Monthly Archives: June 2010

Gazette starts up Alouettes website

After seeing the success of its Habs Inside/Out website, The Gazette (my employer) has gone the next logical step and setup a similar one for the Alouettes, Montreal’s Canadian Football League team.

It’s called Als Inside/Out, and the name and logo make it clear that these are sister sites, even though the older one will probably get all the attention. It officially soft-launched on Saturday (to coincide with the team’s home preseason game in the revamped Molson Stadium). A brief welcome from Alouettes reporter Herb Zurkowsky greets the fans, who are invited to take a peek (and subscribe via Facebook, Twitter or RSS), but the Gazette will put off really advertising its new baby until it’s gone through some more testing, and don’t be surprised if stuff stops working while its creators play with it.

There are some noteworthy differences between the two websites. First is on the back end: Habs Inside/Out is based on Drupal, while Als Inside/Out is running on WordPress (the same engine that’s behind this blog).

The second is on the editorial side and reflects the difference in scale between the two teams: The Canadiens have a beat reporter (Pat Hickey), columnists (Red Fisher, Dave Stubbs, Jack Todd), and bloggers (Mike Boone, Kevin Mio, Hickey and Stubbs). The Alouettes so far have just Zurkowsky, whose coverage of the Alouettes is second to none (even getting him recognized by the Canadian Football Hall of Fame), though he’ll no doubt be getting help from his colleagues.

Then again, a look at Zurkowsky’s blog The Snap (one of The Gazette’s most popular) and his seemingly endless string of feature stories between games during the season makes it clear he could provide plenty of content to keep the site running. (The Als Inside/Out site effectively replaces The Snap.) The fact that the Als play only 13 18 games a season (plus two preseason games and up to three playoff games) compared to the Canadiens’ 82 regular season games (and a handful of preseason games and up to 28 playoff games) will also mean a bit less traffic for the younger sister, though Zurkowsky’s ability to pull good stories out of nowhere in that dead space between games should not be discounted.

Emry, Richardson are invited bloggers

In addition to Zurkowsky and other Gazette staff, Alouettes players Shea Emry and Jamel Richardson are also expected to pitch in and blog before and after games. (The Impact’s Nevio Pizzolitto has been doing something similar for the soccer blog – expect a similar level of not-so-professional writing.)

They’re also planning a “cheerleader of the week” feature (I’m assuming those will include photos), and like Habs Inside/Out there will be photo galleries and breaking news.

We’re very proud of you. You’re fired.

Elizabeth Thompson: "Free agent"

Did you hear the shocking news today?

No, not Halak getting traded to St. Louis. We expected something like that.

What I didn’t expect was for Elizabeth Thompson, who was The Gazette’s Ottawa bureau chief* worked for The Gazette for 23 years – including eight as its Ottawa bureau chief – and then took a buyout in January 2009 (because the paper was closing its Ottawa bureau) in order to jump to Sun Media as one of its parliamentary reporters, to suddenly announce on Thursday that she has been dismissed from that job, a victim of an apparent housecleaning by new management there that has also booted Peter Zimonjic and Christina Spencer.

The move was enough to garner the attention of La Presse (and this blogger), particularly since Sun Media just announced it was launching a new all-news television network, which one would think requires hiring journalists instead of firing them.

As Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot noted in his article, this comes mere weeks after Sun Media was gushing over Thompson’s nomination for a Canadian Association of Journalists award, for her discovery that the government auctioned off high-priced silverware and china for insanely low prices, only to later discover that some of the objects didn’t even belong to them, forcing the government to buy some items back for up to 25 times the price they sold them for.

Sun Media’s piece on Thompson’s nomination included this ironic quote:

“Elizabeth is one of the most inquisitive people you will ever meet,” said National News Editor Mike Therien. “It surprises nobody who knows her that she is being hailed for news scoops. We are very proud of her sleuthing.”

Not proud enough, I guess, to keep employing her.

