Monthly Archives: January 2010

Journal union celebrates a year off the job with a party

The one-year anniversary is only days away (today is Day 363)

The Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal held a press conference yesterday to advance the upcoming one-year anniversary of their lockout. I was working so I couldn’t make it, but there’s plenty of coverage in The Gazette, Presse Canadienne, Radio-Canada, Le Devoir, Metro (which has video of the press conference), and – to be fair – Quebecor-owned Argent does an acceptable job of getting both sides.

The STIJM also announced that they’re holding a party on Sunday – the one-year anniversary – at La Tulipe. Performers include Richard Desjardins, Tricot Machine, Louise Forestier et El Motor, Loco Locass and Jean-Sébastien Lavoie. Tickets are $20 and available only at the box office (assuming they’re not already sold out).

PJ Stock joins CHOM morning show

PJ Stock

James Mennie has the story for The Gazette that P.J. Stock, formerly of the Team 990 and best known as a Hockey Night in Canada analyst, is going to be a morning man at CHOM.

Kind of.

The first news about Stock going to CHOM came from Pat Hickey back in December, when Stock left The Team 990 because of what was apparently more work and travel than he could handle (he left his regular TV segment on the CBMT newscast for the same reason). Back then, the idea was to do a five-minute phone-in once a day.

But the departure of Ted Bird changed that. So instead, Stock tells Mennie, he’ll be on for two hours a day (7am to 9am) Monday to Thursday.

The irony is that Bird was instrumental in getting Stock onto CHOM in the first place, convincing both sides that it was a good idea. Obviously, it wasn’t supposed to be as a replacement.

Still, Bird was gracious in an email to me about Stock joining his former morning team:

To his credit, PJ called me this past weekend to make sure that I was through at CHOM and that he wasn’t undermining me in any way.  He’s a class act and a decent and funny guy, and he’ll do well as long as they let him be himself and don’t try to recreate him as something he’s not, which is what programmers who’ve never sat in the chair and don’t understand or appreciate the craft have a habit of doing.

The big question is what CHOM is going to do with Stock. Is he going to talk about hockey or music? I’ve heard a couple of people complain that CHOM already talks too much about the game, and this certainly won’t change that. Will he join in the usual cliché morning show banter? Will it be “Chantal, Bad Pete and PJ”? Or will he be more of a supporting cast member and less of a star?

What is clear is that if Stock has two hours four mornings a week to sit in a studio on Fort St. while rock music is playing, then he would have had more than enough time for hockey analysis at CKGM 990 on Greene Ave. So it’s not just a question of having too much work.

I couldn’t reach Stock for comment, so you’ll just have to fill in the blanks there with your imagination.

Mennie says Stock’s first shift will be Feb. 1. Stock repeated that on the CHOM morning show the next day, but Pete Marier kept saying Feb. 2. Feb. 1, notably, is the day after Stock’s contract at CKGM expires. UPDATE: Astral’s press release, which I assume to be a definitive word on the subject, says Stock begins Feb. 3.

UPDATE: Listen to Stock’s phone-in on Thursday’s CHOM morning show (MP3). Stock will take over the CHOM “sports department”, which sounds like it will still be Chantal and Bad Pete but that Stock will do the morning sports news currently being done by CJAD’s Abe Hefter.

The Globe Ad Fail

Newspaper advertisements – both in print and online – often suffer from failure of context, where the ad seems inconsiderate next to specific kinds of news stories (usually bad ones).

In newspapers, it tends to happen because advertisers don’t know what copy will appear next to their ads, and copy editors often (for good reason) don’t know what ads will appear next to their copy. The most obvious example is an ad for an airline next to a story about a plane crash (which is why airlines regularly pull their ads after plane crashes, and editors are told not to put plane crash stories next to airline ads).

The Globe and Mail Jan. 20 Pages A8-A9

In today’s Globe and Mail, American Express has one of those special-order ads, the ones with a weird shape that dominate pages without filling them, purposefully leaving holes for editorial copy so that readers’ eyes will stay on the page.

