Monthly Archives: March 2010

Breaking news, just wait five hours

It was supposed to be a quiet night Sunday night. I was on the late shift, which ends when the final edition of the paper gets typeset at 1:30am. With no Habs game and little breaking news, everything was done early. The middle edition was done an astonishing 20 minutes early because we just ran out of stuff to do.

Shortly after midnight, alerts started coming on the news wires: an explosion in the Moscow subway, with dozens possibly dead. Doing the calculation that one dead in Montreal is the equivalent of dozens dead in a European city, which is the equivalent of hundreds dead in China or a third-world country, we start preparing space for a brief about it.

Within minutes, reports of a second explosion at another Moscow subway station. This is terrorism, my colleague tells me. While I can’t imagine any other explanation, I’m not comfortable making that call myself. Still, we scrap a piece about New York rescinding its ban on beekeeping to put the story there, and I work on getting it online.

I put the TV on CNN and … nothing. It’s showing a rerun of Larry King Live (with Ryan Seacrest filling in). MSNBC isn’t showing anything new either. CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, RDI, LCN, all showing recorded programming. The only hint of what has just happened comes on the CNN ticker, inviting us to get more information during American Morning … at 6am, five hours later.

Eventually, CNN cut in briefly with breaking news. Others may have as well while I wasn’t watching. But it was clear they were all going to wait until morning before giving any live information that can’t be fit into the news ticker.

Realizing that I’d forgotten a news channel, I turn to BBC World News. It’s morning there by now (albeit very early morning), and they’re reporting live, even getting analysis from experts on what little information they have.

Apparently, things weren’t much better in Russia itself, where TV news also wasn’t reporting live on the attacks. Only the English-language Russia Today (which I didn’t know about before Sunday night) provided live coverage, and I was quickly streaming it on my computer.

In the end, the stories for online and print were pieced together from reports from various wire services. I finally left for home at 2:30, reminded that while all-news networks say they offer news 24/7, it doesn’t mean their news departments are running at full-steam during all those hours.

The end of Québec89

It was a good idea. Take the formula of France’s Rue89 website and adapt it for a Quebec audience with Quebec news. On Oct. 1, Rue89 and Branchez-Vous launched Québec89. Independent of either organization, the site would have three paid journalists, but would rely mainly on contributions from the public. Kind of like the Huffington Post model.

I was skeptical from the beginning. Three journalists (working on a freelance basis) just didn’t seem enough to develop the kind of critical mass needed for a website like this. And the stories they put out weren’t particularly inspiring. Many were just copied from Rue89. Others didn’t add much to the public discussion.

An exception was articles on the media by Patrick Bellerose, which I would occasionally link to.

It’s not that I was expecting the same from Québec89 as Rue89 had to offer. Even they knew that wasn’t feasible. But I was expecting … something. Something I had a feeling from the beginning wouldn’t be there.

With not much to see, the site didn’t generate much traffic. Having fallen far below expectations after six months, they’ve decided to pull the plug.

Some point out that trying to run such a website on the super-cheap (paying journalists $10 an hour, for example) was a flawed strategy from the start, and wouldn’t attract any quality content (which, in turn, wouldn’t attract any quality traffic).

I have to agree. Huffington Post and others can get away with paying people little or nothing because of the exposure they can offer. If you’re starting something from scratch, you need to spend money to give it the kind of quality it needs to get noticed.

Offering journalists $10 an hour, well, even the corporate community weeklies can do better than that, and nobody reads that stuff.

I don’t blame them for trying, even if it seems they wanted to create an entire news outlet using spare change from the couch. But let’s hope that future wannabe media moguls learn from this experience that just because it’s the Internet doesn’t mean you can make money – or journalism – out of thin air.

Non-stop music, except during football

I'm pretty sure this was the original idea behind this photo of NRJ people with Alouettes' Larry Smith

I’m kind of a stickler for format purity, in that a broadcaster that specializes in one thing shouldn’t try to be something else just because that something else gets ratings.

So I’m not crazy about live-action movies airing on Teletoon, or funny pet video compilations airing on the Discovery channel. Unfortunately, I’ve seen both in the past week.

When it comes to radio, the genres aren’t so specific, at least for over-the-air broadcasting. They really come down to two camps: music and talk. The latter can have news, sports, comedy, documentary, or whatever else they can think of. The music stations (at least commercial ones) just play music, perhaps with the occasional goofball listener contest thrown in.

NRJ, a music network based off a brand developed in France, announced that it will be carrying Alouettes games until 2013, a job formerly (and quite logically) left to CKAC, the AM sports station. The Alouettes also have a release in English and French.

