Monthly Archives: August 2010

Sergakis’s ad turn and the development “loophole”

In Thursday’s Gazette, I noticed a mostly-text ad from the Station des Sports, signed by local … uhh … entrepreneur … Peter Sergakis, who owns the bar and many other bars around town. It was to thank people around the sports bar for supporting its plan to expand its footprint.

As you can imagine with these ads, there’s a lot of missing context. The project has been under fire recently because of Sergakis’s use of a “loophole” in the law that allows him to bypass a register (that could force a referendum on the subject if it gets enough signatures) by having more than half the people affected sign a petition.

The ad itself isn’t what surprises me, though. What’s interesting is that the ad turns onto a different page. Like newspapers that (used to, at least) start major articles on the front page and continue them inside, this one ends a colour ad on Page A3 with “advertisement continued on Page A8”.

Peter Sergakis ad for Station des Sports (Page A3 of Thursday's Gazette)

Part 2 of the same ad, from Page A8

Not something you see often in advertisements. Most likely this was done because A3 has colour and exposure but limits the space given to advertisers to ensure most of it is editorial copy.

Why is this a loophole?

Anyway, back to that loophole. In this city, if you don’t like a by-law change that affects the area immediately around where you live, you can sign a register to demand a referendum on the subject. If you get the required number of signatures, the city/borough must either hold a referendum or withdraw the project.

The “loophole” is a little-used way to get around this, by having more than half the people who would be able to sign that register and vote in that referendum sign a petition supporting the project. So if the area around a new development had 1,000 people, you’d need to get 501 to sign a petition and then there wouldn’t be a register or referendum.

The reasoning makes sense to me. If those 501 support the project, why bother having a referendum where they would, presumably, all vote no? How is this a “loophole”? Isn’t it just democracy at work.

I asked around, and the answers I got pointed to how ancient and unused this law is, and how it wasn’t designed to be used in this way (even the city admits that). I see that, but it hardly makes it undemocratic.

The other answers mentioned how unfair it is compared to the trouble one has to go through to force a referendum. The petition can be passed around over months, while registers are open only for a day. The petition can be brought to people’s homes, while registers can only be signed at borough offices.

On the other hand, though, far fewer people are required to sign a register to force a referendum than sign a petition to quash one. And again, if more than half the affected residents support the project, isn’t that still the will of the people? Or should the minority overpower the majority?

What’s left unsaid in calling this a “loophole” is the implication that those who sign petitions supporting projects don’t really support them. That they’re being fooled by people hired by developers to bribe people into signing petitions they don’t fully understand. That when exposed to the issues in a referendum, they would change their minds and vote against.

That’s not a far-fetched idea or a conspiracy theory. It’s a legitimate concern. And the process should probably be changed, both to ensure that people have better access to registers and to ensure that those signing petitions in support of a project understand the implications of doing so.

But don’t call direct democracy a “loophole” just because you disagree with a decision that you think is uninformed.

STM fall schedules: “10 minutes max” and a new seniors’ route

UPDATED Aug. 31 with STM’s claims of increased West Island service

STM’s “10 minutes max” network (click for PDF)

The Société de transport de Montréal went all out announcing a new gimmick this week. It’s called “10 minutes max network” and it seeks to reassure transit users (and potential transit users) that buses within this network will arrive in no more than 10 minutes from when you get to a stop. Affected bus lines (there are 32 in all, or 31 if you count the 106 and 506 as one route) will have this graphic added to stop signs.

It comes into effect with schedule changes on Monday morning.

There are, of course, some caveats: It’s only between 6am and 9pm, only Mondays to Fridays (excluding holidays), and for 21 of the 32 routes, it only applies in one direction at a time (6am-2pm in one direction, 2pm-9pm in the other).

Affected routes:

  • In both directions: 18, 24, 51, 67, 69, 80, 105, 121, 139, 141, 165
  • One direction at a time: 32, 33, 44, 45, 48, 49, 55, 64, 90, 97,103, 106-506, 132, 161, 171, 187, 193, 197, 211, 470*

UPDATE: A blogger has created a subway-style map of these routes here.

