Monthly Archives: May 2010

Nathalie Collard: Look at my words, not at me

Like other La Presse scribes, Nathalie Collard appears larger-than-life in a window of the La Presse building

It wasn’t Nathalie Collard’s idea to become La Presse’s new media columnist.

Not that she was against the idea. But it was her boss that first suggested it. Collard had written about media issues for Voir and La Presse, but for the past five years was writing editorials as a member of the editorial board.

When she got that job, she told me during a recent interview, “I said I would stay for five years.” And she was coming up on that five-year anniversary, so she decided to run for her life before she becomes like André Pratte … err, that it was time for a change.

At the end of March, Collard started a new weekly column on media issues, as well as an accompanying blog. There was no introduction, no grand entrance, she just dove in and started writing.

Not inside baseball

“I’m not writing for journalists,” Collard said, explaining that her column and blog shouldn’t be seen as a newspaper version of Trente or Wired. “I’m addressing everyone. Journalists will read me, but so will my mother.”

So, for example, she wouldn’t write about the latest debate over freelance rates, but she might write a piece about copyright in general.

Collard sees her job as trying to explain the issues affecting media to a general audience that reads La Presse. Media is used in the broadest term here. She might write about the latest tech experiment at The Gazette, the local community radio station and whether Tou.TV will be accessible on the iPad, but also about travellers using Twitter or a vox-pop box installed on St. Laurent.

Though that general outline seems clear, the specifics are not. “I just started,” she said, “I haven’t yet found the tone I want to have. I’m really in a period of experimentation.”

I asked her if she thought there was too much or too little media self-reflection in Quebec. She admitted that there’s a lot of talk about journalists. “If we talked this much about doctors or professors,” she said. “Maybe there’s a bit of narcissism. But at the same time, it touches everyone. Everyone watches the TV, listens to the radio, reads the newspaper. They don’t always stop to think about it.”

So while a dozen journalists losing their jobs is given more weight than a dozen factory workers losing theirs, maybe it’s because people are more directly affected by the former.

Collard also says there isn’t that much talk about media in Quebec. There’s Trente, but most people are unaware of it. There’s the New York Times and U.S. media blogs, but not much in francophone Quebec that’s really exploring the topic and making people think.

She synthesized her thought into this little sound bite: “We talk too much about journalists but not enough about media.”

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In the words of the enemy

If you pick up the print version of The Gazette (or at least the sports section), you might have noticed that there’s a lot of articles and columns from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and before that the Washington Post, commenting on their hockey teams.

A column from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier in today's (Montreal) Gazette

Since you may not have picked up the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently, you probably haven’t seen the Montreal Gazette columns that have appeared in those pages:

Dave Stubbs column in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Even though, in an ideal world, no sports journalist is biased toward the home team, the reality is that Gazette sports columnists know more about the Canadiens and talk more about the Canadiens than the opposition. There’s an unavoidable Montreal-centric perspective. So it’s useful to get an idea of the other side.

Sharing copy like this isn’t new. Both the Gazette and Post-Gazette have done it before, their editors tell me. The Gazette did it two years ago with the Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Basically, the idea is to give Gazette readers an in-depth look at the visiting team from reporters who cover that team on a regular basis and know that team as well as our guys know the Canadiens,” says Gazette sports editor Stu Cowan. “Also a chance to read some different opinions and styles of hockey writers from other cities.”

When the Canadiens faced the Washington Capitals in the first round, Cowan contacted the Washington Post to see if they’d be interested in sharing copy. The Post jumped on board, and columns from Thomas Boswell, Tracee Hamilton and Mike Wise appeared in the Gazette.

(There’s a bit of irony here, in that until recently the Gazette was a subscriber to the Washington Post’s wire service. The Post cut Canwest off after Canwest filed for creditor protection.)

Washington’s not a hockey town

In Washington, though, there wasn’t much reciprocation. Even though the Capitals finished the season as the National Hockey League’s best team, there was little space in the sports section of a paper known for political stories to fit what are essentially wire stories from Montreal. In fact, I couldn’t find a single Gazette piece that was used in the print version.

The imbalance is particularly striking simply because hockey in the U.S. capital isn’t as important as here. They have an NFL team (the Redskins), a baseball team (the *spit*Nationals*spit*), an NBA team (the Wizards), plus college and other sports. Even during the hockey playoffs, they have to devote pages to these.

“When I contacted the Post hockey editor on the weekend of the NFL draft to ask which one of their columnists would be writing on the Caps, the answer was none: they were all writing on the NFL draft, even though the Redskins are brutal,” Cowan wrote to me by email. “The Redskins are to D.C. what the Canadiens are to Montreal.”

But the Post did use the Gazette pieces online, and it looks like they got some interest there.

