Monthly Archives: November 2009

Jeff Lizotte and his desperate pleas for attention

Ever hear of this guy Claude Vorilhon? He’s a crazy former race car driver wannabe who decided to start a religion centred around him because he thought he saw aliens. Apparently part of this religion requires gaining as much media attention as humanly possible, which saw increasingly ridiculous stunts culminating in the announcement that the group had cloned a human being in 2006. Of course it was complete bull, but the media bought it anyway. I’m hopeful that they’ve learned their lesson because we haven’t heard much from the Raëllians since.

Jeff Lizotte: Douchebag with stupid hair

Jeff Lizotte: Douchebag with stupid hair

Second on the list of ultimate attention-grabbers is’s Jeff Lizotte, aka Jeff Lee. And his ethics aren’t much better. In August, he put up a hoax video about a Teletoon van being stolen. It turned out to have been a publicity stunt for Télétoon’s fall launch. Last month, he faked another video about using an iPhone to steal a Bixi.

Now, his latest pathetic stunt is offering to sell his Facebook profile photo (for a week) for $1,000. And the media have been eating it up: Patrick Lagacé, Dominic Arpin, Patrick Dion, Urbania, Salut Bonjour. They use the stunt to discuss an apparent larger issue of how much of our lives we’re willing to sell for advertising interests, but only Lagacé mentions the fact that Lizotte is a hoaxter.

This morning comes word that the campaign was successful, and some sucker marketing company will own his face for a week starting Monday.

Yeah, I realize that by writing this I’m giving this douchebag exactly what he wants: more attention. I wish there was some way to avoid that. And maybe I’m stating the obvious to some people. But I can’t ignore it when someone uses lies to manipulate the media (and social media) for selfish purposes and isn’t called on it. Jeff Lizotte is a serial liar. It’s time we stop taking what he says at face value.

So please, ignore him. Unfriend him on Facebook, stop following him on Twitter, remove from your RSS reader. Send a message that you won’t be manipulated to service his ego. But most of all, don’t believe anything he says that sounds newsworthy, because it’s probably not true.

At least Raël’s desperate publicity stunts come from some delusional sense that it will eventually bring peace to the world.

There’s no “V” in “Foundation for Research into Children’s Diseases”

It’s one of the few special programs produced locally, and a key part of that whole “local TV matters” thing: every year in December, CFCF runs a 24-hour telethon to raise money for the Foundation for Research into Children’s Diseases called the Telethon of Stars. It’s been an annual tradition since 1977.

While originally in both languages on CFCF, the telethon was eventually split up with the French version airing on what was at the time CFCF’s sister station TQS. The two telethons would pool their money together, last year raising $4.5 million.

But with its rebirth as V, CFJP has apparently decided the telethon isn’t worth the expense anymore, according to Richard Therrien. Instead, some francophone flavour, including Chantal Lacroix, will be included in CFCF’s broadcast on Dec. 5.

As a commenter on Therrien’s blog alludes to, it seems an odd decision since the network had no problem a few months ago trying to get viewers to call them and give them money just to get them to stop their endless encouragement.

UPDATE: Some context: The network (which you’ll recall doesn’t have the burden of a news department) is seeking to cut more staff.

When journalists become politicians

The race for the leadership of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, which is already being framed as unions vs. employers, is also causing a lot of journalists to campaign, and not just for themselves, like Nicolas Langelier.

Radio-Canada’s Philippe Schnobb wrote supporting the candidacy of François Cardinal, as did current president François Bourque, who (perhaps unethically) used the FPJQ’s website and internal means of communicating with its members to send not only a partisan message, but one that outright attacks one of the FPJQ’s own members and his bid for the presidency (he even went to the point of criticizing the guy’s Facebook status updates, which someone has posted online anonymously).

It’s not that I think Martin Bisaillon shouldn’t be judged based on his views, or that I agree with them, but this campaign got really dirty really fast, to the point of (anonymously) drudging up the angry Facebook updates of a guy who’s been locked out of his job for almost a year, as if it’s some sort of scandal that he’s on the wrong side of this legitimate debate.

