Monthly Archives: July 2013

Radio Fierté requests frequency change, one-year extension to launch

CHRF Radio Fierté, which was supposed to launch this fall at 990 AM, has instead requested a one-year extension and has applied to change frequency to 980 AM in an effort to improve its signal.

When it applied for a frequency change from 990 to 690 in 2011, TSN Radio’s owner Bell Media said the 990 AM frequency was of poor quality, particularly toward the west, and that the station was suffering financially because of it.

The CRTC apparently agreed enough that it awarded the station the much better 690 AM frequency, and gave 990 to a newcomer to the Montreal broadcasting market to start up a music and talk station for the city’s LGBT community.

As it turns out, that new player, Dufferin Communications (Evanov Radio) agrees with TSN: That frequency sucks. So it’s asking to shift slightly on the dial.

5 mV/m day signal patterns: existing 990 (green) and proposed 980 (yellow)

5 mV/m day signal patterns: existing 990 (green) and proposed 980 (yellow)

5 mV/m night signal patterns: existing 990 (blue) and proposed 980 (red)

5 mV/m night signal patterns: existing 990 (blue) and proposed 980 (red)

The proposal keeps the transmitter at the same site, the same transmitter in Mercier used by CKGM. But the signal pattern changes, particularly at night, which would go from a narrowly-focused 50kW signal pointed north-northeast, to a rounder 10kW signal that points everywhere but south.

The new night signal would provide much better coverage toward places like Hudson to the west and Granby to the east, at the expense of places northeast like Sorel and Joliette.

The 990 frequency’s signal needs to be this way because of rules that prevent stations of this class from interfering with clear-channel stations at night (when AM radio signals carry much further). On 990, the station has to avoid CBW in Winnipeg and CBY in Corner Brook, N.L., and also has to deal with other stations on the same frequency in places like Rochester, N.Y. and Philadelphia. But 980 doesn’t have any clear-channel stations on it, and while it does have to share the frequency with stations in London, Ont., Troy, N.Y., Lowell, Mass., and Washington, D.C., the signal doesn’t have to be quite as narrow to avoid those stations.

Back to the future

There’s a fair bit of irony here: CKGM used to be at 980, but in 1990, when it was operating as CHTX, it got permission from the CRTC to move to 990 to improve its signal.

So what changed to make 980 more attractive again? The closest station on that frequency is no longer on the air. In the late 1990s, the CBC moved many of its AM stations in major markets to FM. That included CBV 980 in Quebec City, the Première Chaîne station now at 106.3 FM. With no station on that frequency there since 1997, and no one likely to want to reanimate it (since CHRC 800 shut down last year, there are no AM stations left in Quebec City), the door is open to a better signal pointed toward the north.

As Dufferin notes in its brief to the CRTC, it’s no stranger to “impaired” signals. It has a station in Toronto, CIRR-FM (PROUD FM) that is limited to 250 watts because of how congested the radio frequency spectrum is there. It also cited challenges with its 4.85kW signal at CJWL-FM in Ottawa (The Jewel).

“While we had initially taken a ‘something is better than nothing’ approach in our letter of October 24, 2011, Dufferin now believes it has identified a frequency that will permit to deliver a clear signal to its audience and reach its projected levels of profitability on schedule,” it writes.

More people, better reception

The numbers seem to back it up: The 0.5mV/m contour of the current 990 signal includes 4.25 million people during the day and 3.3 million overnight. With the proposed 980 signal, that increases to 5.5 million during the day and 4.5 million at night, an increase of 30% and 36% respectively.

“Most importantly, we are also informed by our engineers that the 980 kHz frequency will also alleviate the penetration and reliability issues currently experienced by 990 kHz as a result of operating at a higher power. The nulls and deficiencies of the (990) will be unable to effectively reach the city’s LGBT community Dufferin is licensed to serve.”

Basically, this means that the engineers believe there will be fewer problems receiving the signal between the large buildings downtown than there was with 990.