Even under those rules, I spotted quite a few cases where it didn’t apply, particularly at the edges of those time blocks. A departure might be set for 8:45pm, and the next one after 9pm. I guess “close enough” is good for the STM here.

Despite my criticisms though, looking at the before and after schedules for the affected routes, there are serious efforts at improving service (at least during these time blocks – with a few exceptions it seems very little effort has been made to improve service after 9pm or on weekends).

Most of the routes on the lists are the STM’s most highly trafficked. In many cases, no change in schedule was needed to comply with the “10 minutes max” rule. In others, the headway was already as low as 12-15 minutes, so bringing it down to 10 wasn’t a huge deal.

But changing the headway from 12 minutes to 10 means going from five departures an hour to six.

There is also significant improvement for 7pm-9pm, when many routes which had headways of up to 20 minutes now see the number of departures as much as doubled.

Some highlights:

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Kevin Newman’s 10-year career

Kevin Newman says goodbye in his last Global National

In my few years as a professional in the news business, I’ve been witness on a few occasions to retirement speeches. A gathering of staff over slices of cake, presentation of some parting gift, and a speech – sometimes emotional – by the retiree.

In most cases, it’s because the person has taken a buyout and retired early. They might have spent 20 years there, or 30, or even 40 or more. They’ve been present through so much change, developed so many memories, and their lives become so connected with their jobs that letting it all go becomes a watershed moment. The emotion is entirely understandable.

Hell, I’ve been through the process myself. As recently as January I sent a goodbye email to my fellow employees, letting them know that my contract had ended and I would no longer be a colleague. A goodbye party followed soon after. (Little did I know at the time that my departure would be for exactly one month instead of the forever I had imagined.)

But even keeping that in mind, I find it just a bit silly that Global National spent more than half its newscast on Friday (12 out of 22 minutes) on the subject of anchor Kevin Newman leaving the show after a whopping 10 years.

The videos are online in case you want to see them. There’s three minutes worth of tributes from politicians, fellow journalists, Lloyd Robertson, Peter Mansbridge and Charlie Gibson (all with Newman’s reactions in the bottom corner). There’s five minutes worth of memories from his days at Global National, reporting on the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. And there’s the three-minute farewell at the end of the show, in which he almost starts crying as he thanks his family (the text of that statement is also online). Or you can just watch the whole newscast, which also includes some actual news.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice when these things are acknowledged. I enjoyed when CFCF gave veteran reporter Herb Luft a proper sendoff this summer, and when it brought back memories of Bill Haugland during his last newscast. But those seemed more heartfelt, more natural, and less scripted than Newman’s speech. And we were talking about people who spent all or almost all of their careers in one job (and who were actually retiring), unlike Newman. It just seems like Newman’s sendoff was more about his ego than anything else.

Maybe it’s because Newman anchors his newscast alone, and so in effect he had to say goodbye to himself. Kind of an awkward position to be in. Maybe it’s because to be a national anchor you have to have a giant ego.

I can’t blame him too much, because I also have a massive ego, and I’d take every chance to give a long goodbye speech on national television.

Still, if they spent 12 minutes on Newman, I can just imagine the show they’ll put on when Lloyd Robertson says his goodbye.

Global sucks: Newman

There was, of course, a news story to accompany Newman’s departure from the news service that split off from his employer’s company. It includes this telling quote from Newman about what it’s like at Global:

But the transition from seven years in a well-financed American newsroom wasn’t easy, he recalls: “I was accustomed to things working all the time because they were well-resourced. This show (Global National) has always been one step from the abyss every night, because it’s so early (it airs at 5:30 p.m., versus CBC and CTV’s 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts), it has relatively few resources, and the only thing that prevents our viewers from seeing it is the quality of the people behind the camera to rescue it every day. Over time, that’s stressful for the people who work on it, and probably helps contribute to the fatigue that I feel.”

It was meant, I’m sure, to highlight the hard work of his colleagues, but reads to me like Newman thinks Global didn’t invest enough in its television newsgathering.