Either way, it’ll be over this weekend, and these journalists can go back to shaking their heads at politicians who pull these kinds of things during campaigns.

On the happy side, meanwhile, the FPJQ’s magazine Le Trente has just launched its blog.

UPDATE: Like, as soon as I publish this, I read (on that same blog) that Bisaillon has pulled out of the FPJQ leadership race, citing these attacks as the main reason. Brian Myles of Le Devoir, who was running with Bisaillon, will throw his hat in for the president’s job against Cardinal.

Democracy in action, I suppose.

UPDATE (Nov. 13): Trente has an interview with the two (new) candidates for FPJQ president. François Cardinal, meanwhile, calls for a ceasefire in this ugly campaign.

CFCF brings out the big guns for sweeps

Ad for CFCF (CTV Montreal) special report from Caroline van Vlaardigen in The Gazette

Ad for CFCF (CTV Montreal) special report from Caroline van Vlaardigen in The Gazette

I suppose I should be grateful that CFCF is flexing its marketing budget again. These large full-colour ads are appearing every week in The Gazette, and that money is trickling down into my salary.

For those of you who haven’t been been paying attention, Montreal’s most-watched evening newscast has been running special reports, usually on Thursday evenings, over the past month, and is heavily promoting them. Newspaper ads and TV promos, but even having the reporter come in the day before to do an interview on the noon newscast.

The videos are online, posted on the Special Report page of CTV Montreal’s website. Among them:

Each report is between four and seven minutes long – an eternity in television news these days. Some include original reporting (the kind you could put an “exclusive” label on if it was important), others condense a lot of background information to put the issue in context and in depth. All of them include original interviews with Montrealers, and they all take quite a bit of time to put together.

I asked Jed Kahane, the director of news and public affairs at CTV Montreal, about these “special reports”, and he says they’ve been “a consistent feature” here and elsewhere for years, but they get particularly important during sweeps:

While we always put our best journalistic foot forward, in our newscasts and promotions of our newscasts, we make sure that during ratings periods in the fall and spring, we produce and promote stories of “added value” that will hopefully draw new viewers to CTV Montreal.

This doesn’t mean light and fluffy; for example last fall during sweeps Anne Lewis did a mini-doc (or special report) on PTSD among Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan, for which CTV won a Murrow Award from the RTNDA in the U.S., one of the top TV journalism prizes on the continent.

He also points out that, while some of these might sound like pure ratings-grabbers (Daniele Hamamdjian talking about teens and sex, anyone?), others are much more serious. This week, it’s Caroline van Vlaardigen on the drop-out rate. Next week, a report on suicide (“hardly a classic low-brow ratings grab”).

As for the decision to air these reports on Thursdays, which I had guessed might be due to Thursday having the highest ratings of the week, Kahane says that decision was “somewhat arbitrary” and other days have “virtually identical audiences as Thursdays.”

It’s not the same depth of information as you’d find in a newspaper feature, but it’s definitely more than you normally find on TV these days. As much as I criticize the local news media for diminishing quality of reports, I have to applaud them when they kick up their game.

Unfortunately, the November sweeps are almost done, so get used to this expensive journalism while you can.

Caroline van Vlaardigen’s report on the fight against the school drop-out rate airs Thursday, Nov. 12, on CFCF-12 at 6pm. A preview is online.

Battle of the MS Paint

According to La Presse, Radio-Canada is considering a French version of Battle of the Blades. That’s interesting news.


But I’m not sure about the picture they used to illustrate it.

I realize cutouts like this are used often in printed newspapers without an indication that the photo has been manipulated, but it’s clearly called for here, no?

I mean, some people notice these things.

UPDATE (Nov. 13): After being alerted to the error, Cyberpresse has fixed the image. Apparently an online editor took the cutout (used for a section front) and didn’t think to replace it with the original photo.

Learning journalism with the McGill Daily

The McGill Daily, whose very name is both outdated and inaccurate, is spending this week opening its doors to outsiders who want to come in and learn about journalism.

