Monthly Archives: November 2012

An animated day in the life of Montreal’s bus network

It’s fun the kinds of things you can do with data.

Montreal’s transit agencies, including the STM, STL, RTL and AMT, have made their trip data public through a standard called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). This allows the data to be sucked into applications like Google Maps, making it easier for people to plan their trips. The time of every stop of every bus is a set data point.

In this video, published a few weeks ago on YouTube, someone has taken this data and created an animation of every bus trip during the average weekday in the Montreal area. STM, STL and RTL buses are represented by little dots that race along their routes.

It’s an interesting way to visualize the activity involved in public transit. The animation, which is presented as a 1:600 timelapse (every second represents 10 minutes), starts at 4am with just the night buses on the island of Montreal. After about 6am, it expands into the morning rush hour, and you can see a clear bias toward downtown from all directions. Some thoroughfares like Henri-Bourassa Blvd., Sauvé St., Parc Ave. and Côte des Neiges Rd. emerge as lines because they see so much bus traffic during this time. The traffic dies down a bit after the morning rush hour, though not as much as I expected. After about 3pm there appears to be a general bias away from downtown as the evening rush hour begins. After 7pm, it noticeably dies down, more so after 11pm and 12:30am, and after 2am it’s back to just the night buses.

Each of those dots is a bus with a driver in it. Some could have just a few passengers on board, while others could be so packed they’re not stopping to pick up more.

It’s an expensive system, and a complicated one. But without all those little dots, the city would grind to a halt.

If you’re interested in trying to figure out other cool ways of manipulating transit data, you can download the STM’s GTFS data yourself. Data from the RTL and STL and AMT are also available. (The AMT data includes commuter trains, its express buses and data from smaller transit agencies like the CIT du Sud Ouest and CIT La Presqu’île.)

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Journal de Québec (re-)launches Saguenay regional edition

Quebecor announced on Tuesday (though we’ve known for almost a month) that its Quebec City paper the Journal de Québec will be producing a regional edition for the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, with at least seven pages a day devoted to the region, including two pages of sports.

A regional section of the Journal de Québec’s website has also been launched, and the new edition has its own Twitter account.

This isn’t the first time Quebecor has done exactly this. It began in October 1973, but ended in October 1981, by which point it had reached eight pages. An economic slump, rising costs and tough competition from Le Quotidien were cited as reasons for cutting the edition, which makes you wonder what’s changed.

Le Quotidien, owned by Gesca, is the only daily newspaper in the region. Transcontinental has community weeklies there, and  Quebecor serves it through its weeklies Le Point du Lac-Saint-Jean and Le Réveil in Saguenay. (The latter, you might recall, locked out its employees around the same time of the Journal de Montréal lockout, and became a shell of its former self after that ended in severe job cuts.)

“The newspaper will draw on the work of journalists at Quebecor Media’s various subsidiaries in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean,” the press release says, which means we can expect to see reports from Le Point, Le Réveil and TVA’s Saguenay station in this edition. (In fact, here’s an example already of a story condensed from one in Le Réveil, with the fact that it’s about a contestant in TVA’s Le Banquier moved up to the first paragraph.)

Quebecor doesn’t say how many jobs are being created by this move, but a welcome note from the editor lists names of new journalists: Jean Tremblay, Roger Gagnon, Pierre-Luc Desbiens, Roby St-Gelais, Charles-Antoine Gagnon and Frédéric Champagne.

Radio-Canada’s report says these new employees will work for Agence QMI, which means they’ll be non-unionized.

The paper also promises columnists from the region, starting with:

  • On Fridays, Jacques Brassard, former PQ minister and MNA for the region (who once had a column in Le Quotidien and then quit  and started a blog)
  • Marc Fortier, GM for the QMJHL team Les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi,
  • On Mondays, Denis Gravel, a radio personality who was born in Chicoutimi and is a morning co-host at CHOI-FM in Quebec City
  • A snowmobiling column from Marc Larouche and Patrick Boucher

If that snowmobiling thing sounds a bit like pandering to the region, it’s not. There’s plenty of more obvious cases of pandering to new Saguenéen readers.

Regional editions are common for big-city papers, though less so than they used to be. The Globe and Mail produces slightly different editions for different regions of Canada. The Gazette distributes a West Island section to its subscribers in the West Island and western off-island areas. The Journal de Québec already has “thousands” of subscribers in the Saguenay region, so it makes sense to offer them a little something extra.

Whether this move can create serious competition for Le Quotidien is a big question. But it certainly can’t hurt.

UPDATE (December 2013): A year later, the regional edition remains, but local content is down to four pages a day (plus the cover, which often has local elements), two of which are sports.