Looking at our local Global station, whose newscast has always seemed like that forgotten stepchild that’s kept in the basement and fed just enough table scraps to stay alive and be a source of welfare money, I can just imagine what it’s like at other Global stations and Global National (even though they have much more funding).

The Global Television Network is now in the hands of Shaw Communication (pending regulatory approval). They have the power and the money to turn that around.

But I won’t hold my breath.

TV gets shut down for maintenance

CBC antenna atop Mount Royal, and the giant crane working on it

A lot of people who rely on old-fashioned antennas to get their television service have noticed this summer that all the TV stations in Montreal disappear after midnight.

The reason is simple: The transmitters are being shut off for maintenance work.

For the past couple of months, workers have been busy replacing antennas and doing other work on the 50-year-old CBC transmission tower atop Mount Royal (just northwest of the Belvedere, at the mountain summit, in case you’ve never seen it before).

Old antennas laying on the path of Olmstead Rd.

One of the main purposes of the maintenance is to replace antennas as television broadcasters make the switch to digital. An antenna that CFCF-12 has been using since it launched in 1961 has been replaced with a new one that will be used for digital transmission. The station even did a news piece on it (skip to the 8:40 mark). Though the station got approval today to operate a 10,600-Watt digital transmitter, it looks like it won’t be put into service until after the transition deadline of Aug. 31, 2011.

For safety reasons (we’re talking about transmission power in the hundreds of thousands of watts), all the transmitters have to be shut down while the maintenance takes place. To minimize disruption, this work is taking place overnight, when Mount Royal Park is closed and when TV viewing is at its lowest.

Continue reading

CFQR gets license renewal – and a slap on the wrist

This week, the CRTC gave approval for a license renewal to CFQR-FM, commonly known as Q92 (but who prefer to refer to themselves now as “92.5 the Q”). They can keep broadcasting until Aug. 31, 2014.

The approval is considered “short-term” because CFQR was in violation of one of its conditions of license, a minor one that requires that 20% of music from the jazz and blues category be Canadian. (The station exceeded its requirements for Canadian content overall.)

The station blamed this on improper labelling involving a new program:

Our non-compliance related solely to the introduction of a new three-hour program on Sunday evenings called Chill. This program is a showcase for Canadian smooth jazz. We experienced a problem with the labelling of songs in this three hour program block. The result was that we could not correctly identify individual selections as to whether they did or did not qualify as Canadian content. This in turn led directly to the compliance question raised by the Commission.

We deeply regret our failure to comply with the category 34 requirement. We take our responsibilities seriously and understand the importance of meeting our regulatory obligations. The non-compliance was not intentional and it was for a short duration.  It only related to this program feature.   We want to assure the Commission that it will not happen again.

This isn’t the first time CFQR has gotten a slap from the national regulator. The last time their license was up for renewal, the commission noted that the station was not in compliance with a condition of license requiring no more than 49.9% of music broadcast be hits. (You know, so it doesn’t sound too much like CJFM AM radio.</sarcasm>)

The CRTC has also renewed the license of CKLX-FM, Planète Jazz 91.9, even though the station was in non-compliance on its financial obligations.

Doo-doo-doo immortalized

The STM announced this morning that it is testing a warning sound for metro doors closing that it plans to have installed on all MR-73 trains by 2012. Right now, trains in Montreal’s metro don’t give any visual or audio indication that their doors are about to close, which sometimes causes people to get caught in them. Other metro systems around the world have such a chime and/or blinking light to indicate that doors are about to close or are closing.

This isn’t the first time the STM has come up with this idea. In 2008, it tested a train that had a high-pitched beeping sound. I imagine it wasn’t received very well, considering how annoying that beep can be when heard over and over again.

The sound they’ve come up with this time – you can listen to it in .WAV format (WAV? Really STM?) on the STM’s website – is a vocal warning with the famous doo-doo-doo sound of departing trains in the background.

This is significant because the doo-doo-doo sound associated with Montreal’s metro system is endangered.