The ad reads: “Tired of standing in line?” (or, more accurately, “Tired of standing in liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine?” – the lower-case “I”s like little stick figures weaving across the two-page spread), with a kicker that talks about travel (it doesn’t say so explicitly, but the assumption is plane travel for a vacation).

You can probably figure out where this is going by now.

Two editorial holes appear on the page, and both contain news about Haiti. On the top, two standalone pictures from photographer Peter Powell of people struggling for survival. The headline reads: “Where food and water are worth fighting for”. On the bottom, an article from Paul Koring about the overtaxed Port-au-Prince airport.

It’s not just an ad fail, it’s a huge, spectacular double fail filling a two-page spread in the middle of the A section of Canada’s national newspaper. Making fun of standing in line is cute anywhere in a newspaper except next to a picture of starving Haitians beating each other up for the necessities of life. And having an ad about vacation travel works everywhere except next to a piece on how the airport is congested at the most awful place on the planet right now.

It’s not like it was a massive coincidence that this stuff ended up on this page. Haiti coverage is all over this paper, and has been for the past week.

So, then, I have to ask: Did no one at American Express Canada (wow that’s a silly name) think for a moment that the holes they left for editorial content might be filled by news from a disaster that’s already a week old, and that such coverage might not play well with their campaign? Did no one in the Globe’s advertising department put two and two together?

This is the risk you run when you book these kinds of ads, especially in the A section. Advertiser beware.

See also: Timothy Hunt, who points to a similar problem with a similar ad in another edition.

I, for one, welcome our new consortium overlords

Over the past few months, rumours had been circulating around the newsroom that some local rich guys were interested in buying a part of the Canwest newspaper chain, including The Gazette.

Today, those rumours prove true. A consortium led by Jerry Grafstein, Raymond Heard and Beryl Wajsman announced it will be submitting a bid to buy The Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post, pending due dilligence.

The coverage – Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CBC, Reuters, Editor & Publisher, Financial Post – all say the same thing, quoting liberally from the news release and saying the three consortium leaders believe in local control of local newspapers.

No price has been mentioned, nor are the other financial backers named.

All three have media cred: Grafstein, a recently retired senator, founded Citytv in Toronto. Heard was managing editor of the Montreal Star and then worked as news director at Global TV in the 80s. Wajsman is the editor of The Suburban and publisher of The Métropolitain. The Globe’s Jane Taber has analysis of their political leanings, in case anyone really cares.

Unions (and unionized employees) look favourably at the central idea of this bid (Lise Lareau of the Canadian Media Guild calls it good news) because it seems to reject a lot of Canwest’s anti-union moves, like centralization and outsourcing, and it’s making all the right noises about local control of local newspapers.

There’s also the unsaid implication that these three care more about respect than profit. (Like sports teams, media outlets tend to be more about ego than the bottom line.)

Looking at Wajsman’s newspapers, there’s at least some reason for optimism. The Suburban is big for a community paper, and while it’s not pure as the white snow, it’s not filled with press releases and it does actually employ journalists. The Métropolitain, meanwhile, is more of a think-tank than anything else, and is clearly not motivated by profit.

But looking at those newspapers also leaves some worried. Wajsman’s editorials are a bit much for even some staunch federalists, and the papers have some clear editorial biases when it comes to things like the Israeli-Palestinian issue (something the Suburban doesn’t have to deal with much but which The Gazette would have to deal with on a daily basis).

Many will also focus on Wajsman’s political past. One person reminded me of his alleged connection to the adscam scandal, others have already created a Facebook group to protest his bid because of his pro-Israel, pro-business, anti-union stances.

Though I disagree with most of what he writes in Suburban editorials (and most of the opinions written in The Métropolitain), I’m tempted to ask how a right-wing, pro-Israel owner will somehow be different than Canwest. And if “progressive anglos” don’t want their paper to fall in his hands, they’re more than welcome to submit a bid of their own.

There are other obstacles to Grafstein and Co.’s plan, even if they have the money. The biggest is that Canwest (and the banks arranging for the chain’s sale) want Canwest Publications sold as a unit. That centralized services include websites, customer service, advertising, page layout and Canwest News Service. Undoing that might be difficult and expensive (but it might also mean hiring more journalists, programmers and copy editors, which would clearly work in my favour).