Jacques Fabi suspended a month for being stupid

One question is bouncing around in my head: What on Earth was Jacques Fabi thinking?

Fabi, the overnight host on Cogeco stations in Quebec (with CHMP 98.5FM as the flagship), allowed a caller to his phone-in show to say the Holocaust was “the most beautiful thing that could happen in history” – and then, rather than cut her off or challenge the ridiculously offensive statement, warned her that Quebec society looks down upon expressing opinions like this.

Even though it’s an overnight show, it didn’t take long for people to be outraged. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs sent a letter to Cogeco within hours denouncing the broadcast. Marto Napoli talked about the exchange on his radio show on Radio Pirate (when the Jeff Fillion radio station says you went too far, you know something’s seriously wrong). The National Post wrote a story about it. So did La Presse’s Rima Elkouri. So did the Journal de Montréal’s Sophie Durocher. For whatever reason, the story didn’t get much traction until the weekend, when we learned that Cogeco would suspend Fabi.

On Monday, we got the details: Fabi is suspended for a month, without pay, for his actions. With an official statement from Cogeco, just about every media outlet is reporting on the news now, not only in Montreal but across Canada and around the world.

Some aren’t satisfied with this, and want him to be fired outright. At least one commentator (a Radio X host, it should be noted) thinks that’s going too far.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think. Because it’s just so mind-boggling. Fabi isn’t some rookie who forgot how to run a radio show. He’s a veteran, and a man with years of experience managing calls on the radio. Does he really support the massacre of Jews? Is he an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech? Was he drunk, or tired, or high? Was he so desperate to fill airtime that he was ready to let absolutely anything on the air?

It took Fabi only four minutes and 11 seconds to torpedo his reputation. But as anyone in radio will tell you, that’s a lot of time. Whether he’ll be able to build it back is doubtful. He’ll need to apologize profusely, but more importantly he’ll need to come up with some plausible explanation for why he thought what he allowed to on the air might be anything even close to appropriate.

This isn’t just an error in judgment. It’s a fuckup of epic proportions. One whose response will require him starting by saying he does not support the mass slaughter of millions of Jews.

And maybe Cogeco should look into providing better screening of its calls and/or better real-time monitoring of its programming.

As for “Maria”, the woman who cheered for the Holocaust because of what’s happening to Palestinians right now, I hope she gets some help. People like her are the reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dragged on for decades.

UPDATE: Fabi has apologized. Though he’ll probably need to do more when he’s back on the air. Marc Cassivi also weighs in (almost by necessity, since some were suggesting he was being silent on the matter out of some bias)

UPDATE (June 28, 2013): The Quebec Press Council has issued a decision against Fabi.

The journalistic fraud of “exclusive”

I’m going to tell you a secret about journalism. Some of the most thoroughly-researched reports, the ones splashed across the front pages of newspapers and magazines and given top billing in newscasts, take a gamble on the truth.

It’s not just the sensationalist media like Sun News or the Journal de Montréal, it’s La Presse, The Gazette, Le Devoir, CTV, Global, CBC. It’s almost everyone (I’m hedging my bets here – I don’t know of any media that outlaws this practice by policy).

It happens almost every time journalists or their editors use the word “exclusive”.

Now, it’s very rare that they get this wrong. It’s like betting that Université Laval wins the Quebec football championship (says the frustrated Stingers fan). And when it does go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Nobody gets sued, nobody loses their job, it’s just a bit embarrassing when someone points it out.

La Presse reports as “exclusive” a story that also appeared in Le Devoir the same day.

Take this story. It happened a year ago. La Presse finds out that Bixi is expanding to Longueuil, and presents it as an exclusive. But Le Devoir also found out, and published its own story that same day. Le Devoir didn’t use the “exclusive” label, but did write “a appris Le Devoir”, which is, of course, correct.

I tweeted about it, and there were some giggles, but that was it. No scandal here.

So how does this happen?

For most journalism, particularly for the mainstream media, the source of stories is easy to figure out. Some stories come from the police media spokespeople, reporting on the car crashes and crimes and other events that required emergency services. Some stories come through press releases or other ways that companies push the media to talk about them in a good light. Some stories come out of things said publicly by politicians or published by government bodies. Some come at prearranged sporting events, or special screenings given to journalists. Some stories are stolen from other media (“matched” is the term – crediting the other media only when the story has facts that can not be confirmed).

But then there’s the rest. The stories that require real work. The ones that require months of investigation through talking to sources and filing access to information requests. That ones that come because a journalist is the only one paying attention to a story when it breaks. And the ones that are handed to journalists on silver platters by people who may or may not have personal agendas wanting to see secrets exposed.