So once a week, for a few hours, NRJ will stop playing music and start airing football play-by-play. Not just in Montreal, but all over Quebec.

This has already happened on the anglo side. CHOM-FM has been airing select Alouettes games, even though all of them are available on CJAD.

It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that CHOM, CJAD and NRJ are all owned by Astral Media. CKAC is owned by Corus.

As for CKAC, well, they still have the Canadiens, of course. And they carry home games of the Impact. They’re also adding a few baseball games to their schedule.

Just take it off the TV

One of the things actually being advertised in this release is that the play-by-play won’t be done by NRJ or anyone at Astral Media, but will basically just be taken off the audio feed of RDS.

CKAC tried this back in 2007, and the result wasn’t particularly favourable. The next season, they brought in Charles-André Marchand to do their own play-by-play.

We’ll see if NRJ learns the same lesson, or just decides that, even though TV play-by-play doesn’t work on radio, it’s cheap enough that they can live with the mediocrity.

Good news for freelancers

Frozen freelance cheque arrives ... now I can retire!

While many people are up in arms that Canwest asked forand received – retention payments for top executives while it’s under creditor protection, some good news is also coming for those at the other end of the scale.

Freelancers for The Gazette were resigned to the fact that invoices for work published before Jan. 8 would either not be paid at full price or might never be paid, because as independent contractors the freelancers were considered unsecured creditors after the creditor protection filing (all work done after that is covered under a separate agreement and is being paid as normal).

But recently, I’m told, the court-appointed monitor for Canwest LP has authorized the payment in full of outstanding invoices for freelancers. Many of those freelancers have already reported receiving cheques, and the photo above is one I got last week, covering a tiny bit of work that was frozen from the last invoice.

Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon talks about the agreement signed between Gesca (which owns La Presse) and the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec, which covers freelance work done for Gesca.

More commercing en français

Quebec government ad at Peel metro

Remember that “Ici on commerce en français” campaign from the Office québecois de la langue française, that thought it could get businesses across the province to put little stickers in their windows to make non-francophones feel unwelcome?

Well, it’s back, and either because it was unsuccessful or because it was, the office is taking a different approach this time, targeting the consumers instead of the businesses. They’re handing out reusable bags this weekend with the goal that everyone will use one when they go to a business and the business owners will realize that it’s a good idea to serve them in French.

(They promote the bags as “un moyen … écologique”, which might carry more weight if those same bags weren’t being advertised using a giant ad trailer being hauled through the streets by a gas-guzzling SUV)

My point about how this is a waste of our taxpayer dollars remains – businesses in Quebec still have to provide customer service in French, and the number that refuse or are unable to do so won’t be swayed by this campaign. But, fortunately, I’m a bit less peeved about this idea than the last one.

The right to be served in French is one that I support. It is just common sense to speak the same language as your clientele (which also means being bilingual in heavily anglophone areas like the West Island or Hampstead). And it makes sense to codify this right into law, because there are assholes out there who think they should be able to live here without communicating at all with French Canada.

But what I actually like about this campaign is that it will facilitate communication between businesses and customers. I recall a while back I was in a store, giving short or non-verbal answers to the person serving me, and after a few exchanges the person got frustrated because he (or she, I don’t remember) couldn’t figure out what my preferred language is.

This bag, while intended to satisfy the small part of the Quebec population who feel that anglos are constantly planning an invasion and will wipe the French language off the face of the Earth at any moment, makes that uncertainty go away. If someone walks into my store with that bag around his or her shoulder, I’m going to speak to that person in French.

The next logical step is to start producing similar bags that indicate the wearer’s preferred language is English.

But somehow I don’t think the OQLF would go for that. After all, bags that identify someone as an anglophone might offend francophones and make them feel unwelcome.

UPDATE: Kristian Gravenor has his own take on this at Coolopolis.

So bad, it makes the CSU look good

The annual Concordia Student Union elections used to be a lot more interesting, with articles in real newspapers and everything.

But this week, even though the drama on campus seemed to be just as big as every year (The Link this week was filled with election stories – PDF), nobody really cared off-campus.

Part of it is that the left-right divide that polarized student politics 5-10 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. Looking at the two parties that ran this year, I couldn’t figure out which party was on which side.

In the end, the party that was expected to win did so handily, with 73% of the student vote, 26 of 29 seats on the Council of Representatives, all four elected seats on the university’s senate and both elected seats on the Board of Governors.

But that wasn’t the big story of this election.

Instead, the big issue was on the referendum ballot, and questions about fees.

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Paper may lose distribution point (SCANDALE!)

