie recipe she got off the Internet. (Actually, it’s my former classmate Catherine Cullen, whose career has now officially outperformed mine, allowing me to make fun of her with the photo below.) They’re actually shown on a set in the basement made by the production department specifically for this segment, which is kind of cute (did it have running water?).

Catherine Cullen on TV

Catherine Cullen is just happy to be on TV

Sadly, too little of the 115 minutes over the week involved actually exploring the iconic CBC building (and too much on graphical segues and plugs for the website). The trips through various offices act more as a backdrop for various food/style/shopping/other chick stuff.

Still, if you’re a junkie for inside journalism like me, take a peek at these:

And while you’re exploring the Living Montreal site, you can take a peek at segments from the Flab Gab column which stars The Gazette’s June Thompson, who was brought on board in December.

P.S. To Living Montreal (or whoever is responsible for its website): Your Flash-based video system looks cool and seems to work OK (except for the minor issue that if I pause a video I can’t restart it …  actually that’s a pretty serious issue), but this post would have been made a lot easier if you had some simple way to copy a link to individual videos. I had to get the ones above through the “Send to a friend” feature, sending myself half a dozen unnecessary emails.

Journal Daily Digest: Landry changes his mind

Ex-Premier Bernard Landry, who had decided to stay on as a columnist at the Journal de Montréal (and was even going to defend that decision today), has done a 180, deciding to stop his column.

His reason is about as stupid as you can imagine: He objects to the fact that the production of this scab paper is being done out of Toronto. That, it seems, goes against the whole Quebec-can-do-things-on-its-own idea, apparently moreso than the paper being filled with material produced by non-unionized journalists and translated copy from Sun Media … in Toronto.

Methinks he might have been looking for an excuse to weasel his way out of a decision that he has recently realized goes against just about everything the PQ stands for, especially after all the prodding in the media.

He did interviews today anyway, to explain his decision to go back on his decision.

Steve Proulx is running a pool to see who the next columnist to leave will be. I’ll put my non-money on Louise Deschâtelets.


Proving that they have no problem with this whole Internet/video thing, journalists at Rue Frontenac produced their first journalistic video, a profile of boxer Antonin Decarie.

The video is a bit too reliant on still pictures, but it’s a good start. You’ll note the credits at the end: a photographer, a videographer and an editor are three separate people.

Decarie even advertised for Rue Frontenac on his shorts during his fight.

The rest

CBC union approves contract

A new contract (PDF) between the CBC and the Canadian Media Guild (which represents its employees outside Quebec and Moncton) has been approved by 93% of members. It runs until March 31, 2014. Inside the CBC has a list of the details.

The mood in the negotiation of this contract was a huge departure from the previous one, which was negotiated after the CBC locked out its employees in 2005. They were out almost two months before they approved a contract to bring them back to work.

The other union, the Syndicat des Communications de Radio-Canada, has a contract that expires on March 29. They are currently in negotiations, though first they are dealing with unsettled grievances based on their current contract.

Journal Daily Digest: Do they regret the errors?

The big link for today is (like many of the ones below) from Rue Frontenac, the website put out by locked-out Journal workers. One of the pieces put up Thursday goes through editions of the Journal over the past week and points out some of the errors in the paper. (It didn’t take me long to find one myself – the Sunday paper’s inside index of columnists had the wrong page number for Benoit Aubin.)

Most of the errors are fairly small (misspelling hockey players’ names), some are a bit more severe (getting a hockey player’s team wrong), and some are just grammatical nitpicking. What is clear, though, is that they spent a lot of time going through the paper in order to catalog and report on these flaws. I guess they have a lot of free time on their hands now.

One of their criticisms, of the use of the phrase “setting a new record” (as if one could set a record without it being new) made me smile because it’s something that I’ve done a few times in headlines and has been marked in red ink by fellow editors more than once.

The rest

Last week I got a consumer survey in the mail, inviting me to fill it out and win crazy prizes. I actually started filling it out until I noticed it was asking me information that went way beyond what I’m prepared to divulge.

I did notice it had a section on what newspaper you read. But something didn’t seem right.

Notice something missing?

Notice something missing?

Baby time-lapse goes viral

Francis Vachon, a Quebec City-based freelance photographer who has shot photos for various news agencies (and The Gazette), created a four-hour time-lapse video of his infant son playing with toys, and posted it on YouTube so he could embed it on his blog.

I thought it was cute.

