Monthly Archives: January 2009

Videotron: Peachy

On Dec. 30, Videotron removed a channel from its digital cable service. WPCH, formerly WTBS, is an Atlanta superstation that would broadcast a lot of comedy reruns, movies and Atlanta Braves baseball games. For the past year it’s been known as Peachtree TV.

On Jan. 15, more than two weeks after the signal on Channel 115 went dark, Videotron sent out a letter to customers who had it as a custom channel selection telling them it was no longer being offered:

Letter from Videotron

The gist of it is that WPCH demanded more money for carrying the channel, and Videotron balked.

Now, I could complain that the notice came out much too late, or that there was no mention of a refund to customers who had a dead channel for weeks, or that those forced to redo their channel selection are being charged more now because of new rates established for “new services”.

Instead, I’ll refer to the “attached directory”, a pamphlet of available channels, which apparently Videotron didn’t think to update:

Peachtree listing

I have no words to describe this level of incompetence.

Find the hole in CTV’s logic

From CTV’s press release:

When major events happen at home or abroad, Canadians turn to CTV. This was proven once again yesterday when 78% more viewers tuned into the CTV NEWS SPECIAL REPORT: THE INAUGURATION OF BARACK OBAMA, than coverage on CBC or Global combined. A total of 841,000 viewers watched the coverage on CTV from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., while 236,000 viewed on CBC and 236,000 also viewed on Global.

I have a feeling more Canadians turned to CNN than CTV, but that doesn’t help their incessant penis-measuring contest.

UPDATE: Therrien has the numbers for TVA/RDI, for those who are curious. More people watched it on TVA than CBC or Global.

Gazette workers to vote on contract offer Sunday

I haven’t been updating much on Gazette contract negotiations, mainly because there hasn’t been much progress. Negotiations took a break for the holidays, then resumed with a conciliator, but the talks were placed under a gag order which prevented both sides from talking about what was discussed.

Nevertheless, sources close to the negotiations tell Fagstein in exclusive interviews that they really can’t talk about it and I should stop pestering them with questions.

In talks this week, the Montreal Newspaper Guild, which represents Gazette employees, agreed to present management’s contract offer to the units who are currently negotiating a new contract and who authorized a strike mandate last fall: Editorial, Reader Sales and Service, and (non-classified) Advertising.

I don’t have any details of the terms yet. But I’ll let you know after Sunday’s vote how it turns out.

Rogers contract renewal: Just get a cheaper plan

The folks from Rogers Wireless have been calling me incessantly for the past week or two. They always call twice, from an unlisted Toronto number, and never leave a voice mail.

To get them to stop, I finally answered today. As I expected, they were trying to get me to sign on to a fixed-term contract by “offering” me a brand new phone.

Except my phone works fine. Sure, the plug for the charger needs to be jiggled a bit before it works, and the exterior buttons turn the ringer off when it’s in my pocket. But I can still make and receive calls and text messages.

So I told the guy I wasn’t interested. Then he decides he wants to sell me on cool new features, but I’m happy with what I have.

I ask him if there’s anything he can offer me that would reduce my bill and keep the same features. Then he pulls out this “exclusive offer” where I get 100 daytime and 1000 evening/weekend minutes for $15 a month, $10 cheaper than my current plan (which also includes unlimited incoming calls). Knowing that I only use about 100 minutes a month anyway, I figure it’s worth it (evenings also start earlier, 6pm instead of 8pm). I tell him to go ahead.

He also gets me to change my features package for another one at the same price which gives me more text messages and has caller name ID.

But when he told me I’d have to sign on for 36 months, I hestitated. I don’t know where I’ll be in 36 months, and I don’t know if I’m ready to commit that much. No problem, he says, he can do it for 24 months instead (that’s apparently the minimum).

So in exchange for a 24-month commitment, my already cheap cellphone bill is now $10 cheaper per month, and I have more features.

So if Rogers is calling you to get you to sign a new contract, consider the following:

  • If you’re happy with your phone, tell them that and see what kind of plan features you can get instead
  • Ask them what they can offer you to reduce your bill instead of adding new features
  • Don’t readily accept a 36-month contract. See if they’ll reduce the commitment to 24 months. (After those 24 months, you can bet they’ll be calling again to repeat the process.)
  • Do a quick calculation in your head to see if it’s worth it. If they’re not offering a significant discount, don’t accept a new contract. Either get a new phone or tell them you’re thinking of switching to a new, cheaper provider.