Westmount Independent, March 16, 2010, Page 1

The Westmount Independent newspaper managed to stir up some controversy (and let people know of its existence) by picking a fight with a local SAQ outlet that it said refused to distribute its paper.

It started with a Page 1 piece on March 16 (PDF) that said “Anglo papers banned from local SAQ”. Of course, the headline was wrong, as the story explained. The Westmount Examiner, the Transcontinental-owned community weekly, was available there, and is what really seemed to piss off the Independent folk. Still, they managed to find someone who worked there who said she wasn’t interested in giving space for the Independent if it was an anglo paper.

This apparent conflict has led to stories at CJAD, The Gazette and even La Presse. There was also a follow-up piece in the Independent, also on Page 1.

Even now, it seems the Independent isn’t sure if this is an anglo-oppression issue or an underdog-vs-corporate-media issue. It seems to be arguing that it’s both.

It looks like this issue will probably end peacefully, with the SAQ at Sherbrooke and Victoria allowing both anglo papers to distribute there.

Still, I wonder about all the ink being spilled because some store wouldn’t let some guy drop his freebie newspaper there.

Incidentally, I happened to chat with the Examiner’s Wayne Larsen on an unrelated issue the day the Gazette piece came out. He said he hadn’t read it and was barely aware of the issue, primarily because he’s the newspaper’s editor and distribution isn’t something he concerns himself with.

CRTC has decided: It’s time to pay for free TV

So, it’s over. The Local TV Matters folks won. And we, the television consumers, will be the ones who end up paying for it.

OK, it’s not so simple. First, the CRTC’s decision on fee for carriage (I’m sorry, “negotiation for value”, which will mean a fee that we don’t call a fee for some reason) is being referred to a federal court to see if the commission even has the authority to impose it.

And it only applies to the English networks (CTV, Canwest and Rogers), though it will probably be imposed in a similar way for TVA and V.

And the CBC totally got the shaft, which they’re really angry about because they were counting on the CRTC deciding that Canadians should pay for something they’ve already paid for – and includes advertising on top of that.

And if the government isn’t happy with the ruling, it can just override it and impose its own will.

Rogers, like the other cable and satellite companies not named Videotron, is also mad, saying “Canadians lose” in this decision. Cogeco has similar arguments against the decision.

Other, more independent opinions include Don Martin, Andrew Coyne and John Doyle in the “agree” column, and L. Ian Macdonald in the “don’t agree” column.

You can read the full decision here.

How it works

Though not a complete victory for conventional television broadcasters, they have a lot to like from this decision. There are some minor changes to Canadian content requirements, more flexibility to transfer funding between conventional and specialty television assets, and the ability to add commercials to video on demand. But the big power the TV networks will have is the power to pull their signals and the programs they have rights to from cable and satellite networks that don’t offer them enough money.

In a system that somewhat mirrors what happens in the U.S., Canadian broadcasters (so far just the big anglo ones, though it’s expected the francophone ones will have a similar system) will have the choice between two options, which they’ll have to stick with for three years at a time:

  1. The status quo: No charge for carrying signals, and they keep all the benefits, including simultaneous signal substitution, guaranteed carriage, and preferred spots on the dial
  2. Negotiation. If they choose this route, no matter what is negotiated, they lose the benefits, including simultaneous substitution, which alone might be a big reason for stations to choose Option 1.

The key bargaining chip the CRTC throws in to give the broadcasters an edge in the negotiation process is the ability to force cable and satellite companies to block out U.S. programming they own exclusive rights to.

So, for example, if Global Montreal (CKMI) decides that Videotron isn’t paying enough, it can demand not only that Videotron not allow its subscribers to watch Global, but it can demand that Videotron black out House, Heroes, 24, Family Guy and a bunch of other shows on U.S. stations. Ditto CFCF for Grey’s Anatomy or CSI.

Ever try to watch a hockey game on Rogers Sportsnet and get a black screen? Expect to see a lot of that if there’s a fee dispute.

This kind of thing happens in the U.S., though usually it doesn’t last that long as consumers raise bloody hell once their stations go black. Expect no difference here.

As for how much it will cost, that’s up to the broadcasters and cable companies. Some have said $1 a month per station. But it could be anything. It might not even be a fee, but some other form of non-monetary compensation. In the end, assuming the TV networks decide to go the fee route, it will be whatever the market decides.

One thing to note is that another right the broadcasters lose if they decide to demand a fee is the right to mandatory carriage. Ideally, that could mean that individual consumers would be given the right to choose whether or not they want to pay for a certain station. But the requirement to block out U.S. programming probably means that won’t be an option – or at least would make it impractical.

