Monthly Archives: June 2010

CTV’s John Grant to retire

John Grant in Quebec City

John Grant, the CTV reporter who has been CFCF’s Quebec Bureau Chief since 1996, is retiring at the end of August (UPDATE: Pushed back to Sept. 30), according to news director Jed Kahane.

Kahane said Grant would get a “proper goodbye when he wraps up, but nothing specific planned yet.”

The search for his replacement at the National Assembly has already begun. The job was posted Wednesday and was spotted by a keen observer. It calls for 10 years of experience in journalism, so this probably isn’t the kind of job you’re going to get straight out of J-school. (UPDATE: Well, almost – it went to CBC’s Kai Nagata)

Born and raised in Saskatoon, Grant was actually a CBC man for many years, hosting Radio Noon in the 70s, becoming CBMT’s weatherman and then its National Assembly reporter, where he spent five years in the 80s filing reports. It was during that time that he fought against the government to broadcast footage of Denis Lortie, who stormed the National Assembly in 1984 and killed three people before being negotiated into surrender by Sergant-at-Arms René Jalbert. The footage was eventually released in 1987.

Grant left CBMT in 1988 to become a CBC morning radio host in Edmonton, but eventually returned to Quebec City working for CBMT’s competitor CFCF. His 14 years as National Assembly reporter for CTV is about the same as his predecessor Ralph Noseworthy, though his departure is much more amicable (Noseworthy was reassigned to Montreal and then given a buyout after he got into a legal battle with his own station over a piano.) Added to the five years with CBC, that’s 19 years of reporting for Montreal television from inside the National Assembly.

Grant filed a brief look back at the National Assembly and CTV’s Quebec City bureau as part of CTV’s 50th anniversary.

UPDATE: The Gazette’s Basem Boshra writes about Grant’s retirement, along with that of Herb Luft.

UPDATE (Sept. 30): A clip of Grant’s last day and goodbye messages from Jean Charest and Pauline Marois.

White guys rap about Bixi

This song has been making the rounds on local CBC radio in the past day. The song itself has been out for a little over a month, but the video for it is new.

I don’t know about their “it’s a free ride” line, though, considering the number of dollar signs I see on this page. In an interview Wednesday with CBC radio’s Jeanette Kelly, two members of the band – called Da Gryptions – say that’s actually a “metaphor” for something. Like, free as in freedom, or like … uhh … something like that.

Still, considering the success of the system, it certainly seems worthy of a song or two.

The band tells CBC they’re planning other Montreal-themed songs, including one about the Expos.

The Bixi Anthem is available on iTunes, in case you want to listen to it more than once.

Evolution of a Habs scoop

Back in journalism school, one of my teachers put the class through a simulated process of editing a breaking news story for a multi-edition newspaper. A story would be written and edited, then new details emerge and get corrected, forcing a rewrite, and then the process would repeat itself.

I thought the exercise was a bit silly. I didn’t think real newspapers would function in such a way. As it turns out from five years working at a real, multi-edition newspaper, the exercise was surprisingly accurate.

Working as the late sports editor on Monday night, I went through this process with a relatively minor story.

Guy Boucher is the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, which is the farm team of the Canadiens. The Bulldogs play in the American Hockey League, and its players are routinely called up to Montreal to fill in for injured players.

There was a report that Boucher had gotten an offer to jump to the big leagues (even though he’d spent only a year with the Bulldogs, his first professional hockey team), becoming the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Monday came word that Boucher had turned down that offer.

Since the Bulldogs are related to the Canadiens, and Boucher is considered one of the candidates to replace Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin if he’s ever fired or quits (we don’t suspect either is imminent), this story was going to become the lead brief in Tuesday’s paper.

As the night went on, we received news from the Columbus Dispatch that the Blue Jackets had gone with their second choice, Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel. The brief had to be rewritten (it started off with “The Columbus Blue Jackets are still looking for a new head coach…”), but that was easily accomplished before first edition.

The scoop

At 10:59 p.m. Monday night, about a half hour after first edition, Rue Frontenac’s Martin Leclerc published a scoop that Boucher had accepted an offer to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It referred to three unnamed sources as confirming the news.

This news spread quickly, even at this late hour. A post on Habs Inside/Out was updated to reflect the new news, crediting Rue Frontenac. Habs-crazy broadcasters RDS and CKAC were reporting it, also offering credit where it was due.

Ironically, I learned about the story through a Canwest News Service report, also quoting Rue Frontenac. A Gazette editor later called to make sure I was aware of it.

Again, the brief had to be torn up and rewritten, starting with the latest news, but including the rest. (At this point there are three stories merged into one – Boucher turning down Columbus, Columbus hiring Arniel, and Boucher going to Tampa Bay.) An online story was also put together, crediting and linking to the Rue Frontenac report.