Financial projections improve

Dufferin says the additional audience and more reliable signal will improve its financial projections (because larger audience means higher ad rates). With the 990 signal, it projected losing money each of its first six years, and being in the hole by $600,000 by the end of its first seven-year licence term. With the 980 signal, that improves to making money in Year 3 and making $537,000 over the first seven years, closer to the projections it made based on getting the 690 frequency it had originally applied for.

Of course, these are all just projections. We won’t know what happens until the station is actually on the air.

Need more time

So why is this only coming out now, more than a year and a half after Dufferin was given a licence?

There are a few reasons. The biggest one is that it needed to wait for the frequency to be vacated. That only happened in November, when CKGM ended its simulcast on 690 and 990. In the meantime, Dufferin says it conducted its own study to see if the 990 signal was as bad as CKGM’s owner Bell said it was. It’s conclusion was that it really was that bad, and so it looked at other options.

The option it seemed to settle on was the frequency of 850 AM, formerly used by CKVL. But as it explored tower options for a station on that frequency, the CRTC published another application for that frequency and approved it in June, forcing Dufferin to move to Plan D.

Even if the frequency change isn’t approved, Dufferin says it wants an extra year to launch the station because of all the time it spent trying to find an alternative frequency.

Chances of approval are high

The CRTC hasn’t published the application from Dufferin (the company informed me of it directly after people noticed that there was a new entry in Industry Canada’s database for 980 AM). Normally, such technical amendments are treated as so-called “Part 1” applications, which means no public hearing is set, but the public is still given a month to comment. If serious issues are brought up, the commission can hold the application and schedule a public hearing about it.

UPDATE (July 31): The CRTC has indeed published the technical amendment application as a Part 1 application. You can download the full application here (.zip), or file comments here until Aug. 29. Note that all comments and information submitted with them are on the public record.

Applications for extensions to launch services are usually granted without public comment, and there’s little reason to believe this one would be treated differently. Normally a radio station is given two years to begin broadcasting from the date the licence is issued. A one-year extension is usually granted if requested before that deadline, and a second one-year extension if warranted, and further extensions normally denied. The fact that Dufferin has some good reasons for the delay in starting up should mean no problem having this part approved, giving it until Nov. 21, 2014 to launch.

But will the technical change be approved as easily? It’s hard to envision too many parties opposing it. There’s no more AM station in Quebec City, and if someone wanted to start one up they’d probably choose a different frequency anyway. The frequency change puts CHRF closer to the French news-talk station being launched by Tietolman Tétrault Pancholy Media at 940 AM, but the 40 kHz difference is usually more than enough, even in the same city.

Problems at CJMS 1040 don’t mean it’s the end

This is what you get at right now

This is what you got at during the day on Tuesday

It’s a given that some radio stations are more professional than others. Some have big pockets, expensive ads and lots of people doing marketing. Others are just trying to get by.

On Tuesday morning, rumours started circulating on the Radio in Montreal forum that CJMS 1040 AM in Saint-Constant (no relation to the former CJMS on 1280) would be pulling the plug. The station, which bills itself as Montreal’s only country music station (though that’s arguable, there’s another one in Kahnawake), has seemed to be doing its best to confirm that it’s going off the rails. Its programming has been cutting in and out, sometimes mid-song, leaving minutes of dead air. There’s no apparent live announcer.

Oh, and the website has been suspended. UPDATE: It’s back.

But according to station owner Alexandre Azoulay, who I reached by phone, there’s no plan to shut down the station and as far as he knows everything is proceeding normally, with the exception of some technical problems caused by a transformer that was blown during Friday’s storm.

He couldn’t say why the station’s programming seemed to be having problems.

One reason could be summer vacations. Pascal Poudrier, who provides a bulk of the station’s weekday programming, went on vacation last Friday, according to his Facebook page. Summer vacations were also cited as a reason for the lack of news in the hearing that led to the station’s last CRTC licence renewal.

In that renewal, issued in 2010 and expiring Aug. 31, 2014, the CRTC addressed numerous issues with the station’s licence compliance. There were required contributions to Canadian talent development, which were issued late due to what the licensee said was a lack of liquidity. There was the lack of newscasts after 5pm Monday to Thursday and all day Friday to Sunday, during a review of the station’s programming for the second-last week of July, 2010 (what a coincidence, we’re in the same week now). And there was an issue relating to the proper submission of lists of songs broadcast.

