Monthly Archives: November 2009

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 62

Image from Google Street View

Image from Google Street View

That may look like unexplored prairies beyond, but it will soon become an important traffic link on the island of Montreal. Where is it?

UPDATE: It is, of course, Cavendish Blvd. in St. Laurent, overlooking its coming extension to Henri-Bourassa Blvd. Of course, who knows when it will actually happen. Marc was the first with the right answer and is this week’s winner.

Go Als Go!


OK guys. One more game. Everyone expects you to win (even Herb Zurkowsky).

Please don’t choke. Please don’t choke. Please don’t choke…

The Grey Cup (Montreal Alouettes vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders at Calgary) airs on TSN and RDS at 6:30 p.m., because CTV believes it can make more money off the Amazing Race and Desperate Housewives than the championship game of the Canadian Football League. (Save local TV!)

UPDATE: I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. They choked hard. And again. And again. And they won! Next time you have an argument with someone about how the CFL is boring, make this Exhibit A.

Rogers On Demand Online: Meh.

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

A few days ago, I got an email from a social media marketing guy at Rogers, inviting me to participate in a sneak preview of the Rogers On Demand Online service being launched on Monday (see coverage of that at Digital Home, Paid Content, Mediacaster).

It’s being called a “Canadian Hulu”, which is like saying CTV’s video portal is a Canadian Hulu, except that CTV doesn’t charge to watch its content.

I can’t imagine why Rogers would want me participating in this. I guess they cast a wide net and don’t read this blog, because otherwise they’d know I don’t think very highly of Canada’s telecom companies, and most of my reviews are negative ones.

This one is no exception.

Continue reading

Lady Gaga and the media-celebrity relationship

Celebrities* and big media have this desperate yet well-choreographed symbiotic relationship. Celebrities need the media for exposure, to get in the minds of young consumers and get them to buy albums, go to concerts or movies, buy DVDs, or otherwise consume stuff that financially benefits the artist. Media need big-name artists to prove they’re cool, show off how much access they have to celebrities, and draw readers, listeners or viewers.

Because both sides benefit from this relationship (and neither really cares about the needs of the consumer), the interactions between the two are tightly controlled. There isn’t much of an alternative – there is no other way for a celebrity to get that much media exposure in so little time. The media call publicists and arrange interviews in advance of local concerts or before new albums/movies/etc. are released. The celebrities, meanwhile, put themselves out there, going on TV talk shows, Saturday Night Live, anything to get their name and face out there.

For smaller media (like, say, Mosé Persico), the relationship is far less elegant and more formulaic. A movie star sits in a chair with the film’s poster behind, while no-name media interview them one by one. The journalist tries desperately to ask a question that might result in an interesting answer, while the star tries desperately to give the same answer for the hundredth time without making it seem like a standard message from a cashier at McDonald’s.

For print media, the interview is usually in the form of a telephone call in advance of a local event. Different form, same result: two sides trying to make an uninteresting interview seem interesting even though they ask the same questions and give the same answers. The only energy comes from the tension of the journalist trying to get the celebrity to talk about personal scandal while the celebrity tries to keep on message marketing the latest production.

Tight control

Then there are those local events themselves, particularly concerts. During a concert by a big-name artist at the Bell Centre (the only concerts big media are interested in usually), photographers are let in for two or three songs (sometimes getting as little as 30 seconds to take a photo) at the beginning and then ejected from the venue so the fans can enjoy the concert without giant lenses all over the place. Writers and reporters are allowed to enjoy the entire event with their free tickets, but other than that they aren’t done many favours.

You’d think the media would balk at any restrictions on their freedoms to report, but instead they sign on the dotted line. The alternative – not having a story thousands of people are just expecting to be there, leaving coverage of celebrities to the less ethical competition – isn’t acceptable.

There’s also another factor, of course: journalists like going to free concerts. In 2007, when Gillett Entertainment Group (which handles Bell Centre concerts) didn’t give tickets to a Police concert to Le Devoir, the newspaper threw a fit. Considering that Le Devoir doesn’t cover concerts like other big media, it might seem strange that they’d be outraged at this, until you remember that journalists like free concert tickets.

Draconian demands

As celebrities’ need to micromanage their events grows, even those restrictions I mentioned above aren’t enough. Increasingly, promoters are requiring media to agree to one-time-use-only deals, which doesn’t allow the reuse of images from the concert.

