Monthly Archives: March 2009

No coincidences

Two people who never met and had only seen each other once in their entire lives died on the same day. To some, that might be considered a coincidence unworthy of mention. To others, it’s a tragic miracle of two people “linked in life and death“.

Tom Hanson, a Canadian Press photographer, died suddenly while playing hockey on March 10. A day later, Gazette photographer Phil Carpenter posted a tribute to him on the paper’s photography blog. (CP also has a tribute gallery) Included was an iconic picture of a man holding a gun over his head during the Oka crisis.

A relative of Richard Nicholas, the man in the photo, mentioned on the blog that he had just died as well, in a car crash. Turns out it was on the same day.

An obituary of either man would have merited a short article, but not much more. Neither was a household name. But both dying on the same day, they suddenly become more of a story together.

When I die, I hope it’s on a day when someone else tangentially linked to me dies so that my obituary can become more meaningful.


Sunday was the annual march against police brutality, traditionally the most violent of the year. It’s when people who want to break things and yell “FUCK THA PO-LICE” gather to do exactly that. Then, when some of them are arrested for vandalism or throwing rocks at police officers, they yell “POLICE BRUTALITY!” because they were roughed up a bit during the arrest.

Here’s a slideshow of photos I took (I was late because someone – probably a protester – killed power to the tracks just before it was to begin, but Luc Lavigne has better photos from the beginning of the protest anyway).

The Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière, which organizes the protest, is outraged (OUTRAGED!) that the city and police are now demanding that they be provided with the route the protest takes so that streets can be closed ahead of time. They say they did their best to minimize violence and property destruction because they asked people not to break things when the protest started.

Of course, just as the police protect their colleagues who surpass their authority, protesters protect the masked vandals who are more interested in getting away with what they can than they are making a point. So we get wanton property destruction (which only serves to sway public opinion away from one’s cause) and mass arrests (which no doubt caught a bunch of innocent bystanders in its huge net – La Presse is trying to track them down).

What’s sad, of course, is that police abuse of power is a real issue that deserves attention. The Fredy Villanueva case is already the subject of a public inquiry (which makes me wonder what exactly the protesters want in this case) and the death of Robert Dziekanski brought police procedure and Taser use to strong public criticism.

In the end, the public sympathy for victims of police brutality is undermined by protests such as these, because they show that when properly prepared for an onslaught of rock-throwing anarchists, cops (for the most part) keep their cool and keep the peace.

Similar thoughts from Patrick Lagacé,

Can CHCH be saved?

If you aren’t up on the grassroots plan to “Save CHCH News”, the Toronto Star has a piece on a bold plan to reinvent the Hamilton station as a community television outlet again before it can be shut down.

There’s definite public support with Facebook groups and petitions to keep the station local, but the big question is whether ratings will drive enough local advertising to offset the costs of keeping such a station running. Local news, even when it’s popular, is almost always a loss leader, costing more in expenses than advertising surrounding it brings in. Making a station’s entire programming grid local content might be a recipe for quick bankruptcy.

Or it might be the most brilliant idea ever conceived.

TVA renews Vlog for third season

Dominic Arpin

If Dominic Arpin looks happy here, it’s because I’ve taken a file photo and used it out of context as filler art to tell you that TVA has renewed his weekly web video clips show Vlog for a third season, days after it aired its second season finale. Arpin says he’s got a deal for 10 episodes so far, not including the four special-topic episodes that will air over the next few weeks.

Vlog premiered in 2007 as a half-hour show with Arpin and Geneviève Borne that screened 30-second clips from popular videos online. It took me a while to warm up to it, especially because it seemed to leech off other people’s creative content without offering much in return (the show still isn’t downloadable or streamable after it airs). Its erratic schedule following Occupation Double (and against RadCan’s powerhouse Tout le monde en parle) didn’t help its ratings, which eventually led to its cancellation.

But Arpin refused to give in. He launched his own website and began work on an online video guide, and eight months after it was cancelled, TVA brought Vlog back to life in a retooled form. Gone were his co-host and the all-white sets and giant flat-screen TVs. Instead, he’d introduce the videos webcam-style from his fake apartment. The show was also moved to Thursday nights (and eventually Friday nights) at a fixed time.

Apparently that was enough. Vlog is here to stay, and Arpin doesn’t have to worry about going back to reporting.