When these stories are published, the question comes up: Is this an exclusive? Does some other journalist have this? Could anyone else also possibly be reporting on this?

For long investigations, the answer is almost always no. I mean, what are the chances that another journalist has also been working for days, weeks or even months on this same story and is going to publish it the same day? Virtually impossible.

For stories based on polls, exclusivity is contractual. Exclusive polls are paid, with the understanding that the company or companies that pay for it get first dibs at reporting its results. And even if another poll comes out that reports the same thing, a newspaper can still say that their particular poll is exclusive to them.

Stories that are leaked to journalists, however, are more likely to suffer the embarrassment of being proved wrong. After all, if someone wants to leak something, they might tell more than one journalist about it. In these cases, journalists are extra careful, relying on how much they trust the source when that source says that he or she hasn’t told any other journalist about this story.

“Exclusive”, at its very basic, is the statement that “no other media is reporting this story”. But it’s impossible to prove this kind of negative. Even if you could poll every single news outlet that might have an interest in a story (and there are a lot of them out there), they’re not going to tell their competitors about a major investigative story they’re working on.

So it’s a gamble. The journalist asks “what are the chances that someone else has this?” and if the answer is “infinitecimally small”, then the “EXCLUSIVE” label is slapped on. And fingers are crossed that the infinitecimally-likely doesn’t become true.

Sun News bills the translation of a two-year-old TV interview as “EXCLUSIVE” and “BREAKING” (the story online has since been updated)

Redefining “exclusive”

This week, there was a less ambiguous abuse of this term by Sun Media. It published a story on Thursday afternoon reporting “exclusively” about comments Justin Trudeau made about Albertans running the country.

They knew about the comments because Trudeau made them two years ago on an episode of Les Francs-Tireurs, a current affairs series on Télé-Québec. They just haven’t been reported much in English until now (though the segment’s end, with Trudeau demonstrating how to fall down stairs, did go a bit viral).

The Sun story (which was also referred to as “breaking” in the hours after it came out) was uniquely about Trudeau’s comments. It had no new exclusive information. So was it an exclusive? Can publicly-available information be considered exclusive if you’re the first to report on it in your language? Arguments could be made either way.

It’s one thing to argue that information contained in a publicly-accessible government database, compiled by a reporter, could be considered “exclusive” even though others could have just as easily found that information. But that’s a far cry from re-reporting information contained in a publicly-broadcast television interview.

What’s worst about this is that public mocking of the Sun News “exclusive” hype detracted from the story, which is perfectly fair game. Trudeau’s comments are newsworthy, and seem to fit the narrative of a politician pandering to Quebec by demonizing another part of the country. Trudeau predictably walked the comments back and apologized for them, and the situation rightly got coverage in mainstream media. But none of that required Sun News to call the story an “exclusive.”

It’s particularly sad that the story is by David Akin, one of the more respectable figures associated with Sun News Network. I’m hoping that the decision to play this as an exclusive wasn’t his but an editor’s, and his loyalty to his employer is preventing him from contradicting them on it.

I’m not sure how Akin and Sun found this story, either. Did a Conservative opposition researcher leak it to him because the Tories were worried about losing Monday’s by-election in Alberta? Or was Trudeau’s past researched in light of his decision to enter the federal Liberal leadership campaign? Or do Sun Media journalists just spend their downtime looking through Télé-Québec video archives?

Explaining process is important in journalism, because transparency builds trust. But too often, these kinds of stories don’t explain process. They don’t explain what turned a journalist onto a story, even if that might be very revealing. And they don’t explain why they think a story is exclusive to them, because often they can’t explain it.

So next time you see someone say a story is an “exclusive”, ask yourself how they know that. Chances are, it’s just a (really good) guess.

And I’m telling you that exclusively.

Bell/Astral Take 2 would give it near-monopoly on Montreal English radio

It’s official: Bell is trying again. The company announced Monday morning that it has reached a new agreement to acquire Astral Media, and will submit a revised proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, one that will address the commission’s concerns about Bell becoming too big.

Details of the bid won’t be known until the CRTC publishes the application, which could take months, but it’s expected Bell will sell off some English-language television assets to stay under the CRTC’s ownership cap, and Bell says it will improve its tangible benefits package (with at least 85% of it going to on-screen initiatives).

