Monthly Archives: January 2009

CFCF, welcome to Web 1.0

The new Pulse ... err, CFCF ... err, CTV Montreal website

The new Pulse ... err, CFCF ... err, CTV Montreal website

It’s not even that we made fun of CFCF’s website for how bad it was, how it looked like it hadn’t been redesigned since the 90s (actually, its last redesign was in 2004, but that wasn’t much better than its 90s look). It’s that it was so bad it was completely off the radar. You couldn’t link to news stories because there was no archival system for them. Forget Web 2.0, it wasn’t even Web 1.0.

Well, some of that’s changed now. CTV has rolled out new websites for all its local stations, including CFCF in Montreal. It includes crazy Web 1.0 features like having individual stories on their own pages, links to wire stories, and individual pages for special features. The weather page has actual graphics from the show and even an embedded video of the latest local forecast (which for some reason is done exclusively for the web instead of just taking video from the latest newscast). It’s even got an RSS feed, and the video player is improved (it’s embedded instead of being a popup).

Looking for crap? Well they have that too. The community calendar page and lotteries page both have that vintage 90s feel to them. The traffic page is nothing but links to Transport Quebec highway cameras.

If you’re expecting bleeding-edge features like the ability to comment on stories, sadly you’re out of luck. They point you to a contact form if you want to comment on a story. But they include handy Facebook and Digg links, so you can comment on the story on someone else’s website. There’s hints of a mobile site, but apparently that’s available for every local station except Montreal.

Melissa Wheeler continues the tradition of hot web reporters

Melissa Wheeler continues the tradition of hot web reporters

The About Us page includes bios of all the “personalities”, which now (finally) include Daniele Hamamdjian and Maya Johnson, as well as this Melissa Wheeler person, who I’m sure is doing the best she can with this antiquated technology. They also list important executives like Barry Wilson and Jed Kahane.

Radio-Canada redesigned

RadCan also rolled its new design into service recently. It’s apparently to spotlight audio and video (which, coincidentally, is what RadCan is all about), but the audio and video player is just as crappy as it was before, mainly because it’s still based on Windows Media instead of Flash.

Chez Juuuuhuuhuuuuules

Maude Guérin and Jessica Barker ... almost ... in Chez Jules

Brigitte (Maude Guérin) and Sandra (Jessica Barker) ... almost ... in Chez Jules

I took a peek at this Chez Jules show a while back when it was all the rage, and for some reason I went back there recently to catch up. Since when did it turn into a girl-on-girl almost-makeout fest? Had I known these just-friends would be throwing their faces into each other’s chests, I’d be a much more loyal watcher.

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The other side of the scrum

Gazette reporter James Mennie gets interviewed by TVA

Gazette reporter James Mennie gets interviewed by TVA

Scrums are a fact of life in the news media. An important event happens, and every news outlet is there to cover it. TV cameramen, print photographers and reporters huddle around an important figure and save time by essentially doing the same interview.

(Despite the continuing threat of convergence, each outlet still sends its own team to major events, even if a particular empire might be represented by more than one journalist.)

No one knows the news business better than those in it, but even many of us were surprised when the media gathered outside the room where the Montreal Newspaper Guild was holding meetings on whether to approve a new contract.

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Politicians take sides in Journal lockout

Locked-out workers picked outside the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday

Locked-out workers picket outside the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday

Le Soleil did the rounds of the provincial parties and found they’re not about to anger journalists in the Journal de Montréal labour dispute. The Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire are, as you might expect, solidly behind the union. The Liberals and ADQ are more on the fence, but aren’t going out of their way to grant interviews to scabs.

In other Journal news today:

Status quo at the Gazette

Despite increased fears of a lockout after the editorial department’s rejection of a management offer (no doubt fuelled by the situation at the Journal de Montréal), there hasn’t been a lockout or strike yet at the Gazette, and management and the union both say they want to go back to the negotiating table.

It doesn’t change the fact that a strike or lockout could be called at any time, but it’s a bit reassuring, certainly.

UPDATE: Just got word that another negotiating session has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Freedom of revulsion

Hey, remember when the city was considering a ban on ski masks during protests and I called that grossly unconstitutional?

Now the police want a by-law making it illegal to insult police officers.

The “verbal abuse” by-law is still in the “early stages”, which I guess means it hasn’t gotten to the “isn’t this a really stupid idea?” filter yet.

UPDATE: Lagacé also has a raised eyebrow about this.

Locked-out Journal workers vote to strike

At their general assembly today, locked-out employees of the Journal de Montréal voted near-unanimously in favour of a strike (which is redundant, but symbolic) and to reject the latest contract offer from the employer. (Via Steve Proulx)

UPDATE: Le Devoir has a story today about the vote and the union’s plans.

In other Journal news:

Snow + forts + hundreds of people = epic

Rather than put all 60 photos in a post, I’ll just link to my Flickr photo set from yesterday’s epic snowball fight at Mount Royal Park (the one I told you about and was announced on Facebook and Craigslist).

I wasn’t the only one taking pictures. Another Flickr set is up and I’m sure more will follow.