(Needless to say, this is one of the reasons a unionized job is better than a non-unionized one – you can’t be fired for literally no good reason.)

Thompson says she plans to stay in Ottawa and remain part of the press gallery there. But she’s running out of mainstream news organizations to work for, and there isn’t much independent media covering the federal government with the kind of cash to pay a professional journalist.

Thompson’s blog posts for Sun Media (and, for that matter, The Gazette) are still online … for now. And her Twitter account is still active (moreso with everyone retweeting about this news).

*CORRECTION: For some stupid reason this post originally had Thompson working in the Ottawa bureau for 23 years. I blame invisible gremlin editors for messing with my copy.

Radio ratings: Not much change, but a nice period for Team 990

Some Montreal ratings analysis from the latest PPM ratings survey, as put together by Astral’s helpful team:

As you can see, not much has changed in the local anglo radio landscape. CJFM Virgin Radio still dominates, with CFQR second and CHOM third. This graph shows weekly reach, which means the number of people who listen to the station at least once a week.

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I don’t like Sun News, but I welcome it

(Updated with more talking out of my ass)

Canadian media are buzzing today (and have been for about a week or so) about Sun News, the new all-news specialty TV network being setup by Quebecor Media.

Before its name was made public, people were calling it “Fox News North”, partly because the guy behind it, Kory Teneycke, used to shill for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The reputation that Quebecor and its head honcho Pierre-Karl Péladeau have built certainly helped fuel the rumours that a strong conservative bias would be more important to this network than a commitment to accuracy in reporting.

Though the announcement doesn’t make reference to Fox (directly) or use the word “conservative”, and Teneycke dismisses the comparison, the hints are all there. The video talks about being “strong and proud”, and Canada being “the greatest place on Earth” (I assume that’s part of their “factual” “straight talk” and they have lots of research to back that assertion up). And, of course, nobody involved with the project has denied outright that it would take a conservative, or at least strongly opinionative, stance.

The application

Quebecor says it has applied for a Category 1 specialty channel license from the CRTC. This means that satellite and digital cable providers would be required to put the channel on a discretionary tier so anyone who wanted to have it as part of their package could get it. Analog cable companies are not even allowed to carry them, except by special exception.

This is interesting because virtually all new specialty channels apply for a Category 2 license. This is entirely discretionary – cable and satellite companies would not be required to even make it available, and can freely negotiate with broadcasters to determine fees.

It makes sense for Quebecor to apply for a Category 1 license because the two biggest regulatory hurdles don’t apply to the concept. First, Category 1 channels have genre protection (and must respect other channels’ exclusivity), so people can’t launch a new weather channel or business network or cartoon network – unless it has a very specific focus that doesn’t compete directly with the Weather Network, BNN or Teletoon, respectively. But the CRTC decided recently that it would remove such protections from news and sports networks, because it judged that they had matured to the point where they were no longer needed.

Second, Category 1 channels must have at least 50% Canadian content. Since presumably all the content on Sun News would be provided by its journalists and those of Quebecor Media, that wouldn’t be a problem.

The biggest problem will be convincing the CRTC that it should grant a license in what it originally planned to be a very limited category of digital specialty channels like Book TV, Bold, Discovery Health and G4.

Think Sun Media, LCN … and yes, Fox News

I don’t doubt that Sun News Channel will have a conservative slant to it, or at least a Fox News-style sensationalist slant. They’ve already said that they want to have opinion, and the kinds of talking heads you don’t find on the other networks (CBC, CTV). But while I have no evidence to back this up, I’m thinking the model they’ll want to use for the channel isn’t so much Fox News as it is LCN.

For the Toronto-ites out there, LCN is kind of Quebec’s equivalent to CP24, a regionally-focused news network that’s the first to send a helicopter out when something happens in Montreal. Fires, car accidents, minor natural disasters, dead children, all the usual local news stuff. It’s the channel that’s usually on in the newsroom, for the simple reason that it’s the TV network closes to an all-Montreal-news channel. (LCN pretends it’s Quebec-wide, and it does have journalists elsewhere, but the vast majority of its news is based in the Montreal area, or occasionally Quebec City).