CKGM will stay English

One detail we do know concerns CKGM. Bell says it will ask the CRTC for an exemption to the common ownership rules to allow it to keep TSN Radio 690 as an English station. From their FAQ:

We heard sports fans in Montréal loud and clear. Their passion for sports talk radio is unparalleled. Loyal and devoted, they responded in droves in an effort to preserve CKGM (TSN Radio 690) as an English-language sports radio station. As a result, as part of our new application, we are filing a request for an exception to the CRTC’s Radio Common Ownership Policy to keep TSN Radio 690 as an English-language sports radio station. As a result of tremendous listener response, we think it’s a discussion worth having. We believe an exception to the Policy is reasonable, consistent with previous regulatory practice, and the only way to preserve CKGM as an English sports talk station. Montréal sports radio fans deserve it.

An exemption from the policy is certainly what many listeners were calling for after Bell decided to blame the CRTC for its decision to request TSN be turned into RDS Radio. But it would also mean four of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal (or four of the six if you include the soon-to-be-launched TTP Media station at 600AM) would be owned by the same company.

Normally, CRTC rules state that one company can own no more than two AM and two FM stations in a single market (English and French Montreal are considered separate markets), and that in markets with fewer than eight commercial radio stations, one company can own no more than three.

The combined Bell-Astral would have a 61% total market share and a 79% commercial market share in English Montreal.

It’s odd to hear Bell say on one hand that it understands the CRTC’s concerns about concentration of ownership on a national scale and then argue it needs to own more radio stations in Montreal than the policy would normally allow. (Of course, it’s just as odd for Cogeco to cry about Astral’s market power in radio when it got a similar exemption allowing it to own three French-language commercial FM radio stations in Montreal. In that case, it was so it could hold on to CHMP 98.5FM as the flagship station of a Quebec-wide radio news network.)

Since there’s no application to change CKGM’s licence, they can’t turn around and make it French if the CRTC decides not to allow Bell to own four stations. Instead, it or one of the other former Astral stations would likely be sold to bring Bell under the ownership cap. And since CKGM has the poorest ratings, it would likely be the one to go.

So while RDS Radio isn’t an imminent threat, CKGM and its staff aren’t out of the woods yet.

Say No To Bell vs. Canadians Deserve More

If there’s one thing Bell has learned most from its previous attempt, it’s that it needs a better PR campaign to convince Canadians to be on its side. So it launched along with a corresponding Twitter account. Expect to be bombarded by ads from Bell touting the awesomeness of this deal, particularly on television and radio stations owned by Bell Media and Astral. And, if Quebecor and others aren’t convinced this new deal addresses all of their concerns (I’m guessing it won’t), expect a similar ad campaign from Say No To Bell on channels owned by Quebecor and Cogeco, and possibly Rogers and others as well.


The public will have a chance to comment on the application when it’s published by the commission.

International Radio Report turns 25

International Radio Report hosts Sheldon Harvey (right) and Janice Laws (second from right) with guests during their 25th anniversary show on Sunday.

It seems like it’s been there forever, and it has, if “forever” starts when CKUT started broadcasting in 1987. The International Radio Report, a half-hour weekly show about radio broadcasting locally and internationally, has been on since the station’s first week. Every Sunday at 10:30am, hosts Sheldon Harvey and Janice Laws provide a brief synopsis of what is going on that week in the radio scene.

I’m a regular listener, and if you’re interested in local radio you might want to be as well. And I’m not just saying that because they mention this blog and my stories a lot.

It’s a show that runs on a shoestring budget. In fact, it runs on a budget of zero, and consists entirely of two people talking about stuff they heard for half an hour, almost always running out of time long before they run out of material. It’s dry, but it’s informative, a compilation of news about radio that nerds like me (and probably you) find interesting but few others might.

Anyway, the show and the station are both celebrating 25 years on the air, and the International Radio Report is broadcasting a one-hour special on Sunday, from 10:30 to 11:30am, with special guests and other anniversary-show stuff.

You can listen to past episodes of the show on CKUT’s website, subscribe to it as a podcast, or check out its Facebook page (where links to source information are posted) for more information.

UPDATE: If you missed it, the show is archived on the CKUT website. You can download an MP3 of the full hour-long show here (64kbps, 28MB) or a higher-quality version here (128 kbps, 55MB).

Montreal Stars need journalists

Hey, remember hockey?

It’s that game they play on ice. Rubber disks, large nets, lots of padding, you remember.

Anyway, while the National Hockey League continues to not play because of a lockout, Montreal sports media (which are always all about the Canadiens, even during the offseason) have been struggling to find other things to do with their time. Some have decided to follow the Canadiens’ farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, or Canadiens players biding their time in Europe. Some have written countless stories recounting every minute detail about NHL labour negotiations. Some have written a 12th story about how Montreal bars are suffering because drunken hockey fans aren’t pouring in to watch the game three times a week. Some have just decided to report on things that didn’t actually happen.

