Monthly Archives: January 2010

Some Sunday reading on Haiti

It’s been almost three weeks since a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, leading to the deaths of over 150,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands more injured, homeless or without access to the necessities of life.

Despite the various crises affecting the news media, the response has been immense, especially in Montreal, which has a large Haitian community. The major newspaper chains have sent reporters and photographers (and have now sent relief crews to replace those they originally sent), the TV networks have sent correspondents, almost every TV network in Quebec, Canada and the United States has aired a fundraiser for relief efforts, and Haiti coverage continues to dominate the news here. The question of whether it’s being covered too much was raised over a week ago.

I admit I was a bit surprised by all this attention. I expected major news organizations to send reporters, but not papers like The Gazette, the Journal de Québec or the Toronto Star. After all, it’s not cheap.

But as grateful as I am for all the attention, I’ve started to zone out with the Haiti coverage. Yes, there are lots of orphans, people are desperate, lots of people died. The anecdotes being told by the reporters are touching, but they kind of blend in after the 100th story or so.

Still, even more than two weeks later, there are still some stories worth reading. Here’s a few that have been recommended to me through social media:

  • Sue Montgomery, who left for Haiti shortly after the earthquake for The Gazette, writes about the experience of rushing to a disaster area on short notice. A lot of it is inside journalistic baseball (which makes it perfect for this blog’s readers), but it’s interesting to read just for the little anecdotes, like running outside half-naked during an aftershock, or paying $6,900 for a helicopter ride from the Dominican Republic.
  • Phil Carpenter, the photographer who was sent with Montgomery, also writes about the experience for J-Source.
  • Montgomery, in turn, recommends this piece by Peggy Curran, about the political history of Haiti and how much of a mess the country was in long before the earthquake hit. It’s a good picture of what happened to this country from the time it was discovered by Christopher Columbus to the reign of the Duvaliers.
  • Patrick Lagacé is tired of the bullshit going on in Haiti, from all parties involved. About how Haitians still believe in their country, despite the absolute mess it’s in. About how passive they are. About how the international community still clings to the idea that Haiti has some sort of government.
  • In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof isn’t anywhere near Haiti. Instead, he’s in Congo, where millions have died and gangs of thugs go around killing and raping people, and no one seems to care. He just wishes we paid as much attention to the non-natural disaster there as we did to the earthquake. (He has more on his blog.)

Corus shuts down AM stations Info 690, 940 Hits

At 10 a.m. today, Corus ended programming on two AM stations in the city: CINF 690 AM (Info 690) and CINW 940 AM (940 Hits, formerly 940 News). Both are currently looping messages from station managers (with ominous intro music) explaining that the “current economic climate” has made continued operations impossible:

The shutdown cuts eight jobs at CINF, and two jobs (announcer Jim Connell and one technician) at CINW. The Corus Nouvelles newsroom, which laid off a dozen people a year ago, will continue operations, mainly feeding the talk station CHMP 98.5 FM. Three journalists, two traffic reporters and three operators will lose their jobs, while five journalists and three traffic reporters will move to CHMP.

Both stations began in December 1999, when they were owned by Metromedia. CINF began as CKVL in 1946, and spent half a century at 850 AM, before changing callsign and frequency and taking an all-news format. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.

CINW began as XWA in 1919, eventually becoming CFCF (the television station’s call letters were taken from the radio station’s, which stood for “Canada’s First, Canada’s Finest”) and then CIQC in 1991. It spent just shy of 80 years on the same frequency. Its experiment in all-news was tweaked in 2005 with the adoption of news-talk format similar to CJAD and the hiring of hosts who were branded as opinionative like Aphrodite Salas and former CBMT anchor Dennis Trudeau. It failed completely in 2008 with the firing of almost all its staff and the switch to all-hits programming. Since then the station has been dead-last or close to it in the ratings. More details at the Canadian Communications Foundation.