LCN also has opinion. Richard Martineau, Jean-Luc Mongrain, Claude Poirier, and anyone else who can talk loud even if they don’t really say much of substance (Actually, now that I think about it, that does sound a lot like Fox News), and can be easily pre-empted if breaking news happens during the day. After LCN changed its format to have more of these kinds of hosts, ratings apparently shot up 300 per cent.

But while I think there will be a definite fiscal-conservative slant (expect investigative stories every day based on access to information requests for CBC expenses), I don’t think we’ll be seeing the same kind of socially conservative biases you see in the United States. I don’t see Sun News praising Sarah Palin or talking about the evils of abortion or trotting out conspiracy theories that Michael Ignatieff is a secret terrorist.

Then again, I could be wrong. Sun News could turn into the press release arm of the Conservative Party. It could start simulcasting Fox News Channel. It could start running free ads for the Christian Heritage Party. Nobody knows yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It’s interesting to note here that although Fox News Channel is approved for carriage in Canada, Quebecor-owned Videotron doesn’t make it available on its digital service. I suspect many Quebecers criticizing Quebecor may be basing their opinions of Fox News on what they see on the Daily Show.

Conservative is better than nothing

I welcome Sun News for the same reason I welcome the National Post: It’s a different voice, and it employs journalists. If that means stories get out into the public that would have remained secret before, I’d say that’s worth hearing more of Ezra Levant. I would hope they take their role seriously and concentrate more on being honest and open than countering perceived biases in their competitors. And I think Canadians should keep them on their toes and put immense pressure on them to keep their biases in check.

But either way, adding a new voice to the equation can only make the Canadian news industry more diverse.

My biggest worry

Although a news network that seeks to impose an opinion more than inform the population sounds pretty scary, my biggest worry about Sun News isn’t that it will be conservative, it’s that it will be cheap.

During the press conference announcing the network, after Teneycke blasted so-called “elites”, he talked about, and I’m quoting directly here: “value-added content convergence with Sun Media properties across Canada”. Besides being filled with meaningless industry buzzwords, it seemed apparent that Sun Media and Quebecor believe they can use existing journalists to supply the network. They think that Sun Media print reporters can do TV spots, as part of some convergent utopia.

(Speaking of which, it’s interesting that Péladeau claims the media is in crisis – forcing him to lock out journalists at the Journal de Québec, Le Réveil and the Journal de Montréal – and then appears at a press conference to announce he’s spending millions on a new TV news network. Péladeau said during the press conference when asked directly about this that the two are unrelated. But the irony was certainly not lost on locked-out Journal de Montréal workers.)

Even CTV and CBC, which have local television stations across the country to supply a national news network, need “national” reporters in various cities to supply the national network and national evening news. Anyone who’s seen videos on Sun Media websites can’t be optimistic about the prospects of a news network relying on them for content.

I’m sure Sun News will hire anchors (the prettiest they can find), technicians and all sorts of other people to run the channel. But without that network of videojournalists, I wouldn’t expect their news operation to be able to match what the main networks can provide, outside of Toronto and (if they share resources with LCN and TVA) Quebec.

The opinion-news mix has two advantages over straight news. One is that it provides higher ratings, as the choir flock to their preachers. The other is that it’s cheap. Spend good money on a well-known host, add maybe a researcher or two, and you’re done. The big mouth blabbers about whatever, provided it’s controversial and excites or angers the audience enough that they pay attention. And if Glenn Beck demonstrated anything, it’s that those talking heads don’t have to make sense, be consistent, have any connection to reality or have any journalistic integrity to succeed.

As much as sending out hundreds of access to information requests to the CBC, then trolling through management expense claims to drum up even the most minor irregularity may seem petty and biased, it’s still journalism.