And some have decided to look at other sports. (Hey, did you know we have professional football and soccer teams in this city?)

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CRTC approves TTP Media’s English news-talk station at 600AM

Nicolas Tétrault, Rajiv Pancholy and Paul Tietolman now have licences for two AM radio stations in Montreal.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Friday approved an application by 7954689 Canada Inc., better known as Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, to create an English-language talk radio station at 600AM.

The station, which would have 100% local programming under a news-talk format, would be the first direct competitor to market leader CJAD since 940 News, which changed formats in 2008 and eventually shut down in 2010. (The commission notes that CKGM, which is all-sports under the TSN Radio 690 brand, and CBME-FM, which has CBC Radio One programming, are not direct competitors because the first has a different format and the second is non-commercial.)

Approval was expected, because in its decision last year rejecting the application, the commission made clear that it was doing so only because it did not have an available frequency to give to the group. It invited TTP to re-apply for another frequency, and said it would reconsider the application. TTP did that, stepping down from an earlier bluff that it needed clear channels for both stations or wouldn’t proceed with either.

The new application received little opposition, only one comment that the market could not handle a competitor to CJAD (see below). The commission dismissed the comment, which came with no evidence to back it up, noting that CJAD itself did not oppose the application.

The new station will operate as a sister station to one the commission approved last year for a French news-talk station at 940AM. That station has until November 2013 to launch unless it gets an extension. Paul Tietolman tells me he expects both stations to launch in the spring at around the same time.

It was also revealed recently that the group has applied for a French-language sports-talk radio station for 850AM, the former frequency for CKVL, a station owned by Tietolman’s father. That application has not yet been published by the CRTC.

You can read my Gazette story on the decision here.

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It’s time to step out of the echo chamber

XKCD’s take on the accuracy of polling

By now, you probably know about Nate Silver, the guy behind the New York Times’s Five Thirty Eight blog whose in-depth analysis of opinion polling data produced an electoral map that has correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential race in 49 of 50 states, and likely Florida as well if Obama maintains his slim lead there.

He’s being heralded as a wizard by Democratic supporters after being vilified as a left-wing hack by Republicans in the weeks before the election because he predicted a strong possibility of Obama winning enough swing states to take the election.

Silver is a very smart man, and his model has shown to be correct in multiple elections now. He’s no wizard, just someone who took in a lot of data and applied a formula to it (using yet more data) that made projections with it that turned out to be correct. Few things are polled as much as U.S. presidential elections, and Silver had a lot of data to work with, particularly in those swing states. Simply averaging all those polls together would have given a pretty good, and other projections based on multiple polls produced nearly identical maps. Silver’s model was more complex, counting for pollsters’ biases by looking at their accuracy in previous elections.

Silver got some things wrong. He called the North Dakota senate race “safe Republican”, but it went to the Democrat in a squeaker. Silver could easily blame the lack of polling in that state – only one published poll in the final two weeks of the election campaign. In next-door Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester (first elected during the Democratic wave of 2006) was widely expected to lose his seat, Silver’s model ignored the fact that polls consistently showed Tester in the lead, and instead used “state fundamentals” numbers (i.e. that the state is very red) to push the race in the “lean Republican” category. No doubt he’ll take a look at that when revising the model.

(I’ll give you a moment to note the irony that where Silver was wrong, it was that he leaned too far toward Republicans.)

And Silver got maybe a bit too defensive when people criticized his work, leading to a poorly-thought-out bet with Joe Scarborough that got him into trouble with the Times.

But what’s important here is that Silver has shown that in general, elections with a high amount of public polling from different sources can get a very accurate view of how people are going to vote. Biases, like the inability to reach people with cellphones, or the type of people who respond to pollsters, or the strength of get-out-the-vote efforts, can be counted for quantitatively and compensated.

Mocking the mockers

Silver’s critics acted, it seemed, not because they disagreed with his methodology, but because they disagreed with its results. Projecting a 90% chance of an Obama win didn’t fit in with people’s gut feelings that the race was too close to call. Even though it didn’t take an expert to see that Romney’s path to 270 electoral votes was much more difficult than Obama’s for what were generally agreed to be the swing states up for grabs, pundits refused to accept that the race was all but over.

So many on the conservative side made their own predictions.

There was George Will predicting a huge electoral college victory for Romney. There was The Weekly Standard predicting a Romney win mainly because it felt Republican voters were more motivated than Democratic ones. There was that guy behind the website Unskewed Polls that said Silver is “extremely biased” toward Democrats and had to eat crow when not only did the expected big Romney win not arrive, but those projections he attacked turned out to be right.