Few things are as embarrassing to a journalist – and a journalism organization – than having to admit you’ve been scooped. Because the report doesn’t list its sources – and because it’s late at night when usual sources are unavailable – there’s no way to independently verify the report. There’s no choice, really, you have to credit the news organization that broke the story. Otherwise, you’re putting your organization’s own reputation on the line if the story turns out to be false. It doesn’t matter how respected the other organization is, if they’re your only source you have to say so.

The multiplication of unnamed sources

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Rue Frontenac is the website published by locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal, a Quebecor publication. To say there’s animosity between these two publications is putting it mildly. There appears to be a policy at Quebecor’s news outlets that the term “Rue Frontenac” is never mentioned, even when they put out a scoop like this.

But Quebecor, the Journal and its Agence QMI couldn’t ignore the story and let everyone else report it. So while RDS, CKAC and The Gazette prominently referenced Rue Frontenac, an Agence QMI story referred to “certaines sources”. A different Agence QMI story credits the Tampa Bay Tribune for the scoop.

Except when you look at the Tampa Bay Tribune story, it credits “Montreal sports television outlet RDS”. And RDS, you’ll recall, credits Rue Frontenac.

Later in the night, TSN managed to get what seemed like a confirmation on the story. But by then, many news stories were already referring to “multiple sources” (say, “RDS and CKAC are reporting…”), even though all those sources led back to the same source.

That’s a journalistically dangerous problem when it comes to these kinds of reports. Improper sourcing leads to the impression that news outlets have gotten independent verification of a story, which leads to more news outlets reporting on it with increasingly vague sourcing. Eventually everyone is reporting it because everyone else is reporting it, and it becomes common knowledge. Readers, viewers and listeners are left with the impression that everyone has verified the report, when in fact it’s just one guy who’s said something on the Internet.

In this case, it seems the story was true, so all the news outlets win their gamble. Nobody has to make any apologies for getting it wrong (and Quebecor doesn’t have to say it relied on a report from its own locked-out journalist while refusing to credit him).

The next time this happens, they might not get so lucky.

NHL can make history by opening up

This video is one of many, many parodies of the National Hockey League’s History Will Be Made ad campaign for the 2010 playoffs.

Some are hilarious. Some are awesome to watch. Some are head-scratchers. Some talk about the history that wasn’t made. Some are bitter (with reason). Some look like they’ll be killer until a monumental letdown at the punchline.

Some make fun of officiating. Some make fun of journalists. Some just make fun of Ryan O’Byrne.

As the playoffs come to an end, the NHL is tooting its own horn about the campaign, and specifically about the fan-produced videos, which are made possible mainly by the simplicity of the ads’ creation – just a piece of video with cheap old-movie-style effects, played backwards in slow-motion with a piece of instrumental music.

It’s a case study for the power of viral marketing, and how giving people the power to make their own media can be better than making it yourself.

But while these videos are all over the place, the NHL didn’t make it easy for people to use the source material, and the thing executives are heralding now could soon become illegal.

Digital locks

The Canadian government recently introduced a bill, Bill C-32, which would update the Copyright Act to reflect changes in the digital age. I won’t go too much into the details (feel free to read Michael Geist if you want to learn way too much about it), but there are two provisions that are pertinent here. One makes it legal to do mashups under certain circumstances (one being that it’s not done for profit), which is certainly welcome.

The other is a much-criticized provision that, put simply, says that you can’t circumvent a digital protection measure or “digital lock” on copyrighted content. That program you use to download DVDs to your hard drive? Illegal. That program or website that allows you to download YouTube videos? Illegal. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to circumvent the lock, as long as the copyright holder tries to lock something down, you’re not allowed to have access to it. And you can’t have access to the tool that circumvents that measure either.

Among the most protective copyright holders are sports leagues. Before live broadcasts, many of them include a reminder that videos, photos or even descriptions of the game (by this they usually mean radio play-by-play) cannot be retransmitted or republished without the express written permission of the league. Though the NHL isn’t as bad as Major League Baseball of the National Football League, those same conditions apply.

Except for recording off a TV, there is no easy, legal way of downloading video of these iconic (or just funny) NHL moments of history in order to create these mashups. Even buying a DVD wouldn’t make it legal under this new law because those DVDs have digital locks. Creators have to first get access to the videos through some grey or black market – or find a way to circumvent or break the digital lock – before they can create their mashup. Some methods are really low-tech (like pointing a video camera at a TV screen), while others are the result of what might be considered hacking.

Let the people create

Here’s a radical idea: The NHL should post short video clips of the greatest moments in hockey history in open formats and without any copy or access controls (UPDATE: They’ve already done this with the music used). Let them import the video directly into iMovie or Final Cut or Windows Movie Maker and have fun with them. Don’t force your fans to jump through hoops to participate in your marketing campaign.

Rather than cut into their profits, this could instead drive interest in the NHL. Seeing a 30-second clip of Bobby Orr scoring a Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal and flying through the air could lead to people wanting to watch the whole game, or at least wanting to buy tickets to the next Bruins match. Seeing a three-minute montage of great Orr moments would have a similar effect.