Both stations ceased transmitting at 7:02 p.m. No fanfare, no countdown, not even a national anthem. They just stopped.

Coverage at CTV MontrealLCN, Radio-Canada, The Gazette, CBC, or Corus Nouvelles itself (which copies a Presse Canadienne story). Blog posts from Maxime Landry and Sophie Cousineau.

Corus employees won’t be making any public statements about the shutdown, instead referring people to a PR agency. Still, one disgruntled employee emailed me, complaining that a very small number of companies own far too many broadcast outlets, and the CRTC needs to step in.

UPDATE (Feb. 1): Jim Connell, the on-air personality laid off as a result of 940’s closing, was on CFCF News at Noon today, lamenting the death spiral of AM radio.

So what now?

The release says Corus will surrender its licenses for the two frequencies to the CRTC. This means two clear channels (those that don’t have to reduce power to avoid interference at night, meaning their signals carry much farther) are up for grabs. (Both frequencies were used by many years by CBC Radio – 690 in French and 940 in English – before both moved to FM and the all-news stations took up the channels). According to Wikipedia’s list, the only other clear channel in Montreal is CKAC. A decade ago this would have been a huge opportunity. Half a century ago station managers would kill for even a chance at getting one of these.

But in the current media environment, the question is more whether anyone would bother.

Various theories are being brought up on the local radio discussion group, including:

  • CJAD should move to 940 from 800 to take advantage of the clear channel. This was brought up last time the channel was available, but CJAD dismissed the idea, preferring its spot on the dial, which it considered easier to find.
  • CBME-FM (CBC Radio One) should simulcast on 940 AM to reach more listeners. CBC dealt with the coverage issue by setting up a network of FM repeaters, including 104.7 FM in NDG. It’s unclear if there are enough people having trouble receiving the station to warrant the expense of running an AM transmitter.
  • Rogers, which owns a chain of all-news AM radio stations including CFTR 680News in Toronto, could setup a station here.

Other stations, especially those in the extended AM broadcast band like CJLO 1690, would definitely benefit from moving to the lower frequency and increasing their power. Or some new player (Rogers, perhaps?) could come in and setup a new AM radio station.

But the future of AM radio in particular doesn’t prompt much optimism. New portable media players, if they have radio receivers at all, only do FM. AM radio has a smaller bandwidth, meaning the sound is less clear, and it’s more susceptible to interference. Even the CBC realized that when it moved all its Montreal stations to FM.

As for the all-news format, I think there’s definitely room for something coming up on the French side, with CKAC concentrating on sports, CHMP doing talk (and simulcasting a lot of CKAC, including Habs games) and leaving Radio-Canada alone on news. But on the English side, CJAD and CBC will be tough competition for any new entrant. One will take away any serious news listeners, and the other will take away the rabid angryphones who want to call in constantly to complain that there’s too many potholes.

We’ll see what kind of interest there is when the CRTC puts the two channels on the block.

Until then, the shutdown gives a rare opportunity to listen to far-away stations without interference from local frequencies. I got lots of stuff late at night from both newly created holes, stations overlapping each other to the point where I couldn’t really understand any of them. The best I could hear was WEAV 960AM in Plattsburgh, which was carrying Sean Hannity when I tuned in.

UPDATE (June 10): The CRTC has revoked the licenses of CINW and CINF.

CHEK it out

Congratulations to the folks at Victoria’s CHEK-TV, who have won the first J-Source Journalism Integrity Award for buying their own station and preventing it from being shut down.

Like CHCH in Hamilton (another station that used to form part of Canwest’s E! secondary network), CHEK has abandoned the conventional television model used by the big networks – spending millions on hot primetime U.S. programming and using part of the profits to subsidize a minimum amount of local newscasts. Instead, they’re doing the opposite, expanding local news and going for cheaper programming in primetime.

