Monthly Archives: January 2011

Clip du Plateau

I was a bit curious why, on a bus at 2 a.m., a woman would be carrying a poster with pictures of Guy A. Lepage tied to it with white paper clips. I’d even considered asking her.

But I fear any rational explanation for this, and so I kind of prefer it to remain a mystery.

Third Montreal Underground City Scavenger Hunt

Alex and Kristin check their lists during the first scavenger hunt in 2008

It’s been a while since the last one, but a third Montreal Underground City scavenger hunt is being planned for next Saturday afternoon.

The idea is pretty simple: A scavenger hunt (relatively tame – no stealing stuff or doing anything illegal) whose items can all be found within the confines of Montreal’s underground city. Players are forbidden from leaving the underground city or taking the metro.

Participants are to meet at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, at the food court at Central Station. More details at the website or Facebook page, or the Gazette article I wrote about the first hunt in 2008.

Andrew Cartwright leaves CJAD for Ottawa

Andrew Cartwright, one of the unsung heroes unknown faces of the local radio scene, is leaving for a better job across the border.

Cartwright, most recently of the CJAD newsroom but with experience at CKDG Mike FM and CKRK K103 in Kahnawake, has accepted a job as the new morning man for Valley Heritage Radio, CJHR 98.5FM in Renfrew, Ont.

Cartwright says the Ottawa-area community radio station offered “a much better package” (more money and benefits) and “really made compelling arguments as to why Ottawa was a better fit for me.”

Friday was his last day at CJAD.

“I signed up at the news station to expand my knowledge base when it comes to radio. I feel like I’ve done that, and now it’s time for me to get back to my roots as a radio announcer. Yes it’s a smaller station, but honestly that’s never mattered to me. I love hosting and I really wanted to get back to that. I don’t wanna look back on my life and say ‘what if'”

Unlike other departures from CJAD in the past, this one was amicable. Cartwright had nothing but kind words for his now former employer.

“Thanks to CJAD I’ll be able to offer the wonderful people of the Ottawa Valley more than just ‘time and temp’ while teeing up songs.”

Dan Delmar in the evenings

Speaking of CJAD, Mike Cohen points out that it is bringing back local programming to evenings, scheduling Dan Delmar to host a show on weeknights when they don’t broadcast Habs games.

The website has some clips of interviews, including Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay and, to talk about CFCF’s 50th anniversary, veterans Herb Luft, Suzanne Desautels and Bob Benedetti.

CFCF sets up HD transmitter to close Super Bowl ad loophole

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

For the past few years, a loophole in the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution rules has allowed Videotron HD subscribers to watch the Super Bowl and other programming with the U.S. commercials.

This year, CTV is determined to close that loophole, and has setup a digital HD transmitter on Mount Royal to do so.

Though he called the timing “coincidental” (it only just got approval from Industry Canada to start transmitting), CFCF station manager Don Bastien confirmed Friday the rumours that have been spreading online. He says the transmitter has been setup and is expected to begin testing within hours (UPDATE: The transmitter is running, with signal reports coming in from all over). He also says the station informed Videotron and other television distributors weeks ago that it intends to enforce the rule on simultaneous substitution and replace the Super Bowl feed on WFFF (Fox 44) with its own on Feb. 6.

The loophole explained

Simultaneous substitution is a CRTC policy that requires cable companies to replace a U.S. channel with a feed from a local Canadian TV station when the two are running identical programming. The idea is that advertising revenue would remain in Canada, because the advertising is sold by the local station.

Most of the year, this isn’t an issue (assuming it’s done correctly – often there are glitches, particularly when live shows run past their scheduled time). But Super Bowl Sunday has a reputation as much for its million-dollar commercials as its championship football and rocking half-time show. And those while those commercials air nationally in the United States, not all of them will air on Canadian television as well.

Canadian viewers have been seeking out the U.S. broadcast to get the full Super Bowl experience, so much so that in the past Videotron has even advertised the fact that it has an unsubstituted Super Bowl feed, and bars and restaurants have advertised the “American broadcast” of the game. (The CRTC even has a frequently-asked-questions page about it)

Under the rules of simultaneous substitution, the Canadian signal must be a local, broadcasting television signal, which is of equal or greater quality than the American one. Since CFCF was not broadcasting in high definition, Videotron was not obligated to substitute the U.S. HD feed with the special HD feed that CFCF provided the cable company off-air. Nor could they replace the U.S. HD feed with a standard-definition feed from CFCF.