STM approves deal with maintenance workers

The STM’s board of directors has approved a five-year deal with its maintenance workers union retroactive to 2007, when the union went on strike and caused a four-day service disruption (for which we were compensated with pocket change).

The deal means four of the STM’s six unions have contracts. The two remaining ones are smaller professional unions representing about 400 employees in total. Presumably a disruption in either of those won’t affect regular service as severely.

NFB website redesigned

Matt Forsythe wants me to mention that the National Film Board just launched its redesigned website. The NFB has been working pretty hard getting various films online for people to watch them for free.

One of the big new features is playlists, which includes suggested playlists from experts. It’s a good way to get started if you’re overwhelmed by the selection and want to find something new.

More details are in an NFB blog post.

I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it, but at first glance the design seems slick. The homepage is unfortunately a bit cliché: Flash-based main story box which cycles between five items; grid of features below it, each with its own picture; link-farm at the bottom that’s meant more for Google than for human eyes.

But if that’s the worst thing I can say about it, it can’t be too bad.

Talks break down at Journal de Montréal, Le Devoir says

Le Devoir this morning reports that concilitation talks at the Journal de Montréal (fun fact: next door to conciliation talks for The Gazette) have broken down and a lockout is now imminent. An agreement to keep labour peace expires on Friday, so employees could be out the door as early as this weekend.

The report breaks a media blackout imposed on both parties by the conciliator, so neither side can confirm whether this is true.

The gulf between both sides is huge. Quebecor is demanding just about every point in the contract be changed in its favour, a total of 233 points of dispute. The union is fighting this, arguing that even in this economic climate the newspaper is raking in millions of dollars in profit.

Radio-Canada has compiled more details, including comparisons to the 16-month lockout at the Journal de Québec last year. On one hand, the existence of the free daily 24 Heures (which has just hired a bunch of journalists, supposedly for its website) means lots of content that can be repurposed for the Journal. On the other hand, a decision after the Journal de Québec lockout classified a lot of work by freelancers and subcontractors as scab labour, which means those loopholes won’t be available this time.

(UPDATE: News hit Twitter today that the lockout had already begun at the Journal, which would have totally showed how Twitter has scooped the mainstream media, if only it was true. Steve Proulx sets the record straight, and adds that the Journal has not changed its bargaining position at all)

UPDATE (Jan. 22): Patrick Lagacé has some thoughts on the JdM situation, and says he won’t be cheering if they’re stuck on the picket lines.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): Another update from Le Devoir, Proulx on the union meeting, a story from Presse Canadienne and Richard Therrien on whether we’ll see scabs ejected from press conferences like what happened in Quebec City.

Lagacé reprints a letter from the union to its members saying Quebecor walked away from the table. He also has a blog post explaining how the workers’ conditions, generous as they are, are not overly so for a company that’s still making a lot of money.

Comedy Network website wants your help to suck more

Comedy Central videos all look like this

Comedy Central videos all look like this has launched a new user-generated-content vehicle called Upload Yours to get random people to upload their own videos (kicking it off with Debra DiGiovanni, who CP says is from a show called “Video on Trail”).

Hey, you know what would make a really funny video? Having someone from Canada try to watch a clip from the Daily Show and his reaction at seeing the image above.

Someone should do that.

Yes We Got Canned!

As expected, various media outlets used the insane hype of the Obama inauguration to take out the trash and announce layoffs, hopeful that the news will be buried in a corner at the back of the business section with all the Obamamania coverage going on.

But the big cuts are south of the border, with Clear Channel cutting 1,850 jobs (9%), Warner Brothers cutting 800 (10%) and the Los Angeles Times planning to cut an unspecified number.

TVA Publications takes free out of freelancing

Steve Proulx has a copy of the new freelance agreement that Quebecor-owned magazine publisher TVA Publications is forcing its writers to sign.

What’s so extreme about it, sadly, isn’t that it demands complete exclusive rights, including copyright, over all work submitted, or that it demands writers waive all moral rights, or that it demands retroactive rights to all past submitted work, or that half of these demands are so over-the-top that they probably wouldn’t stand up in court.

What’s horrible is that this is for magazine freelancers, who once upon a time were treated with more respect and professionalism than newspaper freelancers.

And what’s worse is that so many aspiring writers are so desperate for a byline and so naive about what it will mean for them that they’re willing to work for peanuts and will sign this agreement without giving it a second look.

UPDATE (Jan. 22): Steve adds a letter from a former contributor to Quebecor-owned weekly ICI.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): The FPJQ issues a press release condemning the contract.

