Monthly Archives: August 2009

Michel Godbout to leave CBC Montreal anchor chair

CBC Montreal announced today the two co-anchors who will be helming the new supper-hour TV newscast, and neither of them is Michel Godbout.

Michel Godbout: "Returning to the field"

Michel Godbout: "Returning to the field"

Instead, the CBC is going younger, picking one familiar and one unfamiliar name to sit in the big chairs. Godbout, the release says, is going back to reporting, “returning to the field.” The release suggests Godbout is eager to get back on the front lines, though that’s not quite the impression one gets when reading his Twitter post on the subject. Godbout, a known softie, tells us below not to read too much into that Tweet.

Replacing Godbout on Sept. 8 (a week after the new 90-minute newscast debuts) are reporters Andrew Chang and Jennifer Hall.

The announcement was sent to the media shortly before the 6pm newscast and was made on the air by Jeniene Phillips, who is replacing the vacationing Godbout in the anchor chair, at the very end of the hour-long newscast. It included video of Hall and Chang at their desk in what appears to be a new set:

Jennifer Hall and Andrew Chang try out their new anchor chairs

Jennifer Hall and Andrew Chang try out their new anchor chairs

Chang is a familiar face to CBC Montreal viewers, one of the youngest faces on the newscast and a solid multimedia reporter who has been with the station since 2005.

Hall, on the other hand, is an import. She comes from Ontario, where she served as national reporter for CTV’s “A” News network. Though she has experience as a news anchor, she’s spent her career (and education) in Ontario and is entirely new to the Montreal news scene.

Frank Cavallaro remains at his post as the weather presenter.

CBC’s release is below:

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Tasso, Suzanne leave CFQR morning show

Tasso: gone

Paul "Tasso" Zakaib

After 20 years in morning radio in Montreal, Aaron and Tasso is just Aaron.

CFQR a.k.a. 92.5 the Q a.k.a. Q92 Program Director Brian DePoe announced on Wednesday that two thirds of its long-running morning trio would be leaving the station: Paul Zakaib (aka Tasso Patsikakis) and Suzanne Desautels. No reason was given beyond a vague statement of making changes.

The Aaron and Tasso show began on CFQR in 1989, but their collaboration began years before that when they worked at CKGM and CFCF radio. The CFCF partnership ended in 1987 when management decided Tasso was no longer a good fit for the ratings-stalled show hosted by Aaron Rand. Later, when they were teamed up for Q92’s morning show and the ratings skyrocketed, the powers that be learned their lesson, and Aaron and Tasso stuck together throughout the 90s and most of this decade.

Considering the revolving doors of morning shows at the competition CHOM, CJFM and even CJAD, it’s astonishing that they stuck around for so long, cementing their names into the city’s consciousness. (I remember one morning a while back when a woman got a surprise call from the CHOM morning show – the hosts asked if she knew who they were, and she said “Oh, it’s Aaron and Tasso!” There was a bit of an awkward silence after that, but it demonstrates how they were the most recognizable of the morning teams.)

Suzanne Desautels

Suzanne Desautels

Desautels also hails from the old days of CFCF radio, where she started off as an intern in the early 80s. But she spent most of her career at CFCF television, as a weather presenter and co-host of its Travel Travel program. In 1999, when the budget axe fell there, she moved to CFQR as a news reader and has been there since, eventually moving to morning traffic and then recently as a full partner in the morning team.

So far, the plan is to keep Aaron Rand going solo, with a scaled-back morning show (less talk, more music). I can’t help but wonder if that may be an indication that the two-men-one-woman morning crew format we see on Montreal’s anglo music stations might be a bit excessive on the talent for these belt-tightening times.

Those who want to express their opinion on the dumpings can do so on the station’s Facebook page or by contacting management directly. (UPDATE: The station has shut down the discussion forums on its Facebook group page after being swarmed with comments about the programming change. Listeners are being asked to email PD Brian DePoe directly, presumably so negative comments are kept out of public view)

UPDATE: Coverage from CTV Montreal and The Gazette, both of which have been flooded with comments about the move.

Neither The Gazette nor CTV (nor I) have gotten any comment from the two fired personalities. Instead, Aaron Rand has been stuck in the unenviable position of explaining the decision of someone else to fire a good friend.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): Some insightful comments from radio buff Sheldon Harvey.

