Monthly Archives: October 2009

Recycling bottles in the metro

Yellow "contenants" bin accepts plastic bottles for recycling

Yellow "contenants" bin accepts plastic bottles for recycling

I noticed as I passed by the Mont-Royal metro today that a new bin has been installed next to the paper recycling. A yellow bin marked “contenants” is the STM’s first which accepts plastic and glass bottles, milk/juice cartons and aluminum cans.

Though the main issue in the metro for the past decade has been the free Metro newspaper, it’s always been a bit silly that non-paper recyclable materials couldn’t be collected in the metro system.

Hopefully installation of these bins throughout the network will come fast, and the amount of unrecyclable garbage that goes out will get greatly reduced.

Recycling bin

UPDATE (Oct. 27): The STM has begun a three-month pilot project with such bins in “islands” (together with trash and paper recycling bins) at Mont-Royal, Champ de Mars and Snowdon. Once the project is finished in mid-January, the bins will be expanded throughout the network.

La Presse still on the path to destruction

In case you forgot, La Presse is about a month away from being shut down.

Negotiations between the paper and its unions have apparently been stalled, prompting editor Guy Crevier to send out a letter to employees, which lays out some of the employer’s offer. They have withdrawn their demand for salary cuts, but are still demanding a five-day work week, laying off 48 people in distribution, and moving from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.

The unions responded with a letter of their own, saying they have accepted the principal demand of moving to a five-day work week but that the employer is refusing to negotiate on compromises. They say they will ask for a conciliator to be brought in.

A dose of reality in the TV debate

Half-page ads from Global Montreal appearing in The Gazette

Half-page ads from Global Montreal appearing in The Gazette

CKMI, Global Montreal (formerly Global Quebec) has been heavily advertising the fact that it’s now finally on the Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) network, on channel 234.

Station manager Karen Macdonald says that after 12 years on the air, CKMI finally got added to the dial in late August. CFCF and CBMT have enjoyed places on the dial for years now, and this absence has always been a sticking point for the station. So, she says, “we are very happy.”

The reason is obvious: Quebec has a large number of satellite TV subscribers, and this move will give the station a much broader reach, which would translate into higher advertising revenues.

Bell TV isn’t paying them a dime to “sell” their signal. They’re stealing it. And Global couldn’t be happier.

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Time to have an adult conversation about municipal corruption

Before a week ago, Benoit Labonté liked the attention.

But then, journalists started to discover things about him.

The timing wasn’t a coincidence. According to anonymous sources that came forward, Labonté’s constant criticism of Mayor Gérald Tremblay and his Union Montreal party as being corrupt was a hypocrisy too outrageous not to be challenged.

When reports by Rue Frontenac’s Fabrice de Pierrebourg (confirmed by Radio-Canada but ignored by TVA) and TVA’s Paul Laroque came out that Labonté asked for and received large cash contributions from city contractors (including the water-meter-infamous Tony Accurso) while he was running for the leadership of Vision Montreal in 2008, Labonté’s first reaction was from the standard politician playbook: deny, deny, deny.

It’s a no-brainer. Either he’s telling the truth that this is a smear campaign against him, or he’s lying. But if he’s lying, then the crime will destroy his political career and nobody will care about the coverup.

When Labonté said he would step down, supposedly to prevent being a distraction to his party, it was pretty obvious to everyone he was guilty. Innocent people don’t resign during an election campaign because of false charges.

But the media had to play along. Without absolute proof of his guilt, they couldn’t report what they were all thinking privately.

When Louise Harel accused Rue Frontenac and others of outright lying, as if these news organizations would all risk their reputations on such a serious accusation without conclusive evidence, nobody could say that was bullshit. When she blamed Union Montreal for making up a story, the media had to assume that was a possibility. (Of course, Union Montreal could very well have had a hand in this story, but they certainly didn’t make it up.)