Friday night at the Bell Centre, with Lady Gaga as the headliner, the rule was simple: No media. Period. No photos, no reporters, nothing. They wanted no media coverage of the first three stops of her tour (Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa), so they just said no.

In order to write his review, The Gazette’s T’Cha Dunlevy stood in line and actually bought a ticket like a commoner. To illustrate it, photos were taken of the lineup outside.

Let the fans do it

These concert reviews always seemed kind of silly to me. What’s the point? The concert is over already, anyone who cares has already seen it. Even in the event there are shows over more than one day, those extra shows are usually long sold out by the time the newspaper comes out with a review. And, most of all, the explosion of citizen media means anyone can take pictures of a stage and write about what they thought of the concert.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened after the Lady Gaga concert. Despite the ban on big-media photographers and video cameramen, fans captured the concert with all kinds of electronic devices, and uploaded over 200 videos to YouTube in the 24 hours after it, including the one above. You could probably edit them all together to create a (really bad) video of the entire concert.

Similarly, there are hundreds of photos on Flickr, including 150 by this one photographer and 134 by this one. Hollywood PQ posted photos of the concert on its blog along with its review.

One blogger for Tourism Montreal eagerly uploaded “exclusive” video of a rehearsal to YouTube, after sneaking in off the street. But the video was pulled due to “a copyright claim by a third party”. It was then uploaded to Facebook, but yanked off there as well.

This is all silly in so many ways. I don’t go to concerts often, but I’d be annoyed if I went to enjoy a show and all I saw were thousands of people blocking my view or blinding me with flashes trying to take really bad pictures or video. Much as I like the freedom, I’d think everyone would be better off if the concert organizers provided a professional video and professional photos of the concert to those in attendance (and the media), so we’d only see a few cameras instead. (Those cameras are already there – most of the YouTube videos were pointed at the giant screen above the stage.) The media already use press shots of cars, movies, plays and all sorts of other stuff. Why not extend it to live concerts as well? It can’t be about ethics if they allow themselves to be controlled so tightly.

An embargo with 14,000 exceptions

Brendan Kelly has a rant on his blog about an embargo on reviews of Pour toujours les Canadiens. A rant shared by Marc Cassivi and Marc-André Lussier. You see, the film officially comes out on Dec. 4, the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens franchise. But they screened it in front of 14,000 people at the Bell Centre on Nov. 16. So it’s already premiered. People have seen it. Thousands of people. But the media is forbidden from reporting on it.

La Presse called this the bullshit that it is and reviewed the film anyway, causing director Sylvain Archambault to say it was “un manque d’éthique profond”, a comment Nathalie Petrowski didn’t appreciate much.

The media can whine about embargos, but nobody forces them to agree. Maybe it’s time big media flex those big muscles and just say no. Show they have ethics, buy a ticket like the rest of the world if they want to see a movie or a concert, and that they’re not about to get pushed around by those who are most desperate to control the media.

I’m not holding my breath though. If not for free tickets to big-name concerts or previews of Hollywood movies, how would we differentiate big media from small?

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post referred to big-name music performers and movie stars as “artists”. I’ve changed it to “celebrities”, though perhaps “celebrity artists” or “pop culture stars” might be more accurate. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to come up with a more accurate description.


The Gazette’s casual dining critic Sarah Musgrave interviews Chris (Zeke) Hand (formerly of the Zeke’s Gallery craziness) and Ed Hawco (of Blork Blog) about their current project, the Montreal Burger Report, a radio show for CKUT, audio podcast and blog, all about reviewing local restaurants for their burgers.

The article, which was apparently written from the mythical “casual dining headquarters”, includes an absolutely adorable picture of Hand taken by Hawco.

You can subscribe to the Montreal Burger Report podcast here.

Obit: Henry Lehmann

Henry Lehmann

Henry Lehmann

Two obits, one in the Gazette and one at Hour, about Henry Lehmann, a visual art critic who contributed regularly for the Gazette for many years (and before that, the Montreal Star) and CBC Daybreak.

Most recently, he was an art history teacher at Vanier College, where he died of a heart attack in his office on Thursday.

Though Lehmann stopped writing for the Gazette in 2008, many of his later articles are still online (on the old Gazette website). Among them:

And that’s just the stuff Google has over Lehmann’s last two years.

Lehmann was either 64 or 65, depending on what source you trust.

Status quo at AMT

File photo of a train for illustration win!

File photo of a train for illustration win!

At midnight Friday night, CN locomotive engineers went on strike, following their 72-hour notice that sent everyone in a panic because two AMT train lines (Deux-Montagnes and Mont-Saint-Hilaire) are run by those engineers and would have been disrupted or even shut down if there was a strike.

Fortunately, late Friday night the union agreed (or was forced to through an AMT injunction) to keep service on the AMT trains running as normal through the strike.

As you can expect from the AMT’s deficient customer service, there’s no mention of this late-night, last-minute change – or even of the strike itself – on their website’s homepage, despite all the media attention it has been getting. Even under “avis aux voyageurs”, there’s no mention of the potentially crippling strike, and users get the very unhelpful “aucune information disponible” for the status of all five train lines. You have to know to go to the AMT’s corporate website to find a press release saying service won’t be affected.

Contrast that with VIA Rail, which has its own engineers and so wasn’t going to be affected in the first place. Nevertheless, there’s a section of its homepage for travel advisories, and it says very clearly that service won’t be affected by the CN strike. (VIA has some experience with this, going through a strike of its own this summer.)

At GO Transit in Toronto, it’s not as clear if there will be disruptions (and there’s nothing on the homepage), but the status page (updated regularly even on weekend afternoons) makes it clear the service is still running normally.

As for CN itself, the homepage makes it look like nothing’s wrong at first, but under “news releases” there’s mention of the strike, and the “state of the railroad” page has a few details about what’s going on.

I realize nobody likes to work weekends, and those who do can’t change the elaborate web page design that the boss’s nephew was paid lots of money to put together, but when engineers go on strike, we don’t care about your new train cars or how you’re fighting for the environment. We want to know what’s going on.

Rob Braide, Hall of Famer

On Monday, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters will be inducting new members into its hall of fame. (Wait, there’s a Canadian association of broadcasters? And it has a hall of fame?)

Rob Braide

Rob Braide

Among the inductees is Rob Braide, who was a long-time manager at CJAD (and, under Standard Radio and Astral Media, for CJFM and CHOM as well) until he was canned in January. He now works as a consultant, mainly for Astral. According to his biography on the hall of fame site, which is literally copy-pasted from the bio on his own website (giving you an indication of how thorough the selection process is here) he’s a proud life-long Montrealer.

Others from around here being inducted are Michel Chamberland, who has worked all over the Quebec broadcasting industry in various management jobs, and Sidney Margles, who began his career at CJAD in 1957.

The inductees, which also include Terry Coles, Charles Dalfen (posthumously), Lyndon Friesen, Tony Parsons and Sandy Sanderson, have a party in their honour at the Château Laurier on Monday in Ottawa.

La Presse will survive

Two pieces of good news for La Presse today: They’ve reached a deal in principle with their last union – representing distribution workers – and the editorial union has voted 93% in favour of a new contract. Later today, two smaller units, representing IT workers (11/11 in favour) and office workers (29/55, or 53% in favour) also approved their new contracts.

This effectively means that La Presse won’t be shut down on Dec. 1 as it had threatened to do.

The distribution workers will vote on their deal Monday, so we won’t know the details until then.

But we know what’s in the editorial contract (or at least most of it). I’m waiting for a copy of the full contract, but here’s what’s being reported (Radio-Canada, CP, Gazette, Trente, Rue Frontenac):

  • The work week changes from 32 hours over four days to 35 hours over five days, at the same salary. Those who want to keep the four-day work week can become part-time employees (28 hours a week).
  • Salaries remain frozen for 2010 and 2011, but will go up by 2% for each of the last two years. The maximum salary goes to $90,000 in 2012 and $95,000 in 2013. Those who work 40 hours a week have their salaries frozen until 2017.
  • Employees will now pay 100% of dental insurance premiums, and 60% of medial premiums
  • As of Jan. 3, pensions will no longer be adjusted to the cost of living
  • Less vacation: they get 5 weeks at 14 years of service instead of nine, 6 weeks at 22 years instead of 20, and the 7-week vacation plateau has been eliminated. But employees get six more mobile vacation days a year.
  • Employees of La Presse and Cyberpresse are merged under the same unit and will be treated equally.

As a result of the deal, La Presse foresees no layoffs of permanent editorial employees, but expects five to take voluntary departures.

RadCan pulls plug on online RDI streaming

It happened on Oct. 29, but it seems few people either noticed or cared. The first news story came out two weeks later that Radio-Canada has stopped livestreaming of its RDI all-news network online.

The reason? “Faciliter les discussions avec les câblodistributeurs”.

Some reaction online (including the video above) was negative, suggesting that Radio-Canada doesn’t get it, that we own the corporation and that the cable companies have nothing to fear from online streaming.

Here’s what gets me though: RDI is a must-carry network for cable and satellite. There’s no choice in the matter. The CBC even forced StarChoice to include it as part of its “English essentials” basic package last year. Because of this, the wholesale rate is set by the CRTC: $1 for RDI in francophone markets and $0.10 in anglophone markets.

So, what kind of discussions are we talking about here? There’s nothing to negotiate.

Besides, RDI isn’t the only one doing this. CPAC, the political affairs channel funded by the cable and satellite companies, also streams for free online. In fact, it annoyingly starts playing automatically when you go to the CPAC website.

I understand the worry from cable and satellite companies: if broadcasters stream all their stuff for free, then consumers might realize they’re being gouged and start cancelling their television services.

But for the public broadcaster to pull its feed, to intentionally deny access to its services from Canadians, solely to please the cable and satellite industry, that’s outrageous.

I sent an email to Alain Saulnier, who was quoted in the Cyberpresse piece, asking for clarification, but there was no response.

My new, cheap remote control

My new remote, much like the old one

My new remote, much like the old one

Yesterday, I did something stupid.

Actually, I did many things stupid. First, I put my glass of orange juice on a table I knew perfectly well wasn’t stable. Then I wasn’t careful when I sat down, knocking the table and causing the glass to spill onto my remote controls.

Then, thinking I was brilliant, I decided to rinse the orange juice off my Videotron illico remote (taking the batteries out first to avoid short-circuits). It worked, in that the orange juice stickiness was gone. But being impatient, I put the batteries back in after only a couple of hours (the case was dry, but the internals were still soaked), and shortly thereafter started smelling the familiar scent of a blown capacitor.

So I was in the market for a new remote (I suppose I could have just tried to replace the capacitor, but I can’t open the remote without breaking it and I value my sanity). It had been hours, and not only is walking the six feet to the television a horrible idea to even ponder, but the thought of pressing the “CH+” button a hundred times to switch between CTV and the Comedy Network made me want to shoot myself in the head.

Since the Illico remote has special functions (that aren’t accessible on the box itself), I didn’t want to get a general universal remote, and lose something important like the on-screen guide navigation. Looking at Videotron’s website and that of electronics retailer Future Shop, I found both quoting a new Videotron-branded remote at $35. Thirty-five dollars for a plastic case, some buttons and an infrared transmitter. I’d blame Quebec union labour, but these things were made in South Korea.

Rather than pay that ridiculous price, I headed down to cheap electronics store Addison Electronique. They specialize in raw electronics. If you need a resistor, a switch or a breadboard, that’s where you go. They suggested a similar remote that they said was compatible with Illico boxes, and it only costs $8.

Left: Videotron-branded RT-U49C-15+. Right: Pioneer BR-360

Left: Videotron-branded RT-U49C-15+. Right: Pioneer BR-360

Though the Videotron remote is Videotron-branded, it’s hardly unique. Rogers, Time Warner and other digital cable providers use identical remote controls and boxes by the same manufacturers, with only the branding changed. The Pioneer remote is supposed to go with a Pioneer-made digital cable box, but has a similar design and uses the same codes as the one used by Videotron.

I took a chance (Addison has a no-refunds-no-exchanges-it-doesn’t-matter-if-it’s-an-empty-box-you-ain’t-getting-your-money-back policy), took the remote home and it worked perfectly once I got the AAs in.

The differences are minor. Missing on the knockoff remote are the “all” and “mode” buttons, the # button for HD zooming, the M1/M2 memory buttons and the favourite button, none of which I ever use. The device buttons don’t light up, and there are a few buttons (Menu, help, day +/-) that don’t do anything. But all the important stuff (guide, info, A/B/C, VCR-style controls for video on demand, and the usual remote functions) work fine.

In fact, I discovered the new remote had an extra feature the old one didn’t: it communicates properly with my television set, something the old one never could achieve despite hours of entering programming codes. I can now remotely turn on and off the TV (and control its volume) with the same remote I use to change the channel.

So, if this new remote does all the same functions and is essentially equivalent in every way that matters, why does Videotron’s remote cost more than four times as much?

UPDATE (Nov. 29): $8 too expensive for you? It’s only $5 at Acces Electronique on the West Island.

Projet Montréal’s snow-removal plan

From February 2008: Will all weekends be like this?

From February 2008: Will all weekends be like this?

The snow hit the fan Tuesday morning, with La Presse reporting that Projet Montréal plans to change its snow removal policy for the Plateau and Ahuntsic-Cartierville (the two boroughs it holds the mayor’s seat for).

Instead of paying expensive overtime and equipment charges, the borough would increase the minimum amount of snowfall before they bring in the dump trucks from 8 to 15 centimetres. They would also no longer truck away snow on weekends, instead leaving it until Monday, to save money.

Note that this applies to snow removal, not snow clearing. The plows will still push snow to the side of the street and clear the way for traffic. What this will affect is parking, which tends to get creative when there are snowbanks.

Note also that this won’t apply to major thoroughfares, which are the central city’s responsibility, and so probably won’t apply to most places travelled by city buses.

But small residential streets that get significant snowfall on weekends might have to live with it for a day or two more.

Despite the reported non-trivial savings this move would create ($500,000 to $1 million, by Projet’s estimate), the reaction has been negative (or, at least, skeptical). Tristan Péloquin did a video streeter for Cyberpresse and only found one person who thought it was a good idea. Catherine Handfield found merchants whining about how a lack of parking would affect their businesses. Even Patrick Lagacé picks up the flag of the Pro Car Party (albeit reluctantly, and with a tiny car), saying snow clearing is expensive but needs to be done.

Give it a shot

Even though I’m perhaps a little biased because I don’t have a car, I’m willing to give Projet Montréal the benefit of the doubt and let them try this plan. I’m just as skeptical as the rest, in fact I have an added concern: If the idea is to save money by trucking away snow only during business hours, wouldn’t that cause incredible traffic chaos? Plus, why can’t truck drivers be regularly scheduled to work on weekends?

This is the first major policy initiative that Projet Montréal has come up with since the election, and unlike many of its promises during the campaign, it’s a logical, conservative, money-saving idea rather than a bold vision for massive spending. If we’re going to use their control of the Plateau borough as a testing ground for their eventual control of the city, we need to let them try stuff. If it fails, they can always switch it back with relatively little work.

They’re talking and listening

Part of this plan that intrigues me is also how Projet is going about it. While the Tremblay regime would just declare it a fait accompli and present it to city council, backing down only under overwhelming public protest like they did the Park Ave. name change, Projet is setting up a public consultation, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. at the police brotherhood office on Gilford St.

Luc Ferrandez, the Plateau mayor, has also taken to his blog to get his message out directly to the citizens, bypassing the media filter. While I don’t think La Presse or other media got anything wrong here, hearing directly from a politician on his own terms can help people understand a bit more of the context and reasoning behind Projet’s plan. This is a clear example of why Ferrandez was right not to shut down his blog after the election.

Even if this project fails, doing so with democratic principles and by deferring to common sense would go a long way toward showing responsible leadership on behalf of Projet Montréal.

For the sake of municipal budgets, let’s hope this idea is a lot smarter than everyone thinks it is.

Toronto Star wants to outsource 78 editing jobs

The Toronto Star, Canada’s national largest newspaper, has signed a deal with page-layout outsourcing firm Pagemasters and has informed its union that it plans to outsource 78 copy editing and layout jobs to this company, which form part of 121 job cuts it plans to save millions of dollars a year.

I’ve written before about the larger issue of the outsourcing of copy editing jobs. Saying I’m against it would be transparently self-serving, but I’d like to think there’s some magic in the designing of pages, writing of headlines and editing of copy that will be missed when the job is handed over to a third party that is interested more in volume than quality.

On the other hand, I’m pessimistic that readers will care enough about how their paper is produced to speak with their wallets and tip the economic balance in favour of those workers.

UPDATE: Torstar says it has “no choice” – which of course is not true. It also says it hopes to keep the same level of quality, which is obviously not feasible.