The sound is heard on the MR-73 trains used on the blue and orange lines (a similar sound is heard on three MR-63 trains with middle elements from a specially-designed train). It’s not an artificial or intentional creation, but rather a byproduct of a current chopper that regulates power going to the electric motor. This chopper has five stages, which give off sound at different frequencies (three of which are audible by most people).

In new trains that will be built hopefully sometime before the next millennium, the motors will have a much more advanced power regulation system that will result in a continuous frequency change rather than discrete notes. It will sound more like a car engine accelerating than the metro we know now (assuming it makes much sound at all – new trains are supposed to be much quieter).

There has been suggestions among transit fans of artificially emulating the sound by just playing a sound file when the trains start moving, but that seems a bit silly and unnecessary.

Using the three-note sound for a door chime, on the other hand, makes sense. It’s a pleasant sound, instantly recognizable, and has a bit of heritage value, I’d argue.

Assuming the STM sticks with this sound for its new trains, we won’t have to worry about doo-doo-doo going the way of the dodo.

UPDATE (Aug. 13): I happened to be on the train that’s testing this new chime. The doors begin closing at the word “fermons” in “nous fermons les portes,” which on the plus side means there’s little additional delay caused by adding the warning, but on the minus side means that by the time someone who hasn’t heard the notice understands what it says (by the time it gets to the keyword “portes”), it’s already obvious that the doors are closing, and the warning becomes unnecessary.

I kind of agree with the commenters below: keep the chime, but lose the voice.

UPDATE (Nov. 12): I was on this train again today, and noticed that they’ve done exactly as I and others have suggested. The sound remains the same, but the voice announcement has disappeared completely.

Branchez-Vous unplugged

I suppose it was kind of inevitable. The independent media company Branchez-Vous!, known for its boring-looking Web portal, its news service that cribs other news services, and other websites including and, has been bought by Rogers Media for $25 million, pending approval from shareholders (though administrators with 76% of the stock have already agreed to the takeover).

As much as the media holdings are valuable, though, the acquisition’s main value seems to come from the advertising network used by bloggers and more mainstream sites like Le Devoir and Rue Frontenac.

Financially, the deal is pretty sweet for B-V. The 40-cents-per-share price is 242% of the company’s closing share price on Thursday and about double what the stock has been trading over the past six months at least.

But as much as I think the company is worth every penny of the asking price, I can’t help but feel a bit sad at the loss of one of the few truly independent media sources left in Quebec.

It’s not that I think Rogers is evil (okay, I do think Rogers is evil, but not more than its competitors) or that there will be some radical change to the way Branchez-Vous operates (they’ve already said all management and employees are staying). It’s that a decision that was made by a small management team might now have to go through focus groups to remove any chance that it might offend anyone or detract in some way from the company’s branding.

And even though the acquisition seems to be like a poodle eating a horse (Rogers’s holdings in francophone Quebec are pretty limited – Châtelaine, L’actualité and LOULOU, plus some lesser-known magazines and trade publications – and its web properties get about a quarter of the traffic of Branchez-Vous’s network), expect B-V to look more like Rogers by the end of this than Rogers looks like B-V.

Expect, for example, that Branchez-Vous freelancers are forced to sign Rogers Media’s draconian contracts, that would grant Rogers the ability to freely reuse B-V content in its magazines.

And next time there’s a labour conflict involving a media company (as was the case with Rue Frontenac), expect them to think a lot harder before deciding to take sides.

Most of all, a company that already took itself far too seriously will now do so even more.

But I guess it could have been worse. They could have been bought by Quebecor.

Cogeco’s self-serving plan for Quebec radio

Three months after announcing a deal to buy Corus Quebec’s radio stations (with the exception of CKRS in Saguenay, which has been sold to an independent group including Guy Carbonneau), Cogeco and the CRTC yesterday both released Cogeco’s proposal for how it will run those stations.

Among the highlights:

Cogeco News

In addition to the above, Cogeco is talking big about creating a “news agency” that would serve all its stations (I guess they mean something bigger than Corus Nouvelles). Here’s what they say in their press release:

The news agency that COGECO proposes to set up will play a key role in enriching local information and will provide a complement to the other information sources available in Quebec. All of the stations of the COGECO group as well as independent stations in the regions and community stations will be asked to contribute to the content available through the agency. In return, they will be able to select the most relevant news for their respective listening audiences and produce their own news bulletins locally.