Now, with a digital transmitter running and expected to remain that way during the Super Bowl, the only way to get the game with U.S. commercials (legally) is to setup an antenna and pick up WFFF over the air from across the border. (We’ll see how many bars want to go through that much trouble.)

Temporary transmitter

Because the analog transmitters are still running on Mount Royal, broadcasters have setup temporary digital transmitters across the city in less prime locations. CFCF’s is just next to the Mount Royal transmitter, on Channel 51 (the PSIP system has it show on TVs as “12.1”), with an effective radiated power of about 6,000 Watts. Though it’s nowhere near the 325 kilowatts being put out by its analog transmitter, it’s probably good enough that people who can see the mountain can pick it up over the air.

In August, when analog transmission is required to cease in major markets like Montreal, CFCF and others should have a stronger signal. CFCF is licensed for 10,600km ERP transmitter on Mount Royal that will operate on Channel 12.

“Getting what we paid for”

When asked about preventing Montreal cable viewers from getting U.S. commercials, Bastien wasn’t sympathetic. “We have paid the Canadian rights to the Super Bowl,” he said. “The broadcast should be a Canadian broadcast. It’s not a matter of taking away something from Canadian viewers, but rather us getting what we paid for.”

I suspect that will be cold comfort to some of those viewers.

Just watch them online

Many of my suggestions from last year on how to watch the U.S. commercials no longer apply, except for two:

  1. Watch WFFF over the air with an antenna, assuming you get good enough reception. (Your TV must have an ATSC digital tuner)
  2. Watch the commercials online after the fact, on sites like YouTube. It’s not like the advertisers want to put roadblocks between their works of art and your eyeballs.

UPDATE (Jan. 31): CTV has issued a press release announcing the station being on the air, which I guess means it’s out of testing now. Like most press releases by media companies, it’s intentionally misleading for the sake of pretending to be better than the competition. It says “CTV becomes Canada’s only broadcaster to have HD transmitters in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Montréal,” but it obviously chooses those cities selectively, leaving out that even with CFCF, it trails Citytv and Global in the number of cities with digital transmitters (and it matches CBC at four). It also talks quite a bit about CFCF’s newscast, which might give people the impression that the newscast will be in high definition, but that’s months, probably years away.

UPDATE (Feb. 4): Brendan Kelly writes about this issue in The Gazette. It includes the statement from Bastien that an HD upgrade of the newscast would cost between $8 million and $10 million.

UPDATE (Feb. 6): For the record, Videotron subscribers outside of the following areas get the Super Bowl feed (and other U.S. programming) unsubstituted:

  • Montreal and on-island suburbs
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion

“We don’t care if it’s true” journalism

Imagine, for a second, that you’re working in a newsroom and this guy you’ve never heard of walks in off the street and says someone’s going to give him a million dollars for no apparent reason. Imagine that, when you ask for proof of this, he says he won’t reveal the name of the person who’s going to give him the money, but he has a signed notarized letter from a lawyer promising the cash. But he won’t show you the letter, or even give you the name of the lawyer who prepared it.

But don’t worry, he says, all will be revealed at this show in a few weeks that he’s selling tickets for. You see, he’s a comedian.

What do you do?

  1. Take his word for it and write a one-source story that says he’s going to get $1 million, and plug his show
  2. Write a one-source story that expresses a bit of skepticism about whether it’s true but whose headline assumes it is
  3. Wait until after this “show” of his unless you have proof that this story is real or that it’s a hoax
  4. Tell him to get lost until he can show you the cash

Meet Craig Rowin. He’s a comedian who asked for $1 million on YouTube, then later posted another video claiming success. Stories have been written about his claim, and he’s been interviewed many times, including by Mark Kelley on CBC. All the while, he has refused to provide any concrete proof that he will actually receive a million dollars.

Some of the stories about this (including Kelley’s interview) have expressed skepticism, others don’t bother. And these aren’t just the “blogs” and “Twitter” that those snobby professional journalists decry. It’s ABC News, Forbes, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News (with three bylines!) and the Daily Mail (okay, I probably shouldn’t put “Daily Mail” and “professional journalists” in the same sentence).