That said, the CRTC noted that CJMS had taken significant steps toward improving its licence compliance, and even though it was just coming off a two-year renewal and could have been facing a legal mandatory order or even the suspension or revocation of its licence, the CRTC gave it some breathing room with a four-year term.

Listening for about the past hour (a livestream is still available, and it’s still broadcasting on 1040 AM), the programming issues seem to have gotten less jarring. So it looks like this was a false alarm.

But whether this small station can survive in the long term is another question. We’ll have a clearer idea next year when it applies for its next licence renewal.

Cult MTL tries twice-monthly print issue as it turns a year old

Cult MTL staff at their December 2012 issue launch.

Cult MTL staff at their December 2012 issue launch.

It’s not often you get to write a happy news story about struggling print media. Heck, the blog post just before this one is about hundreds of jobs being lost and big papers shutting down. But while other papers have decades of history and so-called “legacy costs” and are slashing their workforce to face the new industry reality, Cult MTL is building itself up slowly from the ground. And through a mixture of incremental steps and fuelled by a large amount of good-will unpaid or underpaid work, it’s establishing a future for itself and filling the hole that was left by the shut down of Hour and Mirror last year.

It was one year ago today that the website published its first articles. And in today’s Gazette, I talk to the brains behind the operation about their progress and future plans.

It’s during that meeting a little over week ago that they told me Cult was moving to a twice-monthly schedule (the next issue comes out starting on Thursday) and that they’re looking for permanent office space.

The three senior editorial staff were surprisingly open with me about how things are going there. Part of being so independent is not having to keep too many trade secrets. I didn’t ask them for their tax returns or anything, but they answered every question I asked as best they could.

Here’s a roundup of things they told me.

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Quebecor cuts 360 jobs, shuts down 24 Hours in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton

Triple-digit job cuts in major media companies seem to have become so commonplace these days. It’s not even the first time it’s happened at Quebecor Media (500 job cuts last fall, 90 cuts at TVA last month, 600 jobs in 2008).

On Tuesday, the company announced it is reducing its workforce by 360 jobs through “restructuring initiatives”, and killing half its 24 Hours free daily network of papers. Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary, where Quebecor’s Sun Media also produces paid dailies, will no longer have 24 Hours newspapers. The last editions of those papers will be Aug. 2.

That leaves three: Montreal and Toronto, where Quebecor says the large mass transit systems warrant the continued publication of a free daily, and Vancouver, where there isn’t a Sun Media paid daily.

Quebecor is also pulling the plug on eight community newspapers:

  • L’Action Régionale Montérégie (Québec)
  • The Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario)
  • The Midland Free Press (Ontario)
  • The Meadow Lake Progress (Saskatchewan)
  • The Lac du Bonnet Leader (Manitoba)
  • The Beausejour Review (Manitoba)
  • Le Magazine Saint-Lambert (Québec)
  • Le Progrès de Bellechasse (Québec)

There’s some blah-blah-blah about investing in new technologies where the young people are at these days, but the job cuts make it clear that those investments won’t involve many people.

The news comes just after the editor of the Toronto Sun was left jobless.

Only in Montreal debuts Saturday

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media's office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media’s office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

Only in Montreal, the new weekly magazine show about Montreal city life, debuted Saturday night at 7pm on City Montreal. You can watch the first episode online.

Each half-hour episode of the series, which is produced by Montreal-based Whalley-Abbey Media (the folks behind those Debbie Travis and Chuck Hughes shows) features one piece each by hosts Matt Silver, Tamy Emma Pepin and Dimitrios Koussioulas, exploring some interesting facet of life in Montreal. Because the segments are shot months in advance (early segments were shot in April while it was still snowing), there’s nothing very topical on the show. The first episode has Silver exploring Montreal’s food trucks during a First Friday event at the Olympic Stadium, Pepin talking to Corey Shapiro of vintage sunglasses fame, and Koussioulas hanging out with the roller derby crowd.