So, instead of being a truly market-based solution (and one which would favour original programming over the import and resale of U.S. shows), the price for local TV will be whatever your cable or satellite company think you’d be willing to pay for hit U.S. shows. And you’ll probably be forced to pay every penny of it, tacked on to your television service bill in big red letters.

What about free TV?

If the broadcasters decide to go the blockout-and-blackout method, the question will inevitably come up: Won’t people just go to their website and stream the videos online, or hook up a pair of rabbit ears and watch their station for free over the airwaves?

Here, my mistrust of the big broadcasters leads to some speculative theories. For one thing, since most people with both cable TV and Internet get the two from the same company, the broadcasters could choose to restrict online access. If Videotron won’t pay the fee for CFCF, then could refuse to stream shows to Videotron Internet customers. Or, they could do what Rogers is doing with its on-demand website, and force people to authenticate subscriptions before they have access to online programming.

The CRTC has been hands-off on the Internet (and for good reason), so there’s nothing preventing the broadcasters from doing this.

As for getting programming over the air, a fee dispute would provide ample incentive for broadcasters to cripple or disable their transmitters. CFCF could find itself having sudden “technical difficulties” at its transmitter in the event of a dispute. Global’s CKMI is already putting out so little power as to be difficult to receive even in the Montreal area.

What this could do, though, is boost over-the-air reception for U.S. border stations. If enough Canadians get fed up of their broadcasters trying to bleed them dry, they could install an antenna big (or high) enough to capture U.S. stations.

But, of course, it’s unlikely to get that far. Because, as we all know, television providers and television broadcasters work together for the common good.

More awards shows, by decree

Another aspect of the CRTC decision concerns what’s called “priority programming”. This was a provision that required the big broadcasters to devote eight hours a week to expensive dramas, comedies and other scripted programs instead of wasting it on celebrity gossip shows and cheap news.

The CRTC has replaced that with a provision for “programs of national interest”, which include dramas and scripted comedies, but also documentaries and Canadian awards shows.

Yes, awards shows. The CRTC apparently believes that this is a type of programming so in danger that it requires a special status.

The other important part of this change is that instead of being time-based, it’s now revenue-based. They’ll be required to spend 30% of revenues on Canadian programming, and 5% on “programs of national interest”. Because this will be a percentage of revenues instead of a percentage of airtime (though Canadian content in general still has time-based minimums), hopefully this will mean more effort producing better-quality Canadian programming instead of just putting together the cheapest hour of television they can.

On the other hand, it might mean pooling all their money into whatever Toronto-based cop drama they can most easily sell to CBS.

Digital TV continues, mostly

Finally, the CRTC has decreed (with one notable dissenting opinion) that the digital TV transition should continue as scheduled, at least in all major markets. So analog television transmitters in markets of over 300,000 people and provincial and territorial capitals and any market with more than one television station will all have to transition to digital by Aug. 31, 2011.

In its call for comments, the CRTC acknowledged that many Canadians would be adversely affected by this and would need to buy digital converter boxes. But they don’t seem to really care.

I’ve already argued that this is an unnecessary move and will be unnecessarily expensive for both broadcasters and consumers. The reason is simple: The reason for doing this is to liberate TV channels above 52, and conversion to digital is unnecessary to accomplish this goal, because no Canadian market has more than two dozen television stations (including U.S. border stations), which could be reassigned to a lower channel if they’re currently above 52.

But instead of acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong with the way we’ve been broadcasting television since the 1950s, we’re willing to ditch a half-century-old technology and make a lot of people buy a lot of expensive equipment because some regulators think it looks cool.

“New CHOM” is hemorrhaging listeners

CHOM has gone through a pretty big change over the last year, and particularly since the beginning of 2010. The morning team has gone through a complete turnover since Pete Marier joined in August. Chantal Desjardins joined in January, and PJ Stock was brought in to replace the departing Ted Bird.

On Feb. 1, the station rebranded itself, promising more and better music, though without being too specific about it.

Whatever they did, it isn’t working. According to the latest ratings numbers, CHOM is losing listeners just about everywhere.

The ratings cover the period from Nov. 30 to Feb. 28, which means only about a third of the latest ratings period covers the “new CHOM”, but it gives the first indications of how listeners reacted to the format change, and that reaction isn’t good.

Astral Media, which compiles ratings information into boring webcasts, has created charts showing numbers for the Montreal region. They’re not complete (and, for those interested, they don’t give very useful information about non-commercial stations like CBC), but for the commercial market, it gives a good perspective of what’s going on.

CHOM, like CJFM and CJAD, is an Astral Media radio station, though the numbers come from BBM.