Pooling resources through the news agency, which will be coordinated by FM 98.5, will create a full information source available 24/7 – because news happens nights and weekends, too.

Furthermore, sharing information resources will allow regional stations CHLN-FM Trois-Rivieres, CHLT-FM Sherbrooke and CJRC-FM Gatineau, which will remain predominantly spoken-word radio services but will now primarily target men between the ages of 25 and 54, to devote their resources to producing local shows. Most significantly, this means the return of local public affairs programming in the morning and at noon, as well as locally produced news bulletins.

Finally, a night-time show and a weekend morning public affairs show will be produced and offered to all stations of the group. Community stations and independent stations in the regions will also have the benefit of these new resources and information content.

“We want to put information radio in Quebec back on top,” commented Mr. Lachance. “Since COGECO is a business that is close to its people, it is a natural fit for us to make local information and local interest content the heart of our strategy. The decision to include independent stations in the regions and community stations in the agency aligns with that, and we think this is great news for radio in Quebec.”

Unless I’ve misunderstood, this sounds a lot like what the TV networks have done to local television stations. They still produce local newscasts locally (well, except Global), but many of the stories they produce are prepackaged by the national network. Without the resources and staff to put together a full newscast, the local stations are forced to use these prepackaged reports, even if they’re local stories from local newscast hundreds of kilometres away that have little interest to their communities.

And Cogeco is trying to sell this as a good thing for local radio.

Of course, if the alternative is no news at all, or a straight rebroadcast of a Montreal signal, I guess it is good news.

Let us cheat, but only where we get rich

Cogeco doesn’t try to hide the fact that its request to keep its stations in Montreal is all about money. Rythme FM is the No. 1 station in Montreal, 98.5 has the most popular morning show, and CKOI also does very well here.

Their excuse for wanting to keep all these money-generating stations? They’re throwing out a bunch:

98.5 is special: “The proposed exception affects only FM 98.5 in Montreal’s French-language radio market and would allow COGECO to operate three French-language FM radio stations, each in its own niche.”

Are Rythme FM and CKOI so different that they qualify as their “own niches”? And the exception applies equally to them. Nothing stops Cogeco from keeping 98.5 and selling Rythme FM or CKOI. It’s selling both stations from those networks in Quebec City and shutting down CKOI’s sister station in Sherbrooke.

It saves the French language: “The distinctiveness of the bilingual Montreal market and the importance of keeping talk radio like FM 98.5 strong in order to ensure the sustainability of French-language spoken-word radio in Quebec justify our request for an exception”

I have no idea what bilingualism has to do with this, nor how “the distinctiveness of the bilingual Montreal market” somehow means it makes sense to concentrate ownership. I don’t know whether 98.5 is profitable. If it is, they can sell it to someone who will keep the talk radio format. If it isn’t, there’s no guarantee Cogeco won’t change the format and make it a music station or something else that’s cheaper to produce.

It helps the regions financially: “Without that exception, it will be next to impossible for COGECO to indefinitely support regional spoken-word radio stations that have been running heavy deficits for many years.”

That’s an argument for converting CKOY in Sherbrooke from a station to a retransmitter, but what does it have to do with Montreal? Does Cogeco expect us to believe that if we give them an exception to media concentration rules that they’ll subsidize money-losing regional stations indefinitely?

It helps the regions with programming: “The limited exception sought by COGECO would breathe new life into stations in the regions by providing them links to strong programming sources – to FM 98.5 primarily, for information and public affairs, and to CKAC-AM for sports and CKOI-FM for its expertise and music content.”

Again with the distraction. CKAC has nothing to do with the exception, since it’s an AM station. And as for CKOI, you just said you’re selling its sister station in Quebec City and shutting down its sister station in Sherbrooke. If Montreal-based programming would save these stations, why do you insist on getting rid of them?

We should include anglo stations too: “… a very high number of francophone listeners tune in to English-language music stations.”