“The Gazette columns were a big hit on the Post website throughout the series and on some days recorded higher traffic numbers than our own stories. They enriched and broadened our coverage to a considerable degree,” says Matthew Vita, Washington Post sports editor, somewhat press-release-like. “All in all the content-sharing was a great success that we envision using in the future.”

Then, in Pittsburgh

After the Canadiens epically came back from a 3-1 series deficit and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinal, Cowan was himself contacted by two Pittsburgh papers – the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review – looking to setup a similar agreement. “I had to make a choice and went with the Post-Gazette,” Cowan said.

In Pittsburgh, this kind of sharing has gotten routine.

“Every playoff series, we try to hook up with a newspaper to run at least a column a day from ‘the other side’,” says Post-Gazette Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Jerry Micco. “We do it for other sports, too. Particularly for the Steelers. Throughout the week, we’ll do RSS feeds from the opposing newspaper’s site as well as trading copy. We rarely have space for copy throughout the week from the opponent, but on the Monday after a game a ‘view from XXX’ is a mandatory run in our section.”

Micco says the agreement has been a win-win for the two papers. He listed two major advantages for him: “1. It frees our writers up to cover the Pens. Even if they write an opponent’s story, it’s not going to be a column. 2. I allows our readers to get another viewpoint on the series.”

Still, the Post-Gazette isn’t using nearly as much copy as the Gazette is, even though their sports editor said the Gazette has “excellent hockey writers” and “our fans here want as much hockey as they can get this time of year.” They have the Steelers (and its quarterback in the news recently) and Pirates, while Montreal can focus on the Canadiens (with the occasional mention of the Impact), running two or even three pieces a day from the Post-Gazette.

“Basically, the popularity of the Habs in this city goes through the roof during the playoffs, with people who don’t normally follow hockey jumping on the bandwagon,” Cowan writes. “The copy-sharing agreement allows us to provide additional hockey coverage during the playoffs, with a closer focus on the visiting team.”

What do you think?

None of the editors mentioned much about direct response to the enemy copy, so I’ll leave that to you: Do you think the new perspective is a valuable contribution, or a waste of space?

For analysis, you can read these columns yesterday and today from Ron Cook and Gene Collier, and these columns from Tracee Hamilton and Mike Wise of the Washington Post.

You feel shame, you know

An error above the fold on Page 1

There are some things I’d been told keep copy editors up at night. Did I make sure all the page numbers matched up? Did I make sure all the stories that were supposed to get in the paper got in? Did I make sure to spell everything correctly? Did I make sure to add online and other external pointers where needed?

When that copy editor’s job is doing Page A1, those fears are heightened.

I’d heard from fellow (young) editors about the anxiety they would feel after the end of their shifts, how they would go home and just assume they got something horribly wrong but didn’t know what it was.

That never really happened to me. Not because I didn’t think I’d ever get anything wrong (though I like to think of myself as pretty good at my job) but because there isn’t much I can do about it.

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Côte-Sainte-Catherine metro station to close this summer

The STM announced in its Info STM page this morning (PDF) that major work at the Côte-Sainte-Catherine metro station will require it be closed completely between May 17 and August 23. Such closures tend to happen, particularly in stations with only one access, when construction and repair work would make accessing the station impossible.

Such repairs are scheduled during the summer because there’s fewer people using the metro and it’s not as annoying to walk a few extra blocks in 20-degree weather as it is in minus-20-degree weather.

While the station is closed, a shuttle bus service will be setup, with stops at Plamondon, Côte-Sainte-Catherine and Snowdon stations.

Among other summer projects the STM is planning in the metro:

  • Work on two accesses to the Côte-Vertu metro station will require the closure of the southern entrance on Côte-Vertu, and later the entrance on Édouard-Laurin. Some buses stopping outside those entrances will be detoured. The main entrance on the north side of Côte-Vertu (next to the main bus terminus) will remain unaffected and the station will remain open.
  • Work at Assomption station will force people to use an alternate entrance, though again the station will remain open.
  • Work is scheduled to begin later in the spring at the Du Collège and Place Saint-Henri stations. The nature of that work has not been released yet.

CJFM is hiring (Seacrest out?)

A job posting has gone out for an evening host at CJFM 95.9. It’s to replace “Cousin Vinny” Barrucco, who’s moving from late nights to take over The Rush in the afternoon.

The position requires at least two years of on-air experience, the ability to prepare “relevant content for each on-air shift as scheduled and as per station target” and, you know, the ability to speak English.

What’s noteworthy about this post is that it lists the on-air shift as 7pm to midnight. This would entirely replace not only Barrucco’s old show but the syndicated On Air with Ryan Seacrest as well. Replacing syndicated content with a local DJ has at least one former Astral Media employee giving it a thumbs-up.

I wish I could get you more details about all of this (like whether this would also affect Seacrest’s weekend show), but Program Director Mark Bergman isn’t responding to my emails anymore (probably because I keep making fun of him).