And there might be other bids. The Globe is convinced Paul Godfrey is putting one together with his own financial backers. Other names being bandied about include Torstar, Quebecor, Transcontinenal, FP Newspapers and that guy Joe at the end of the bar.

Rue Frontenac and donation priorities

There’s a debate going on, sparked by Steve Proulx, about whether Montrealers should be directing their donations directly to Haiti relief than by funding a trip by journalists from Rue Frontenac to cover the devastation.

It’s a simple argument, but there are a lot of nuanced points to consider on both sides:

  • Donations aren’t always a zero-sum game (though “donor fatigue” was brought into the lexicon after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Different causes attract different people, and the difference may not be between donating to Rue Frontenac and donating to Haiti, but between donating to Rue Frontenac and keeping the money to oneself.
  • There are already plenty of journalists in Haiti covering it. Is there really an advantage to sending more of them, especially when they might put even more strain on the already struggling resources of the area? Especially when the stories they file, while very emotional, don’t provide much in the way of useful news?
  • People making these donations are grown-ups and can decide for themselves how much money goes to humanitarian causes and how much goes to fund journalism
  • If we accept this logic, then how will organizations like Spot.Us (Dominic Arpin notes the similarity between the two) that take donations for journalism ever be able to cover humanitarian crises?
  • Rue Frontenac is not a newspaper. It’s not a profit-making enterprise. Its purpose is technically as a pressure tactic in negotiations with the Journal de Montréal to get locked-out journalists and other employees back to work. It doesn’t need to send journalists to Haiti to prove itself.

I stopped by Rue Frontenac’s offices this week and had a chat with one of its journalists, Jean-François Codère. He argued that other news media sending journalists to Haiti (and everyone’s doing it – The Gazette, La Presse, TVA, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CTV, CBC among others) at much expense rather than donating money to relief causes.

Personally, I see both sides. I prefer to give my money to the Red Cross than Rue Frontenac because I think what Haiti is suffering from right now is not a lack of western journalists. But I don’t blame anyone for wanting to put a few bucks toward their plane tickets (their salaries are being paid out of the union’s strike fund). It’s their choice.

In any case, they’ve already got money and are reporting from Haiti. Vincent Larouche has a report and Martin Bouffard has photos and a video.

Mark Bergman hiring own replacement at CJFM

A year ago, Mark Bergman launched Virgin Radio 96 on air. Now he da boss.

Mark Bergman, who hosts the afternoon drive-time show on CJFM (Mix 96 Virgin Radio 96) but was recently promoted to interim program director at the station, is hanging up the mic and hiring his own replacement.

But he won’t disappear forever, he tells me:

Radio is a passion of mine (I’d have to be crazy to be in this biz, if it wasn’t).

I started off handing out bumper stickers, then tech work, then overnight shows, evenings, drive, and now the next step for me is programming the entire station. It’s ways been a goal to program… But yes, I will still be around on-air here and there.

Bergman, who I’m told spends his days alone in his office crying, with occasional screams of “Chantal! Why did you leave me?“, is accepting applications for a permanent weekday 4-7pm host until Jan. 31. Requirements are three years of on-air experience, the kind of energy and perkiness that you’d expect from a music radio announcer, and “fashion sense of Lady Gaga”, which I find an odd requirement because every time I see someone from that station they’re wearing a standard-issue Virgin Radio T-shirt.

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Bird’s blogging

Ted Bird (if I have to explain who he is you clearly haven’t been reading this blog) has begun blogging in addition to his Twitter activity.

The blog is essentially an extension of his popular “Bird Droppings” radio thing, and features comments on stuff, particularly sports.

The baby Hitler front and centre on the blog’s homepage should give you an idea of how little self-censorship is involved here.

I must say, though, it’s just not the same without the voice…

Gazette West Island columnist Huntley Addie also talks about Bird this week.