The rest of the Canadian television industry is keeping a close eye on these stations. If the business model turns out to be successful, it will be quickly replicated across the country, much to the delight of unions and journalists. If it fails (which is more likely), it won’t be repeated again and the television news death spiral will only continue to worsen.

But hey, no pressure.

UPDATE (Feb. 6): J-Source has an interview with CHEK news director Rob Germain.

Entrevue: Jean-François Codère,

A week before the anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout, I went to Rue Frontenac’s offices and sat down with tech journalist Jean-François Codère, and asked him a few questions that had been nagging me.

You’ll have to excuse the background noise, because Gabrielle Duchaine couldn’t shut her bloody pie-hole and stop flirting with me I haven’t gotten around to getting an external microphone for my cheap new video camera.

Some highlights from the interview, for those too lazy to sit through a half hour of a talking head (or who can’t understand French):

  • Codère learned about the idea for Rue Frontenac in December 2008, at which point he undertook the mission to setup “something like Cyberpresse” in a month, in time for the expected Jan. 2 start of the lockout. (Last-minute negotiations pushed into the new year, delaying the lockout until Jan. 24.) The site is based on Joomla, only because they’re familiar with it and the union’s website is based on the same platform.
  • Though the few people organizing the website knew well in advance, and some journalists had an idea of it the week before the lockout, most of the 253 union members didn’t know about Rue Frontenac until the day of the lockout.
  • The three-week delay between the end of the collective agreement and the start of the lockout helped to build up the site, but training everyone on how to use it still took a while, and was the main reason for a four-day delay between the lockout’s start and the launch of Rue Frontenac. (Codère points out Patrick Lagacé’s complaint last year that they weren’t acting fast enough – he says he asked Lagacé about it when he visited Rue Frontenac at Christmas, and Lagacé admitted that nobody remembers or cares anymore)
  • Salaries are paid out of the union’s strike fund, but Rue Frontenac’s other expenses are expected to be self-funded, mainly by advertising and donations.
  • Rue Frontenac works with assignment editors, but most people just cover their own beats. The number of articles journalists might file in a week varies depending on the type of story and other considerations.
  • Non-journalists, like classified and business office workers, tend to do more picketing because there’s not much they can contribute to Rue Frontenac.
  • Most people Codère talks to are at least aware of what Rue Frontenac is, so he doesn’t have trouble getting interviews. (Codère’s experience may be atypical – he’s their tech reporter, so the people he deals with are more connected and more exposed to the website.) Most reporters also already have good relationships with their contacts.
  • Getting access to events like concerts isn’t that difficult, even though they’re the only purely web media accredited at the Bell Centre. They’ve negotiated photographer access to 15 of 42 Habs home games, and hope to get a better deal next year (assuming they’re still locked out).
  • Rue Frontenac uses the Reuters photo service to get images for international stories. But all the text is generated from Rue Frontenac journalists.
  • Working at Rue Frontenac is “fun” compared to the Journal, but Codère is a realist: It’s not profitable to do journalism the way they’re doing it.
  • Some computers come from MédiaMatinQuébec, others are personal laptops used by journalists (many of whom had to get old ones or buy new ones because their work laptops were confiscated after the lockout was called).
  • They enjoy not having to do stories about the weather, Boxing Day and other ridiculousness.
  • Codère has received job offers since the lockout, but so far he’s turned them down to remain a journalist.
  • Yes, Rue Frontenac asked for documents to submit a bid to do news for V (ex-TQS), but that was more to learn from the documents. Considering the CSN is still fighting for former TQS journalists whose jobs are being replaced by this subcontracting of news, actually submitting a bid would put the union in an awkward position to say the least.
  • What happens to Rue Frontenac after the lockout ends will depend on negotiations, but MédiaMatinQuébec’s website was taken down as a condition of the Journal de Québec workers going back. What kind of impact that would have depends on how long it will be, and how much work will have gone into Rue Frontenac. Codère’s ideal would be for the Journal to buy Rue Frontenac and all its content, but he isn’t holding his breath.
  • Despite the success of Rue Frontenac, Codère doesn’t think it’s feasible in the short term to have an online-only news organization without a corresponding newspaper. Newspapers come to you, he points out, whereas you have to go to websites. He thinks it will be at least a few years until a serious online newsroom can be financially sustainable.