The newspaper shutdown has begun

The final issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday March 17, 2009

The final issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday March 17, 2009

If you follow media, you probably don’t need me to tell you that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer finally pulled the plug on its money-losing but historic print edition, and will attempt to make a go at producing a news website with a few dozen journalists. It will be a test case for other major newspapers thinking of doing the same. If they succeed in making such a venture profitable, others will surely follow. If not, others might try, or they might decide to close up shop completely.

Meanwhile, in Denver, where another city has become a one-newspaper town, former staff at the Rocky Mountain News are trying to do the same thing, even though their publisher decided not to. So they’ve made a pledge that if they can get 50,000 people to subscribe for $5 a month, they’ll start up an online newspaper.

In Canada, big papers are still here, and for the most part still profitable. But the smaller papers are dying off. Sun Media this week closed two underperforming small newspapers in Alberta, the Jasper Booster and Morinville Redwater Town & Country Examiner (UPDATE: The Edmonton Journal explores some of the lives affected by these shutdowns and other layoffs). They weren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last small newspapers to throw in the towel in this economy where even journalism students don’t read papers and journalists are thinking of some desperate ideas to keep the business model going. While the number of consumers of information is about the same, the shift of advertising dollars is not, and that’s going to put negative pressure on people like me who would like to make a living off the collection, packaging and redistribution of information.

The trends are encouraging for journalism, but not for journalists. Plz I can haz bizniss modul nao?

La Presse? What’s that?

Speaking of the linguistic divide, this from a story in the Globe and Mail about the state of newspapers:

In Canada, every major newspaper company (including The Globe and Mail) has undertaken significant layoffs in the past year and the Halifax Daily News has folded.

Now, I follow Canadian media pretty closely, and it’s true that Canwest, CTVglobemedia, Sun Media, Torstar, FP Newspapers, and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald have announced layoffs. But unless I missed an announcement somewhere, Gesca (La Presse, Le Soleil) and Le Devoir haven’t, and certainly haven’t undertaken “significant layoffs” unless they did so secretly.

But I guess since they’re French papers, they don’t count.

Come on, people, I can’t keep this country together by myself.

Le français, avant tout

I’m getting a bit tired of the language debate in Quebec.

I feel a bit guilty saying it, because the neverending battle has become so central to the province’s identity that it’s almost like I can’t call myself a true Québécois unless I have a spot on the front lines. What does it mean to be a Quebecer if not to constantly argue about French vs. English, federalism vs. sovereignty, Liberal vs. PQ/BQ?

The most popular post on this blog, by far, in terms of comments is a criticism I made in 2007 about anglo rights crusader Howard Galganov. The comment mark on that post just passed 500 (all of which I had to individually approve), and new comments are added every day. Discussion of the statements made in the post or of Galganov himself have long fallen by the wayside. The four participants who keep the thread going just yell at each other, call each other racist and compare each other to Hitler in their discussions of the great divide. I block those comments that go too far, but if I deleted those that I didn’t think advanced the conversation enough, over 90% would disappear immediately. At this point, I’m just watching the counter go up, in awe about how much time people can waste trying to change the mind of someone who is obviously never going to agree with you.


I’m an anglophone. Even though I’ve lived in Quebec my entire life, I’m seen as the enemy. No different than the Rest of Canada. It’s assumed that I’m just waiting for my chance to make it in Toronto or New York, and that I don’t really belong here because I don’t really want to be here. Though I love Quebec as much for its culture (which is inescapably intertwined with its language) as its politics (which is inescapably intertwined with language issues), because I use English more than French in my daily life I’m set aside from real Quebecers.

Once, in a conversation with some young francophone journalists, I was asked about my opinion on Quebec politics in a way that gave me the impression I was introducing these people to a culture they’d only read about. I felt like I was giving them a sociology lesson on what it’s like to be an anglo Quebecer.

One of the things that was odd about the conversation is that it came a bit out of nowhere. People don’t stop me in the street to debate politics. I’ve never been refused service at a commercial establishment on account of my language. Francophone bloggers link to me, and I link to them, with little regard to the fact that our posts are in different languages, unless the thing were talking about is language politics. Quebecers are more concerned with daily life, gossiping or getting laid than they are convincing others of their point of view on separation.

I got dragged into a brief debate about my positions on Bill 101 recently, and though I have serious issues with some of its provisions that seem more anti-English than pro-French (and the psychological factor and selective enforcement only exacerbate the anti-English sentiment), part of me wanted to scream out at one point: “I don’t care!” I can read French signs fine. I can communicate fine in that language (just don’t ask me to write in it for a living). In that sense, Bill 101 doesn’t really affect me. Though I cringe at how much the government is spending on language enforcement rather than language education, I think there are far more pressing issues for it to deal with than reforming our language law.