I talk about the show and its hosts in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

Koussioulas vs. Koussioulas

You might have noticed that the debut of this show coincides with the airing of the Parc Avenue Tonight live show, also starring Dimitrios Koussioulas. In fact, they’re both on at the same time, as I point out in this short story, which features both CBC and Rogers downplaying the significance of introducing a new face and having him competing against himself.

The conflict has been known for months, and it’s hard to imagine with all the weeks and all the time slots they could have chosen, that this conflict isn’t somehow intentional. The official explanation from both sides is that the two shows have been in the works for months, and the schedules were set before they were aware of each other. And in any case it’s not a big deal.

But really, with months of advance notice, neither of these shows could have been moved by half an hour, or moved by a week?

I’m having a hard time buying that.

UPDATE: Because the Calgary Stampede ran way long, the local CBC newscast was pushed back by almost an hour, an episode of Marketplace was killed entirely, and still Parc Avenue Tonight was delayed by about 15 minutes. Maybe CBC should run it again some time.

Things look different ’round here

If you’re one of those super-sleuth detective persons, you might have noticed a slight change to the look of this blog.

Well, your eyes are not deceiving you. For mainly technical reasons (i.e. all the ways it was broken), I need to abandon the previous theme that was used on this website. I’ve replaced it with the WordPress stock theme Twenty Twelve, which I’ll be customizing to fit my personal preferences and the way things work around here. Until then, things might be a bit awkward, but everything should at least work.

If you see something that doesn’t, or want to suggest a change, or just want to tell me to go to hell, leave a comment or send me an email.

Photos: Behind the scenes at the Parc Avenue Tonight live taping

You might recall a few months ago I mentioned that CBC was going to record and air a special live-audience version of Dimitrios Koussioulas’s Mile End talk show Parc Avenue Tonight.

The show was recorded in front of a live audience on May 15 at Cabaret du Mile End. I was invited to witness the setup, and took a bunch of pictures. I talk a bit about the show for this story in Saturday’s Gazette, which discusses the state of local non-news television in English Montreal.

CBC Montreal presented Parc Avenue Tonight Live Saturday at 7pm as part of its Absolutely Quebec series of regional specials. You can watch it online if you missed it.
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Abby Howard and my Strip Search obsession

Abby Howard got rich quick off the Internet (kinda)

Abby Howard got rich quick off the Internet (kinda)

Is “why don’t you go suck a dick?” inappropriate for a family newspaper? It’s a question I had to ask myself while writing the lead of a story for The Gazette about Abby Howard, a (temporary) Montrealer who gained thousands of fans online and raised more than $100,000 for a project she’s working on after she was a contestant on a reality series produced by Penny Arcade.

It was a story I really enjoyed writing, and enjoyed researching. And like many such stories, it’s very long (by newspaper standards) and there’s tons of information I couldn’t cram into it. Thankfully the Internet has no limit on story size, and my blog imposes on itself no limit to how much detail I can get into.

I’ll start off here by introducing you to the series, and inviting you to watch it. Because suspense is a big part of the fun, I won’t spoil it for you until later in this post.

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The Beat wants to hire a stunt person*

“Hey class clowns, comedians, comics, funny people! Listen up… looking for a gig where you can perform to a larger audience every day? 92.5 The Beat, in Montreal may have the new thing you are looking for.”

That’s how a recent job posting starts. In an apparent effort to pump up the Beat morning show’s not-so-fantastic ratings, it’s seeking a “stunt person” who will  “deliver ambitious and innovative content that is creative, fun and engaging, and should relate to a 25-44 female audience.”

The position’s roles aren’t too clearly defined, but social media is a big part of it. The job also involves being out in the city.

Program director Leo da Estrela says he’s been getting a “large number of applicants” since news of the job posting spread on social media.

The vague description is intentional: “It’s a white canvas for us,” he wrote to me in an email. “We’re seeing what’s out there with regards to talents and what can be good for radio.”

*He did specify that “stunt person” won’t be doing anything dangerous like jumping off cliffs or being in high-speed car chases.

People interested in the job have until July 19 to apply.