It’s all about the Bordens: Cough ’em up for Haiti

So Haiti’s in trouble. Like, a crapload of trouble. And the world is coming together to do whatever they can. Food and supplies aren’t particularly useful because of the high cost of transporting and distributing them. Instead, the thing charities and relief organizations need is money.

In a perfect world, a massive international relief organization would simply respond, making use of a hefty budget to set up some emergency shelters while everyone’s homes are rebuilt using insurance money. Of course, that’s not the case (partially because international aid tends not to win many elections), so regular people are being asked to open their wallets and help out.

While the most obvious thing to do would be to give to the Red Cross, various groups are organizing fundraisers or other schemes to try to squeeze even more money out of us.

After a few minutes of searching, here’s what I’ve found is happening in Montreal over the next week and a half:

Feel free to suggest others in the comments below. Agenda Public has a list of similar events across Quebec.

Text it and forget it

For those of you who are too fucking lazy to punch your credit card number securely into a website and prefer to have your cellphone company bill you based on a fee for a text message you’ve sent to some unverified five-digit number you heard about through your friend’s Twitter, there are plenty of options for that, though few work in Canada (that “90999” thing you heard about on the Colbert report doesn’t work here – something CTV didn’t relay to its viewers when it rebroadcasted the show on two of its networks). The cellphone companies accept $5 to 45678, and Plan Canada at 30333 (in both cases text “HAITI”). But maybe I just made that up, or copied the number down wrong.

Really, just give it to the Red Cross. Don’t trust your friends, don’t trust people on the street, don’t trust celebrities, don’t trust businesses and don’t trust anyone saying your money goes toward Haiti relief.

Journalists: Donate your overtime

The earthquake in Haiti, ironically, had a positive impact on my bottom line. The paper was expanded in size to fit all the extra news coverage, and I was called in for an unscheduled shift on Thursday night. Rather than profit off the misery, I’m donating my salary for that shift to the Red Cross.

I know there are plenty of journalists and other media types who read this blog, and plenty of them are working more than they usually do because of this craziness. I’d encourage you to do the same – you’re not losing money, you’re working harder doing what you love, and it’s for a good cause.

TV listings: they all suck

Steve Hatton, another follower of local television, has an article at Suite 101 looking at printed television guides from The Gazette and La Presse, and commenting on how both have shrunk in size in recent years and their editorial quality has diminished. He takes particular notice to errors that come up when an assumption is made that two stations on the same network have the exact same programming.

Most printed TV guides are shadows of what they once were. TV Guide no longer exists as a print publication in Canada, and weekly listings in newspapers have been cut back severely to save space. Now they consist only of grids, with little information inside. (The Gazette’s TV Times doesn’t even include staples anymore, a simple changed that caused some inconvenience but saved a lot of money.)

There are exceptions, though even Le Devoir’s weekly TV section doesn’t have complete descriptions of programs.

Besides the general downfall of the print industry due to the Internet, this death spiral is also being blamed on the convenience of on-screen guides for digital cable and satellite subscribers, even though sometimes those are less than helpful.

Online sucks too

Most media have encouraged people to go online to get their TV listings, pointing to websites that serve it automatically. Unfortunately most of these websites are poorly designed and poorly maintained, with little or no editorial oversight. Most fall under the set-it-and-forget-it philosophy.

For example:

Even the ones you’d expect to get it right aren’t perfect, though they’re still better than what the newspapers offer:

  • TV Guide makes use of Zap2It, which has proper listings, but limits people to 100 channels and has minor but persistent errors, especially when it comes to network logos.
  • Yahoo uses its own system, which has proper listings and doesn’t limit the number of channels. But it was created for the United States, defaults to U.S. channels until you figure out how to change it, and doesn’t include logos for most Canadian channels. (Minor issues compared to the rest, but still an indication that the listings aren’t checked at all by humans.)

Part of the problem also lies with the broadcasters themselves. Many of them have given up trying to provide individual episode information outside of their hit primetime series. Many shows get generic descriptions or no description at all. And because all the TV listings are done by computer now, nobody checks with the broadcasters to fill in the gaps in their schedules.