Sure. CHOM and CJFM get a lot of francophones listening to them. But so does CFQR, which you’ll recall is one of the stations you’re buying. Add in the anglo stations, and Cogeco wants to own five of the 13 commercial radio stations in the city, and four of the eight commercial FM (mainstream) music stations. This doesn’t support their argument very well.

Straight-up bullshit: “Our plan is without a doubt the best opportunity to increase diversity of voices across Quebec that the broadcasting system has seen in many years.”

You’re buying a former competitor. Don’t pretend it’s the opposite of what it is.

Ooh, money!

Oh, and that last part they mentioned about “an exceptional contribution of 9% of the total transaction value, an amount of $7.2 million, to various organizations and initiatives to support the radio system”? Sounds kind of generous, doesn’t it?

It’s CRTC policy that when a broadcaster is sold, the buyer proposes a “tangible benefits” package of 10% of the purchase price to contribute positively to the development of the broadcasting system. The money doesn’t go to the CRTC, but to organizations that support independent productions and other good things.

You math majors might notice that their 9% proposal is less than the 10% CRTC policy. In other words, it’s another exception they’re asking for, one that they’re selling to the public as a generous donation on their part.

What the CRTC should do

Cogeco hasn’t made anywhere near a solid case for keeping three FM stations in the Montreal market. It’s selling or shutting down Rythme FM and CKOI-branded stations elsewhere in Quebec, and freely admits its only motivation for wanting to keep these stations here is money. The CRTC should order Cogeco to sell one of the FM stations in Montreal, and let someone who isn’t Cogeco or Astral Media take a shot at making money from commercial francophone radio in Montreal.

Cogeco’s point about the unprofitability of regional stations is a good one, but giving the company what it wants in Montreal won’t suddenly make those stations profitable (even with all the big talk about a news agency they promise). It will at best simply delay their eventual decision to either sell or shut down those regional stations.

In Quebec City, Cogeco’s plan to sell two stations would put it in compliance with CRTC guidelines. No problem there.

In Sherbrooke, Cogeco is presenting its plan as a “win-win-win”, proving it doesn’t give a crap about local radio. The CRTC should order Cogeco to find a buyer for CKOY. Corus found a buyer for CKRS in Saguenay, and those Quebec City stations are going to someone. I’m willing to bet there’s interest in CKOY if it’s on the block for cheap. If Cogeco is interested in having a CKAC retransmitter in Sherbrooke, it can apply for a new license on a vacant frequency.

The CRTC will hold a hearing on Sept. 28 at 9am at Le Nouvel Hotel (1740 René-Lévesque W., corner Saint-Mathieu) to consider the application.

UPDATE (Aug. 6): Cogeco VP Richard Lachance does interviews with Infopresse and Paul Arcand explaining the plan, saying the new news service will create about a dozen jobs (including reporters in the federal and provincial legislatures), and there’s no Plan B if the CRTC decides it doesn’t like Cogeco’s plan.

Trente, meanwhile, takes another look at the plan, referencing this blog post.

No more Sundays

A note atop Page A1 on Sunday thanks readers

So that’s it, the last Sunday edition of the Gazette is on the newsstands now, just over two weeks after the stunning announcement that it would be stopped because of financial reasons.

The coverage

Other media gave brief mentions of the last Sunday section:

The Gazette itself certainly didn’t hide from this notable moment in the paper’s history. In addition to the giant note above and yet another reminder of how the paper and its contents will change, today’s paper has a retrospective from Walter Buchignani, who was one of many hired to launch the Sunday paper in 1988. He became “Action Man” – doing a different activity every week and writing about it. More recently, Buchignani has worked behind the scenes, supervising the paper’s production over the weekend as the night editor, in addition to his regular Formula One column. (His piece includes a humorous bit about having to call the Living Legend of Sports Journalism, Red Fisher, late at night to do an obit for Gump Worsley). Buchignani was in charge last night, too, as we toasted the final issue.