Tonight, the paper welcomes visitors to show off how it produces a paper on deadline, but the big day is tomorrow (Thursday), where it will have workshops throughout the day along with Le Délit Français, TV McGill and CKUT radio. One is a panel talk which includes Cécile Gladel, Christophe Bergeron of Voir and La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé.

The full schedule is on the Daily’s website.

(Via Midnight Poutine)

For sale: attitude

Anna Duncan for sale sign on a building on de Maisonneuve Blvd.

Anna Duncan for sale sign on a building on de Maisonneuve Blvd.

I find it funny how much real estate advertising is reduced to showing the faces of the realtor, as if that had any bearing on the property for sale.

Look at a newspaper classified section, and that’s where you see all the headshots of pretty women – not the personals or the employment ads, but real estate.

Still, this window poster from Londono Group’s Anna Duncan caught my eye a little while back. Sure enough, she’s a former fitness trainer. Now she’s being badass on For Sale signs.

I’m not sure if that makes it more or less likely that I would buy a condo from her.

All your eggs in one Scribd

This blog post at the Globe and Mail is kind of funny.

It started off innocent enough: the Globe wanted to embed a part of the auditor-general’s report into a news article, so it posted a chapter to a website called Scribd, which converts PDFs into embeddable Flash applications.

The auditor-general, however, apparently took exception to that move. It wasn’t because of copyright infringement – the report is freely available on the AG’s website. It was because, the office said, “On the Scribd website, it appears, or it makes it appear, that anyone using the document or accessing the document has an ability to adapt the content and use it in different ways.”

Their concern was people altering the document, and potentially making others believe the alterations were genuine.

Setting aside for the moment the AG office’s apparent misinterpretation of technology and the power people have to alter other people’s Scribd documents, not to mention the fact that this in no way prevents people from forging AG reports (is this really a big issue? Is there a huge auditor-general-report counterfeiting industry out there I don’t know about?), I suppose such a concern makes sense. And besides, all they were asking was to link to the report on the AG’s website instead, a small accommodation.

The Globe initially relented, replacing their embedded Scribd document with a link to the PDF on the AG’s website. But after the public (well, okay, noted copyright activist Michael Geist) objected, the Globe changed its mind and reposted the Scribd document.

The auditor-general, determined to push its case, then filed a copyright infringement claim with Scribd itself, and Scribd took the document down. The Globe responded by hosting a copy of the PDF on its server and pointing to that.

As Geist says, this is a clear case of government exploiting crown copyright against the media (unlike in the United States, government publications and works in Canada are subject to copyright, though it is rarely enforced). It also brings up questions about the Globe’s editorial processes and the auditor-general’s office wanting to control information.

But the last part of this story makes me wonder: Are we relying a bit too much on fly-by-night third-party free-as-in-beer services?

It’s one thing to use Google Analytics or WordPress or Linux, but Scribd? Twitter? CoverItLive? These services are young, run mainly out of venture capital financing (instead of a sustainable business model), and there’s no guarantee they won’t just close up shop tomorrow, taking all our data with them. (And unlike Linux or WordPress, they’re not open source, which means they control their software and your data.)

As the Scribd case showed the Globe, the service can unilaterally delete your data, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Twitter has periodic outages that nobody can control, yet some have already turned Twitter into a mission-critical component of their business model.

Just because it’s free – even to big media companies – doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Should journalist associations take sides in union issues?

Next weekend, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec is holding its annual conference in Sherbrooke. Most journalists will be there for the seminars and workshops and other opportunities for training and networking that such a conference can provide. But these incentives are also a way for the FPJQ to get its members to show up to its annual meeting on Sunday to take care of the internal bureaucratic stuff, like electing a board of directors.

Normally that part is pretty boring, but this year, for the first time in longer than anyone can remember, the presidency of the association is being contested by more than one candidate.

On one side if Martin Bisaillon, a locked-out journalist with, who would become the first FPJQ president locked out from his job as a journalist. He’s running on an unofficial slate that includes Brian Myles of Le Devoir, Isabelle Richer of Radio-Canada, André Noël of La Presse and Michel Corbeil of Le Soleil.