My fear with Sun News isn’t that it’s going to have those kinds of stories, it’s that it’ll have those kinds of stories and then have blowhards yelling about them for three hours, showing some clips from YouTube and then calling it a day.

Kind of like Fox News. Or CNN. Or MSNBC.

Let’s hope I’ve vastly underestimated what Quebecor has planned.

Sun News Channel is slated for launch Jan. 1, 2011, pending CRTC approval.

UPDATE: Bill Brioux is also highly skeptical of this network, particularly because of the failures at CKXT, the local Toronto station they’re trying to “convert” into Sun News.

UPDATE (June 24): Steve Proulx has some thoughts (mainly negative) about Quebecor’s convergence and conservativeness and how it’s affecting media.

Yes, this is a taxi

Taxi cab as spotted by Kai Nagata

Eagle-eyed CBC reporter Kai Nagata spotted this cab, whose owner had added the word “TAXI” in black marker on top of a Telus ad.

This demonstrates probably more than anything else a flaw in this new, standardized design currently being phased in for all Montreal cabs: It’s not obvious, particularly from the side, that they’re cabs.

This is ironic, of course, because the entire point was to make cabs more identifiable. The city had considered making all cabs the same colour, but decided against that (at least for now), because it would be a huge expense to repaint every cab some hideous colour. So instead, they have a small decal printed near the back and a giant ad sign on top. The front of that ad monstrosity has a two-dimensional sign to mimic the former roof light with the logo of the cab company.

I don’t have an issue with ads on taxis, and I don’t think most people do either, but there should be a redesign to make it clear what these cars are. Including the (lit up) word “TAXI” on all four sides would be a good start.

Francofolies: Missing the point a bit?

Maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive. Maybe I’m nit-picking and missing the big picture here. But it’s a bit odd to listen to anglo music during a sound check for Les Francofolies. Surely there’s an Isabelle Boulay or Marie-Mai CD they could stick in instead?

UPDATE (July 20): From an actual performance at the FrancoFolies, Seven Nation Army (or “Seven Army Nation,” as it’s introduced):

New bus route coming June 21: No. 19 Chabanel / Marché Central

I didn’t think it was coming because it wasn’t listed on the Planibus page, but it turns out the new No. 19 bus is being launched on June 21 after all.

19 Chabanel / Marché Central is a quick shuttle between the Crémazie metro station and Marché Central along Chabanel.

Unfortunately for eager Marché Central shoppers, it only runs after 8pm on weekdays. The idea, I imagine, is to take over from the 54 bus once it stops running at 7:30pm. The 54 connects Marché Central with Crémazie via St. Laurent, but also has parts east and west of those two places that the STM has probably judged aren’t worthy of service past 8pm.

The 19 will have 10 departures eastbound and 11 departures westbound between 8pm and 12:30/1am, Monday to Friday.

Those wanting to access Marché Central on weekends will still be stuck with the 179 from Acadie station, or taking a short walk from stops of the 100 (on Crémazie) or 146 (on Meilleur).

Welcome to the new Gazette

Notice a difference?

Before After





If not, the designers have done their jobs right.

The Gazette is in the middle of major technological transition behind the scenes, from Macs using QuarkXPress (version 3.32, circa 1996) and other specialized programs to PCs using Adobe InDesign under a system called Saxotech. Tech business reporter Jason Magder has been describing a bit of the process, particularly from a reporter’s point of view.

The changeover has been happening in stages, as staff in various sections get training on the new system (while other staff, including additional hired help such as myself continue to put out the paper every day). The features sections went first, then business. This week was the go-live for the A section. The pages on the left (Tuesday and Wednesday) were created in QuarkXPress. Those on the right (Thursday and Friday) were done in InDesign.

Because the transition is being done in phases and not all at once, the designers had to create templates and stylesheets in InDesign that matched the old Quark pages. Some minor changes were made to clear up inconsistencies or make things easier for editors, but as you can see most of it basically looks the same.