Then I noticed it was getting attention from the local blogger-vedettes like Dominic Arpin and Patrick Lagacé.

And then … Boing Boing. Kottke. Neatorama. Urlesque. Urlesque again. Le Post in France. The Guardian viral video chart. BuzzFeed.

And Boing Boing wannabe websites that copy them without mentioning their source.

And lots of mommy/baby blogs. And personal blogs. And foreignlanguage blogs. And Andrew Sullivan. It’s even being used as a throw-away reference in online video media analysis.

Less than a week after it was posted, the video has been watched 172,793 357,655 times, favourited 935 1,677 times, and has received 32 most-viewed and most-discussed honours.

It’s even been Benny-Hillified.

Will his Rue Petit-Champlain time-lapse get as much attention? Is this a YouTube star in the making? Will Weezer have to feature him in their next video?

UPDATE: Le Journal de Québec has a story about Vachon and his kid. He estimates the clip, which has 4,071 images, has been linked to from 4,000 websites. Vachon has his reaction to the craziness on his blog, and notes that it will be on ABC’s Good Morning America, where the virality will only get worse.

UPDATE (Feb. 13): The Globe and Mail looks at how this video has affected the career of the artist whose music Vachon used. (Feb. 20): Coeur de Pirate has released their video of the song used by Vachon (via).

UPDATE (Feb. 23): 10,000 Words makes mention of the video comparing it to other interesting forms of online photojournalism, including this messy kitchen cleaning time-lapse.

Oh Concordia, how little has changed

The Evil Borg Cube (a.k.a. Hall Building)

The Evil Borg Cube (a.k.a. Hall Building)

I used to look back at my alma mater Concordia University, and ponder how student politics there had changed. In my years (2000-2004), there were scandals, recalls, backroom deals, lawsuits, riots, arrests and just general overall craziness. But since then it had been mostly quiet. A one-party system had been instituted at the Concordia Student Union, finances seemed under control and everyone stayed out of the headlines.

But thankfully, university student politics have a habit of repeating themselves every few years, as high turnover results in institutional Alzheimer’s and the same mistakes get made by a whole new group:

  • Person in charge of finances is left unchecked, money goes missing, and then she does as well? Check.
  • President proclaims innocence? Check.
  • Financial mismanagement so complicated even auditors can’t figure it all out? Check.
  • Recall petition to remove executive? Check.
  • Executive tries to find loophole to subvert democratic will of petition? Check.
  • Club money goes to questionable expenses? Check.
  • Comparisons to corrupt African regimes and measures put in place to make sure this “doesn’t happen again”? Check.
  • Patrice Blais? Check.

Journal de Montréal daily digest (with video!)

It’s time to add freelancers to media union contracts

In a half-hour panel discussion with Radio-Canada’s Christiane Charette on Wednesday, some of the most respected minds in Quebec media analysis discussed the lockout at the Journal de Montréal and the debate over whether freelance columnists like Richard Martineau, Stéphane Gendron and Joseph Facal should continue writing their columns.

One comment (there were a bunch of guys there and it’s hard to distinguish them by voice alone) was that unions and freelancers need to come together and not see each other as the enemy. One of the arguments Martineau and others use for continuing to write is that the union does nothing for them, they wouldn’t get strike pay nor would the union intervene if they were suddenly fired.

Now, Martineau is a world-class douchebag. He’s a product of the Quebecor Media empire, with a column in the Journal, a blog at Canoë and a show on LCN. He’s paid to be a blowhard and scream fake outrage at everything while being politically incorrect for its own sake. (This is a stark contrast to his work at Les Francs-Tireurs, which I actually like because there he asks people questions and listens to their answers.) He holds quite a bit of influence and wouldn’t be on the street if he stood with the locked-out journalists. He’s refusing to stop on principle, and to continue being a douchebag.

But he’s right. The union does nothing for him. It does nothing for any freelancer. And neither do most unions.

That needs to change.

Freelance isn’t free

Way back when, before my time, the idea of a freelance columnist was a rarity. Really, it seems like such a contradiction in terms: a columnist is relied upon to have a regular presence in a newspaper, whereas a freelancer is a one-time contributor who’s being given a few bucks for an article.

But freelancing has become such a useful tool for media companies: You can fire freelancers whenever you want, there’s an almost endless supply of them, they don’t take vacations, and they’ll sign just about any contract you put in front of their faces. When taking total cost into account, it’s much cheaper and more flexible to get a freelancer than a full-time or part-time employee.