There were more reasoned criticisms of the models used by Silver and others. This piece in the National Review complained about the weights Silver gave polls, suggesting they were entirely subjective (they weren’t), and probably deserves better than me pointing out that the same writer called Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin for Romney, and all seven of those states (if we assume Florida doesn’t flip) went to Obama.

And there was Karl Rove famously questioning the Fox News election desk after it declared Obama the winner, saying the vote in Ohio wasn’t clear yet, leading to Megyn Kelly confronting their supernerds and getting them to explain why they made their call, and plenty of mockery of the news network for going through the five stages of grief.

Shades of 2004

Even though it was clear by about 11pm that Obama was going to win the election, and networks started calling it around 11:15, there was defiance of yet more math by Romney’s supporters. Even Romney’s staff had apparently deluded themselves. Romney himself refused to concede at first, the story went, and didn’t prepare a concession speech, resulting in a delay before he gave it.

While this was happening, I thought back to 2004. The election counting went well into the night, but eventually George Bush was declared the winner after taking the state of Ohio by about 120,000 votes. His Democratic opponent, John Kerry, wouldn’t concede until the next day, and many hard-core Democrats still believe Kerry should have won that state and some secret trickery prevented it. To many Democrats, Bush’s unpopularity was so obvious, so widespread that a landslide Kerry win was simply inevitable.

The echo chamber of the right

This reminded me of that year because it wasn’t just a question of right-wingers being disconnected from reality. It was about how everyone seems to have constructed their own reality based on facts they choose to listen to.

I think of people like Ezra Levant, who despite billing himself as a free-thinking voice seemed to regurgitate just about every Republican talking point, even on election night. The things he retweeted on his Twitter account all went in the same direction: the polls are wrong because Romney will win. The day before the election, he discussed on his show how a CNN poll showing a dead heat was obviously biased toward Obama because it oversampled Democrats. He and his guest concluded that the number of Democrats who would vote in the election was overestimated based solely on their gut feeling that enthusiasm for Obama must be lower than it was in 2008.

Levant predicted “a big Romney win“, four years after having predicted “McCain will win“. Levant’s electoral map showed seven states – Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire and Florida – all going for Romney when they all went for Obama. Online polls on the Sun News website show that voters believed that Romney was more likely to win, by a huge margin.

When Levant turned out to be wrong, again, rather than take the Nate Silver approach and adjust his baseline, he went into an apparent on-air depression, saying America is now doomed and Canada should look to other countries to do trade with. He concluded that America has changed and that they’re all just freeloaders who want government handouts. When I pointed out how his prediction differed from those “biased” polls he complained about so much, he accused me of not having “courage” for not making a public prediction on TV, as if my lack of public prediction somehow made him less wrong.

What’s ironic about all this is that this is the exact same kind of stuff that Sun News itself accuses its competitors of: sitting in an echo chamber, listening only to people who agree with them, and putting out journalism that is biased toward their personal views because they block out people they don’t like. Levant and colleague Brian Lilley sometimes have a point when they criticize other journalists for their often liberal views about things, but they’re hardly setting an example when they go even further in the other direction, no matter how much they might pat themselves on the back for being honest about it.

The election result on Tuesday provided rare hard evidence that the echo chamber Levant and other conservatives choose to live in has led them to beliefs that are quantifiably wrong. Unfortunately, their response seems to have been to dismiss this like one would a failed bet on a hockey game, and move on without questioning what led them to incorrect conclusions.

The echo chamber of the left

Before this blog post gets passed around on as if it’s the greatest thing in the world, I’ll point out once again that the echo chamber isn’t restricted to Republicans, or even Americans. A quick trip to Facebook and I saw plenty of anti-Republican ridiculousness passed around by people who should know better. Posts about how Romney’s slogan was taken from the KKK (it wasn’t). Exaggerations of a case where a single miscalibrated voting screen caused an input for Obama to be recorded as an input for Romney. In general, anything that made Romney and the Republicans look bad, or Obama and the Democrats look good, got lots of attention and very little verification.

We know that Obama would do well in Canada, and certainly in this part of it. But people with only friends in Montreal might be left with the impression that everyone loves Obama, and that only the really stupid and the truly evil support Romney and the “Rapepublicans”. That’s about as large a brush to paint on Romney supporters as Romney himself painted on the 47% of Americans he called freeloaders because they don’t pay federal income taxes.

And before you start thinking that left-wingers are just better at math and science than the right, I’ll remind you that when I tried to use a scientific approach to measure the size of a large protest over tuition, my numbers were challenged by people on the left. Why? Because the total number that came out of the process didn’t match their gut feeling of how large the crowd must have been.