And one thing that wasn’t in the interview: Rue Frontenac subscribes to digital television. But for some reason they prefer Bell satellite TV to Videotron cable.

UPDATE (Jan. 28):

Jean-François Codère talks about Rue Frontenac on CFCF's News at Noon

Seems CTV also got the idea that Codère was a good person to talk to about this anniversary.

Série Montréal-Québec: Flawless, says Journal

On Sunday, TVA debuted its newest Sunday-night populist attention-getter, the Série Montréal-Québec, in which 16 players from each city (each including two women, one guy over 40 and one guy over 50) compete in a meaningless eight-game tournament to determine which city is superior to the other.

I switched back and forth a bit between the TVA broadcast and an actual sporting event that actually mattered. What little I saw of the show consisted entirely of long, drawn-out American Idol-style (or, if you prefer, «Star Académie»-style) player introductions. It’s one thing when you’re introducing two or three people you’ve never met, but it gets old after the first few dozen.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one to notice that. Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien and La Presse’s Hugo Dumas showed an inspiring example of Quebec-Montreal unity by panning the show and its presentation devoid of any energy. The review from Dans ma télé’s Annie Fortin was lukewarm at best, with similar criticisms.

But then there’s the Journal de Montréal.

Journal de Montréal - Jan. 25, 2010

I find it ironic that Quebecor’s new Agence QMI put together an article (one written like a ninth-grade book report or the minutes of a school board meeting) that was good enough for both 24 Heures in Montreal and the Journal de Québec website, but the Journal de Montréal decided it needed to have one of its few remaining journalists- Michelle Coudé-Lord – write a redundant story reviewing the show (one, I should add, that was reprinted verbatim in the Journal de Québec – in fact, the latter had an identical two-page spread, only in black and white).

Then again, Coudé-Lord’s story has plenty of adjectives that the Agence QMI story was lacking, and her impression was so diametrically opposed to everyone else’s (including mine) that I can only conclude that she was in a different universe at the time or has become disconnected from reality:

La Série Montréal/Québec sera rassembleuse comme le fut Star Académie. On n’abandonne pas une recette gagnante. Attendez-vous à ce que le Québec se divise en deux au cours des prochaines semaines. Les joueurs sont attachants

Guy Lafleur a résumé fort bien ce qu’allait être cette série : «le hockey est un jeu qui nous rend heureux».

La présentation des joueurs a donné le ton. L’émotion sera au rendez-vous. Stéphane Laporte et Julie Snyder, le concepteur et la productrice de cette série, savent faire de la télévision pour et par le monde. Et encore hier soir ils en ont fourni la preuve.

Le portrait de chaque joueur nous le rendait fort sympathique. … C’était même touchant de voir les parents applaudir dans les estrades …

Loco Locass a interprété avec enthousiasme l’hymne national de Québec …

Montréal commence fort avec une gardienne de but … Ça promet.

Belle initiative de Guy Carbonneau …

Éric Lapointe a donné du chien à l’équipe de Carbo avec une interprétation enlevante de l’hymne national de Montréal.

Une belle réalisation de Michel Quidoz … Marie-Claude Savard, l’animatrice, fut solide et a su laisser place à l’évènement. …

That’s 16 separate praises by my count, and not a single criticism of the show. I would have reprinted the entire article here if I could do so without fear of a copyright infringement lawsuit. It’s surreal.

If I ever get married, I’m having Michelle Coudé-Lord write my vows. By then she’ll probably be a public relations specialist.

PR is about the only way I can explain both Journals taking two colour pages to present players from both teams.

Hell, it makes Jeff Lee (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Quebecor-owned Videotron) look tame in his video blowjob.

