Monthly Archives: May 2009

Bixi confusion

A young woman checks out the Bixi terminal at de Maisonneuve and Stanley

A young woman checks out the Bixi terminal at de Maisonneuve and Stanley

A couple of weeks ago I walked through downtown on a nice day to check out the new Bixi bike rental stands. I saw a few random people go by on these new bikes and it seemed a lot of people were at least trying them out, which was good.

Among them was a young woman who spent a few minutes checking the bikes out and then decided she wanted to try them. So she went to the terminal and pressed some buttons.

Everyone's curious about Bixi

Everyone's curious about Bixi

It took a while before anything happened. Probably because Bixi has a 50-page service agreement you have to read before you can take out a bike. After a few minutes, she swiped her credit card and picked up a ticket.

The ticket didn’t come with instructions, apparently, so she wasn’t quite sure what to do to get the bike out. Had one been unlocked for her? Was she supposed to have a key?

A team of four couldn't free this Bixi bike

A team of four couldn't free this Bixi bike

Eventually some others tried to help her out. They tried all sorts of things, including waving the ticket in front of the machine in case it had an embedded RFID chip or something. They tried keying in the code printed on the ticket, but that didn’t work either. They tried again with another bike stand.

After about 15 minutes of wasted time, she gave up and left.

I figured this was a fluke. Perhaps she had problems reading instructions, or something was wrong with the stand or something.

But The Gazette’s Andy Riga had similar problems when he tried his first Bixi. Pierre Foglia had trouble too. (UPDATE June 4: Riga has more problems.)

These people aren’t morons. So I’m forced to conclude that Bixi has some usability issues, particularly when it comes to the procedure of actually removing a bike from its stand.

Riga points out other problems (there’s no map to nearby stations for when one is empty or full). Let’s hope they’re ironed out quickly, before we start seriously marketing this to tourists.

CP gets in on iPhone craze

Canadian Press has launched an iPhone application where – for $3 a year – you can get access to breaking news from the CP newswire, CTVglobemedia (The Globe and Mail), Transcontinental (some Atlantic papers), Torstar (Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator) and FP Newspapers (Winnipeg Free Press).

In other words, major publishers except Canwest, Quebecor or the CBC.

The application is basically the same as the CP’s mobile-enabled website, except with GPS functionality added, according to the press release.

Since the only local Montreal news it has right now is from CFCF, I don’t see much advantage to GPSness.

Besides, even if this is successful it’s just going to steal traffic away from CP member sites, and $3 a year isn’t about to pay for a nationwide team of journalists.

Let’s just assume I’m missing something here, some key that actually turns this into a revenue source for CP or its members.

Weather Network Twitter alerts need fine-tuning

The Weather Network has launched Twitter feeds to alert people to important weather information. It makes perfect sense, except there’s one feed per province. Quebec’s feed has alerts from Gatineau to Rivière du Loup. But I don’t care about the weather in these places. I care about the weather in Montreal.

The Weather Network should split these feeds (especially Quebec, Ontario and B.C.) into more, smaller regional versions.

AMT wants to hear your rants

Does this picture send you into an uncontrollable fit of rage? Tell it to the Man!

Does this picture send you into an uncontrollable fit of rage? Tell it to the Man!

After lots of promises to setup public meetings so it could actually converse with its users, the Agence métropolitaine de transport held its first one on Tuesday night in Baie d’Urfé. There came the mini-announcement that the agence is planning to have text-message alerts of delayed trains and real-time updates on arrival times at train stations.

The AMT meets the public again next Tuesday, this time to hear about the Deux Montagnes train line. The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in the building across the street from the Sunnybrooke train station.

CRTC Roundup: Videotron must closed-caption porn

We made fun of this a bit when it came out, but there was a serious policy question being asked by Videotron: Should cable companies be required to spend money closed-captioning on-demand pornography and programming aimed at preschool children who can’t read?

The month, the CRTC ruled that, well, yes, they should.

While you might think it common sense that such programs should be excluded from closed-captioning requirements, the CRTC said that children should have access to captioning so they can learn to read, and parents should have access to what their children watch. There wasn’t much discussion about the porn angle, namely that nobody cares what people are saying in pornographic movies.

In any case, the CRTC said Videotron hadn’t made a case that it’s so financially strapped that it can’t afford captioning costs, so the application was denied.