The Sunday tab

The last Gazette Sunday Sports tabloid

I, meanwhile, had the honour of putting together the last ever Sunday Sports tabloid section. It was a small section, and pretty short on news (no Habs game, no Alouettes game, no big tennis or golf tournaments). The biggest story was the Canadiens signing their first-round 2009 draft pick Louis Leblanc (and his announcement that he would play for the Montreal Juniors next season instead of staying at Harvard), and Pat Hickey pointing out how odd it is that they would release this news late on a Friday night.

There’s also a Stu Cowan column saying Andrei Markov should learn some French, which I’m sure will spark some debate.

The first Gazette Sunday sports tabloid, Feb. 26, 2006

The Sunday tab is young enough that I remember its origins (though I needed a bit of database help to remember the date). It began on Feb. 26, 2006, the day after the Gazette launched the new “Saturday Extra” section in a reorganization of the weekend papers.

The editor in chief at the time, Andrew Phillips, introduced it thusly:

Sunday Sports is now an easy-to-handle tabloid. We think that format is ideally suited to displaying our best sports writing and photographs on the biggest sports  news day of the week. Today, for example, the section opens with a dramatic poster-size photo from Turin of gold-medal skater Clara Hughes.

The poster – which celebrated Hughes’s gold medal in the women’s 5000-metre speed-skating event at Turin (it would be Canada’s last of seven golds at those games, the men’s hockey team having been humiliated in the quarterfinal by Russia) – actually formed both the front and back pages of the 36-page section, an experiment that wouldn’t be repeated. But I saw that particular cover many times over the following months – one Gazette staffer taped it up to the wall like an eight-year-old would do to a poster of their hero. Hughes had that effect on people.

The Gazette didn’t have much experience putting out tabloid sections at the time. The Books tabloid launched only the previous day, while the West Island section was put together as one file in QuarkXPress, something that wasn’t feasible on a three-person sports desk.

There were quite a few growing pains. At first, the section was split up into pairs (the plates were broadsheet-sized, so each tabloid page was paired with a mate as it was typeset), so a 20-page tabloid section (not including the 12 classified pages tucked into it) would have 10 Quark documents. And each document would have the full 32 pages in it (and not in sequential order either), only two of which would be used. After a couple of weeks they got each document down to the two live pages, and eventually managed to split those up so each editorial tabloid page would have its own Quark document (with the exception of the centre spread, which would be in one file).

The Sunday tab was a lot of work for two reasons: first, it was a lot of editorial space. The norm was 20 pages. Take away three for the scoreboard stats (which are done by Canwest Editorial Services in Hamilton), one for the full-page ad on the back and another for the full-page photo on the front, and that leaves 15 pages, or the equivalent of 7.5 broadsheet pages, a pretty large section.

Second, it was laid out in a different way than the section was the rest of the week. Unlike broadsheet pages which would have at least three or four stories, the tabloid pages would have one or two, and each page would have a photo, which meant a photo for almost every story. For the most part, each page would be devoted to one sport (multiple pages in the case of hockey, of course). To me, it always seemed more organized than the broadsheet section, not to mention easier to read.

I’ll miss the fun of laying that out. But I won’t miss the stress of putting it all together on deadline.

What’s changing

Taken from the note to readers, here’s what’s going to be changing next weekend, by section:

Finally, a new section is being added to the Saturday paper, called “Diversions”, which will take all the puzzles and comics pages from the two weekend papers and add a few extras.

It will include:

  • The black-and-white Saturday comics page
  • Three colour Sunday comics pages (previously, two of these pages would be in the Saturday paper and a third in the Sunday paper)
  • The Saturday and Sunday puzzles pages, which includes horoscopes, Wonderword, the Sunday New York Times crossword and cryptic crossword and those little Sunday puzzles
  • The L.A. Times Sunday crossword, which is being added for the benefit of those who objected to removing the Tribune Crossword a while back
  • A new page called “Looking Back”, which features John Kalbfleisch’s Second Draft column, as well as “feature photos from Gazette archives” and some other yet-to-be-announced historical stuff

The last Sunday paper left mixed emotions among some editors. It’s sad, but many of them will get their Saturday nights back now.

Not me, though, at least not at first. I’m back at work next Saturday night – on the online desk.