Despite what some conspiracy theorists might think, Quebecor-owned media were not unanimous in their praise. Roxanne Tremblay of 7 jours didn’t hold back on criticisms, and followed it up with a second-day story about the show’s problems.

But still, even though I’m skeptical of theories about media owners directly affecting editorial content on a day-to-day basis, I can’t help wonder if Coudé-Lord’s article is what Pierre-Karl Péladeau envisions for his newsroom of the future – one where unionized journalists don’t stand in the way of Quebecor’s self-interest with their silly journalistic ethics.

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 67

This map notes some of the locations of something that used to be all over the city but no longer exists.

What is it?

UPDATE: A bunch of you guessed correctly: These are Steinberg’s store locations on the island.

For those new to the city or too young to remember, Steinberg’s (later without the apostrophe-S) was Quebec’s first and largest supermarket throughout most of the 20th century. Based in Montreal, it expanded throughout the city and then throughout the province and into eastern Ontario as well. But financial pressures led to its decline in the 1980s and by 1992 they had all disappeared.

Their memory is kept alive on Flickr’s Ghosts of Steinberg account, which collects photos of former Steinberg locations. It’s explained by Chris DeWolf on Spacing Montreal in 2008.

You can check out my map (locations taken from Ghosts of Steinberg and a few other locations) on Google Maps here.

Journal de Montréal: One year later

I was going to have a whole deal about the first anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout, but it seems everyone else had the same idea, and most of them are more interesting and better produced than whatever I could come up with.

Rue Frontenac, of course, goes all out. Besides Bertrand Raymond’s retirement, there’s a really well-produced video from Alain Décarie and Olivier Jean about the first year of Rue Frontenac. Gabrielle Duchaine has a timeline of events, and Duchaine and Valérie Dufour keep it fresh with news stories about pressure from the Fédération professionelle des journalistes du Québec and politicians for the government to step in and put an end to this conflict.

La Presse’s Louise Leduc also has a dossier on the topic, with articles about the negotiations, concerns about the quality of journalism being produced by the Journal, and about the emotional impact of the lockout on staff.

In other media, a bit of acknowledgement: an article at about the FPJQ’s demands, a story in The Gazette, a 15-minute discussion with two locked-out journalists at Corus radio, and Quebecor-owned TVA throws up a Presse Canadienne piece. Philippe Gohier of Macleans’s Deux Maudits Anglais translates Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s recent rant about the threat of unions (which has caused a lot of reaction) and points out how disingenuous it is.

A bus driver reads the Journal de Montréal at a red light a year after the paper's journalists were locked out

But the most interesting piece to me is this one by Patrick Bellerose (the only person I’ve seen to bring anything original to that asks the simple question: Why are people still reading the Journal de Montréal?

It seems so simple, but this is the first I’ve seen any journalist covering this conflict actually talking to people on the street about it. And their answers are mostly the same: They read it because it’s there. They know about the lockout, but they don’t really care.

If Rue Frontenac is really going to succeed as a pressure tactic, that’s the sentiment that they’re going to have to change.

UPDATE: Projet J has an audio interview with Raynald Leblanc.

Bertrand Raymond retires from Journal de Montréal

Bertrand Raymond

It wasn’t a very well-kept secret, but on the one-year anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout, sports columnist Bertrand Raymond has filed his final column.

As Raymond explains it, he knew he would never be going back to the Journal shortly after the lockout, when a bailiff came to his home to collect his laptop and cellphone (which were Journal property).

Ce jour-là, j’ai su que je ne travaillerais jamais plus au Journal de Montréal. Je ne voulais plus jamais y mettre les pieds. Je ne me trouvais plus aucune affinité avec des gens qui me traitaient comme un criminel. C’était quoi, l’urgence d’un tel geste ? Que voulaient-ils que je fasse de ces appareils ? Que je m’en serve pour faire sauter l’édifice ? Nous ne sommes pas des terroristes, nous sommes des journalistes. Les médias ne font pas la guerre. Ils la couvrent. Ils la commentent. Ils la vivent pour mieux raconter aux gens ce qui se passe.