How we can fix it

The polling part is easy. Don’t overanalyze. People broke down polls and picked at the ones that didn’t show things the way they wanted. They adjusted the assumptions, convinced that the pollsters have some vested interest in being incorrect and that their amateur fiddling would correct their internal biases. Silver’s model doesn’t involve tinkering with individual polls, it simply adjusts for known quantifiable data (including things like how well those pollsters did in the last election). There is still plenty to disagree on or debate about polling methodology, but people on both sides have to acknowledge that when they start playing with the numbers themselves they tend to inject bias more than they remove it.

For the rest, it means being more critical of stuff you hear that you and your friends agree with, and being more receptive to those you don’t. It means, for those on the left, spending less time accepting at face value what’s said by people who worked on the NDP campaign in the last election, and more time listening to reasonable people whose political views you don’t like.

I’d say start watching Sun News, but it’s hard to take them seriously. Maybe start off with some light conservatism, like Andrew Coyne.

And to those on the right, well if the re-election of Barack Obama didn’t provide enough proof that your assumptions are wrong, I honestly don’t know what to say.

KKIC gives itself a big push

It’s been a year since KKIC (Kahnawake Keeps It Country) went from being a pirate radio broadcaster to a properly licensed radio station (CKKI-FM 89.9), from someone’s fun project into a serious commercial enterprise. But not much has been heard from the low-powered commercial country music station since then. Its programming has been mostly automated, and it hasn’t done much marketing to get the word out about what it offers.

That changes this week as the station launches new morning and afternoon drive programs and makes more of an effort to market itself through social media.

Sheldon Harvey is a co-host, with owner Brian Moon, of the KKIC morning show

The most surprising news is one of the station’s new faces. Sheldon Harvey, a local radio expert, moderator of the Radio in Montreal discussion group and co-host of the International Radio Report on CKUT, joins station owner Brian Moon as hosts of The Country Breakfast Show with Brian and Sheldon, from 6am to 9am on weekdays. Harvey has been hired by the station as a consultant and has been working to give it a marketing push over the past few weeks.

“It’s not going to be any super-slick produced affair; just a easy, laid-back approach, with casual conversation, basic information and the usual mix of today’s country hits and country classics,” Harvey writes in an email. “It’s really going to be a ‘work in progress’ as we feel our way around. We hope that listeners will give us a try and come along for the ride.”

“We do want to reach out to the listening audience and have them feel like a part of the station. We also want country music fans everywhere within the reach of our signal that this station is for them. There is a bit of misconception that this a community station for Kahnawake. KKIC is really for everyone. While there is an obvious connection to Kahnawake, KKIC is proud to be offering country music to fans of country music. Country is the most popular radio format in North America. Now Montreal and the surrounding regions have their own 24 hour a day country music station on 89.9 MHz and live-streaming on”

Harvey, who lives on the south shore, has a history with Kahnawake. He also worked for the other FM radio station there, CKRK-FM (K103), which is the community station serving the reserve. He emphasizes that, unlike K103, KKIC is a commercial station, and it wants everyone to feel welcome.

Montreal has been described as the largest market in North America without a country music station. Whether that’s true depends on your definition. There’s CJMS 1040 in Saint-Constant, which bills itself as a country station, but doesn’t have country music full-time. There’s also WVNV 96.5FM, a border station that targets Montreal.

“We really believe that there is potential for a country music station, particularly an English one,” Harvey writes. “Given the several dozen country music festivals held in Quebec each summer, including the immense St-Tite festival, we know that there are lots of country music fans in the Francophone community.  We know that they don’t want to listen to French country music, so once they know about KKIC, we hope we can bring them over.”

Aside from marketing and programming, which are mainly a question of money, the big issue for KKIC is its signal. Its license is for a transmitter with a maximum effective radiated power of 610 watts, on top of a small tower in a backyard. Its signal technically covers the reserve and surrounding areas, including the southern half of the West Island. But its signal is actually pretty good in other places, and can be easily heard farther away.

Whether this push will be enough to put 89.9 on people’s dials and turn KKIC into a profitable enterprise remains to be seen. Running a radio station most people have never heard of isn’t easy, and Harvey admits that selling advertising is a challenge.

But at least they’re trying.

The Country Breakfast Show with Brian and Sheldon airs 6am to 9am on weekdays. Cedrick’s Kickin’ Country Drive with Cedrick Periard airs 3pm to 6pm weekdays. The station also has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and can be streamed live at (which is in desperate need of a makeover).