On the other side is François Cardinal, a columnist at La Presse. He’s not running with a team, but his candidacy was encouraged by current president François Bourque, who isn’t running again.

Though technically nominations are open until Saturday at 1 p.m., these are the only two expected candidates, and their platforms have been posted on the FPJQ’s website.

One issue

Bisaillon admits that his candidacy stems from a decision made by Bourque to criticize a proposed boycott by members of the National Assembly against journalists for the locked-out Journal de Montréal. Bourque said it would set a bad precedent for MNAs to dictate which journalists they would talk to and which they wouldn’t, and that such a boycott would go against the principles of freedom of the press that the FPJQ defends.

Bisaillon, who as a member of the locked-out Journal de Montréal staff has a clear vested interest in this debate, was harshly critical of that statement, which he interpreted as the FPJQ taking a stand against the union:

La Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec a suscité beaucoup de mécontentement ces derniers mois parmi ses membres, notamment en raison de la prise de position du président sortant sur le conflit de travail au Journal de Montréal. En janvier dernier, François Bourque s’était insurgé contre les députés qui disaient ne plus vouloir donner d’entrevue au Journal de Montréal en raison du lock-out décrété par Quebecor le 24 janvier.

Par cette prise de position, M. Bourque a rompu avec la tradition de neutralité de la FPJQ. Pis encore, son intervention a fait en sorte que les partis politiques à Québec se sont sentis libres de collaborer avec le Journal de Montréal en lock-out, alimentant ainsi un média privé de ses artisans. M. Bourque aurait du s’en tenir au principe de neutralité de la FPJQ dans ce dossier.

Les journalistes qui se présentent avec moi entendent maintenir cette neutralité comme valeur absolue. En revanche, nous ne pouvons pas ignorer la réalité qui nous heurte. Cette réalité est sombre : salles de presse atrophiées, lock-out ou menaces de lock-out, multiplication des blogueurs et autres «journalistes citoyens», banalisation de l’information au point d’en faire un objet de consommation.

Cardinal, while he doesn’t name Bisaillon in his platform directly, makes it clear that he doesn’t want the FPJQ getting involved in these issues and potentially alienating managers and media owners:

Imaginons maintenant une FPJQ plus radicale, une FPJQ qui se jette dans la mêlée, bref une FPJQ détournée de ses valeurs fondatrices. Aurait-elle la crédibilité nécessaire pour asseoir à une même table des groupes de presse aux intérêts divergents? Évidemment pas.

Certes, il y a du mécontentement au sein de la Fédération, avec raison. Appelée à réagir à chaud sur des dossiers extrêmement complexes et délicats, la FPJQ marche constamment sur des œufs, et en casse parfois. Ayant un large membership, elle déplaît à l’occasion à certains de ses membres, qui hélas s’y retrouvent moins.

What does neutral mean?

Both candidates say they want the FPJQ to be neutral in labour conflicts, but their interpretations of neutrality clearly differ. Bisaillon, a militant union man, thinks the association should sit quietly when the interests of unions and the interests of journalists are at odds (he does, however, think they should speak out against convergence, outsourcing and other issues that affect unions negatively). Cardinal apparently believes the association should ignore whether unions are at issue and focus on journalism and journalists first. (UPDATE: Cardinal clarifies his position via Twitter: “FPJQ doit s’impliquer lorsque la liberté de presse est menacée et que les journalistes ne peuvent plus travailler dans des conditions adéquates”)

The debate here is whether the FPJQ should support the interests of journalism or the interests of its members (most of whom are unionized). The answer isn’t obvious.

One insider emailed me this week to express concern about Bisaillon’s candidacy, worrying that union members would vote en masse for him and the association would be an extension of the unions, especially powerful ones like the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal.

On the federal level, the FPJQ’s best equivalent is the Canadian Association of Journalists, which frequently takes public stands on issues affecting media. In some cases, such as condemning job cuts at CTV and CBC, those could be seen as pro-union, but other issues it has stayed silent on, including the lockout at the Journal de Montréal.