UPDATE (Aug. 25): Comments from Aaron Rand, who says he’s passing along people’s thoughts to Tasso and Suzanne, even while the two of them remain silent.

Attention whore Ian Halperin takes offense to attention whore label

At a news conference the other day to promote his latest Michael Jackson gossip, “award winning journalist Ian Halperinlashed out at The Gazette for its review of his book.

He says he has no problem with negative reviews, but decries the “personal attacks” levelled against him by the reviewer. Specifically, that “Halperin has no problem with self-promotion.”

This, combined with its failure to mention the book’s place on the New York Times bestseller list, and its negative treatment of Leonard Cohen (a charge he just kind of made up), was clear evidence that The Gazette is anti-Semitic.

The review is certainly scathing, and puts the book in a really bad light. But is it really a personal attack to suggest that a celebrity gossip muckraker who starts each blog post with “IUC EXCLUSIVE” and wears ridiculous glasses is an attention whore?

I think suggesting there was anti-Semitism involved only proves the reviewer’s point that Halperin is the punchline to a bad joke.


TQS - V télé

That’s what TQS is going to change its name to: V. Not Canal V, just V. This, after seven months of brainstorming, is the best they could come up with. The idea is that the network will have a lot of stuff starting with V, and so this links it all together.


I guess Canada has this thing about single-letter networks: E!, /A\, D and now V.

And yet, the same thing I said about “A” a year ago still applies: The name is ungoogleable, and therefore useless in a new media environment. Go ahead, put “V” into a Google News search and see what comes up. Compare that to TQS. If you think that’s a minor issue for a television network, you clearly don’t understand how the Internet works.

Even Remstar should have figured that out quickly. The website isn’t or, but That should have clued them in that their idea was flawed.

Besides, V is also the name of a bunch of other television networks around the world: the multinational Channel [V], Portugal’s Canal V on Cablovisao, plus all sorts of networks that call themselves VTV.

Maxime Rémillard and TQS’s PR team expect all the media will be talking about this in the morning. And he’s right, the story is everywhere. But in what is perhaps the worst timing ever, the news will be packaged (like in this Radio-Canada piece) with news that came out earlier Wednesday that TQS had violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ code of ethics with unfair contests on its Call-TV program.

That story is being reported at Presse Canadienne, Rue Frontenac, La Presse and Le Soleil, among others.

The decision of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which decides on complaints against private broadcasters, is available online. In summary, it takes issue with the fairness of the contests, particularly with one that asked callers to guess names that turned out to be anything but guessable: Pancho, Hakan, Gabor, Darko, Lamar and Nanno. (I’m not sure if those were chosen to be intentionally deceptive, or because the show is shot in Austria and the crew have no idea what names are common in Quebec.) It also said the program was not being transparent enough about its rules, which is especially a problem when people are asked to pay to take part.

TQS, for its part, didn’t put up a defence of the program. Instead, it absolved itself of responsibility, claiming Call TV was an infomercial, and wanted to pass the buck to creator Mass Response.

The CBSC rightfully called this suggestion ludicrous on its face, reminding TQS that broadcasters are responsible for everything they put on air.

But the CBSC also said it could only adjudicate stuff that was broadcasted, not the stuff that went on behind the scenes. It couldn’t comment on how people were charged for their calls, or whether they might have been overcharged. That, it said, was the responsibility of the government or another government-run body.

That’s one of two big problems with this decision: It doesn’t solve the underlying problem. This isn’t an issue of inappropriate content making it to air, or a broadcaster providing biased information during a newscast. This is an unlicensed overseas gambling operation masquerading as a quiz show to deceive people out of their money one dollar at a time. The investigation must be done by Quebec’s gambling authority, not the CBSC.

The other big problem goes to the heart of the CBSC itself. It’s one of those industry-self-regulation bodies, and so it’s in its best interest not to impose serious fines. Therefore, it doesn’t impose any fines or other serious punishment for such gross violations of its codes.

Instead, despite being found in violation of its own industry’s code, the only thing TQS has been mandated to do is air a short notice twice during the next week.

And presumably make Call TV more fair. Otherwise they might get an even more strongly-worded letter.

Time for new blood on the STM’s board of directors

Brenda Paris

Brenda Paris

Mayor Gérald Tremblay got yet more bad news when he found out that the president of his party, Brenda Paris, has defected to rival Vision Montreal to run as a borough mayor.