UPDATE (Jan. 26): Looks like this may have had some effect, with a report that at least one editor is backing off from enforcing this contract.

Gazette takes classifieds online

Not many of you read the print version of my newspaper. Probably even fewer of you look at the classified section anymore. Craigslist and others like it have gutted what was once the most reliable of revenue sources for newspapers. What used to be the thickest section of the paper only a few years ago (recent enough that even I remember it) has now become the smallest, even when you include the comics and puzzle pages.

But while inexpensive listings like furniture and electronics have almost completely disappeared, high-ticket items like cars and homes are still around. The few bucks it costs to put a listing in the paper is still such a tiny fraction of the total cost that it still makes sense. And so the classified section, though skewed toward those two categories (plus employment ads), lives on.

Last week The Gazette redesigned its classified section. At least on days when the classified section is its own section. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays it’s in the Driving section. Saturdays it’s in the Homefront section (which now also includes the Working section), and Sundays it’s an insert in the Sunday Sports tabloid.

The Gazette's old classified layout

The Gazette's old classified layout

The Gazette's new classified layout

The Gazette's new classified layout

The new layout is a standard one which also appears in the Vancouver Sun and Ottawa Citizen:

Ottawa Citizen classified section

Ottawa Citizen classified section

It’s not just a new layout, though. The point of the redesign is to emphasize Canwest’s new classified websites, powered through a deal with California-based Oodle. The new classified websites combine paper listings (through Canwest’s niche classified websites like and and online listings, some of which are free. The Gazette-branded page is here.

Gazette classified website, powered by Oodle

Gazette classified website, powered by Oodle

The biggest change that’s being hyped is that the paper will finally begin accepting classified ads online for the newspaper and the website. Some are free online (garage sales and community events, which people wouldn’t pay to post anyway), and others are still very expensive (like employment ads), which will serve to weed out the cheap stuff and hopefully bring in some of that desperately-needed revenue.

The flip side to accepting classifieds online is that there will be less work done on the phone. Opening hours have been reduced from 68 hours a week to 38 as weekday evening hours and Sundays are cut. The union worries that effeciencies will eventually lead to redundancies and layoffs of classified staff.

But it’s a long overdue move considering the staggering decline in classified advertising and the labour saved in having people type in their own ads online.

No Pants Metro Ride revealed

You might recall last week Montreal attempted its first No Pants Metro Ride. Only there were more journalists than participants and the organizer decided to cancel it.

Here’s the thing:

No Pants participants (that's me on the left)

No Pants participants (that's me on the left)

Don’t believe everything you hear. There was a No Pants ride, it just wasn’t covered. Until now.

Everything I told you in last week’s post actually happened. There weren’t enough participants, and the organizer did yell “It’s cancelled” prompting people to take off in different directions.

But before that, she whispered to participants that they would regroup elsewhere, away from the prying eyes of the media, so they could perform this stunt properly.

Surely, I thought, that wouldn’t actually work. The TV people would just follow everyone into the metro. But it did. Everyone left in small groups, some walked to Mont Royal metro from St. Louis Square (a long, cold trek I might add).

From there, the plan was to regroup at Jean-Talon, near the last car on the Snowdon-bound platform.

Unfortunately, along with the media, the group lost all but eight of its members, including the five above (others didn’t want to be photographed pantsless).

Pantsless on the metro after all

Pantsless on the metro after all

They decided to proceed. A single car, with eight pantsless participants spread around, pretending not to notice each other. The media was represented by a single person, The Gazette’s Amy Luft (who went through the trouble of actually talking to organizers beforehand and didn’t come with a photographer). She writes about the event in today’s paper.

Since Amy was already covering it, I decided to go as a participant instead of a journalist. When the time came, I removed my pants, and placed them in my bag. As you can see from the photo above, I had shorts on. This I considered a public service, as nobody wants to see me walking around in my underwear, even as a stunt.

During the event itself, what seemed to disturb me most was how little the crowd reacted. Some giggled, some looked twice, but most just sat there, thinking either nothing was strange with people pantsless in January, or that it wasn’t worthy of their attention.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any photographers present (beyond my really crappy cellphone). The top photo was taken at Berri-UQAM, after we had finished, just in case someone needed proof that people had indeed taken their pants off.

Although the event ended up happening, there’s still a lot to learn for next time. How to deal with the media, how to photograph the event without people noticing, and how to get more participants to show up.


Reports from other No Pants events have come in. Improv Everywhere has a summary of what happened in New York, with links to similar events around the world. Improv in Toronto has a report about their event (the second-largest behind New York).