Peut-être voulaient-ils nous faire sentir bien petits face à l’Empire ? Peut-être cherchaient-ils à nous humilier davantage ? Qui sait ?

Nous soulignons aujourd’hui, chacun à notre façon, un bien triste anniversaire. Un an sans travail, ça ronge l’enthousiasme; ça gruge le moral. C’est une année inutilement perdue dans une vie qui défile déjà trop vite.

Je veux être certain de vivre assez vieux pour ne pas oublier cet anniversaire. C’est pourquoi je choisis cette date pour partir. En annonçant ma retraite d’un métier qui a été toute ma vie, je veux m’assurer de ne pas avoir à vivre une deuxième année de lock-out.

Raymond has worked at the Journal for 40 years, and has been a columnist for the past 24. He was fiercely loyal to his newspaper before the lockout, but then fiercely loyal to his union afterward, even going so far as to blast Yvon Pedneault for writing for the Journal de Québec during its lockout in 2008-09.

After a vacation, Raymond will remain a part of RDS’s Antichambre and la Ligue en question, and hinted about doing more for the all-sports network.

His departure is being noted by his colleagues, both at Rue Frontenac and in other media: La Presse’s Réjean TremblayThe Gazette’s Mike Boone and RDS’s Luc Gélinas devote columns to Raymond’s retirement. (UPDATE: Corus Sports also has a quick question-and-answer with Raymond about his best and worst moments, and Patrick Lagacé has a few words on his blog)

But I feel most sorry for Four Habs Fans, who will have to find someone else to make fun of. (UPDATE: FHF bids Bertrand goodbye in its own way)

For the record, this stands as the final column he wrote for the Journal, a column about Mark Streit published one year ago today.

UPDATE (Jan. 28): Rue Frontenac has an article and a photo gallery from Bertrand’s retirement party.

Congratulations, you’re an unsecured Canwest creditor

FTI Consulting, one of the groups of lawyers handling Canwest Limited Partnership’s creditor protection filing, has a section on its website devoted to the proceedings. There you can find, among other things, a list of creditors (PDF).

They include, of interest to Montrealers and Gazette followers (in alphabetical order):

  • $253,808.16 to 1001 Dominion Square Management Inc., The Gazette’s landlord
  • $12,726.14 to Agence France-Presse, a newswire
  • $406,505.42 to Amex for corporate credit cards
  • $6,556.34 to the Audit Bureau of Circulations
  • $47,497.80 to Bleu Blanc Rouge, which handles The Gazette’s marketing campaigns
  • $5,213.38 to Bloomberg, another newswire
  • $114,700.77 to the Calgary Flames
  • $74,763.18 to Canada Post
  • $44,237.47 to Canadian Press (even though Canwest no longer uses CP) – listed separately as Canadian Press and The Canadian Press
  • $5,179.91 to CNW for press releases
  • $38,892.90 to Garda for security services
  • $24,035.10 to Getty Images
  • $1 million exactly to GWL Realty Advisors of Edmonton, the largest single non-bank creditor
  • $24,419.64 to Henry’s photo shop
  • $44,100.00 to Ipsos Reid for surveys
  • $21,380.91 to La Presse
  • $22,575.00 to Kleintel, a Montreal-based phone survey company
  • $28,041.92 to, a partner for paid obituaries online
  • $10,450.00 to Loblaws
  • $12,167.94 to the Los Angeles Times – Washington Post, another news service
  • $16,558.62 to Messageries Dynamiques, a Quebecor-owned distribution company
  • $52,783.50 to Microsoft Canada
  • $145,026.49 to the Ministère du revenu du Québec
  • $8,475.66 to the National Newspaper Awards
  • $17,931.06 to Nestle Canada
  • $5,065.31 to New York Times Digital
  • $9,946.29 to the Ontario Press Council
  • $50,400.00 to Orsyp Logiciels, a Montreal-based job schedule software company
  • $90,000.00 to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux
  • $72,930.38 to Rexall Sports Corporation, which owns the Edmonton Oilers
  • $37,153.20 to Rogers Media
  • $34,755.00 to Rogers Publishing
  • $11,841.84 to Saxotech Integrated Mediaware, which is providing a new desktop publishing system for Canwest papers
  • $331,160.57 to, which … well, it’s anyone’s guess what they actually do.
  • $70,987.96 to Sun Media
  • $15,813.11 to Montreal’s Teleze Inc., a telemarketing company selling Gazette subscriptions
  • $87,499.65 to the Globe and Mail
  • $8,065.02 to New York Times Syndication, yet another news wire
  • $54,485.00 to the Salvation Army in Saskatoon
  • $145,341.3 to Toronto Star Syndication Services and Torstar Syndication Services
  • $10,773.90 to (Chicago) Tribune Media Services
  • $27,151.49 to United Way in Edmonton
  • $6,124.99 to the Winnipeg Free Press
  • $112,481.44 to the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia
  • $15,491.17 to World Entertainment News Network for celebrity gossip
  • $45,986.85 to three radio stations
  • $45,437.84 to four union locals