In addition to her various roles with government and non-profit organizations in the city, Paris is a member of the Société de Transport de Montréal’s board of directors. There, she serves as the “transit users’ representative”, which means she represents regular people like us who take the bus and metro to work every day.

It’s one of two seats on the board set aside for this purpose. The other is for a paratransit users’ representative, and is currently held by Marie Turcotte. Both Paris and Turcotte have served since 2001, making for quite a long tenure.

All the other seats on the STM’s board are held by municipal politicians. Borough mayors, city councillors, or representatives of on-island suburbs. Now, having declared herself as a candidate, Paris has become one of them. (One might argue she was already one of them being president of a political party.)

I’m pretty sure that when the “transit users’ representative” was added to the STM’s board, this wasn’t what they had in mind for it. There are already far too many politicians on the board, and far too few people from the community.

I don’t know Brenda Paris, and I have no reason to believe that she’s anything other than an outstanding person. But after eight years on the STM’s board, I think it’s clear that she has more connections to municipal politicians and civil servants than she does regular transit users. It’s not a personal fault, it’s just the natural progression after eight years and being so involved in politics.

The STM has done a lot for transparency, and is continuing to improve (putting documentation online, for example, and releasing annual reports with useful statistics), but there are serious deficiencies, starting with the board of directors itself. While the agendas for meetings are published in advance, the items are vaguely described, and there is no supporting documentation available. Reference could be made to a new bus route in the agenda, but a description, map or schedule of that route isn’t available before or at the meeting to interested users.

At the meetings themselves, time is set aside for questions from the public (which usually comes in the form of complaints about individual cases of inconvenience from people who clearly have nothing better to do with their time), but when it gets down to business, there is never any discussion of the millions of dollars of projects approved unanimously. The actual meeting, with a dozen items on the agenda, lasts for less than 10 minutes, with the secretary noting only who was present and who moved and seconded various motions.

It’s time for a new transit users’ representative on the STM’s board. Perhaps even one selected by the transit users themselves instead of by political appointment. (I focus on Paris and not Turcotte here, though if a paratransit user was willing to serve on the STM’s board I would suggest change there as well.) And I think some consideration should be given to term limits for these positions.

I don’t know if Mayor Tremblay has the power to remove Paris from the STM’s board because she defected from his party (or whether he’d be so petty as to remove her strictly for that reason), but even if that doesn’t happen, I think she should recognize it’s inappropriate for her to continue serving on this board in this capacity.

I’m sure Brenda Paris is an asset to the STM, and would even suggest that she be appointed to one of the political seats on the board in the event she wins in November’s election. But she’s taking up a seat that needs to be filled by someone with new ideas and a better perspective on the issues that transit users face every day, someone whose votes won’t be clouded by the worry of how they might be seen on the campaign trail.

For that reason, I respectfully suggest that she resign.

Copy editing: Does outsourcing it make sense?

As newspapers look forward to an increasingly bleak economic future, their managers are beginning to contemplate drastic measures to cut staff and/or expenses while doing their best to avoid cutting their most important jobs: middle managers reporters.

One of the measures that seems to be in vogue recently is the outsourcing or centralization of editorial page production and copy editing. Instead of having staff lay out pages and write headlines, editors ship reporters’ copy to a specialized production house where a team of dedicated personnel put the page together at a lower cost. Canadian Press has become the latest to jump into this field (Canwest and Sun Media are already there), signing a deal with Australia’s Pagemasters to setup a North American production house.

Since my job at The Gazette is a copy editor, and Canwest also uses this kind of centralization (though to another division within Canwest), I’m not exactly a detached observer here. My union is attempting to fight the outsourcing of this work, while at least one manager at a sister paper seems to support the freedom from dealing with “mechanical” and “tedious” pagination.

But with that in mind, I have to be honest with myself, and ask: Does this work? Is this the future? Is employee opposition to this way of functioning just a matter of saving their own jobs? Or is there something inherently better about having your own copy editing staff – something that is worth more than the cost savings of outsourcing?

Some small newspapers and magazines don’t do page layout at all. They don’t have the staff for it. So they leave the layout to the experts. As the budgets crunch, larger papers who have copy editing and design staff are considering moving the work of less important pages at the back of the paper onto these production houses and concentrating their efforts on the section fronts and local news pages that are most important to readers.