The same could be done for recent highlights. Thanks to Yahoo Sports, bloggers and others can post highlights of the previous night’s game and discuss them. But while those videos are embeddable – and that’s a pretty big step already -they’re not downloadable.

Where the NHL will make money is in ticket sales, merchandising, and exclusive broadcast deals for live games. It’s not in 30-second highlights of history that everyone can see on YouTube already anyway. It’s not like you’re getting compensation when those highlights appear on the nightly news.

Put it out there. Let your fans play with your golden moments. Like with the History Will Be Made campaign, you might be surprised how creative they can get with them.

Did The Gazette call Ian Halperin a hero?

So Ian Halperin trying to make headlines again. You know, the “Ian Undercover” guy who puts “IUC WORLD EXCLUSIVE” in front of his blog posts, dresses like a douche and is always threatening to sue people for outrageous amounts?

This time, he’s threatening to sue Guy Laliberté for $500,000, because the Cirque du Soleil founder said Halperin was full of shit in his biography.

But what got me about this story isn’t that a man desperate for attention is throwing out another disingenuous idle threat and got some journalist to fall for it, but his mention – in his own defence – that The Gazette called him a “local hero.”

I found this odd, of course, because I thought Halperin hated The Gazette even though he briefly worked there more than 20 years ago. The paper certainly hasn’t been showering praise on him lately, so where does he get this idea that he’s been called a hero?

Well, I looked it up, and sure enough, he’s right. In a “local hero” column published on Dec. 12, 1993, Bill Brownstein described him thus:

The Montreal singer/saxophonist ekes out a living as a busker, usually at the Place des Arts and Beaudry Metro stations from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. In the evenings, Halperin and his Afro-Latin rhythm band, State of Emergency, play for pocket money at city bistros and jazz joints.

There’s brief mention of his journalistic work a decade previous, while at Concordia University’s The Link. But the article calls him a hero because he was organizing a benefit concert for homeless people.

I feel like I need one of those fact-checking meters here, but let’s rate this one “mostly true”. He’s technically correct, but misleading in that the article is 17 years old and has nothing to do with the current controversy.

Ex Astral, scientia

Astral Media, the company that has interests in cable channels, advertising, radio and a bunch of other stuff, has changed its logo.

Before: Astral Media

After: Astral

Logo changes are a fact of life, as companies realize that they’ve gotten old and boring and need some hip new way to stay in touch with people, like adding colours and going all-lowercase. They find a designer who whips out the Pantone booklet and gets to work on something abstract that will eventually get shot down by a committee until, 12 months later, a mediocre logo that doesn’t mean anything and therefore doesn’t offend anyone gets tacit support from the corporation and is released to the public.

Astral’s new logo replaces a stylized “A” with … another stylized “A” (but lowercase). According to the press release, the new logo “represents the company’s diverse assets, decentralized yet disciplined business model and the knowledge, passion and imagination its employees bring to the marketplace.”

I think it represents the fact that the only thing a logo maker can think of when it comes to Astral is that it starts with the letter “A”. But then, most corporate logos are just stylized letters anyway, although most aren’t quite so phallic.

My favourite part of the release comes right after that quote:

The vibrant colour palette and creative shape of the new logo are designed to convey human warmth and emotion, within a defined and responsive structure that is grounded and resilient.

Astral is prepared to show human emotion, but only within a defined structure. If it wasn’t obvious how big and corporate Astral Media has gotten, this should make it clear that it has nothing to do with the logo.

This video of an old white guy emotionlessly reading a statement filled with marketingese should accentuate that point.

Remember, these are the guys who own CHOM and Virgin Radio in Montreal.

Alain Bergeron: Out the door already

The redesign was apparently the work of this guy, VP and Chief Marketing Officer Alain Bergeron. Astral announced shortly after the new logo that Bergeron was leaving the company (supposedly he stuck around just long enough to launch the new brand identity).

The change has gotten some ink … err, pixels, in the mediawatchosphere, like this piece form Trente. But there has also been some criticism, one calling it “a weird mess”people on Twitter expressing even worse criticisms, and one even putting money behind a contest to design a new logo. It’s gotten so bad we’re starting to see a backlash backlash, serious analysis of the larger issue and parody on the radio.

Astral Media (now just “Astral”) is a private company and it can burn whatever cash it wants, even while it fires a bunch of front-line people and cuts hours of local programming at its radio stations to replace it with cheap syndicated crap.

But Astral has little brand recognition among the public. And there’s nothing wrong with that. People don’t go to the grocery store and buy Astral cereal. They don’t subscribe to Astral cable. They don’t turn on the TV or radio and switch it to the Astral channel. They go to Canal Vie, and VRAK.TV, and CHOM and Rock Détente. Astral’s properties have their own branding, why should the parent company care what anyone thinks of its logo?

Maybe I’m missing something, but my gut tells me if Astral thinks this change will do anything more than force them to throw away a bunch of old business cards and letterhead (and signs), they’re dreaming in Technicolor.