It’s an indication of how little the media in general care about the quality of information they distribute to the public.

Journal de Montréal launches website, nobody notices

I came across it in a search – an article the Journal de Montréal wrote that was entirely based off an article from La Presse. I was surprised to find a new website for the Journal, one that looks just about identical to the one for the Journal de Québec and similar to the one for 24H, not to mention the Toronto Sun and the rest of Sun Media.

The fact that the Journal is producing little journalism of note (what with their journalists being locked out and all) is probably a big reason. The fact that the website is so forgettable is another (I’m not even going to bother with a review), as is public support for Rue Frontenac, the website setup by those locked-out workers.

Nevertheless, this is significant. The Journal had been prevented from launching a proper website because of clauses in its labour contract that gave the union some say in it. Employees started Rue Frontenac in part to show that they’re not opposed to having an online presence and a website – they just want one unique to the Journal and not some cookie-cutter site that gets lost in the giant Canoe web.

So much for that.

The Journal also setup a Twitter account (@LeJournaldeMtl), which apparently quickly followed and then unfollowed a bunch of people, resulting in it getting suspended for spammy-like activity.

The one-year-old Virgin

Today was the first anniversary of Virgin Radio 96, a rebranding of CJFM 95.9 from “Mix 96” to one created by the British and licensed by Astral Media.

The move was criticized, not so much because of the brand change (the previous brand was as generic as you can get), but because of staff changes that came with it, particularly the dismissal of Murray Sherriffs (who has since found a job at competitor CFQR). Bringing in Ryan Seacrest as the evening host didn’t help matters much either.

A year later, Virgin Radio 96 hasn’t been a disaster, but hasn’t been a success either. The ratings were stable, and the station is still #1 among anglo music stations with a 16% market share among anglophones (PDF), the same as it was a year ago.

And so while the station and its perky on-air personalities are very excited about the anniversary, as you can see in the above video (they were also apparently handing out cupcakes downtown today), the city responded to the anniversary much the same way they did the rebranding itself – with a collective “meh.”

Boshra’s back

Some of you ancients might remember Basem Boshra as a former Gazette TV columnist. After five years at the paper from 1998 to 2003 (the last year writing a TV column), he left for Toronto, wrote for Dose, then the National Post, and then returned to the Gazette in 2007 as a copy editor. He since moved on to city assignment editor and is now back on the entertainment side.

Today, Boshra launches a new weekly column about popular culture, which will appear Tuesdays. His first column is on the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien fiasco. He may not have exclusive inside information or unique analysis on the situation, but by golly, he’s got wit.

In other Gazette columnist news, Norman Webster is leaving his weekly opinion column after 20 years, though the former Gazette editor-in-chief says he will contribute from time to time, so long as his Parkinson’s Disease allows him to. And seniors columnist Hugh Anderson returns from a leave of absence to deal with treatment for a rare form of cancer. He kicks off a new column called The Next Chapter, which expands its focus to include baby boomers.

Roberto, you are insane

An adorable little video from Roberto Rocha, who’s taking a one-year leave of absence from his job as The Gazette’s technology business reporter to go travelling around the world for no reason, starting in February. He went around telling everyone what he was doing and filmed their reactions.

While everyone is surprised and encouraging (except for the always dryly-sarcastic Basem Boshra), the star of the video is definitely business editor Bryan Demchinsky, who unwittingly plays the straight man, wondering aloud how this will affect his section and whether Rocha can be replaced while he’s gone.

The video is being passed around a bit on Twitter, and is featured on a website he’s setup about his upcoming adventure, which includes a description of what they have planned.

Thankfully Bryan is a good sport, otherwise I’d agree with Roberto that his job might not be there when he gets back…

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 65

What is this the shape of?

And, for you smarty pants who already know, a tougher follow-up: why is it shaped like this?

UPDATE: This is, of course, a map of the town of Côte Saint-Luc. Those things on the right are exclaves, little pockets of Côte Saint-Luc land sandwiched between Hampstead and Montreal. They’re tiny, but their history is one of controversy, bad blood, political power struggles and, of course, money.

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