The chart above shows adults 18-49, a key demographic for advertisers. You can see that CHOM has dropped from second to third, and now sits behind Corus’s CFQR in the ratings (this will be a common theme in the numbers below). In the slightly older 25-54 bracket, it’s the same story, although there CFQR, CHOM and CJAD are neck-and-neck-and-neck with 21% market share each. CJFM holds a commanding lead with 33%.

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RoKo loves CoCo

Conan O’Brien, who isn’t allowed to “be funny on television” until the fall as a condition of his $45-million buyout from NBC, has launched a North American comedy tour to pass the summer until he’s inevitably picked up by Fox.

The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour has three stops in Canada: Vancouver (two shows April 13-14), Enoch, Alta.(just west of Edmonton, April 17), and Toronto (May 22).

Sadly, Montreal isn’t on this list (though neither is Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Halifax and a bunch of other cities). People have been pleading on Twitter for him to come, hoping that the eight-day hole after his Toronto stop could be easily taken up with something at a Montreal venue.

Rob Kemp, the afternoon host at CHOM, has taken it a bit further, starring in a video in which he dons a wig and does Conan’s “string dance” in front of some local attractions.

(He even helpfully translates “Bell Centre” into the Americanese “Bell Center”)

CBC posts Daybreak host position

The surreal Daybreak saga just got a bit moreso, as the CBC officially posted a job opening for the host of Daybreak. Like with the last host, this position is a “contract” job instead of a permanent one.

What you do

As a Host for the English Radio of CBC in Montreal, you will host the flagship weekday program “Daybreak”, in keeping with Corporation standards and policies. More specifically, you will keep up with all political, social, economic and cultural developments relevant to a local Montreal audience and maintain contacts with various sources. You will do the research necessary for interviews and other program activities. You will write or adapt intros. During production meetings, you will assist in planning and choosing content for the program. Your role as a host will also include community outreach at public events.


We are looking for a candidate with the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
  • Five (5) years’ on-air experience or equivalent.
  • Proven journalism skills.
  • Excellent command of the working language (English).
  • Very good knowledge of the other official language (French).
  • Extensive general knowledge.
  • Extensive knowledge of stories and issues in Montréal and Québec.
  • Understanding of the culture of French Canada.
  • Strong high-energy on the air, strong ability to connect with audience.
  • Team leader.
  • Ability to work under stress.

Candidates may be subject to an audition in English and knowledge testing.

This is a contract position.

We recognize the importance of a diverse workforce and we therefore encourage applications from Aboriginal peoples, women, members of a visible minority and persons with a disability.

Sound interesting? Apply now! We thank you for your interest, but only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.

Job: Programming and Production

Primary Location: Montreal

Job Posting: Mar 19, 2010

Unposting Date: Mar 30, 2010

Status of Employment: Contract

Work schedule(s): Full-time

It’s funny, I know someone who fills all those qualifications perfectly…

Meanwhile, those campaigning for Nancy Wood to get her old job back are running out of steam. Jon Simon, the creator of the Keep Nancy Wood as host of Daybreak Facebook group, has given up after hearing from Wood that she’s moving on. This despite the group having 621 members, more than the official Daybreak Facebook page has fans.

UPDATE (April 1): The Suburban’s Mike Cohen has some thoughts on possible replacements.

It’s not like anyone died

Community weeklies have a reputation for preferring fluff over substance. But after this weekend’s St. Patrick’s parade, in which a young man died, a rare intersection of fluff and news gave them a great opportunity to discuss a serious issue.

Haha, just kidding.

This week’s West Island Chronicle has a big cover photo from the downtown parade, whose caption includes this rather insensitive part: “The persistent rain thinned the crowds a little this year, but they couldn’t put a damper on the fun being had by many.”

Inside, more photos, but no mention of there being a fatality.

Similarly, The Suburban has a parade photo on its front page, a story about the parade on Page 2, and a photo gallery. But the death was buried on (depending on your edition) Page 13 or 22.

Q107 spits out Peppermint

“Peppermint” Patti MacNeil, who some might remember as a former Montreal radio host who fled out west, is out of a job. Q107, which paired her with her old pal Terry DiMonte on their morning show, has decided not to renew her contract, and the Terry and Patti Show is now just the Terry Show.

MacNeil didn’t respond to an email seeking comment, but made a brief statement to the Calgary Herald saying she was “disappointed” and “sad”.

DiMonte, who has never been one to keep quiet about his feelings even if they might not be the most PR-friendly, said the move “blows big time”. But, of course, it wasn’t his call.

Before some of you start dreaming of a Terry & Ted reunion, the Birdman tells me that “convincing me to uproot my family and move 3,500km would take Terry money, and they already spent the Terry money on Terry.”