Meanwhile, you have Gawker, which heightens the skepticism enough to call this “clearly identifiable bullshit”. But that’s just their gut feeling, they don’t actually have any proof that it’s a hoax.

There are also, to be fair, plenty of news agencies that haven’t touched the story, particularly news wires like Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

For the record, I have no idea if this story is true or not. It’s possible it’s all a giant hoax to get media attention. It’s possible that it’s a trick – maybe it’s in Zimbabwean dollars or it’s a chocolate bar called “one million dollars”. It could be that he’s getting $1 million but it’s all part of some elaborate marketing campaign. Or maybe some random gajillionnaire actually just saw a video online and decided to give a random stranger a million dollars for no reason other than he asked for it.

Whether Rowin’s story is true isn’t relevant. What matters is none of these journalists knows if it is or not. None of them have enough proof to satisfy even themselves, much less their audience.

And they don’t care.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter. For far too many journalists, news isn’t about getting it right anymore, it’s about entertainment. Even if Rowin’s story is a giant hoax, it’s still mildly entertaining because it’s a funny story. And for TV journalists, there’s the added benefit of video. Many things that shouldn’t be news stories end up on television newscasts for the sole reason that there’s video available for them.

If Rowin’s story turns out to be a giant fraud, we’ll see some follow-ups saying so. Some may even take it a step further and do analyses, about the power of YouTube to propagate a fantastic story, or about how gullible people are. But we probably won’t see many apologies or corrections. The journalists didn’t lie. They didn’t say for certain that this guy received a million dollars (except in their headlines). They just said he said he was going to receive a million dollars. And that gets them off the hook.

In the end, whether the news gets this story wrong won’t change anything major. Nobody’s going to make a life-or-death decision based on whether this guy gets this money. Nobody’s going to quit their job or ruin their lives over this. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

The only potential casualty here is the credibility of professional journalism. Thankfully, there’s not much left of that to lose.

UPDATE (Feb. 4): What a shock! It was all a hoax. The news outlets who reported on it as fact, though, are running follow-ups instead of corrections.

The Hindustan Times is going to be very disappointed.

The future of Rue Frontenac

Rue Frontenac's newsroom

Rue Frontenac started as an idea, in that it was copied from an idea realized elsewhere. When the Journal de Québec was locked out for a year and a half, its workers launched a competing free daily and later a website called MédiaMatinQuébec.

The publication was a pressure tactic (a judge even ruled as such when Quebecor sought an injunction preventing them from publishing). It would keep people updated on the status of negotiations from the union’s perspective. But more importantly, it would remind readers that the real power of the newspaper came from its journalists, who would continue to do their jobs despite being in a labour conflict.

In essence, the journalists protested their lockout by continuing to work.

Whether MédiaMatinQuébec succeeded in its mission of forcing the employer’s hand by turning public opinion against it is a matter of debate. But it raised the profile of the locked-out workers, and journalists facing a labour conflict since then have made this idea part of their plans.

On Jan. 24, 2009, about six months after the end of the Journal de Québec lockout and less than an hour after an agreement not to launch a labour conflict had expired, 253 members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal were officially locked out of their jobs.

The lockout wasn’t a surprise – the writing had been on the wall for months. So a plan was already in place when the lockout became official (for both the employer and the union). Journalists would work out of the STIJM’s offices, which are next door to the Journal de Montréal’s office building at 4545 Frontenac St., at the end of Mont Royal Ave.

But rather than a free daily, they decided to go with a website. Unlike Quebec City, Montreal already had two free daily newspapers (one of which is owned by Quebecor), and its larger area makes it less practical to distribute a newspaper on a daily basis. Four days after the lockout began, was launched.

(The title is somewhat ironic – though next door to the Journal’s offices on Frontenac, the STIJM is actually on Iberville St., just north of where Frontenac merges into it.)

Its team of journalists, working out of drafty offices without most of the usual office comforts, continued to work their beats, trying to come up with exclusives that would raise the website’s profile. It’s now considered a primary source of news and a major news organization in Montreal.

Rue Frontenac's first issue in October

In October 2010, after a successful test the year before with a special Canadiens issue, Rue Frontenac launched as a weekly tabloid newspaper to accompany the website. Rather than try to stay up to date with breaking news (much of it would be days old), the paper focused on features and exclusive reports. It was more of a magazine on newsprint than a newspaper.