The list is very long, but two items stand out like a sore thumb because of the extra digits, and those are the ones that really matter in all this:

  • $78,382,191.78 to the syndicate of banks under the senior subordinate credit agreement
  • $449,411,375.34 to senior subordinated notes

That’s (some of) the money Canwest LP owes the banks, and the reason it’s in financial trouble.

What the list doesn’t include, though, are freelancers, those independent contractors who provide stories and photos to newspapers in exchange for a negotiated fee. Most freelancers who did work between mid December and the Jan. 8 filing (and some who did work much earlier than that but weren’t paid or didn’t cash their cheques before the filing) are now grouped in with the paper suppliers, wire services, distributors and anyone else who provides goods and services to the newspapers and websites.

I counted two freelance columnists in The Gazette on the list through their companies:

  • $5,418.00 to L. Ian MacDonald’s Lian Public Affairs Ltd.
  • $9,673.79 to Phil Reimer’s Phil Reimer Communications. He’s Canwest’s travel cruise columnist

Other freelancers, including fine dining columnist Lesley Chesterman, are also out thousands of dollars as a result of this filing. Smaller freelancers (which may include myself, I’m still not sure yet) are out mere hundreds of dollars.

Whether they’ll see any of that money owed depends on how much money is left to give to all the other creditors, and that will depend mostly on the sale price of Canwest LP. The banks have set a floor bid of $950 million, the amount they’re owed for their loans (which means they wouldn’t be paying for the chain but rather exchanging their debt for equity and ownership), but they’re hoping someone will put in a higher bid. The higher the sale price, the more money can go to creditors. But there’s little hope that the price will be high enough to pay 100 cents on the dollar.

That’s very disappointing. The banks won’t fold if they’re out a few hundred million. The wire services aren’t a few thousand dollars from bankruptcy. But some freelancers rely on it as their only source of income, and a few hundred dollars can be the difference between making a rent payment and having an angry landlord.

After Canwest LP filed for creditor protection (not to be confused with bankruptcy, which eliminates debt), it secured so-called debtor-in-posession financing, which allowed it to continue its business. This means that people who did freelance work after Jan. 8 will still get paid (along with other post-filing creditors), as publisher Alan Allnutt explained. That also puts many in a strange position of getting screwed out of payment but still continuing to do business with a company.

If only I understood business, it would all make sense to me.

Just give money, m’kay?

Mittens for Haiti!

I passed by this donation bin setup at Concordia for Haiti. In it, I saw bags with scarves, winter coats, and mittens.