In (partial) defence of Edward Burkhardt

Like most news junkies, I’ve been transfixed by the walking PR nightmare that is Edward Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway and the public face of the company many blame for causing the deaths of up to 50 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

On Wednesday, four days after the disaster, Burkhardt finally arrived in the small town, and hounded by journalists, heckled by residents and maybe even snubbed by the mayor, he tried his best to explain himself. He spent almost 45 minutes straight answering journalists’ questions in a series of unplanned scrums. He finally stopped when the Sûreté du Québec pulled him away to meet with their investigators.

He tried to explain that his company had been present since the beginning, that he thought he was more useful coordinating efforts from his office in Chicago than walking around Lac-Mégantic on a cellphone. He tried to explain that he wasn’t trying to blame the Nantes fire department for the disaster by pointing out its shutdown of the locomotive that led to air brakes failing. He tried to explain that his company was taking responsibility for the disaster, that it appears hand brakes on the train were not properly set, and that he apologizes unreservedly to the population for what happened. And he tried to explain that there’s a lot of stuff he still doesn’t know.

But it all fell on deaf ears. Nobody was satisfied by his explanations. If anything, people got angrier.

Future textbook case

I’m glad I’m not a shareholder in Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway. (Well, actually, I kind of am. The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec has a stake in it.) Not only has the disaster guaranteed a huge financial burden on the struggling company, and split its network in two so it can barely operate anymore, but Burkhardt’s actions since then have dug it even further. As unsatisfying as his assumption of responsibility was to the victims, it opened his company up to a huge legal liability. It doesn’t matter whether it was a mechanical problem with the trains, or the fault of the engineer who set the brakes, or the fault of the employee the train was left with after the fire was put out in Nantes. Responsibility rests with the company either way, and it will probably pay every last cent of its worth in damages and go out of business.

Burkhardt was asked by a journalist how much he is personally worth. He said he’s not a rich man, and said matter-of-factly that he’s worth a lot less than he was before the disaster. It was a heartless statement by a man with no apparent sense of what a proper emotional response is to events like this. But it was true. It’s his company, and he owns most of it. His ownership stake in it is probably about worthless now. When he said he worries about bankruptcy, it was just as heartless, but just as true.

I seriously wonder if Burkhardt has some sort of personality disorder. He seems completely incapable of showing empathy or emotion. It makes his statements seem insincere. And his body language is atrocious. He almost looks like he’s smirking when he’s talking about how devastated he is.

Burkhardt will soon be a chapter in what companies should not do from a public relations standpoint. He didn’t rush to the scene to get a photo op hugging victims. He was a unilingual anglophone trying to communicate with a French-language population, and even his company’s written statements at first were only in English. He doesn’t have a team of spin doctors working behind the scenes trying to implement public image damage control. He doesn’t have a team of lawyers making sure he doesn’t say anything that can be used against the company later. He’s just a guy who owns a small railway company muddling through a disaster that has been covered around the world.

Is being honest evil?

I won’t say that he hasn’t made mistakes. He’s made some big ones, not including the company policies that may have contributed to the disaster itself. He failed to communicate well with the population. He was too quick to speculate as to causes and blame others early on. He seems entirely disorganized. And he should have been on the scene earlier. Maybe not on the first day, if there were urgent matters to coordinate from his office. But by Sunday or Monday he should have been there, not Wednesday.

And there are some honest, useful aspects of public relations that his company has also failed at. It failed to communicate with the population in their language. It failed to properly explain what it is doing in response to this disaster. And Burkhardt’s choice of words has led to the impression that he’s constantly contradicting himself at a time when confusion is about the last thing you want.

But what gets me are those who lash out at him for being honest, for laying it out on the line. Here’s a Canadian Press story quoting a PR specialist saying Burkhardt shouldn’t have answered journalists’ questions for 45 minutes because doing so meant he “would be exposed to unflattering wind, hecklers and general distractions.”

Yes, as many as 50 people are dead, and we should blame the head of the railway company because he didn’t consider how unflattering the wind would be to his appearance during the press conference.

During stories abut Burkhardt’s visit, I see TV reporters doing stories saying that residents “want answers.” Burkhardt gave them. Honestly, matter-of-factly, without emotion. They were unpolished answers that didn’t go through the PR filter. And for some reason we consider that a bad thing.