Pure laine

I bring this up because of a couple of debates going on that really make me wonder where Quebec’s priorities lie.

La Presse’s André Pratte had to apologize on Friday for noting that Michael Sabia, the ex-Bell CEO who has just been named to head the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, is (a) not a Quebecer and (b) doesn’t speak French very well. It seems he was wrong on both counts. Sabia has lived in Quebec for 16 years (“how long do you have to live in Montreal before you become a Quebecer?“) and his French, while accented, is fine. He attributed his first error to “un détestable réflexe québécois” – namely that if you’re anglo, you’re not a Quebecer. Believe me, this is a big problem. It’s not just in Quebec, of course. People, media and PR agencies all over Canada will look at someone with brown skin and assume they’re an immigrant. In the U.S., if you’re latino, it’s assumed you’re an illegal immigrant or the descendant of one.

I accept Pratte’s apology, but he wasn’t the only one to bring this up. Sabia needed to defend himself from an attack by Bernard Landry, saying he’s now chosen to live in Quebec three times since 1993.

UPDATE: No, wait, La Presse has gone back to saying he doesn’t speak French well enough for their liking.

Now we know why there are rules against political interference in the Caisse’s affairs. If something as petty as province of birth is a political issue (and deemed more important than making money for Quebec pensioners) then who knows how many ways 125 MNAs could figure out to screw with the system and doom our finances in order to maintain political correctness.

As Martin Patriquin points out, “Quebec must be the only place in the world where it actually matters what language money speaks.”

Not just money, but pucks.

Jeu de puissance

The other debate, which has just started, is over who will fill Guy Carbonneau’s shoes as head coach of the Canadiens. For any of the other 29 NHL teams, the only criterion would be the ability to coach a team of players to a Stanley Cup victory. (Well, that and not being a child molester, hockey gambling addict or 9/11 terrorist, I guess.) But in Montreal, they want to add another: the ability to speak French. And because former Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever is a prime candidate (he was promoted to Habs assistant coach when Carbonneau was fired), there’s already discussion that, no matter how good a hockey coach he might be, he can’t get the job because he won’t be able to speak properly to the media and to fans. Even Bob Gainey, who speaks French fine but with a strong accent, isn’t good enough for the people at RDS.

The Gazette had a little fun with that Saturday, suggesting some intensive training courses and giving a list of simple phrases for an anglo coach to learn.

This debate should come as no surprise. The same debate has been going on ever since Saku Koivu was promoted to be the Canadiens’ captain. Patrick Lagacé complained about it when he was at the Journal (though he’s softened his stance at La Presse – Lagacé the old softy disputes this in a comment below) in a column more notable in media circles for its hilarious follow-up. Of course, there are plenty of NHL players who don’t speak a word of English, but nobody complains about that. After all, their job is to play hockey, not to give speeches. But, in defence of this particular point, there aren’t any NHL captains who can’t at least carry on a conversation in the language of Gary Bettman.

And then there’s debate any time you see a trade, a call-up, a healthy scratch, or even a line-change which alters the makeup of the team to make it less francophone. It doesn’t matter what Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre or Mathieu Dandenault’s skills are. What matters is that they can be interviewed in French on RDS during intermission, and therefore they must be on the team and in the lineup. For these people, a Patrice Brisebois is more valuable than an Andrei Markov, and certainly more than a Mike Komisarek.

Fans can demand these things. It’s their right. And Canadiens fans aren’t exactly known for their logic or cool-headedness anyway. And it’s the government’s right to demand that the head of the Caisse is a Quebec-born francophone who watches Star Académie.


But when you say that language and nationality is more important than skill, you can’t complain when you don’t get results compared to others. You can’t complain that the Caisse is losing more money than other pension funds when you passed over a qualified anglophone for a less qualified francophone for the job. You can’t complain that the Canadiens failed to bring home their expected 25th Stanley Cup when you cut the field of head coach candidates to less than half of what it was so that RDS viewers don’t feel uncomfortable.

In the United States, the military is mocked because it fires gay Arabic translators even when it’s in desperate need of them. We make fun of the Americans because they put what you are above what you know, to their own disadvantage.

Sometimes, I wonder if Quebec is any better.

Except, I’m tired of debating the point. So I’m just going to hit “publish” and move on to something more interesting.

UPDATE: More discussion of this on Lagacé’s blog, which also talks about Simons’s opposition to that stupid OQLF sticker campaign.