There are also lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of YouTube videos.

For those unclear, the fight was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Guerre des Tuques.


Gazette editorial employees reject contract offer

At a general meeting Sunday afternoon of the Montreal Newspaper Guild, the union which represents Gazette employees, editorial and reader sales workers overwhelmingly rejected an offer from their employer for a new four-year contract.

The primary reason for the rejection was the employer’s demand to change language on union jurisdiction, which is a clause in the contract that says any work done for The Gazette must be done by members of its union. Management wanted to add language that would allow them to freely outsource jobs outside the province.

For Editorial (the unit I belong to), the vote results were 23 for, 95 against for an 80.5% rejection. For (what’s left of) Reader Sales and Service, the results were 4 votes for and 11 votes against for a 74% rejection.

In a separate meeting, the advertising bargaining unit approved a new four two-year deal by a vote of 17-9 (65%). That unit had a weaker strike mandate (59%) and the vote was expected to be close.

Classified and business office workers are under a separate contract which is still in effect.

More coverage:

Elizabeth Thompson jumps to Sun Media

Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Thompson (I really need to get a better picture of her), who was The Gazette’s Ottawa Bureau Chief until she accepted a buyout and the paper closed its bureau, accepted an offer for a job at Sun Media yesterday, she tells Fagstein.

As promised, she will continue to cover Parliament Hill, though instead of focusing on Quebec issues in Ottawa she will be dealing with national issues as part of its team of five reporters on the hill.

Her articles will appear in Sun Media papers, including Ottawa/Toronto/Winnipeg/Edmonton/Calgary Suns, the London Free Press, 24 Hours/24 Heures, Kingston Whig-Standard (and other Osprey papers) and, of course, the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec.

That probably means that her articles could be used in scabbing the Journal, but unfortunately she has no control over that (and neither do wire services like Canadian Press, or the journalists at the Journal de Québec).

Thompson wouldn’t comment on salary or other aspects of her contract, but a source close to the issue said she has been given her own office, assistants and corporate jet, along with a lifetime supply of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey and an apartment at the Château Laurier. (You know, I should probably stop using that source.)

UPDATE (June 18, 2010): Well, it lasted a year and a half.

Journal de Montréal lockout begins

Early Saturday morning, management at the Journal de Montréal locked out 253 of its employees, mere minutes after an agreement with the union not to launch a labour dispute had ended. The lockout apparently came during the night, late enough that workers would still contribute work to the paper, but early enough that management could sneak in a note to readers about the labour disruption.

Both sides, naturally, blame the other for failing to negotiate. In reality, both sides have held firm on their demands since the contract expired on Dec. 31, and a lockout has been all but inevitable when both sides left the table this week.

Journal management plan to continue publishing during the lockout. The union is also planning a publication called Rue Frontenac, which right now just has a video of employees who are on the picket lines.

Rue Frontenac

In what has become the norm for journalist labour disruptions ever since the Journal de Québec’s incredibly successful MédiaMatinQuébec, the union launched, a website which they will use to continue working as journalists. Unlike MMQ, there are no plans for a print version of the paper. Right now the website contains a video with black-and-white pictures of locked-out employees. They’ve also started a Facebook group.

The Journal’s side

In its press release announcing the lockout (conveniently available in English), the Journal says the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal “has left the company no choice.” It says the lockout is needed because of the “urgency of the situation and the need for far-reaching changes to the Journal de Montréal’s business model”.

The company suggests there were pressure tactics that were disrupting the functioning of the newspaper, which is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. Naturally, they don’t hint at what those tactics might be.

In its analysis of the current economic situation facing newspapers, it stresses the need for the Journal to have more flexibility with online operations (the reason it doesn’t have a real website is because of restrictive clauses in its union contract) and the need for employees to become more efficient. This, of course, means they want to lay off a bunch of them:

“…as it will be impossible to maintain all jobs at the paper, we have already made a commitment to offer employees who will have to leave the Journal generous separation packages accompanied by relocation support.”

The press release closes on the fact that the Journal’s workers enjoy some of the best salaries and working conditions in the Canadian media industry. This is true, and a source for much jealousy among fellow journalists like myself. But as Patrick Lagacé points out, the Journal makes no mention of not being profitable (suggesting that it is still very profitable). Any cost savings from payroll would go straight toward that bottom line.

In a two-page letter to readers in Saturday’s paper, editor Lyne Robitaille says they want to increase, not decrease, the number of journalists working for the Journal. She also says the union’s suggestion that the paper made $50 million in profits in 2008 is false, though she refuses to provide budget figures to corroborate that statement.

The union’s side

The STIJM’s press release focuses on how this lockout will affect families, which probably won’t elicit as much sympathy as they think considering (a) their working conditions are disgustingly generous and (b) they’re getting very generous strike pay (76% for two years) because of the massive fund that’s been built up since the Journal first started 45 years ago.

They declare outright that anyone who does their work (24 Heures employees, Journal de Québec employees, or those of mysterious fly-by-night news agencies) are scabs, and they call on advertisers and readers to boycott the paper.