Radio-Canada dominates Judith Jasmin award nominations

Apparently unaware that Friday isn’t the day to announce things you want actually covered, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec announced on Friday the nominees for its seven annual Judith Jasmin awards.

The awards, considered the most prestigious in Quebec journalism, will be handed out at the FPJQ’s annual conference in St. Sauveur on Nov. 17.

Radio-Canada dominates the nominations, with nine overall and at least one in every category except opinion. Five of the nominations are reports done for Enquête, the rest for regular Téléjournal newscasts. La Presse and L’actualité also have multiple nominations with three each. Other nominees are Le Devoir, Le Droit, Jobboom,, La Voix de l’Est and The Gazette, all with one each.

Quebecor media outlets are notable in their absence (except for Jobboom), either because they never submitted stories or because what was submitted wasn’t nominated.

The nominees are below, along with links to the reports where they are available online so you can read or watch them yourself.

Entrevue / Portrait

Journalisme de service


Nouvelles – Médias nationaux


Nouvelles – Médias locaux et régionaux

Grand reportage

Max Harrold to become CTV Quebec bureau chief

Max Harrold (Gazette photo)

Max Harrold, a news reporter for The Gazette since 2006, has been hired as the new Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV News. The move was announced this morning with mixed feelings by Gazette city editor Michelle Richardson. He leaves the paper on Nov. 20.

Harrold, who tells me he’s 47 but has always seemed so much younger at heart, has been a general assignment reporter, specializing in breaking news. He’s also the guy behind the weekly Squeaky Wheels column, answering readers’ questions about issues involving transportation in Montreal. Before joining The Gazette he wrote for it as a freelancer, wrote for the Discovery Channel program How It’s Made, and worked in off-air roles at Global Television and CBC. He also worked for the short-lived Montreal Daily News, and was there when the paper shut down in 1989.

He’s a native Montrealer, but lived and worked in Los Angeles and New York for 13 years, and studied at Columbia Journalism School.

Harrold told me he had informal discussions with CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane before the latest round of buyouts at The Gazette, with the possibility of having to look for a new job at the back of his mind. In the end that would become unnecessary, since there were no layoffs of reporters, but discussions continued.

“I thought it would be for an off-camera job or a research job,” Harrold said when he called me from the office, where he’s getting congratulations from his colleagues. But Kahane needed someone with excellent reporting skills for the Quebec City job, and Harrold fit the bill.

“It’s an interesting time in Quebec City, and it’s a bureau where I want someone who overall has an understanding of quebec politics,” Kahane said. “Max is a veteran, he’s an experienced editorial guy (and) he was the kind of person I was looking for.”

Harrold doesn’t have any on-air experience in television, though he went through a screen test that was enough to convince Kahane the jump to television could work. Kahane points out that other print journalists have moved to television with great success. He mentioned people like David Akin at Sun Media. Nancy Wood, an anchor at CBC Montreal, is another former Gazette reporter and print specialist who made a very successful transition into broadcasting.

Kahane said that with strong editorial judgment, learning the technical part isn’t a big problem. The former is valued far more than the latter in a television reporter.

Nevertheless, Harrold admitted it will be a transition, and he’s already been practicing proper standups in front of a mirror.

Harrold begins at CTV in December, and will spend his first few weeks training, learning the ins and outs of TV reporting in general and CTV’s systems in particular. Kahane said he expects Harrold will do some on-air work in Montreal (he couldn’t say when we should expect to start seeing Harrold on air) and be ready to report from Quebec City by the time the National Assembly reconvenes for the new year in February.

CTV’s last Quebec City bureau chief, you might recall, had a fairly public resignation in July 2011. Kahane said he didn’t make any special requests of Harrold, though he did ask if Harrold had a television at home (Kai Nagata famously did not even though he was a TV reporter). Harrold said he has two. The embarrassment for CTV meant a lot of hesitation at choosing someone new for the position, particularly for going with someone young and inexperienced, so the position remained unfilled for more than a year.

Maya Johnson has been filling in, covering Quebec City and the National Assembly for the past few months. She’ll return to Montreal, where Kahane said she will continue her reporting, which he qualified as excellent, from here.

Harrold’s new job means moving to Quebec City (and finding a fluently bilingual anglophone willing to move to the provincial capital is also a big challenge in filling this position). Harrold will look for a place in Quebec City and expects to live there for a little while before his husband Greg joins him.

There’s no word yet on whether The Gazette will be looking to hire someone to replace Harrold, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson is already getting unsolicited offers.

On a personal note, since Max is a friend, I’ll wish him well. But a warning: no mercy on the hilariously embarrassing gaffes that make live TV so much fun to watch.

UPDATE: Max’s first report aired on Dec. 12.