To be clear, readers should not notice any major changes to the design, and no changes at all to content. (Although a bug in a process that is supposed to make it easier to copy articles from print to web causes random words to appear in the middle of sentences, which has peeved a few web readers.)

The next – and last – section to be moved over is sports, which has the latest deadlines. That’s next week.

I wish I could say more about how the system works, but I’m in the very last group getting training (in a group that incidentally includes the editor-in-chief, so I guess I should be on my best behaviour). This puts me in the odd position of knowing less than almost all my colleagues when it comes to a computer system. You can’t imagine how frustrating that can be for a guy with a computer science degree. But I’ll muddle through these last couple of weeks.

More service on STM routes 80, 120, 165, 470 and 747

(Updated with changes to route 120)

The STM’s summer schedules are out, and very little is changing on June 21 (except for the new No. 19 bus, which I’ve written about separately).

Otherwise, there are a three schedule changes and one route change worth noting:

80, 165 to run concurrently with 535: The Parc and Côte des Neiges buses currently stop running during rush hour, making room for the 535 reserved-lane bus, which makes a giant U around the mountain and runs along both axes. I’ve always found this a bit bizarre, because it means a long time between driver breaks, and nobody is realistically going to travel down one and up the other. The stretch along René-Lévesque Blvd. connecting the two is filled with mostly empty buses even at the height of rush hour, which empty and fill up at the Guy-Concordia and Place des Arts metro stations.

The STM is helping to alleviate this by having the 80 and 165 buses run during rush hour along their 535 counterparts. This means they can maintain the same level of service along the heavy-use axes (the STM even says service will improve), while cutting down on all those empty buses along René-Lévesque. Those who use the 535 along René-Lévesque or otherwise make use of the 535 between the two metro stations can still do so, and buses will still run every six minutes or less.

120 extended to Dorval station: The 120 Lachine/LaSalle, a recently introduced bus connecting Angrignon metro to Lachine, has been extended westward to terminate at the Dorval train station instead of 55th Ave.

470 to run until 1am: This one is as predictable as it is long past due. The agonizingly slow progression of service on the 470 Express Pierrefonds will finally be complete as late-night departures are added, meaning the route will run past midnight seven days a week. Despite Marvin Rotrand using every excuse to call this route a “home run”, it’s taken more than five years from its launch in 2005 as a rush-hour-only route until it finally got all-day service. Midday service was added in 2007, then service was extended to 9pm weekdays in 2008, then weekend service was added a few months later.

Currently, the final departures are about 9pm weekdays and about 6:30pm weekends in both directions. Starting June 21, final departures from Côte-Vertu metro westbound will be 1:58am on Saturday nights (Sunday mornings) and 1:30am all other days, to coincide with the last metro trains arriving at Côte-Vertu. Eastbound, the final departures will arrive at Côte-Vertu around 12:30am Saturdays and midnight on other days.

A few weeks ago, on a trip to Pierrefonds, I had to take the 64 bus from Côte-Vertu and transfer to the 68 in Cartierville. I noticed about a dozen people making the same transfer, even though it was about midnight on a weeknight. Many of those people will be better served by this service, as will many who now drive, take commuter trains or don’t travel at all because they can’t take the two-hour trip.

On a side note, this will extend the hours of the Fairview bus terminal by an hour (from 1:20am to 2:20am) on Saturdays and half an hour (1:20am to 1:50am) on other days. Currently the 207 bus is the only one with a departure after 12:35am. Its 1:20am departure takes transfers from the last westbound 215 bus, which leaves Côte-Vertu at 12:40am (in fact, the STM has the same bus and driver do both departures). People who live in the middle of the West Island will be able to leave almost an hour later and still get home.

UPDATE (June 23): The STM’s press release about the 470 also says that starting August 30 the first departure will be timed to meet the first metro train at 5:30am. This will mean at no time will there be a metro that is not met by a 470 bus.