Konrad’s oopsie

The CRTC chairman said sorry for saying that conventional broadcasters like CTV and Global wouldn’t commit to taking carriage fees from cable and satellite providers and putting all that money into local programming. It turns out they were ready to make just such a commitment.

That certainly makes the TV people look better. But what guarantee would we have that they wouldn’t take back their existing funding to local stations now that this new source of revenue is available to them?

Bye Bye was wrong

You hate to still be talking about this, but the judgment is in about Radio-Canada’s Bye-Bye: It really was racist. The CRTC passed on complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and asked them to judge the show. The CBSC normally rules only on private broadcasting, but the CRTC asked them for their advice (if anything, this shows that there’s no reason the CBSC shouldn’t also deal with complaints about public broadcasting).

The CBSC’s ruling dismissed most of the complaints (though some only barely), including those about jokes on anglos, the poor, immigrants, dépanneur owners, Indian call centre operators, Julie Couillard, Céline Dion, politicians, and a single complaint saying they were unfair to GM. It also said that the show did not go over the line in its treatment of Nathalie Simard, and didn’t even hint at the abuse she suffered at the hands of Guy Cloutier, father of Bye Bye hotst Véronique Cloutier.

The council did rule that three things crossed the line:

  • Jokes against blacks, particularly the sketch involving Denis Lévesque and Barack Obama as well as comments from Jean-François Mercier about Obama being easier to shoot in front of the White House.
  • The portrayal of violence against women in a sketch involving the family of Patrick Roy.
  • The rebroadcast of the show the next evening without viewer advisories.

The racist jokes, the council said, were gratuitous and abusive. Though Radio-Canada, the show’s producers, its writers and its performers did not intend to foster racism and intended for the comments to be ironic, the council ruled that the context didn’t make this sufficiently clear, and the comments could easily have been taken at face value. It brought up a number of previous cases to support its view that comedic irony isn’t a blank cheque to make racist comments.

It’s hard not to agree with the council’s well-thought-out decision. Bye Bye didn’t intend to be racist, but it did intend to shock. And when you’re spouting racist comments just to shock people, how is that different from just being racist?

This decision is worth reading if only for the words “a rather cartoonish rabbit-like act of intercourse.”

Technically, this is just a recommendation to the CRTC. It is up to the commission to decide if it agrees, and if so what kind of sanction it will impose. Normally, private broadcasters are required to air a notice of the decision to viewers. We’ll see if the CRTC orders Radio-Canada to do the same.

More power for radio

It’s going to be a bit easier to listen to some out-of-town radio stations thanks to some CRTC approvals of power increases:

  • CKOY 104.5 FM in Sherbrooke, the sister station to Montreal’s CKOI, gets a huge power boost to up to 50,000 Watts. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to hear, especially with CBC Radio One’s second 100W transmitter at 104.7 FM in the west end. But if you’re in the Eastern townships and had trouble hearing the station, you should have much less of that now.
  • CJLM 103.5 FM in Joliette gets a modest boost from 3,000 to 4,500 Watts, which will help people on the north side of the island and on the north shore.
  • For those on the south side, they’ll be hearing FM 103.3 in Longueuil, which in the same decision saw its allowed power output grow more than five-fold. It’s still a low-power community radio station, but maybe now it won’t disappear off the dial when I hit the Plateau.

Haitian station wants change of frequency

CJWI, a Haitian AM station currently on 1610 AM, wants to change its frequency to 1410, which is where CFMB used to be. The move would put CJWI in the regular, non-extended AM band, allowing people with older radios to hear it. It also wants to increase its output power from 1kW to 10kW, and relocate its transmitter.

Rogers, small cable companies get nannied

The Canadian Cable Systems Alliance asked the CRTC to intervene in stalled negotiations it was having on behalf of small cable companies across the country with Rogers over its SportsNet service. The CRTC has the power to intervene in these cases, but it prefers not to. However, since regulations require some cable companies to carry SportsNet (and will until new regulations take effect in 2011 that deregulate the cable sports channels), it decided it must step in here. Details are kept in confidence to protect both businesses, so that’s about all we know.

Slice wants less CanCon

Canwest-owned Slice channel has noticed that its Canadian content requirements are much higher than what other specialty channels require, so it wants to get the same deal. It’s asking that its CanCon minimum programming requirement be dropped from 82.5% to 60%, and that it be forced to spend only 45% instead of 71% of revenues on Canadian programming.

City wants less CanCon movies

Citytv has asked the CRTC for a change in license that would eliminate a requirement to air 100 hours of Canadian movies each year – which works out to about a movie a week. Rogers (which owns City now) argues that it is the only conventional broadcaster that has this requirement and it shouldn’t be singled out. Canadian movie-makers say Rogers has pulled a bait and switch, praising Canadian movies when it bought the network and now quietly wanting to get rid of them.

Want Al-Jazeera?

The CRTC is opening up the can of worms about allowing Al-Jazeera English into the country. The commission had previously approved the Arabic-language version of the network, with unique requirements that distributors monitor and censor its content, something that requires far too much work for the cable and satellite companies.

The commission is considering adding the English channel to eligible foreign networks that cable and satellite can add to their lineups, but it wants comments from Canadians who might be opposed to it. They specifically want evidence of abusive comments, with tapes if possible.

More specialty channels

Conventional TV may be dying, but specialty channels are exploding like nobody’s business. The CRTC is holding a hearing on July 21 where it will listen to proposals for new networks:

  • Black Entertainment Television Canada (English and French) – self-explanatory, I would imagine.
  • Reality TV – A Canwest proposal for reality shows, DIY programs and scripted reality shows. This network was originally approved by the CRTC in 2005, but expired before Canwest could launch it, forcing them to start over from scratch.
  • AMET-TV, an African and Afro-Caribbean-themed channel that carries programming in English (70%), French (20%) and African languages (10%)
  • New Tang Dynasty Television Canada HD, a generalist network mainly in Mandarin but also other Chinese languages.

CPAC wants to be patriotic

CPAC, the politics channel that carries House of Commons proceedings among other things, is asking for permission to expand its boundaries on July 1 of each year. It wants to add three programming categories which would allow it to carry musical performance, variety, entertainment and related programming from Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. A reasonable request if I’ve ever heard one, though I don’t think there are similarly specific exceptions to such rules on other channels.

A bold move

The CBC was in the process of getting slapped by the CRTC because it was violating its license with respect to Bold, a specialty channel. Formerly Country Canada, its license says it should air programming directed toward rural Canadians. But since then it’s basically been a dumping ground for whatever content the network wants to put there.

After the CRTC called a hearing, the CBC waved the white flag. It has proposed a license amendment, though one that would keep the rural focus.

Good news, bad news for Olympics

Following a request from the CRTC chairman, CTV and the CBC have been in talks about using CBC stations to broadcast French-language Olympics coverage for the tiny, tiny portion of Canadians who:

  • are unilingual francophones
  • don’t live in Quebec or within range of a TQS station
  • don’t have cable or satellite TV service
  • don’t have broadband Internet access
  • AND want to watch the Olympics in French on TV

You’d think this number would be so small as to be negligible (about 10,000 apparently fit the first three criteria), but in the spirit of political correctness, CTV (which owns the broadcast rights and is part of a giant consortium that’s covering the games) is looking at using some CBC stations to retransmit its TQS/RDS Olympics coverage over the air.

The problem is that the CBC isn’t crazy about donating the stations and getting nothing in return. Specifically, the debate is over ad revenue: CTV wants to keep it all (minus some compensation for what they would have had with their regular programming), and CBC thinks that’s crazy.

On the plus side, Corus has joined the giant consortium, which currently includes CTV (with TSN and RDS), TQS, Rogers and APTN. Corus will have Olympics coverage (though it doesn’t sound like much) on CKAC Sports as well as updates on CKOI, Info 690 and 98.5FM in Montreal.

In other news

And finally, not that anyone doubted it would happen, but the CRTC has allowed CBC Television and Télévision Radio-Canada to continue to operate for another year.

If you were a journalist now, what would you have done that Mr. Murphy has not done?

It was underhanded, mean-spirited, even arguably discriminatory. CTV executives decided to air the raw tape of an interview between ATV host Steve Murphy and then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion in which Dion has trouble understanding a grammatically confusing question. The network said it was because it had news value, but in reality it was because it wanted to make Dion look bad.

The move backfired, with public opinion turning against CTV. And now the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has agreed, with two separate rulings that the network violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics. (Two panels were actually convened, one regional panel to deal with the CTV Atlantic airing, and a specialty channel panel to deal with the Mike Duffy CTV NewsNet rebroadcast later that evening.)

Coverage from CP and Canwest. Still waiting for a news outlet that actually bothers to link to the decisions. Also no peep from CTV so far.

The decisions basically rule that Murphy’s question was poorly worded, that the network should not have aired the outtakes after promising not to do so, that airing them was unfair to Dion, and that his restarts were not newsworthy enough to justify their airing.

I find myself mostly agreeing with the analysis of the council, though their analysis of Murphy’s grammar is thorough to the point of absurdity.

The specialty channel panel wasn’t unanimous, with two members providing a dissenting opinion that favoured CTV. CTV’s arguments shouldn’t be dismissed here – they argue that restarts like these are rare, even in live-to-tape interviews like this one, and that it should be up to CTV, not the council, to decide what is newsworthy, especially when it comes to the most important interview a newscaster can give – a candidate for prime minister during an election campaign.

One argument that CTV didn’t make which I’ll add is that the question Dion was asked is textbook to the point of being cliché: What would you have done as prime minister? And politicians with even a moderate amount of public exposure should know how to bullshit their way to the next question if they don’t understand it (or don’t have the answer). Had Dion just picked an interpretation of his choosing instead of asking for clarification multiple times, this would never have happened.

But that doesn’t change the fact that CTV said it wouldn’t air the outtakes, and acted in a way that made it clear to Dion they wouldn’t be aired. Dion took advantage of an opportunity, and then got a knife stabbed in his back for his trouble.

UPDATE (June 2): ProjetJ looks at the differences between the CBSC and the Quebec Press Council. The latter has been losing members who also belong to the former (arguing they shouldn’t have to belong to two organizations that do the same thing). It also suggests the press council is more secretive, making its decisions anonymously.

Suburbs have too much transit clout

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

This week, La Presse came out with the news that the mayors of Montreal, Laval and Longueuil have joined forces to suggest to the Quebec government that proposed metro extensions in their cities be acted on simultaneously.

Because these projects require such a huge infusion of cash from the provincial government (they cost $150 million per kilometre, and that’s a low estimate), the decision to proceed with them tends to have as much to do with politics as it does with need. The Laval extension, for example, was pushed forward ahead of the extension of the Blue line mostly because of the fact that Laval has swing ridings whereas the east end of Montreal tends to be pretty well PQ blue (when the PQ has a chance of winning elections, anyway).

The three proposed extensions aren’t new. The Blue line extension has been on the books for decades now in one form or another. Laval’s closed loop was suggested in 2007, Longueuil’s plan is a bit more recent.

But why these three? Why not extend the green line in either direction? Why not create a line on Pie-IX, or Park Avenue, or through NDG?

The answer is that Montreal only has one mayor, and because of the way politicians have setup our cities, the mayor of Montreal has no more say than a smaller suburb on either side. So in order to get a much-needed metro extension in the dense neighbourhood of St. Leonard, we have to approve two comparatively useless extensions in underdeveloped off-island areas.

The idea isn’t going over so well, even among people who you’d think would support it. Some transit activists are arguing that less expensive (and less sexy) projects should be dealt with first, like improving commuter trains and setting up a tram network.

Let’s hope common sense prevails before the government writes that $3-billion cheque.

The medium is not the message

Third Tuesday, a bimonthly meetup of PR people talking about social media, got a visit this month from Jean-François Codère. Codère was a journalist for the Journal de Montréal and now, and his speech was mostly a response to one in January from blogger Michelle Blanc, who was preaching to the choir about how the traditional media don’t get the Internet. He’d written a blog post criticizing Blanc’s presentation, and was invited to take his message to the masses.

Codère’s presentation was treated with a lot of skepticism from bloggers, who accused him of using stereotypes and not knowing what he’s talking about. As Codère pointed out afterward, most of the people Tweeting about him not checking his facts misspelled his name.

Petty insults aside, Blanc and Codère are both guilty of generalizations and unsound arguments in their social media vs. traditional journalism debate, because they’re both acting under the impression that there’s a difference between a newspaper and a blog other than the fact that one is on paper and the other is on a computer screen.

Codère is mostly correct in his generalizations about blogs and user-generated news sites: they’re mostly opinion, they produce very little original journalism, they don’t verify most of what they put up, and they’re not particularly trustworthy.

But that’s most, not all.

Blanc and other new media advocates (most of whom are self-appointed “social media marketing experts” – UPDATE: Note that I don’t include Blanc among them) cherry-pick the few cases where social or new media got to a story before AP or the New York Times. The Hudson plane crash, for example (something I’ve already debunked). Even if the examples given have logical holes in them, there’s nothing inherent about the medium to show that news can’t be scooped by new media. I’ve had a couple of scoops here in my couple of years of existence.

The problem (and one of the reasons I’m not crazy about Twitter yet) is that the signal-to-noise ratio of what’s online is incredibly low. Unless the news happens to Ashton Kutcher, the vast majority of people aren’t going to hear about it directly – they’ll hear it through friends, aggregation sites or the news.

Codère’s comments prompted some knee-jerk reactions from the crowd who built up the straw-man argument that he says all journalists are perfect. He of course said nothing of the sort, because they aren’t. There are tons of lazy journalists out there, and the various cuts to news media going on as the industry explodes are just making that worse. Many journalists are going on Twitter and creating blogs and are learning the bad habits of their social media counterparts, posting information without verification being the most common one.

The big difference between professional journalists and citizen journalists is that professional journalists are paid to do what they do. That means they’ll have the time to research an issue, and their motivation is to build credibility and a career. Citizen journalists (and here I’m not talking about bloggers) are mere witnesses to events. They can tell you that a plane went down in the Hudson, or that people are running out of Dawson College. But they can’t tell you why.

Codère’s error is that he assumes the dynamics of news online won’t change, except that eventually newspapers will use the Internet and not paper as their primary method of delivery. I think we’ll see the same thing happen online that we’ve seen in television – generalists will be replaced by specialists, and people won’t be getting all their news from one place anymore. Bloggers will develop niches that drive enough traffic to create a revenue stream that allows them to do that job full-time. At that point they become professional journalists.

The debate is all a question of semantics. What’s the difference between a blogger and an online journalist? How does someone who expresses himself via blogs differ from someone who does so via Twitter or Facebook? I’d argue that the difference is as trivial as the one between a TV reporter and a newspaper reporter.

As the Internet matures, the importance of medium will diminish, and all we’ll be left with are the generalizations, which by then I think will be quite dated.

Maxime Bernier has new technologies

There’s no way I can make this better than it already is. (via @mediabeat)

It occured to me I’ve never actually heard Maxime Bernier speak in English before (my attention must have been focused elsewhere). Now the new Conservative minister of nothing is putting it in practice with a new blog.

Don’t expect him to be too honest or outrageous though, the Tories don’t like honesty on their members’ blogs.

CAJ award winners (with links)

I don’t know why all the journalism awards are handed out about this time. They should be handed out in late December when there’s no other news.

In any case, the Canadian Association of Journalists gave out its annual awards on Saturday, a day after the National Newspaper Awards. In both cases, neither the list of nominees nor the list of winners included any links to original content, which for the most part is still online. So once again, as a public service, I bring them to you below:

  • Open newspaper/wire service (circ. >25,000): A Pig’s Tale (Steve Buist, Hamilton Spectator)
  • Community newspaper: Adam’s Fall (Matthieu Aikins, The Coast)
  • Open television (>5 mins): The Taser Test (CBC News: The National)
  • Open television (<5 mins): Mulroney Mystery (Quicktime video) (Paul Hunter and Harvey Cashore, CBC News: The National)
  • Regional television: Prescription for Profit (Windows Media video) (Kathy Tomlinson et al, CBC News: Vancouver)
  • Open radio news/current affairs: Nuclear Renaissance (MP3) (CBC National Radio News)
  • Computer-assisted reporting: Impact (Melinda Dalton and Tamsin McMahon, Waterloo Region Record)
  • Photojournalism: Steve Russell, Toronto Star (you can see some of his photos on the Star’s Olympics photo blog)
  • Magazine: The Pill Pushers, (Alex Roslin, The Georgia Straight)
  • Faith and spirituality: Where is God Today? (CBC Radio)
  • Scoop: Nunavut Business Credit Corporation fiasco (Patricia Bell, CBC Nunavut)
  • Daily excellence: Murder on a Greyhound bus (Karen Pauls, CBC Radio)
  • Print feature: How safe is your food? (Michael Friscolanti, Maclean’s)
  • Student award of excellence in journalism: Motel muddle (Tamara Cunningham, Thompson Rivers University)

The big headline-making prize is the Code of Silence award, given to a government department that is an enemy of transparency (usually in a high-profile case). This year it was the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, for that whole listeriosis thing.

The national journalist association also bestowed its President’s Award to the unsung hero: media lawyers, who are working hard to make information free.