Richard Bousquet, who has been coordinating Rue Frontenac in both its formats, says he worked seven days a week from August to December on this project, until he finally took a vacation over the holidays.

When it launched, Rue Frontenac had 1,400 distribution points, most shared with the free weekly Voir. Now, Bousquet says, it’s more like 1,600. And distribution points in Quebec City have been added to those in the Mauricie, Eastern Townships and Outaouais regions. The publication is also taking names of people who would be interested in paid delivery.

The print run is 75,000 copies, and Bousquet wants a return rate of under 5%. Right now it’s about twice that, but dropping as they adjust the number of copies for each stand.

The plan is that, with the exception of labour costs paid out by the union’s strike fund, the paper should be self-sufficient financially, meaning that advertising revenue (and maybe subscription revenue) should pay for printing and distribution costs.

Advertising comes slowly

“Ça roule,” union president Raynald Leblanc said during a press conference two weeks ago when asked about advertising in the paper edition. The reality is a bit more complex.

The first issue of Rue Frontenac had quite a bit of advertising, but it was mostly from unions showing solidarity, not businesses trying to make money.

A notable exception was Micro Boutique, the Apple dealer, which had a half-page ad in the first edition. Bousquet says they wanted in right away to take advantage of the media coverage surrounding the paper’s launch. They knew a lot of people would be interested in that first issue.

For other corporate advertisers, the biggest problem was essentially a bureaucratic one: big advertising campaigns are planned and budgeted months in advance. This means there isn’t much money for last-minute ads. Many advertisers are also worried about the long-term future of this newspaper if the labour conflict is eventually solved.

And then, of course, there are those who are worried about offending Quebecor, though that’s not so much an issue as you might think, Bousquet says. “C’est pas un journal de combat,” he clarifies. It’s not afraid to say bad things about the media empire, but that’s not its primary purpose, either. Obviously, they’re not getting ads from Archambault or Videotron, but most other advertisers aren’t afraid of what Quebecor might think.

(On Rue Frontenac’s website, whose advertising is served by BV! Media, now owned by Rogers, ads for Videotron have appeared in the past, not because Videotron specifically wanted to be on, but because the ads were displayed throughout the advertising network.)

As we enter into that 3-6-month window, more ads are showing up in the paper. We’re entering RRSP season, which means a lot of ads from Desjardins, Bousquet offered as an example.

A profitable paper?

“On fait tout pour que Rue Frontenac continue à vivre,” Bousquet says. Knowing that there’s no way the Journal de Montréal will hire back all 253 workers or even a majority of that, the union eventually wants to offer the Rue Frontenac name to a publication that would be run by some of the workers who will be left behind.

It certainly won’t be all the workers not hired back at the Journal who will be able to continue with Rue Frontenac. Forced to pay salaries on top of other expenses, its budget wouldn’t be able to support 200 workers, or even 100, Bousquet admits.

Still, he feels strongly optimistic about Rue Frontenac’s future as a small publication filling a niche as a weekly newspaper focused on in-depth, exclusive stories, and a website with mostly original breaking news.

Asked whether he thinks having an actually profitable newspaper is feasible, he responds: “Oui, il y a possibilité. On croit que économiquement c’est possible.”

There are no big plans for the short term (at least, none Bousquet was willing to share), but they do plan to study their audience and their options. They’re still collecting names as they figure out whether they should implement a home delivery service, and they’re studying the possibility of increasing from one to two editions a week of the newspaper.

After the lockout

When a contract offer was voted down by a huge majority in the fall, and the union complained about an anti-competition clause as one of its main reasons for rejecting the deal, Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau said the company would withdraw its demand that Rue Frontenac be shut down and that laid-off workers be barred from working for La Presse. (When the Journal de Québec conflict was settled, one of its demands was that MédiaMatinQuébec be shut down, which is why it is no longer online.)

There are still other issues on the table, the biggest one being the number of employees who would be allowed to return to work. Negotiations that have recently resumed are covered under a blackout that prevents both sides from commenting publicly, but I imagine that number is still a major issue.

La question qui tue

So if Rue Frontenac does continue beyond the lockout, perhaps with a handful of employees, what are its chances of success?