There’s an instinctual force sometimes among unionized journalists (such as myself) to think that every union issue is also an issue of freedom of the press, that any dispute between employer and employee is a dispute between the good journalist trying to do a professional job and an evil media empire bent on cutting corners in order to make a quick buck.

Whether journalists actually agree with that stance, well, we’ll find out on Sunday.

See also: Cent Papiers also discusses this issue.


Le Devoir today has a series of articles about the 15th anniversary of Canal D, the documentary/educational network launched on Jan. 1, 1995. About half are subscriber-locked, but there’s some open ones worth reading:

Stéphane Baillargeon also discusses the changes happening at Canal Savoir, which turned 25 this year.

Rotrand: Whiner or critic?

Marvin Rotrand

Marvin Rotrand

Marvin Rotrand, a perennial city councillor from Snowdon who won re-election under the Union Montreal banner on Sunday, gave an interesting quote to audio podcaster Adam Bemma:

“When the media refuses to publicize what a political party says when it holds press conferences to publicize its programs, I don’t think democracy is well served.”

The media hasn’t, of course, “refused” to publicize party platforms. But they did focus more on scandal than vision.

So, is Rotrand’s comment a justified criticism of the media’s coverage of the campaign, or is it whining by a politician annoyed that the party’s carefully-planned manipulation of the media failed because there was a message out there they couldn’t control?


CBC fee-for-carriage solution isn’t really one

The fee-for-carriage/local TV debate is over. The CBC has solved it. In was a stroke of absolute brilliance, the Mother Corp. has come up with a system that makes local broadcasters happy, reduces cable costs for consumers, and provides a fair system that doesn’t threaten cable companies’ profits.

Oh, and they solved the digital TV transition problem too.

Haha, just kidding. Their proposal does nothing of the sort.

On Tuesday, the CBC heralded a submission it made to the CRTC that “offers a solution to the issue of the affordability should a compensation regime for the value of local television signals be implemented.”

I asked the CBC for a copy of this submission, and they kindly forwarded it to me. I’ve uploaded it here for you to read (PDF).

Here is the key part of the CBC’s proposal (emphasis mine):

The CRTC should require cable and satellite companies to offer consumers a small, all Canadian basic package which would include all local television stations plus a few other licensed services.  The rate for this small basic package would not exceed a maximum rate established by the CRTC.  This would ensure the affordability of television service for all Canadians.

Consumers would be free to purchase – but would not be required to purchase – any additional services they may want that are not included in the small basic package.  The cable and satellite companies would negotiate with broadcasters to determine the compensation payable for the services they distribute – including the local television services in the basic package.  The CRTC would act as arbitrator in any situations where the parties could not agree.

The CBC explains how this would work in its “straightforward” three-step process:

First, the Commission would need to determine the services to be included in the streamlined basic package.

Second, the cable and satellite BDUs would have to negotiate wholesale rates with the programming services included in the new basic package – including the local television stations.  Commission arbitration would be available if the parties could not reach an agreement.

Third, the Commission would approve the proposed rate to be charged for this basic package.

Wait, hold on a second. Wasn’t the entire point of “negotiation for value” that consumers would have the choice of what local television stations they would carry on cable? The CBC’s proposal does away with that (what a surprise) and goes back to forcing the cable companies to carry their stations. It mentions that they would “negotiate wholesale rates”, but what kind of negotiation can you have when the only response the cable and satellite companies can give is “yes”?

So this would go to “arbitration” in front of the CRTC. Which means the CRTC would simply set the rate for carrying local stations.

In other words, this is fee for carriage.

In fact, it goes beyond fee for carriage. Now the CRTC would set the price for basic cable as well, and say what channels can and can’t be carried on it:

Cable and satellite BDUs would not be permitted to include any additional services in the basic package beyond those required by the Commission.

Surely they could throw in some freebies (like advertising channels) and nobody would get hurt.