Maybe it’s time we accept that in times of catastrophe, we don’t really want to hear the truth. We want to be comforted by PR professionals whose job it is to distort the truth before it gets to us.

The disaster sympathy photo op

I’ve never survived a major disaster. At least, not to the point of needing help from an organization like the Red Cross. The only thing that comes close is the ice storm of 1998, during which my home, like many others, lost power for an extended period. After the lack of power combined with the drop in temperature made our home inhabitable, my family moved in with an uncle in Laval who still had power. Others in the extended family did the same, so we had a sort of extended family reunion for a while. It only lasted a couple of days, and it was inconvenient more than it was scary. The only loss our family experienced from the event was the food that spoiled.

So I can’t really put myself in the shoes of the people of Lac Mégantic today, or those of southern Alberta in the past few weeks, or people in any other emergency situation in which lives have been lost, homes destroyed and other damage — physical, mental and economic — impossible to calculate.

Another thing I can’t see myself doing is dragging a camera behind me as I talk to people who have just lost loved ones, trying to show my best sympathetic face. It’s not that I think this is wrong, or that I don’t sincerely feel for these people, but it just feels fake, like it’s all being done for people’s entertainment, even if that might not be the case (and even if many people involved in the disaster actually really want to talk to the media and get their message out).

On Sunday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Lac Mégantic. A press release sent out in the morning said there would be a “photo opportunity” for accredited media and then a press conference an hour later. I had already wondered about the usefulness of political leaders rushing to disaster sites, but the fact that his visit literally called for a photo op bugged me.

It’s not just Harper, though. Pauline Marois had been there the night before. Thomas Mulcair also went down, doing his best to remind us why we hate politicians. All three made themselves visible to the cameras.

Was there a purpose to this, other than political? Was it just to avoid the optics of not being there?

Not having survived a natural disaster (and not being in Lac Mégantic currently), I don’t know if it’s reassuring to the residents that political leaders come to town like this. I imagine it must at least be reassuring that they’re taking the situation seriously. Though that’s tempered when those politicians disappear just as quickly as they appeared.

And there’s the downside. The higher up you go in terms of political power, the more overhead is required for a visit like this. Everything from public relations to security. Could some of that effort be better used helping the community in a more tangible way? Or worse, could this all be disruptive to rescue and recovery efforts? Especially when the prime minister of Canada isn’t really coordinating anything directly relevant here?

I honestly don’t know what to think. I’m one of those people who believes that political leaders are as important for the power of their words as their intelligence or accounting skills. And I know that if I was a political leader, I would want to be where things are happening, if only to see what’s going on for myself, to inform any decisions I would make that would affect that community, and to offer whatever emotional help I could to people who have gone through so much.

But still, I can’t shake that feeling that this is all just for show. And it’s not just because of that press release for the photo op.

Sad, sympathetic anchors

It’s not just political leaders that have been putting on a show for the cameras in the wake of this disaster. The news media has been making a big splash of this as well, beyond just covering it like the big story that it is. On Monday, CTV and CBC both co-anchored their local newscasts from Lac Mégantic, with one anchor just outside the evacuation zone, presenting stories about the aftermath of the disaster (including interviews they did themselves), and another anchor in the Montreal studio handling the rest of the news. On Monday night, CTV National News will be anchored from Lac Mégantic.

I’ve never really understood this idea of anchoring newscasts on location. Does it help my understanding of the disaster to see that Lisa LaFlamme has travelled to rural Quebec instead of doing the news from her Toronto studio? Does being on location make her more connected to the story and better able to present it to us? Are the extra costs required to anchor a newscast on location worth the payoff, journalistically? Are the producers of the newscast as focused on presenting us the latest news in the best way possible when they’re distracted by the complicated technical setup? Does Paul Karwatsky and Debra Arbec talking with reporters standing right next to them instead of speaking to them through a double-box screen make them better able to juggle all the information that’s being presented on air?

I don’t know that either. But once again, this looks an awful lot like something put on for show, designed to make us emotionally connected to a story that shouldn’t need help to be dramatic. Like the special graphics they create, and the soft piano music they play when they show those graphics.