Journal de Montréal lockout by the numbers

Two years. 24 months. 730 days. 17,520 hours. 1.05 million minutes. 63 million seconds.

These are the figures in the Journal de Montréal lockout that are not in dispute. On Jan. 24, just after midnight, it celebrated – perhaps that’s a bad choice of word – its second anniversary.

But the number that’s drilled into everyone’s head is 253. That’s the number of employees that were officially locked out that day. The number is repeated over and over by the union, which refers to 253 families on the street, 253 people without jobs, 253 people working at Rue Frontenac. Some people only partially familiar with the conflict (the ones who use “lockout” and “strike” interchangeably”) even refer to “253 journalists”, unaware that the lockout also affects dozens of office staff.

Raynald Leblanc, the president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal, admits that 253 is a “symbolic” number. The list of lockoutés has 253 names on it, but many of those people – about 10% – are no longer contributing to the cause and no longer receive cheques from the strike fund. About 10, including columnist Bertrand Raymond, have decided to retire. Most of the others are still leaving open the option of coming back to work for the Journal, but are not receiving cheques either because they have found another job or because, Leblanc says, they are rich enough that they don’t need the money. Only two have officially resigned.

The law, Leblanc says, is clear that even those who have taken jobs elsewhere to pay the bills can come back once the conflict is over. Of course, it will be their choice, and some who have since moved on will probably choose to stay in their new jobs, if there’s even a job at the Journal to go back to.

Note: Numbers above might be off slightly, take them as estimates

Among the 230 people still “active” in the conflict, the level of that activity varies. There are some, like journalists Gabrielle Duchaine and Jean-François Codère, who are filing stories on a regular basis for Rue Frontenac, the website and newspaper setup as a pressure tactic and public relations campaign. There are some who contribute more occasionally to Rue Frontenac. And there are many, like the 31 people who work in classified ad sales, whose skills aren’t really that transferrable. Many of those can be found on the picket lines outside the Journal de Montréal offices, or in newly created jobs like running the Rue Frontenac cafeteria. And there are some who have disappeared off the map completely for whatever reason.

For Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Quebecor CEO whose company owns the Journal, the 253 figure is fiction. He breaks the numbers down another way. For him, the number of permanent employees “active” in the conflict is only 179, discounting 45 contract employees and 29 people who have retired or otherwise quit their jobs. In the latest offer to the union, 52 of those people would continue to have jobs (among them only 17 journalists), and 127 jobs would be eliminated, but 31 of those employees are eligible for retirement.

Leblanc, at 57 years old, is one of those who could leave and start taking their pensions. But he asks rhetorically: “are we obliged to take retirement just because we’re eligible?” The answer, of course, is no. Some people need more money and aren’t financially stable enough to retire. And to Leblanc, forced retirement isn’t much different from forced unemployment.

And so, as Year 3 of the Journal de Montréal lockout begins, and negotiations haven’t given us any news recently, we wonder how long this conflict will last.

When it started in 2009, the union bragged that it had a two-year strike fund, enough to pay its employees about 70% of their salary (tax free) until 2011. Asked about that two weeks ago, Leblanc was categorical: “It won’t run out.”

I asked him where that guarantee comes from. He said it was from other unions. The CSN has made an example of this conflict and will keep putting money into it until it’s over. They are determined not to lose this battle over money alone.

With both CSN and Quebecor having seemingly endless pits of reserve cash, the idea that one side could wait it out until the other had been brought to its knees financially has been exposed as a pipe dream.

A parliamentary committee will be holding hearings into this conflict next month. Which is good, because left to their own devices, it seems both sides are content to let this drag on forever.

Two years on: Media coverage

The various local media have noted the two-year anniversary with stories, among them:

and simple to-the-point stories from CBC, CTV, TVAPresse Canadienne, Agence France-Presse, Projet J and, of course, Rue Frontenac itself.

UPDATE (Feb. 1): A great story in Concordia’s The Link about the human cost of the lockout, talking to people including caricaturist Marc Beaudet.

Heather Backman leaves CJFM, opening afternoon host job

Heather Backman

From Milkman Unlimited we get the news that “Virgin Radio 96” (CJFM 95.9) has lost afternoon host Heather Backman (“Heather B”, in their our-hosts-have-no-last-names style) to Q104 in Cleveland (I hope they spend more money on their hosts than their web designers).