And so everyone had to act surprised when, a day later, Harel announced she asked Labonté to resign as a candidate for Vision Montreal. (Because the nomination period has ended, Harel could not replace Labonté on the ballot. So the Ste. Marie district of Ville-Marie will have no Vision Montreal city councillor to vote for.)

No apologies

During her press conference, Harel made it a point to “saluer” the work of investigative journalists, supposedly the same ones she had called liars the day before. She offered no apology for attacking their reputations the day before.

Neither did Labonté, who went tell-all in an interview with Radio-Canada television four days later.

I’m sure Rue Frontenac, TVA and Radio-Canada won’t lose any sleep over it. But Harel and Labonté called them liars. They threatened to sue. They attacked the integrity of these organizations. Even though Labonté still denies taking money, it’s clear he attacked them to save his own skin. Don’t they deserve an apology?

They didn’t get one that I could see, even though Labonté did his interview ostensibly to save his reputation.

Only a politician would think he could save his reputation while at the same time admitting he outright lied to people about his integrity.

And yet, journalists are treating his two-hour interview (which Radio-Canada has decided to show excerpts of but not air or put online in its entirety yet) as if he’s come clean and can be trusted. Even though this interview contains such hard-to-believe statements as he lied to protect his party. So all the accusations he’s levelled against Gérald Tremblay suddenly have a new air of trustworthiness to them.

I certainly wouldn’t take Labonté’s accusations against Tremblay at face value, even now that he really has nothing to lose by finally being honest with us. Nor do I take the statements of disgruntled former Vision Montrealers that they warned Harel about Labonté with anything other than a giant grain of salt. But Labonté’s statement (supposedly quoting Tremblay) that this kind of corruption is what municipal politics is all about, that makes a lot of sense.

A poster plastered on the Champ de Mars metro window

A poster plastered on the Champ de Mars metro window

What now?

So now that we know the problem, what do we do? Gérald Tremblay thinks he can clean up city hall, an absurd statement if I’ve ever heard one. Louise Harel still thinks she can sweep up the corruption, even though she was clueless about her right-hand man.

And Richard Bergeron, whose party hasn’t been touched by a corruption scandal yet (notably because he’s the only member of that party who’s ever been elected) sees his numbers slowly climb in the polls.

I don’t think Gérald Tremblay is corrupt. Nor Louise Harel. Nor Richard Bergeron. But if the past few weeks and months have shown us anything, it’s that leaders can’t always account for the actions of members of their parties.

Both Tremblay and Harel were let down by high-ranking politicians. If they can’t trust them, how can they trust all 102 people running as city and borough councillors? Can any of the three parties really vouch for the integrity of that many people?

In Quebec City, the grandstanding is just as theatrical. Pauline Marois is calling for a public inquiry with a kind of urgency that suggests it can’t wait until after the elections. Jean Charest wants to wait for police investigations to end first, and hasn’t committed to anything.

The Everything Inquiry

We need a public inquiry. But it needs to be about more than municipal corruption, and it needs to be about more than Montreal. We need an inquiry into the whole system of municipal politics.

It’s clear from the actions of politicians of late that they simply can’t be trusted. We need to, from now on, work under a system that simply assumes that they are corrupt. Rather than punish people when the truth eventually comes out (because in many cases it doesn’t), we need a system that has roadblocks in place to stop every step of this.

I was under the impression such a system was already in place. There’s a reason that donations to politicians can’t be made by giving that politician money. Instead, all funds must go through the “agent officiel”, who keeps track of it. If such a system isn’t in place for leadership campaigns, or for parties in general outside of election periods, then it needs to be.

According to Vision Montreal’s website, the party has raised $300,000 from 1,180 donors. Union Montreal has raised about $105,000 from 297 donors (though that list hasn’t been updated in two weeks). I don’t know if that’s enough to run an election in a city this size (even if you’re not putting up posters). It’s $1,000-$3,000 per candidate.

Not only do I not know if I can trust that this represents all the money going into party coffers, I can’t trust that all this money really originates from the people named in those lists. And I don’t know who those people are. I don’t have time to call 1,000 people and ask if they have any connections with the construction industry.

This inquiry also needs to look to the other side of the equation. If politicians are getting money off the books, how can they spend this money without arising suspicion? Is the money being laundered somehow? Are they buying things outside the official party structure? If so, measures need to be in place to stop it.

We also need to take a step back and ask ourselves if the party system in general makes sense in municipal politics. We need to ask if political parties should be able to accept donations or if they should be entirely funded by the government (presumably based on how many votes they got the last time). We need to look at the way construction contracts are assigned. We need to ask if the contracting of construction work (rather than doing things in-house) makes sense.

In short, we need to look at everything.

Nine days before the election, it’s too late to start now. But starting Nov. 2, the file needs to be opened. The problem is too systemic for whoever is elected mayor to fix it from the inside, no matter their honourable intentions. And you can bet it’s in a lot more places than Montreal.

Of course, there’s no need to take my word for it. The Gazette’s City Eye blog is developing a top 10 list of things to do to combat corruption, taking suggestions from the audience and talking to experts. #1 on the list is the public inquiry, but other items are worthy of note.

The Link looks at media democracy

The Link, one of the student-run papers at Concordia University, focuses this week on the challenges facing the news media in its Media Democracy special issue.

The eight-page insert is part of the weekly paper, available for free on campus or for download in this 10MB PDF file. Or you can read the stories online.

Among the articles is this interview with some know-it-all complaining about his doomed career.

Also in this section:

CBC 11pm local newscast launches Monday

Remember that 11pm local newscast that I told you about last month? CBC has announced that it’s launching on Monday.

The new newscasts are being brought in across the country, and will start at 10:55pm, cutting a few minutes into The National.

As I explained last month, the 10-minute newscast would be a rapid-fire recap of the day’s events, with some late-breaking news that’s updated from the 6pm newscast.

And as I explained, there won’t be much of a new budget for this extra programming, so employees will be stetched even further.

CBC Montreal news director Mary-Jo Barr tells Fagstein that Andrew Chang will be the night host, which will have a night reporter filing an updated story, Frank Cavallaro doing live weather, and updates on things like evening Canadiens games. The local newscast will also feature new graphics (an improvement that is sorely needed if you’ve seen some of those graphics over the past few years).

Among other changes on the docket:

  • CBC Newsworld gets renamed CBC News Network. This sounds very similar to CTV rebranding CTV Newsnet as CTV News Channel, and about as pointless. The new CBC NN (not to be confused with CNN) will have a new schedule with some new shows, for anyone who actually cares about the schedule of a 24-hour news network.
  • An online 10-minute version of The National by 6pm. A good idea, provided they can provide it in enough formats for it to be accessible (like, say, in a downloadable podcast form for those of us on the go). The newscast will also be “customizable”, in that viewers will be able to select which stories will be part of it. Not quite sure how that will work, but the concept makes sense.
  • The National moves to 6pm on Saturday to avoid conflicting with NHL coverage. Because hockey is more important than news.
  • A “faster pace” and “new format” for The National which includes more stuff from Marketplace and the Fifth Estate. In other words, reusing staff from one show to provide cheap content for another.
  • More “transparency” in news reporting. It’s unclear what they mean by this, though they give the example of explaining the CBC’s policy on reporting on kidnappings. Of course, this would be welcome by people like me, but I’m skeptical that CBC News can get a culture of true transparency going without it getting torpedoed by marketing interests eventually.
  • Wendy Mesley will appear regularly on The National to generate “debate”. Make your own Wendy Mesley/Peter Mansbridge joke here.
  • Kady O’Malley starts a political blog. You know Kady, she used to blog for Maclean’s before CBC poached her.
  • World Report, which airs mornings at the top of the hour, will add a newscast at 5am for those poor souls who are up at that hour. This sounds a bit odd, considering Daybreak starts at 5:30. Are they going to fill that extra 20 minutes with national content, or just continue their overnight programming?

Concordia’s baseball team

Concordia journalism students François Nadeau and Steven Myers put together this short video documentary with the help of CUTV. It features some interviews with members of Concordia’s baseball team.

(See Part 2)

Concordia baseball has been trying for years to get the kind of recognition that high-profile sports like football and hockey get, though they say the university has been immensely supportive of their efforts.

Insert your own joke about Jeffrey Loria and the Expos here.

UPDATE: I should mention the team is going to the national championships. Let’s hope Rick Monday isn’t there.

UPDATE (Oct. 26): They won! National champions! W00t!

Gazette consolidates weekday paper into three sections

The Gazette (which brilliantly decided to hire me way back when, and more brilliantly has decided to re-hire me a few times since) today reorganized its Tuesday-to-Friday papers, reducing the number of sections from five to three. Sports, Driving and Classified will no longer get section fronts on those days, but will get giant teases, examples of which you can see below.

Publisher and editor Alan Allnutt explains the change in a note to readers on A2.

What’s noteworthy here is that there is no corresponding reduction in the size of the paper. The “news hole” (the space not reserved for advertising) is the same in all sections. So this is a purely organizational change. It uses the same amount of paper and will provide the same amount of content.

So why do it then?

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Projet mobilizes the Internet mob

If you notice that online polls are biased heavily toward Projet Montréal, it’s partially because that party’s supporters are young and Internet-connected, and partially because Projet Montréal is pushing its members through Twitter and Facebook to tip the scales of those polls.

Because, in the grand scheme of things, this is where a political party should be focusing its efforts.

Hey, it worked for Ron Paul and Lyndon Larouche, didn’t it?


He didn’t use that term, though his message had enough unnecessary capitalization and punctuation marks that he might as well have.

I was just finishing off my shift at work on Sunday evening when I checked my email. You might think this funny, but the first indication that something was wrong was that I’d just gotten a bunch of new Twitter followers.

Figuring some witty comment of mine had been retweeted by admiring followers, I checked, and found this, followed by a few others like it. A frantic typing of my blog’s address later, and I got the message that my blog had been compromised.

Supposedly I deserved this because of thing I’d said about Islam. I find that highly unlikely. In any case, rather than try contacting this young chap through the cool hacker email address he so helpfully provided, I’d just restore the website from a backup.

Except I had to get home first. A much more anxiety-filled metro ride at 11pm on a Sunday than I had anticipated. Part of me is glad I hadn’t found out about this at the beginning of my shift, or I might have been completely useless and/or had a heart attack.

Warning: This story has a lot of technical jargon in it.

Once I got home, I did some investigating. I could still access my account on the hosting server. Files, including all images, were still there, as was another site on the same server. Eventually I narrowed it down to two things that I had lost: the custom WordPress theme (which controls how the blog looks and how it functions on a user-interface level) and all 2,663 posts as well as a few drafts. Other information like tags and settings were still in place. But, of course, the posts make the blog.

Restoring it should have been simple: restore the database from the latest backup and reinstall the theme.

You know those sentences that begin “what kind of moron…”? Well, I was the answer to a few of those, particularly “what kind of moron doesn’t back their database up on a daily basis”. I had a copy of a relatively recent stylesheet, but thanks to WordPress’s innovative in-browser theme editor, the customizations I’d made bit by bit over the years were only on the server and were now gone.

As for the posts, my most recent database backup was two months old, and that would have meant a lot of lost data, especially comments.

I spent about an hour scouring the website of my web host. But SiteGround (yeah, I know there are better providers now, but they were cheap and easy at the time) doesn’t have contact information unless you want to buy something, and their tech support system is designed to make it as hard as possible to waste their time with your silly emergencies. It was only when I found a section that offered backup restoration – for a price – that I could get any help.

The most important help came relatively quickly once I punched in my credit card number. The database was restored to a version from about 24 hours earlier, and the posts, comments and all the other database data came back.

As for finding out the vulnerability that caused this in the first place, they weren’t too helpful, offering a form-letter sales pitch about all the things they do to secure their servers, and changing a database password in case the intruder managed to get it somehow.

Rebuilding the theme took a while, and I had to repeat some steps I’d taken before, using an old page in the Internet Archive as a guide (yes, it’s been that longer than a year since I’ve had a significant redesign).

With a full backup sitting on my computer, I was still tweaking past 4am when he struck again. Same guy, different message. I don’t even remember if it was interesting.

What followed was a bizarre, surreal cat-and-mouse game where I’d reset the blog’s administrator password, only to have him reset it back again. Eventually I decided the easiest way to deal with this for the night was to lock out my WordPress installation from its own database. That put an abrupt end to it, but also made the blog inaccessible to everyone.

(To my horror, I thought that hadn’t been enough. I replaced an authentication key – a string of random characters in a text file that’s stored used for browser cookies – only to find it being rewritten back within seconds every time. It was only the next day that I realized that in my zeal for protectionism I had set permissions on this file to disallow writing from its owner, and I was ignoring the error messages that the file editor was giving me when I’d save.)

I eventually called it quits at about 6am, lying in bed with my laptop running out of battery power. I’d planned to sleep for a full eight hours, go to work and then deal with the issue on my day off. But I woke up four hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep again, despite valiant efforts. Throwing in the towel, I opened the laptop and got back to work. Rather than try working with a potentially compromised system, I started from scratch, reinstalling a fresh version of WordPress and then working on populating it with data (50MB of text, mostly in the forms of posts and comments).

Though the posts had been restored, I kept the website inaccessible and locked down as I went to work on Monday. Better to have my blog be blank for a day than have someone potentially have free reign through my database while I’m away from my computer for 8 hours.

Word seemed to spread quickly there, and I got a lot of concerned questions from coworkers and blog fans. (Thanks everyone, by the way, nice to know people care so much about this little thing.)

After I got home, I implemented a few simple security measures (nothing my readers will notice) and changed a bunch of passwords, so hopefully this won’t happen again. After reinstalling some plugins, moving the image and other data files back into their proper directories, and a few minor tweaks, it’s back to its old self again.

Since I hadn’t written any posts over that 24-hour data gap (it’s been a busy few weeks at work, sorry), all I lost was a bit of a draft post and about a dozen comments, and even those were salvaged from elsewhere (an open browser window and email notifications, respectively). If you added a comment during the day on Sunday and it hasn’t appeared, it might have been lost. So feel free to comment again.

Now, hopefully, I can get back to my life.

Well, in theory, were I to have a life to get back to, I would be doing so now. Instead, I’ll do laundry and groceries.

The Free Press ain’t free

Rumours, reported by the CBC last week, that the Winnipeg Free Press would cut its Sunday edition and simultaneously come out with a newsstand-only Sunday tabloid have turned out to be exactly true.

Friday’s paper contained a headline noting the most important part of the story: “More in Saturday Free Press“!

Yeah. So the newspaper will, starting Oct. 31/Nov. 1, be moving some Sunday regular features (i.e. comics) to the Saturday paper, and the new Sunday tabloid (called “On7“) will be newsstand-only to save on the cost of home delivery (the FP story even suggests carriers will welcome this news because they’d get to sleep in once a week).

What the story doesn’t say is that seven-day subscription rates, now that they have become six-day subscription rates, won’t change. On7 will be $1 or $1.25 an issue.

It’s true that La Presse (Sundays) and the Victoria Times-Colonist (Mondays) have cut a day off the week, and the National Post did so temporarily this summer (Mondays). But none of those was paired with a new product that they refused to deliver to home subscribers.

As the union told the CBC: “If you are a seven-day home subscriber, you will have to go out and buy this product. I would be a little p-o’d at that.”

One organization that’s not pissed off is the competition, the Winnipeg Sun. Their article on the subject points out that the Sun will be the only paper with home delivery on Sundays, offers quotes from the Sun’s publisher saying if they subscribe to his paper, “after a week or two I’ll bet they won’t miss their old paper at all”, and even helpfully offers the phone number of their circulation department.

Stay classy, Sun.

Traffic problem: solved.

Matt Forsythe points out this video from the NFB’s archives, talking to Mayor Jean Drapeau about plans to improve traffic in the city, which has by now grown so much it’s on the other side of the mountain.

Among the plans discussed are, of course, the widening of thoroughfares like Dorchester Blvd. and Henri-Bourassa Blvd. (but don’t worry, they’ll still have sidewalks) and the creation of a new elevated expressway on the north side of the island, which will be totally awesome and maintain our status as Canada’s largest city.

Oh 1955…

(That sound you’re hearing right now is Richard Bergeron having a stroke.)

Marselis Parsons’s final broadcast

Marselis Parsons of WCAX-TV

Marselis Parsons of WCAX-TV

When long-time news anchors retire, big deals tend to be made about them, the drama played out over days or even weeks. Compare this to a long-time executive producer or director, who if they’re really lucky might get a 20-second goodbye at the end of their final broadcast. Such is the difference between on-air and off-air personalities: we don’t identify with the latter.

Thursday night is the last broadcast of long-time WCAX-TV news anchor and news director Marselis Parsons, and the small Burlington station is following the standard script, going through the archives for some favourite memories (you can see text and videos of them online: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) and bloopers, collecting goodbye messages from important people (you know, the governor, both U.S. senators, their U.S. House representative, Howard Dean, freaking Ben & Jerry!), and hyping up his last show.

Then again, it might be hard to overstate this particular journalist’s mark on this station. He was first hired in 1967, became an anchor in 1972 and the news director in 1984. It’s noteworthy that we’re talking about someone who for more than 40 years stuck to a station in a market that barely cracks the top 100 in the U.S. It wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough to work in a larger market, it was because he became attached to his community and stuck around.

After the cancellation of WVNY’s newscast in 2003 and before WFFF’s News at 10 began in 2007, Parsons and WCAX were the only real voices for Vermont (NBC’s WPTZ is based in Plattsburgh, N.Y.) outside of Vermont Public Television and community stations. Even many Montreal TV watchers should recognize the name and the face.

The decisions about who will replace him were made months ago. Anson Tebbetts becomes the new news director, while Darren Perron replaces Parsons on the anchor desk.

For more on Marselis Parsons, I’d strongly recommend watching an hour-long interview he did with Lauren-Glenn Davitian of community television station CCTV two weeks ago, this short behind-the-scenes story by Kitty Werner, or his appearance on his own station’s weekend news show You Can Quote Me.

Marselis Parsons’s final newscast was Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. on WCAX-TV, Channel 3.

UPDATE: His final goodbye at the end of that newscast is online: text, video.

Intern season is over

Fall is a sad time around the office. Not only is everyone dealing with the fact that summer is turning to fall, the days are getting colder, vacation season is over and the kids are going back to school, but it’s when the interns leave and go back to that naive hope that they might someday secure a permanent job as an investigative reporter once they graduate from journalism school.

One by one, the four reporter interns, two editor interns and one photography intern finished their final shifts and went their merry ways.

Half of them are now back in school, getting degrees in fields that might actually earn them a living. The rest were recently spotted on highways across Canada holding cardboard signs reading: “Will profile your grandmother for food”

While a large amount of the reporters’ time was spent on the night desk, obsessively checking with the police department for news and sharing inappropriate jokes with the copy editors, they also managed to write a few articles longer than 20 words. Here’s a few examples of what they churned out this summer:

Megan Martin

Terrine Friday

Andrew Halfnight

Monique Muise