It feels like I’m seeing a performance masquerading as action.

I hope I’m wrong.

Journalists: Donate your overtime

I’ve never been one to rush to donate money in the wake of a disaster. Working in a newsroom has desensitized me to a lot of awful things that happen in the world. But I figure the least I could do is refuse to profit off of it.

In 2010, when an earthquake devastated Haiti, Montreal media sprung into action, and devoted extra resources to covering it. I was called in to do an extra shift on overtime, and donated an amount equivalent to that overtime pay to the Red Cross. Unable to travel to the disaster area and do tangible helpful things (I probably would have been a burden more than anything else anyway), I volunteered for them by doing the job that I love, and, as awful as this may sound, during a time when the job is at its most enjoyable, or at least the most rewarding.

On Sunday, I was already scheduled to work, but my boss asked me to stay an extra hour on overtime to better manage the load of stories. I stayed an hour and a half on overtime, which works out to about an extra $100. That money is now in the hands of the Red Cross.

As I did in 2010, I encourage other journalists and those in related professions to do the same. You don’t have to give from your regular salary. But if directly or indirectly you worked paid overtime or got other financial benefit from extra work because of this disaster, consider turning that unexpected extra work into a donation and giving that extra money to people who need it.

The Red Cross has a special fund set up for Lac Mégantic relief. You can donate easily here.

Then, at least, you can be sure that the show you helped put on did some tangible good. That the only people who truly profited from it are those who have suffered the most.

10-year-old documentary an insight into insanity of student politics

I recently discovered that Concordia University’s television club has posted to YouTube a 10-year-old documentary called Student Politics. Directed by Sergeo Kirby, who would later produce other documentaries including Wal-Town, it tells the story of a student election at Concordia University in 2003. I appear a few times in the film giving somewhat incoherent commentary.

The time from 2000 to 2004 was a crazy one for Concordia and its student political bodies, and I was fortunate to have spent that time as a student journalist covering student politics. My first year, there was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving the VP finance writing 50 blank cheques to herself, and then a war between the student government and the student newspaper that resulted in the latter being shut down over a summer. My second year, an unprecedented popular impeachment campaign fuelled mainly by a post-9/11 backlash against radical activism, and an executive by-election that was derailed after a bribery scandal and ended in the election result being annulled. My third year, a controversial visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that triggered a riot, a very controversial moratorium on free speech related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a rush to the ballot box to replace radical left-wingers with a more moderate mainstream in the student executive.

Student Politics tells the story of that third year, about the heated battle between left and right (though it’s simplistic to describe the two factions in such terms), and the dynasty change that came after thousands of students from the apathetic majority finally decided they’d had enough. (That dynasty, which turned out to be no less corrupt than the leftist one, would stay in power for several years. By the time it disappeared, the left-right divide had largely faded away or been replaced by other pressing political divides.)

Highlights of the film include a point at the 22-minute mark that shows the campaigns, gathered in the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building on de Maisonneuve Blvd., rushing through the building at midnight on the first day of campaigning to plaster every wall they can find with their posters. It’s an absurd indication of how seriously both sides took their campaigns back then.

(It’s also not the first time that year that I ran up that set of escalators in a panic trying to avoid a stampede.)

Other documentaries were made about that year at Concordia, though this was the only one to focus on student politics specifically. The other two focused on the Netanyahu riot and the conflict between students supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle East conflict. I wrote about them a few years ago. There was Discordia, which is on he NFB’s website, which told the personal stories of the people behind this campus conflict. And there was Confrontation at Concordia, a heavily biased anti-Palestinian rant that aired on Global television. (It was originally posted to Google Video, but that no longer exists. A few minutes of it can be seen on YouTube.) The latter led to complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which found that although it obviously had a point of view, it didn’t engage in unethical practices or violate any broadcast standards to express it.

Student Politics isn’t the best documentary in the world. It was the effort of a first-time filmmaker. And I can’t really evaluate how well it tells a story I already know so well. But it’s a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the pettiness of student politics reached its peak.

And also a sad reminder of how much my hairline has receded in the past decade.