Asked about her move, Backman told me it was simply a question of a better job opportunity: “Afternoon drive in a major market. … Couldn’t say no!”

UPDATE (Feb. 1): Backman introduces herself to her new Cleveland audience by way of a video on Facebook. (via Brave New TV)

The departure opens up the afternoon host job here. The shift is 1-4pm weekdays, and a Saturday afternoon once a month from 1-5pm.

Interested parties with at least three years of on-air experience and who want to drink the “contemporary hit radio” Kool-Aid can send a resume, cover letter and MP3 demo to “brand director” Mark Bergman at by Feb. 4.

Koivu fan #1

I’ve never been too crazy about people who carry giant signs into sporting events, particularly those whoring themselves out to the television rights-holders by trying to get the initials “TSN” or “RDS” or “NBC” into a “go team” message.

But let’s give a nod to the anonymous front-row fan holding the “Koivu #1” sign, who combined good placement with perfect timing and is seeing that sign everywhere.

(The photo was captured by at least three photographers: Shaun Best of Reuters, Graham Hughes of Canadian Press, and Pierre Obendrauf of The Gazette).

There was a Facebook campaign (and others, I’m sure) for fans to vote Saku Koivu the first star of the night. It would have succeeded, except Koivu took a late penalty that led to the tying Canadiens goal (he was also in the box for their first goal – perhaps we should add two to his Canadiens assists total?). Under the three stars rules, the person who scores the winner in overtime or a shootout is automatically the first star.

Of course, none of that really mattered. The fans got to show their appreciation, and see Captain K on Montreal ice, perhaps for the last time as an NHL player.

Hour of silence

There were lots of rumours, but very little news, about the alternative weekly Hour yesterday.

Rather than spread some of those rumours, I waited to hear from the people there. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting.

The Gazette talked to the president of Communications Voir, which owns Voir and Hour. Though he called the rumours of a shutdown “bull—-“, he said they are “restructuring some things in the organization. There’s no news. We’re not closing. We’re not doing anything. It’s none of anybody’s business. It’s internal.”

We know, based on a somewhat cryptic tweet on the official Twitter feed that there are some cuts to editorial staff and freelancers, but we don’t know who they are. (If anyone does know, feel free to share that information. Otherwise we’ll just wait and see whose bylines disappear.)

UPDATE: Brendan Kelly says during Friday’s Daybreak (MP3) that editor Jamie O’Meara is gone, and other sources say the entire editorial staff is getting laid off over the next few weeks.

Pierre Paquet, the president, would neither confirm nor deny the layoffs, saying “it’s possible. It’s not public,” and “we’re replacing a couple of staff” and “we’ve revised our content.” When The Gazette asked about freelancers, he said “I don’t know … I don’t control the market.”

Paquet is allowed to be this coy. Communications Voir is a private company, and doesn’t have to answer to shareholders.

But Hour is also a newspaper. And it seems ridiculous to keep such information from the public, particularly if we’re going to find out eventually anyway.

11th Hour

The idea of Hour shutting down makes sense as a rumour. It was less than two years ago that the French side of the alt-weekly scene went from two papers to one with Quebecor’s Ici closing shop (it’s now an insert in 24 Heures). It wasn’t long before people started wondering if Montreal could support two anglophone alt weeklies at the same time.

On the English side, the situation is somewhat reversed. The Voir-owned Hour is younger and now noticeably thinner than the Quebecor-owned Mirror, though until today both seemed to be relatively healthy, and neither of the anglo papers have to compete with free dailies.

Paquet’s way with words notwithstanding, Hour’s going to need to do better to assure advertisers that it’s not going to close up shop in the next six months. A bit of honesty would go a long way in that regard.

Ups and downs at CFCF-12

I watched the special 50th anniversary broadcast of CFCF-12 last night. It was nice to watch for a local TV buff like me.

The anniversary special was preceded by a very short newscast. And since I made fun of a Global error the night before, I can’t ignore the fancy camerawork on display during a broadcast that I’m sure many other people also had on their digital video recorders.

Wonky, indeed.

CFCF’s own 50th anniversary blooper reel is here.