The union says it wants the Journal de Montréal to start a website, and all their contract demands is that management negotiate it with them (translation: the union has to approve any plan). They say they want a professional site, not a carbon-copy Canoe-branded dumping ground for articles and photos (like what they’ve done with the Journal de Québec).

The issues

Most of the points of dispute are the result of management demands for changes to the existing contract that the union has refused to consider. They include:

  • Increasing the work week from 30 hours (4 days) to 37.5 hours (5 days), with no extra pay
  • Laying off 75 employees
  • 25% pay cut for classified employees
  • 20% reduction in benefits for all
  • Clauses that would give new hires fewer rights than existing employees
  • Flexibility to reassign workers to do multimedia work for the website

How this will end

This conflict could easily last for years. The Journal has plenty of sources from which it can draw “content”: The Journal de Québec (ironically), 24 Heures (where they just hired a bunch of people), Canoë, the Sun Media chain, and perhaps even TVA and LCN.

It also has plenty of freelancers (including some columnists like Richard Martineau) – and it remains to be seen which of them will balk at scabbing. Lise Payette left the Journal de Montréal for Le Devoir in 2007 because her articles were being reprinted in the Journal de Québec. Others won’t be quite so hard-core about it.

Meanwhile, the union has a vast strike fund, as this is the first labour disruption to hit the paper since its launch 45 years ago (part of the reason for that is management concession to union demands, which is why their contracts are so generous).

The Journal de Québec lockout lasted 15 months before an agreement was reached. And the two sides there were closer together than they are in Montreal.

Long labour conflicts tend to end when the union’s finances have run out, employees are demoralized, and exhausted management throw them a bone with a sweetened offer. Both sides make concessions, but the union side will make more.

Expect an end similar to what happened at the Journal de Québec. The union will agree to a longer work week, though at a salary cut much less than what Quebecor is demanding. Multimedia flexibility will be granted and the Journal will finally launch a website (though it will be of poor quality like the JdQ’s). And the Journal will gain the right to make layoffs, but with enhanced severage packages. These are all just gut feelings of mine, so take these predictions with a grain of salt.

Hear ye hear ye

One thing that might shorten this time period is the courts. A huge decision was handed down last month that decreed much of the work used for the Journal de Québec was scab labour. Though Quebecor is appealing that ruling, it severely restricts their options, No mysterious come-from-nowhere press agencies can be used to fill space, and reporters from other Quebecor-owned media can’t be assigned to do work for the primary benefit of the Journal.

There will almost certainly be disputes in court over this. If the STIJM can knock down enough of the Journal’s options, it may force them to stop publication and move fast on a new offer. If the STIJM loses enough cases (which is unlikely in a province with such strong pro-union values), their situation could become hopeless and they’d be made more willing to concede important points.

One thing is for sure, this won’t be solved over the weekend. So go ahead and cancel your subscriptions.

How this affects The Gazette

My coworkers are obviously paying a lot of attention to this development, both out of general curiosity and because we are set to vote on a management proposal for a new contract on Sunday. Hints of an impending lockout are spreading via rumour, but there’s no way to tell if this is a serious threat or not until after the vote.

The union executive is strongly encouraging employees to vote against the contract offer, as it affords little protection against the outsourcing of jobs to nonunionized Canwest employees.

More coverage

Quebec City goes crashy-crashy Saturday night

If you’ve never seen Red Bull’s Crashed Ice event, you need an immediate injection of testosterone. Every year, “competitors” in this event gather in Quebec City to “skate” down a 550-metre track whose grade is better suited for tobogganing than anything one would do on skates. (It’s a 56-metre vertical drop, according to this PDF press release).

The point is not important, I guess it’s a race of some sort. The fun is watching everyone crash as the tumble down the ice. And this year, for the first time, they’re opening it up to women.

Of course, because it’s harmless fun, there’s gotta be someone out there to spoil it. The Mouvement Montréal Français, apparently confused because this event is in Quebec City, is demanding that Red Bull give it a proper French name. The government, desperate to appease francophone activists, has passed on the request with official backing, though they’re stopping short of asking Red Bull to change its own name.

I think it’s a bit insulting to have an event like this in Quebec City with an English name. I’m sure Red Bull’s marketing people could come up with a bilingual one or a clever French name that would solve this situation easily. (They’ve already done it for Italy’s Toro Rosso F1 team) But this should be a result of grassroots pressure, not government fiat.

Either way, let’s not let the political discussion ruin the fun.

Crashed Ice is being broadcast live at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in French on TVA and in English on TSN HD.

Giant snowball fight planned for Sunday

Apparently a giant snowball fight is being organized on Facebook to take place starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Participants are encouraged to build snow forts a day earlier, and to abide by various rules of fair play (adults only, no ice, no ink, no shots to the face)

The event page says Jeanne-Mance Park, but they actually mean Mount Royal Park, near the Georges-Étienne Cartier statue near the corner of Park Ave. and Rachel St. (Jeanne-Mance Park is the one on the East side of Park Ave.)

The Facebook event page has 280 “confirmed” in attendance, but those numbers are always heavily inflated. Expect a few dozen to show up.