I’m guessing they were from people who have never been to Haiti, and who aren’t experts in meteorology. (Or, as someone comments below, hopefully for Haitian refugees coming here, which would save on shipping costs.)

The difficulty in getting supplies (particularly the right ones) to disaster zones is one of the reasons charities ask you to give money instead of stuff. A lot of stuff, unfortunately, is useless.

Hope for Haiti Now is on until 10 p.m. on CBC, CTV, Global, CityTV, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Vermont Public Television, CNN, MuchMusic, MTV Canada, National Geographic Channel, WGN, WPIX and BET. Quebec’s Ensemble pour Haïti airs on Radio-Canada, TVA, V, Télé-Québec, TV5, LCN, RDI, MusiMax and Musique Plus.

Remember if you’re watching the U.S. special to donate to Canadian charities to take advantage of the government’s donation matching program 1-877-51-HAITI or

Rogers’s half-assed quality control

Last fall, I was asked to participate in a beta test of Rogers On Demand Online, a video streaming website for Rogers customers only. It has since launched and anyone who subscribes to Rogers Cable or Rogers Wireless can watch videos on the site. My review pointed out the disappointing video library, which included mostly Rogers-owned stuff like Citytv and a few specialty networks that didn’t really excite me (and are also unavailable unless you subscribe to the channel with Rogers Cable).

A couple of weeks ago I was on the site watching the one series that’s worth my attention – the West Wing through its Warner Brothers channel – when I noticed the video was a bit dark.

Make that very dark. I could barely make out what was going on in many scenes. Adjustments to my screen’s brightness were futile. So I clicked on the “feedback” link on the video and said that it was too dark.

This is the email I got back:

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Transcontinental centralizes pagination in Maritimes

It’s the craze that’s sweeping the nation: centralized pagination. Instead of having people layout their own newspapers, big newspaper companies (including Quebecor and my employer Canwest) and have editors send stories to a pagination factory where specialists put together the pages for you and send them back.

The presentation is usually the same: The specialists are well-trained, local reporters and editors remain in control and have the final say, this will create “efficiencies” and allow journalists more time to focus on their core function – writing copy.

The hidden reality is that these copy editors tend to be non-unionized and have lower salaries, they have little connection to and may not even be familiar with the communities they serve, and the local journalists don’t have the time to correct all of the things a lazy, overworked copy editor hundreds of kilometres away might have done that they don’t agree with.

And, of course, with efficiencies come layoffs.

Transcontinental Media, which has already done this for its community papers in Quebec, is setting up a pagination shop in Charlottetown to handle layout for its Maritime papers. The number of layoffs isn’t known yet, but there will be some.

It could be worse: They could be outsourcing pagination to Bangalore.

Massive cuts at CityTV, but Rogers doesn’t care

Anne Mroczkowski

The axe fell Tuesday at CityTV. Everyone found out yesterday that long-time Toronto anchor Anne Mroczkowski and about 60 others have lost their jobs in a new round of cutbacks at Canada’s fourth-largest English broadcast network, which will also result in a lot of local programming being cancelled.

Coverage at the National Post, Toronto Sun, Toronto StarFinancial Post, Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and all the usual Toronto blogs. Eye has a timeline of City cuts. Breakfast Television’s Kevin Frankish has a video of remaining employees talking about how much it sucks.

The irony in this is that CityTV is owned by Rogers, which is part of that Stop the TV Tax campaign by the cable and satellite companies against fee for carriage. Rogers has argued through it and appearances in front of the CRTC that local television doesn’t need the extra funding and that it is committed to local television without government funding.

With the cuts at City, and more importantly the cuts to programming at all City stations, we can formally call bullshit on that claim. Rogers doesn’t oppose fee for carriage because it believes that’s what’s best for City, it opposes fee for carriage because its cable business is more important to it than its TV business.

And so Rogers continues to sabotage its TV stations for its own benefit, and people like Anne Mroczkowski pay the price.