Ratings: CFCF dominates, but CBMT’s happy

Fall 2010 ratings for Montreal anglophone evening newscasts

It’s the kind of statistic that can only be visualized in pie chart form: CFCF (CTV Montreal) continues to dominate the ratings of the three local evening newscasts, according to figures Bill Brownstein put out in Saturday’s story about the station’s anniversary (which, incidentally, is today – happy anniversary). It has more than six times as many viewers as its nearest competitor, and more than four out of every five people watching an anglophone newscast at 6pm is tuned to channel 12.

It’s nothing new. CFCF has been dominating the ratings like this for years, ever since massive budget cuts at the CBC caused people to tune away from NewsWatch.

But the public broadcaster is slowly fighting its way back up. Almost a year and a half since introducing a 90-minute evening newscast (that relied primarily on repeating the same stories), CBMT is seeing a ratings spike in the 5-6pm hour.

“Our audience has almost doubled at 5 and 5:30 since last fall,” news director Mary-Jo Barr explains in an email. “Our share at 5pm is 9% (up from 5% in fall 2009) and our 5:30 share is 10% (up from 6% in Fall 2009).  This is the largest audience the CBC has held in the 5-6 timeslot in recent memory.  We couldn’t be more pleased.”

This is a sign that Montrealers are realizing there’s a newscast at 5pm on CBC, and if for whatever reason that timeslot is more convenient for them, they can get their news from CBC instead of CTV. It’s nowhere near the kind of ratings CFCF gets for its 6pm newscast, but it should still serve as a lesson to CBMT, Global’s CKMI and other stations who trail badly in the ratings department: Unless you have a truckload of money to waste, don’t try to take beat the leader with a bad copy of what it does.

Barr also credits some content changes for the increased ratings. “We’ve been working hard to make the show as relevant as possible to English Montrealers,” she says. “We’ve more clearly defined each half hour.  We’ve increased our investigative reporting by dedicating our Shawn Apel to the beat and by embedding Nancy Wood in Radio-Canada’s investigative unit.  We’ve also added a weekly segment, Jennifer Hall’s “Montrealer of the Week”, which features the achievements of everyday Montrealers.  We also continue to place special emphasis on breaking news, live reporting, and local news and weather.  Seems like the winning formula is starting to pay off.”

(With respect to Apel, who is a solid reporter, an investigative team of one isn’t going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But I appreciate the effort.)

So where do we go from here? I think CBC should just scrap the last half-hour of its newscast and run a straight hour from 5 to 6, where they have no competition (unfortunately, because too many big decisions are still made in Toronto, that’s not likely to happen here unless it happens everywhere else too). Find places or beats that CFCF either isn’t interested in covering or isn’t doing a good job with, and make those their own.

And what about Global?

Mike Le Couteur hosting what is apparently the Global Maritimes newscast

I hesitate to use the word “laughingstock”, mostly out of respect to the small crew of journalists who are trying their best there. But I tuned in to last night’s News Final (it’s the only local anglo newscast between 11:05 and 11:30) to see that it had a “Global Maritimes” bug in the corner. That lasted about 10 minutes until I mentioned it on Twitter and someone fixed it.

Yes, “it’s just a bug“, but it’s a symptom of the larger problem of what happens when you try to run a newscast on the cheap by producing and directing it in another city. I’ve watched the show many times waiting for the weatherman to accidentally give the Toronto forecast (CKMI’s weather is done by the weather presenter at Global’s Toronto station), and to his credit I haven’t seen Anthony Farnell slip up yet.

There’s some hope on the horizon. With Shaw’s acquisition of Global from Canwest, they’ve promised (as part of a government-mandated compensation package) to invest significantly in the stations, among them a new local morning show set to debut in 2012 (four years after This Morning Live went off the air). It’s unclear at this point how much of that would actually be produced and directed in Montreal, but it fills a gaping hole in local news, where the only thing between midnight and noon is a local news ticker at the bottom of the screen during CTV’s Canada AM.

I think CKMI should consider moving its evening newscast, perhaps to 7pm, and either move those stupid celebrity gossip shows elsewhere or kill them entirely. But they won’t, of course. Global, unfortunately, gave up on local news in this market long ago.

It happened on the interwebs

You might have missed it because you were on vacation or something, but the ad agency écorce put together a form of online advent calendar in December with … let’s call them interpretations of things that happened online in 2010.