The CBC’s argument includes a lot of charts and data showing that cable and satellite companies are rolling in cash while broadcasters face certain doom. These things, of course, we knew already. It also brings up all the “save local TV” talking points, like how taxes aren’t taxes:

It has become all too common in the Canadian communications environment for cable and satellite companies to disguise items on their consumers’ bills as government imposed retail taxes when they are not (e.g., “system access fee”, “government regulatory recovery fee”, “LPIF tax”, “CRTC LPIF Fee”).

While fee-for-carriage is still up in the air, the LPIF fee is a tax as much as the GST is. It’s a mandatory percentage fee added to the total price of a service that’s taken by the government. The fact that the CRTC says the cable companies should pay it instead of consumers is semantics at best.

It’s not that I oppose the LPIF, or even fee-for-carriage, but don’t get all bent out of shape because we call a tax a tax.

Cheap cable solves digital TV?

The submission also pretends to offer a solution to the digital TV transition. In addition to requiring many people across the country to modify or replace television sets that are up to half a century old, the transition will mean many Canadians in remote regions won’t have access to free, over-the-air TV, because the broadcasters are too poor/cheap to replace the analog transmitters with digital ones.

I’ve already argued that this digital transition is completely unnecessary, and that goes double for remote areas with few television stations. But the CRTC is going ahead with it anyway, and in August 2011 will create a problem where none existed.

So what is the CBC proposing? Well, their argument is that cheap cable can replace free television:

While not everyone would choose to subscribe to such a service, those who did not would not be deciding on the basis of affordability.

If this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because Bell thought up the same thing with cheap satellite. Both seem to ignore the fact that cheap is not free. Though it’s unclear how much basic cable would cost under CBC’s plan (I’m willing to guess it won’t be much cheaper than it is now), it will still be infinitely larger than zero.

There’s also another problem with this idea: The CRTC setting the rate for basic cable tips the economic scales, and reduces the incentive for entrepreneurs to enter the cable market, especially in remote areas where the economies of scale don’t work out as well in their favour.

Perhaps the CRTC would set a different rate for big-market and small-market cable, but then it starts to get more complicated.

What is basic?

The CBC’s submission is based on the premise that basic packages contain a bunch of channels that Canadians don’t want and are being forced to pay for. It doesn’t list them, nor does it list the channels it would want to keep.

To get some context, I looked at the channels that are included in my basic (digital) service through Videotron:

  • 10 broadcast stations:
    • CBFT (2, Radio-Canada)
    • CBMT (6, CBC)
    • CJOH (8, CTV Ottawa’s retransmitter in Cornwall)
    • CFTM (10, TVA)
    • CFCF (12, CTV Montreal)
    • CIVM (17, Télé-Québec)
    • CFTU (29, Canal Savoir)
    • CFJP (35, V, ex-TQS)
    • CKMI (46 Global)
    • CJNT (62)
  • Three parliamentary channels:
    • Assemblée Nationale
    • CPAC (French)
    • CPAC (English)
  • Eight must-carry specialty networks
    • CBC News Network
    • RDI
    • The Accessible Channel
    • Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network
    • The Weather Network
    • MétéoMédia
    • Avis de recherche
    • TV5
  • Télé Achats (an advertising network that would be silly to demand subscriber fees)
  • VOX, Videotron’s public access channel
  • Cable barkers, including the Canal Info Videotron (Channel 1), the video on demand barker channel and the Viewer’s Choice / Canal Indigo barkers
  • GameTV
  • Local radio stations, Galaxie and other audio-only services

With the exception of GameTV and the advertising channels (which we’re not charged for), these are all part of the basic service because the CRTC requires it to carry them.

So which of these channels would the CBC make discretionary? Surely not the parliamentary channels, nor the cable access channel, nor its own all-news channel.

Maybe I’m on the wrong track. For one thing, Videotron forces its customers to choose a package (either a theme package or an a-la-carte channel package) in addition to the basic service. This would stop under the CBC proposal.

On the satellite side, there’s Bell TV, whose digital basic package includes, besides broadcast television stations and must-carry networks, the following:

  • Treehouse
  • W Network
  • CTV News Channel
  • Vision TV
  • Teletoon Retro
  • MTV Canada
  • The Shopping Channel

These would also be pulled from the basic package under the CRTC proposal.