Does it cost less to have a page produced by one of these production houses than to have one of your own copy editors put it together? To answer that question, one has to look at where those cost savings come from. The unions would have us believe (and no doubt there is a lot of truth to this) that the savings come mostly from paying workers less in salary and benefits. Instead of veteran, unionized copy editors, the pages would be laid out by inexperienced cheap labour. They would also point out the downside of this: the non-unionized employees are cheap, have no emotional connection to the newspaper, and might make errors because of their lack of familiarity with either the newspaper’s style or local culture. These subtle issues may be dismissed by a bean-counter, but they make a difference to readers. At least, we’d like to think they do. In reality, readers aren’t nearly as observant as we sometimes think they should be.

When rolling out these systems, both the outsourcer and outsourcee make it clear that local editors approve of the layouts and headlines done by the third party. This technically ensures local control, but in practice an editor under time and budget constraints might accept a mediocre job done by an outsourced worker instead of spending the time (and possibly money) to send it back with instructions on how to do it right.

The employers and media empires say the cost savings come mainly from centralization – instead of having a dozen people doing the same thing at a dozen different newspapers, one or two people can do the same job at one central location for all of them. This argument makes sense for things like sports scores and stock listings (which will be mostly the same for different newspapers in the same country). But what about news stories? Each newspaper will lay those out differently depending on what stories they decide to publish, which ones they deem important, and of course what kind of layout they have to work with above the ads. Since no two newspaper pages are the same (copy-and-paste exceptions notwithstanding), it’s hard to see where centralization brings efficiency here for large newspapers who already have staff who are experts in page design.

The other potential problem down the road is that this might encourage newspapers within a similar ownership group to become more like each other (kind of like the Sun papers). If newspapers have the same page dimensions, typefaces and designs, they become easier to duplicate, reducing seemingly redundant work. Centralized workers can simply copy and paste the content from one to the other. And that could lead to newspapers across the country having identical international news pages or national business pages, for example. Eventually the papers could all become identical, save for the front page and a few holes for local news.

On one hand, it sounds bad. On the other hand, it sounds silly for people in different newsrooms at different papers to edit the same wire stories about the same news events. It’s a question of whether readers think that having a local editor editing a non-local wire story is really important enough to dismiss that potential savings.

I don’t have nearly enough facts to make a complete determination of whether this centralization is good or bad in the long term for newspapers (even if I did, the decisions on such subjects are made at a much higher pay grade), and a lot of these issues are still being wrestled with by people on all three sides of this equation.

Only time will tell if this trend will save significant money for major newspaper publishers, or if there will be a backlash from readers. Either way, the problems facing newspapers are much larger than whether the person laying out pages is local or not.

Say cheese! (That’ll be $42)

Giant signs warn motorists about secret photo radar cash grab

Giant signs warn motorists about secret photo radar cash grab

The Quebec government’s pilot project of automated driving enforcement – photo radar and red light cameras – officially begins Wednesday, as the first tickets get issued to drivers (well, actually, the registered owners of vehicles).

The locations of these devices has been all over the media, there’s a Google map of locations in Montreal, and drivers have had months to get used to giant signs like the one above warning them that they’ll be ticketed if they speed or run red lights.

All of which proves this is a secret government cash grab meant to trick drivers into handing over their hard-earned money because a system which must have been broken because I wasn’t speeding it was the car in front of me issued a ticket to my house but it must have gotten my license plate number wrong because I wasn’t driving there that day and I was close to the speed limit and the margin of error on these things is so huge I was clearly just under the limit and it says I was over except the guy next to me was going faster and he wasn’t ticketed I think and this whole system violates the constitution and why don’t they setup photo radars to catch real criminals instead of targetting us hard-working folk and have you noticed the placement of these things discriminates against people who live in certain areas and there’s no evidence that this actually makes our roads safer because this is a total scam.

This sign says take pictures while speeding on the street at left.

This sign says take pictures while speeding on the street at left.

The journalist-politician

Le Soleil’s Julie Lemieux has become the latest journalist to turn to the dark side… no wait, that’s PR. The other dark side: running for office. She’s joining the party of Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume.

Oh wait, she’s not the latest. Looks like that’s Sue-Ann Levy, the Toronto Sun city hall journalist who’s running as a provincial Tory (causing some panic on the other side of the aisle). Her column is “on hiatus” during the election campaign, which I guess means she’ll go back to being a journalist if her life as a politician fails.