It was kind of hit and miss, but there were a few gems among the videos that were done for this:

Une fille inoubliable, by Les Appendices. My favourite sketch comedy fivesome, the stars of the Télé-Québec show covered an awfully written and awfully-sung song from a video that was posted to YouTube but later taken down (fortunately, the Internet keeps copies of these things). Even though they use the same lyrics and roughly the same music, the Appendices version is actually pretty good. At the very least, it had a much higher budget.

Contrat d’lezz, by le Girly Show. You’ve seen Contrat d’gars, right? The show that goes so over the top with the testosterone you can’t help but laugh. It’s hard to parody something that already doesn’t take itself seriously, so Le Girly Show just turns it on its head and has women playing the lead roles. It’s not much funnier than the original, but it has the same magic.

L’Année 2010 selon CaroleCarole aide son prochain is a straight-faced comic web series that … I’ll be honest, it’s kind of hit and miss, though I like the concept. In this video, she takes on that lots-of-celebrities-political-message asking for a moratorium on shale gas exploration with some simple but effective satiric criticisms.

The rest of the videos from this project are listed on this page, and lots of other non-video-related recaps are also worth exploring.

(Did I miss something awesome? Think one of these videos is stupid and uninteresting? Tell me off in the comments)

Concordia reaches for a new Lowy

Frederick Lowy in 2003

It’s official: Concordia University’s executive committee has recommended that Frederick Lowy, who served as rector/president from 1995 to 2005, be reinstalled as interim president. Barring some unprecedented and unexpected revolt, the Board of Governors will approve that recommendation and Lowy will run the university again during the months it takes for a committee to seek out a president to take a full five-year term.

I was a student from 2000 to 2005, and I wrote about student and university politics for The Link, so I know Lowy pretty well and have interviewed him a few times during some of the most heated moments of Concordia’s recent history.

Other leaders have been in office during Concordia’s darker moments. John W. O’Brien came to office in the immediate aftermath of the Sir George Williams computer riots of 1969, and stayed on through Concordia’s creation until 1984. Patrick Kenniff took over and acted as rector during the Fabrikant shootings, until political infighting got him fired.

Nobody killed anyone (that I know of) during Lowy’s tenure, but that didn’t mean it was easy for him. During three successive years he got hit with a major scandal involving students. In the fall of 2000, it was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving a member of the Concordia Student Union’s executive. In the fall of 2001, it was a radical student union executive whose highly radical student agenda was a victim of unfortunate timing, coming out in the days surrounding Sept. 11. This was followed by a revolt from mainly engineering and commerce students who forced the CSU president to resign, only to see the subsequent by-election (which the “right wing” candidate won) annulled as a result of an apparent bribery scandal. Then in the fall of 2002, a protest against a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu got out of hand and made headlines around the world.

During these turbulent years, Lowy was caught between a radical student union and increasingly angry donors and alumni.

Lowy (whether individually or with his executive committee or vice-rectors) made some tough decisions during those times. The university temporarily cut off funding for the student union as the legitimacy of its leadership came into question. It expelled (or “excluded”) two of the more radical student activists, which was controversial at the time because it bypassed the university’s own student disciplinary process (the university argued that the two were not technically students at the time, which sparked a surreal debate over the fact that Concordia did not technically have a clear definition of what “student” meant). And it famously banned all activity on campus related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the immediate aftermath of that Netanyahu riot – a move that was an obvious violation of a fundamental right to free speech, but accomplished its goal of cooling down both sides.

Through it all, Lowy was soft-spoken, kind of halfway between a kind, wise grandfather and a man without a clue. Perhaps it was his background in psychiatry, but Lowy was a pressure release valve at a time when it was most needed.

That’s not to say he was perfect. The things that made him a good peacemaker also made him incapable of standing up to his board or of making any serious changes in the way the university was structured.

Whether he was a good leader or not is up for debate, though he certainly seems more so in hindsight than he did at the time.

What’s not up for debate is the simple fact that Lowy is the only leader in the past 20 years to leave office amicably, at the end of his mandate. For a university desperate for a temporary, quick-fix return to stability, they could have done far worse than look to Lowy.

Working on the Gazette’s online desk today, I took the liberty of pulling some articles from the archives about Lowy. It’s funny looking back to see that Lowy’s challenge in 1995 was to improve morale and improve the mood and add more civility to internal politics. When he left, he got good marks, suggesting he succeeded.