Andy Riga explores trainspotters

AMT train

Newly-appointed transportation reporter Andy Riga has a feature story in today’s paper about local trainspotters, complete with an audio slideshow from photographer John Kenney. The picture with the story is of Alex Tipaldos, aka KellerGraham, a transit photo nut and Friend of Fagstein.

Bastard copied my story idea His story complements a short one I did last year about bus fans who rent older transit buses and take pictures of them.

Both groups use the website (disclosure: run by a friend of mine) to organize their activities. The bus group, by the way, is organizing a pair of special bus charters for the first weekend of May.

A few extra million

Some good news for my benevolent corporate overlords on Thursday as it announced that it has gotten $34 million as part of a settlement agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times concerning some unfinished business related to the sale of the Hollinger chain (including the Gazette) to Canwest in 2000. Sure, that money could be used to pay off debt, but I’m thinking it should be invested in bonuses to a low-level employee who could really use it. *cough*

Speaking of the Sun-Times, its management has abandoned a plan to outsource copy editing and layout outside the country, after rumours circulated that they would fire 30 workers and have an unnamed firm in Canada or India take up the work. Had they gone with Canada, the work would have probably been taken up by Canwest Editorial Services, a company in Hamilton that does work for Canwest papers as well as many clients worldwide.


Comedy Central blackout

For those who haven’t seen it yet, the full interview between Jon Stewart and CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer has been posted to the Comedy Network website. The Daily Show invites us to go to their website, but because of a stupid deal between Comedy Central and CTV’s Comedy Network, any time someone in the U.S. links to a Comedy Central clip, you’re shown the message above and are forced to find the video – from scratch – on the Comedy Network website (assuming the clip even exists on it).

I’ll spare you analysis of the interview, since apparently there is no shortage of journalists who have nothing better to do than talk about what was on television the night before. Unfortunately, while plenty of pundits are liberally quoting the interview, judging Cramer’s body language or talking about how much of a hit it is on YouTube, there isn’t much talk about what this means for CNBC. The inevitable comparisons to Stewart’s appearance on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004 have already been made. Since Crossfire was cancelled months after Stewart’s appearance (and CNN has since moved more toward polite analysis from partisan hacks instead of shouting debate), the reasonable question to ask is whether CNBC will also undergo a radical shift as a result of this public depantsing.

Just pulling this out of my ass here, but I’m guessing there will be some changes to CNBC’s tone, with more confrontational interviews with corporate CEOs, more skepticism of Wall Street companies and get-rich-quick schemes. (Of course, these will be more the result of the market collapse than Stewart’s prodding.) But Mad Money isn’t going anywhere. Jim Cramer isn’t suddenly going to drop his sound effects and start doing more reasoned analysis. And anyone who thinks that it will be doing a lot more serious investigative business reporting in the long term is kidding themselves. It’s hard, and there’s no money in it.

And if any cable network understands the profits that can come from getting high ratings as cheaply as possible, it’s CNBC.

UPDATE: Bill Brioux has the Canadian ratings numbers for the show on The Comedy Network and CTV.

Virgin Radio branding hasn’t helped CJFM’s ratings

Virgin 96

Though everyone at what used to be Mix 96 was really excited about owner Astral Media stripping out their (admittedly lame and generic) branding to replace it with one they bought form the British, ratings figures since CJFM’s new brand launch in January have shown little change for the station.

BBM figures for Dec. 1 to March 1 (PDF) using their new fancy-shmancy portable people meters show it has 16% of the anglo Montreal market, putting it behind powerhouse CJAD but ahead of its direct competition. Over the past few years, CJFM’s share of the anglo market has drifted between 13% and 20%. There was a slight uptick compared to figures from before the relaunch, resulting in about 8,000 more daily listeners, or an increase of about 1%. But that’s still well within the usual margin for error in radio ratings.

If Astral expected an audience jump from the change, it didn’t get one. But there wasn’t a widespread abandonment of the station either. When it comes down to it, people don’t care about the branding, so long as the music is the same.

For the French side of the recent radio ratings, Le Devoir has the numbers.

Those who can’t, research: Concordia MA in journalism studies

Concordia University is launching a two-year graduate program in journalism studies for fall 2009, and is currently accepting applications. Unlike its one-year graduate diploma, the MA program isn’t designed for students interested in pursuing a journalism career, but academics and mid-career journalists looking to research about journalism itself, and complete a research project (perhaps to find a business model that will bring back those 30% margins?).

Applications are due by April 30 (April 10 if you want to apply for scholarships)