And so we enter the age of the freelance columnist. Some are that way by choice, because they want the freedom to work for other organizations, or to syndicate their content. Some are former columnist-employees who have taken buyouts but decided to continue their columns under a different contractual relationship. And some are just people who have real day jobs in other industries and don’t want to become full-time journalists.

Along with these vedettes, though, are the freelancers who aren’t that way by choice. Those aspiring young journalists whose souls haven’t yet been crushed. The ones who sign overly abusive contracts, work for peanuts and beg for more. With such a compacted media landscape, and so few corporations in charge of so much media, they have no choice but to accept whatever abuse is thrown at them in order to realize their dream of being a journalist.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

CBC provides an example

Take a look at the contract (which is about to expire) between the CBC and the Canadian Media Guild (PDF), which represents all employees outside of Quebec and Moncton, N.B. (which are represented by another union). The deal was worked out after the 2005 lockout, and speaks quite a bit about contract and freelance work. Specifically:

  • It sets minimum wage rates for specific types of original freelance work, and requires additional remuneration for additional use of the work
  • It provides certain minimum rights (copyright, moral rights) for freelance work
  • It includes a provision which spells out that related expenses are paid by the employer
  • It bans working “on spec”, in which work is done before it is sold, and provides for a minimum “kill fee”, for work that’s approved but then never used.
  • It bans employees working freelance gigs on the side and requires that such work be paid at overtime rates
  • Finally, it states that the freelancer is (for the limited purposes of the contract) a member of the union (the union even has a freelance chapter and a guide for freelancers), and must pay dues from the freelance pay.

The standardized contract is probably the most important part of this. The company can’t go around and start demanding more rights of powerless freelancers without first getting it approved by the more powerful union. It’s part of the reason why the Periodical Writers Association of Canada supported the union in the lockout.

It’s not perfect, and it’s been criticized as not doing enough, but it’s much more than most media union contracts have to give rights to freelancers.

And by protecting freelancers, the union makes it less attractive for employers to use them instead of salaried employees to save money. Instead, freelancers are used where they are supposed to: For occasional work that can’t be done by regular employees.

While regular employees aren’t exactly swimming in cash at the CBC, freelancers at least are not overly exploited (so-called “casuals” are another problem entirely, and that’s another post).

Wishful thinking

Of course, this is the worst time for media unions to start demanding sweeping new rights. A union in negotiation going to the employer and trying to set a standardized contract for freelancers would quickly get laughed out of the room. The time to create a common front between freelancers and employees was years or even decades ago, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.

And so Martineau is right. Sadly. He’s not turning the other cheek, and he’s siding with the employer in a dispute with the employees, making it easier to continue putting out the newspaper and try to break the union. He’s being a douchebag, but he has every right to be.

If the union had focused more on bringing freelancers into the fold and less on protecting their short work week and inflating their salaries, they might not be in this boat now.

Mix … err, Virgin Radio 96 launches website

Behold the cookie-cutterness

Behold the cookie-cutterness

CJFM 95.9’s new website is still pretty rudimentary. A list of shows (each with its own really uninteresting blog – posts like “It’s cold outside” and “It’s still cold outside“), and a list of the 1,300 artists on its playlist. Perhaps the most useful thing is the list of recently played songs.

Lest you think any actual design went into it, don’t worry. Besides the colour scheme it’s pretty well identical to Ottawa’s Virgin Radio website (R.I.P. The Bear 106.9).

And in case that’s not enough suck for you, well there’s that picture of Ryan Seacrest above.

P.S. According to Astral Media’s legal notice:

  • You may view the website on only one computer, and it must be at your home
  • You may not view the website for commercial purposes
  • You may not link to the website if your website contains material that “may be construed as distasteful, offensive or controversial”
  • Astral may withdraw a third party’s right to link at any time in its sole discretion.”
  • Users waive all rights to any stories, ideas, drawings, opinions and other materials posted on Astral’s Web site. Furthermore, Users may only post materials which they alone have created.”

Rue Frontenac launches

Four and a half days after they were locked out of the Journal de Montréal (too much time for the impatient Patrick Lagacé), 253 unionized workers launched their competing news site, at a press conference at 2pm Wednesday.

In a welcome message, Raynald Leblanc says the union was willing to negotiate about increasing the work week and moving toward multimedia. But they wouldn’t stand for the elimination of entire departments (the Journal wanted to outsource accounting) and the laying off of dozens of staff.