747 service every 10-12 minutes: The runaway success of the 747 airport express bus, which is pleasing everyone but cab drivers, has convinced the STM to boost its service during the day. During the day between 8am and 8pm, service intervals will be 10-12 minutes instead of 15-30 minutes, in both directions, seven days a week. Early morning, late night and overnight schedules are unchanged.

The STM says it will also be installing more fare machines at the airport, at Station Centrale and other touristy locations that dispense proper fares for the 747. Passengers can pay the $7 fare on the bus, but the fact that the machine doesn’t accept bills or give change makes it incredibly inconvenient for many travellers.

The STM says machines at “a dozen or so” metro stations will also be able to give out the fare, which works as a 24-hour pass for the entire STM system. I’m not sure why they can’t just have all machines give this out. Not only can a trip to the airport start from anywhere, but a $7 day pass can be useful for people who have no intention of using the 747. A couple of weeks ago, some out-of-town friends came by for a day trip, and were told by a metro attendant that to get the $7 day pass they had to buy (each) a $3.50 Opus card (the old scratch-style tourist passes are no longer being sold). It’s silly to ask a tourist to buy a smart card they might use once or twice when the 747 bus hands out disposable cards that do the same thing at no extra cost.

Other changes, like the creation of a new bus (No. 19) that serves Marché Central, will have to wait until the fall, it seems. Turns out the 19 is launching this summer after all.

Herb Luft retiring from CFCF after 39 years

Herb Luft in one of his estimated 10,000 reports for CFCF

I was going to start this post off by saying “when it rains, it pours,” but CFCF news director Jed Kahane beat me to it in his announcement to staff Thursday afternoon. Shortly after the news of the impending retirement of Quebec City bureau chief John Grant, veteran reporter Herb Luft is also calling it quits and turning in his microphone for good.

Luft is among the most recognizable faces (and voices) at CFCF, and has been there so long even your grandparents probably recognize the name.

According to his bio, Luft moved to Montreal to work for CFOX radio in 1969, and in 1971 moved to CFCF radio, and by 1977 was working for the television side full-time. He’s worked as a general assignment reporter just about that entire time, though he’s probably better known among Montreal’s early risers as the anchor of the morning newscast from 2000 until it was cancelled in 2009. Sources tell me he took that pretty hard, though it didn’t show in the solid reporting he continued to do in the months afterward.

“Herb has been one of the great contributors to building this station into the respected landmark it is today,” Kahane told staff in his announcement. “Day after day he produces solid journalism that our viewers respect. And by my quick count, give or take a few thousand, he’s cranked out around 10,000 stories in his time at CF, and done it without losing his passion for telling a good story, and telling it right. He’s a fixture in the present, and an on-air link to a very storied past.”

Luft himself was brief and to the point about the news. “Let’s call it nervous excitement,” he wrote in an email, no doubt sifting through many from colleagues who only heard about the news today.

The retirement is official on Aug. 4, but by then he’ll be at his cottage on vacation. He’s filing his last report for CTV News on June 30. It goes without saying that this will be noted on air. Hopefully that will include video of him getting tased in a police demonstration in 2001, which unfortunately I can’t find online.

Luft’s daughter, Amy, works behind the scenes at the station as well as at The Gazette. She’s building a journalism career of her own, though not on the coattails of her locally famous dad.

Herb Luft, who grew up in southwestern Ontario, turned 62 in January. That’s about two thirds of his life spent at CFCF, of which I can only find this short clip from 1984 on YouTube. Let’s hope the archivists at CTV Montreal can find better ones.

UPDATE: The Gazette’s Basem Boshra writes about Luft’s retirement (and Grant’s), with quotes from both and Kahane.

UPDATE (June 30): CFCF has posted videos of Luft’s goodbye from both the noon and 6pm newscasts (yes, the taser video is in there), along with a short story.