There is also, of course, analog cable, in which everyone gets the same service. That includes more channels, including:

  • Vision TV
  • YTV
  • MuchMusic
  • TSN
  • CMT
  • MusiquePlus
  • RDS
  • Showcase
  • Bravo
  • Discovery Channel
  • W Network
  • Canal Vie
  • MusiMax
  • Canal D

But analog cable doesn’t provide for discretionary channels, at least not on the level of digital.

Despite my criticisms, there’s some merit to some of the CBC’s proposal, specifically the creation of a basic package, whether on satellite, digital cable or analog cable. The practice of forcing people using digital services to add packages to basic lineups needs to stop.

But what the CBC is proposing is fee for carriage, and that’s a tax. And it would do nothing to stop the cable and satellite oligopolies from further solidifying their hold on the market.

All I want is a list of numbers

On election night, there was whining by journalists, both in my newsroom and in others, that results weren’t coming in fast enough.

In the old days, newspapers would have journalists at individual polling stations reporting vote tallies. They would mark the totals on a piece of paper, attach it to the leg of a carrier pigeon and give it orders to return to the newsroom. From there, a copy boy would take it and deliver it to a data clerk who would take care of compilation and calculations.

Or, at least, that’s how I imagine it used to be. Nevertheless, somehow people got results before the Internet.

Nowadays, unless a wire service like Canadian Press gets direct access to the data (which it can then reformat and electronically distribute to its members, as it does during federal elections), results tabulation consists of hundreds of journalists (and thousands of political junkies) constantly hitting refresh on the website of the director-general of elections, and whining that it’s so slow.

For the municipal elections, it was more complicated than that. This wasn’t one election run by a single chief electoral officer, but hundreds of elections run by individual municipalities under the supervision of the provincial municipal affairs department. The latter had a special website setup with results from all the municipal elections, but throughout election night (and even more than 24 hours later) many municipalities’ results were blank.

In Montreal, another website with results by the borough. But again, many were slow coming in. At the end of the night, results from CDN/NDG were in the single digits.

A handful of seemingly random small cities, including Beaconsfield, Brossard, Victoriaville and Rivière du Loup, reported their results on an entirely separate website.

It sounds silly, but in many cases reporters got results by phoning up the candidates or parties and asking them.

Reporters don’t report

The media weren’t much better than the government as far as reporting the results. During big federal and provincial elections, they fall on big national IT teams to create comprehensive websites with flashy results tables, or they just throw in a CP-supplied Flash program that does all their work for them.

In this election, they didn’t have either, so we saw a lot of hack jobs:

  • Radio-Canada had results from all over Quebec, but limited itself to only the mayor’s races in small towns.
  • CBC Montreal didn’t provide results outside of Montreal and Laval, and those results didn’t include any numbers whatsoever, only declaring a winner by highlighting the candidate.
  • Cyberpresse had all its results on a single page, covering only the city of Montreal.
  • Rue Frontenac had a Flash graphic with results of only the mayor and borough mayor races, and only in Montreal.
  • Canoe had … uhh … this.
  • Many, including my employer, simply pointed to the government-run websites directly, to get rid of the middleman.

If media outlets aren’t going to provide better information than the government, there’s little point in trying.

Isn’t this 2009? Isn’t this the future?

It wasn’t just the journalists and news junkies whining. The night after, as I was waiting for my cheeseburger to be grilled at the Belle Province across the street from work, one of the workers there compared this situation to an election in Greece where all the results came in quickly and accurately.

I pointed out that we had the future in 2005, but the optical-scan machines weren’t used this time, apparently because they caused problems.

This time, the counting went fine. It was the reporting of results to central authorities that was the problem. That clearly needs to be worked on over the next four years. Whether it’s manual or electronic reporting, as long as it works. And there should be a backup in case whatever system is setup fails.

Meanwhile, if the media’s only method of obtaining election results is to check the government website, they shouldn’t whine about it when it gets slow (or doesn’t show results) on election night. They do, after all, have a few days to report the official tallies.