Sports has its own welcome message from Mario Leclerc. And Marc Beaudet is doing cartoons. It’s also continuing the Journal tradition of screaming “exclusive scandal” on stories that don’t sound particularly scandalous.

The site is based on Joomla, and definitely could use a bit of tweaking (Arial as a body typeface? Would it kill you to use serifs somewhere?), especially in the design of individual articles, but it’s a start.

InfoPresse explains the catchphrase “Par la bouche de nos crayons!” (via mtlweblog)

In other Journal news

… and so goes Godwin’s Law.

Télé-Québec fires up digital transmitter

Télé-Québec HD

Télé-Québec’s CIVM-DT Montreal transmitter went on the air Monday afternoon, according to some hard-core spotters, making it the latest station to join Montreal’s digital over-the-air broadcasting family.

The list is going to grow pretty quickly over the next couple of years as Canadian broadcasters will be forced to switch to digital in 2011. U.S. broadcasters have already started up digital operations to meet a deadline of next month, even though it looks like that deadline might get extended.

Television stations currently broadcasting in digital here (totally plagiarized from this list at Digital Home) are as follows:

  • Callsign: Station identifier as recognized by Industry Canada/CRTC and FCC. Digital transmitters have a -DT suffix.
  • Network: Programming the channel carries
  • Location: Primary location of station’s offices. Montreal stations transmit from Mount Royal, Burlington stations from the top of Mount Mansfield (just east of the city)
  • Analog #: Current analog channel
  • Digital #: Assigned digital channel. Digital TV supports remapping of channels, so they should appear under the analog number (i.e. even though it’s broadcasting on Channel 19, Radio-Canada should appear as Channel 2)
  • Subchannels: DTV supports having separate subchannels with different programming from the main (the main channel is high-definition, and subchannels standard-definition, unless otherwise noted).
Callsign Network Location Analog # Digital # Subchannels
CBFT Radio-Canada Montreal 2 19.1 None
WCAX CBS Burlington, Vt. 3 53.1* WCAXtra
WPTZ NBC Plattsburgh, N.Y. 5 14.1 Weather+
CBMT CBC Montreal 6 20.1 None
CIVM Télé-Québec Montreal** 17 27.1 None
WVNY ABC Burlington, Vt. 22 13.1 One subchannel
WETK PBS Burlington, Vt. 33 32.1 SD channel
CJFP TQS Montreal 35 42.1 None
WFFF FOX Burlington, Vt. 44 43.1 CW
WCFE PBS Plattsburgh, N.Y. 57 38.1 SD channel

*WCAX will switch from channel 53 to channel 22 (currently occupied by WVNY) after the analog shutdown.

**CIVM broadcasts from the top of the Olympic Stadium tower

Stations which haven’t started broadcasting yet:

Callsign Network Location Analog # Digital #
CFCF CTV Montreal 12 21*
CFTM TVA Montreal 10 59*
CFTU Canal Savoir Montreal 29 27
CJNT E! Montreal 62 69
CKMI Global Montreal 46 51

*CFCF-12 and CFTM-10 will move their digital signals to their former analog channels after the analog shutdown.

Metro to run all night during Nuit Blanche

The metro ... after dark?

The metro ... after dark?

According to Metro (the newspaper), the STM is announcing Wednesday that it will keep the metro (the subway) running all night during the Nuit Blanche Feb. 28.

The STM has only done this twice before, once during a snowstorm in 1971, and again on New Year’s Eve 1999. The overnight hours are when maintenance is performed on the tracks, cashes are emptied and other similar stuff is done.

The Metro article is so far the only source that confirms this story (Midnight Poutine surely uses it as a source without credit and Montreal City Weblog picks the story up from there), and its wording isn’t very clear, making me suspect they might have gotten the story wrong.

UPDATE: It’s true. The STM confirmed it today. The metro will run all night long (presumably all lines), in addition to the regular night bus service. (Though considering most of the Nuit Blanche activities are in the Old Port, the Plateau and the Quartier des Spectacles, the metro might not be the most convenient method of transportation between them – it’s more useful for getting home afterward.)

In the past, the STM has opened up the Place des Arts metro station during the Nuit Blanche for performances in the metro, though it confines it to the mezzanine and doesn’t have actual trains running.

Kudos STM, but would it kill you to do the same on New Year’s Eve once a year too?

UPDATE (Jan. 29): The STM is focusing on art in the metro, including a 15-station art rally quiz thing.