The list of journalists who have turned politician is so long I could spend days compiling it. But among the highlights:

  • Bernard Drainville, former Radio-Canada host and journalist, now a PQ MNA
  • Mike Duffy, former CTV News political anchor and now a Conservative senator
  • Joan Fraser, former Gazette reporter and editor and now a Liberal senator
  • Peter Kent, former Global News anchor and now a Conservative MP
  • Christine St-Pierre, former Radio-Canada political reporter and now a Quebec Liberal MNA

The stories all sound the same. The journalists – usually on the politics beat – decide that they can do more in office than as a sideline commentator. Party leaders, desperate for some semblance of integrity and trustworthiness, prey on the journalists in order to suck out as much of it as they can in an election campaign.

In each case, there were (or should have been) serious questions: did the offers come with strings attached? Did the journalists go easy on the parties they would later join? Will they leak sensitive government documents to their journalist friends? Will they back away from critical comments they may have made about the parties they have now joined?

When I was in university, reporting on the student union for the student newspaper, I was drafted into a political position. The student union was in the middle of a political crisis and had no executive at the time, so someone thought it would be fun to appoint me as a vice-president. (I attended more council meetings than most councillors, and probably knew the issues better, so I’d be good at the job, they reasoned.) I didn’t consent to the appointment, but they didn’t seem to care. As my journalist colleagues wondered what the heck was going on, I was handed an executive key by the president, who asked for me to stay on. I didn’t. After peeking around at a few things I now had access to for the first time, I returned the key.

I’ve always thought journalists have more freedom than politicians. Compare what Bill Maher gets to say to what Barack Obama gets to say. Though it’s tempting to ponder what might happen if you actually had the power to change the system for the better, the freedom to call a spade a spade has always appealed more to me. I’m not sure which would help society more.

Of course, my job as a journalist isn’t permanent yet, and my industry is in a death spiral. So just in case, I should probably say some nice things about our political parties here.

Only I can’t think of any.

$500,000? CHEK.

It’s an idea that seems to have gotten a lot of traction recently as the traditional media business model collapses and front-line journalists blame the problems mainly on management excess and poor business decisions: If the union and/or its members bought the company, they could solve all those problems and turn it into a profit-making enterprise.

It’s the idea that the employees at CHCH in Hamilton had when it looked like owner Canwest might shut it down. But now that Channel Zero has offered to buy the station and maintain the local jobs and newsroom, that idea becomes moot.

At CHEK in Victoria, they weren’t so lucky. Canwest couldn’t find a buyer for it, nor could they convert it into a Global station because a condition of license prevents duplication with Vancouver’s CHAN. So the plan is to have it shut down by the end of August.

Last week comes word that employees at CHEK (there are about 45 in all) are pooling their money in a bid to buy the station before it gets shut down. They’ve pledged more than $500,000 and are hoping to present the formal offer soon. That might be too late for Canwest though, since these kinds of transactions take months and there’s a ticking clock.

If that fails, there’s always the Facebook petition route. Two groups have been setup, the first with over 6,000 members.

More coverage:

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 49

(Updated with more hints)

This historical figure has his name everywhere. A major thoroughfare and small street in the city (with a park by the same name nearby), a street in Pointe Claire and another in Ste. Geneviève, plus dozens of streets across Quebec. His name also used to be on something that’s been in the news lately.

Who is he?

UPDATE: Dave gets it close enough below, though St. John and St. John the Baptist are two different people. It’s the latter, St. Jean Baptiste, who is the subject of this quiz. It’s the name of a boulevard in the east end (which turns into a short street near the shore), a park, and tiny streets in Ste. Geneviève and Pointe-Claire.

It’s also, according to the Commission de toponymie du Québec, the former name of Amherst St., which a city councillor has proposed be changed because Jeffery Amherst had this thing about being OK with genocide through biological warfare. Amherst and the street names are the subjects of this week’s bluffer’s guide, which points out some of the silliness of the current debate: Amherst never actually used smallpox to kill Indians, and the Jeunes Patriotes are in favour of renaming Amherst but steadfast against renaming the anti-semitic Lionel Groulx.

One factoid that was left out of the article: there are also 14 other geographic entities in Quebec that carry Amherst’s name.

Chris DeWolf also has some thoughts on this subject, and Josianne Massé points to some other reaction in the blogosphere.