Meanwhile, I just noticed that the station has picked up a (former) podcast to fill an hour on weekends. Man of the Hour features two Montrealers (including someone from Simple Plan), and is now airing Sundays from 9 to 10pm. Unfortunately, this means they’ve discontinued the actual podcast, so you can’t download it. You’d think they’d at least have the podcast on the Virgin Radio website so it can generate some buzz and better connect the station with an audience that doesn’t listen to radio any more.

Running over penguins is fun

A fellow editor noticed this ad that appears in Tuesday’s Gazette. It’s an ad for Ford that seems pretty generic until you think about it for a second.

Ford ad in The Gazette, May 4, 2010, Page A12

The text says “Passion to go the distance”. Penguins in the windshield, and in the rear-view mirror is the Capitol Building in Washington. At the bottom, the logo of the Canadiens.

Ford hasn’t had the best of luck trying to be funny in advertising in Canada, but this one was pretty cute. Not the most subtle ad ever created, but still relatively clever.

And hey, full-page colour ads pay my salary, so I’m not going to complain.

There was something I read recently (and, of course, can’t find now that I want to link to it) about car companies wanting to stop having Canadian firms develop their own marketing campaigns. Instead, they could just use U.S. ads in Canada. This is a pretty good reason not only to keep Canadian-specific ad campaigns, but locally-focused ones.

Metro’s new look

Before: Last Friday's Metro, Pages 1 and 3

After: Monday's Metro

Gradients! Photo bylines! Giant numbers! Random unnecessary splashes of yellow! BOXY SERIFS!

Newspapers tend to make big deals of their redesigns, even if few people outside the newspaper care about them. Metro is no different. They teased this one for a whole week, and on Monday unveiled the new design with a giant centre-spread guide to it, as if people needed instructions all of a sudden:

Centre spread guide to the new design

The new look comes with a renewed focus on Metro’s original reporting (something that was virtually non-existent when the paper launched in 2001). Considering the reporting staff could fit into a minivan, that means a lot of repeat faces.

The basic design elements that make Metro what it is aren’t going to change though. It’s still littered with by-the-numbers infoboxes, trying to distill important facts into 20-word factbites. But then, that’s the whole point, right?

A day by any other name

When I first saw the tease at one of those orange stands last Monday, I was intrigued. Not so much because they were coming out with a new design, but that they said it would be in five days. My amazing addition skills put that on a Saturday, when the paper doesn’t publish. Were they going to launch a Saturday edition with the new look?

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. There’s no money in weekend editions of commuter freesheets.

Instead, Metro seems to have simply decided that Saturday and Sunday no longer qualify as “jours”, and that five days after a Monday, one day after Friday, is next Monday.

But maybe I’m just a stickler for these kinds of things.

Stands proudly announce the new-look Metro.

And I couldn’t help noticing this minor detail on the sports page:


Trente has some brief words from Metro’s editor, saying the look is great and will help its journalists and make kittens even cuter and stuff.

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 76

What does this childish scribble of a drawing represent?

UPDATE: Steve Hatton needed only seven minutes to get this one. These lines represent the redesign of de Maisonneuve Blvd. between St. Laurent and St. Urbain.

De Maisonneuve Blvd., looking west toward Clark St.

As of a few months ago, drivers (and cyclists) heading west no longer have a gradual curve that takes them around Place des Arts, but rather a stop sign and hard right onto Clark before they turn left back onto de Maisonneuve. This new layout gives more space for building construction nearby, but also reduces the speed of traffic.

In order to accommodate all the cars, the direction of Clark (a one-way street) is reversed between de Maisonneuve and … uhh … de Maisonneuve. This effectively reserves that stretch of road for drivers heading west on de Maisonneuve.

A little history

The path of de Maisonneuve Blvd. in this area is a bit strange, particularly because it curves upward to run right next to Ontario St. The path is entirely a result of the path of the green line of the metro between St. Laurent and Place des Arts stations. Before the metro’s construction, de Maisonneuve Blvd. didn’t exist. What we now know as that boulevard was a handful of unconnected roads, including de Montigny St. (everything east of St. Laurent), the last bit of which (the lower red portion in the image at top) has been removed with this redesign.

UPDATE (June 9): It’s been pointed out below that a tiny stretch of de Montigny still exists, between Clark and St. Urbain, under this new design.

It’s gonna feel like 93 forever

Remember how I said the number of Habs songs was disappointing this season, particularly since the massive roster overhaul over the past year has made those old ones obsolete?

Well Annakin Slayd, who produced music videos in both languages over the past two years, has updated its anglo one for 2010, replacing references to Kovalev and Komisarek with Cammalleri.

UPDATE (July 25): The inevitable parody version went up a few weeks later: