Monthly Archives: April 2015

Alexandre Taillefer, two managers buy Voir from its founder


Pierre Paquet, who founded the alternative weekly Voir in 1986, has sold it to a group composed of two of its managers, Michel Fortin (executive vice-president and general manager) and Hugues Mailhot (vice-president digital solutions), and investment company XPND Capital, owned by Alexandre Taillefer, better known as one of the dragons on Radio-Canada’s Dans l’oeil du dragon.

The purchase price wasn’t disclosed. It includes Voir editions in Montreal and Quebec (now biweekly and the only alternative weeklies left in those cities), plus, Boutique Voir, Guide Restos Voir and other related brands, plus distributor Diffumag and interior advertising network Panoramik.

Without knowing the price, it’s hard to say if this is good news or bad. But the continued involvement of current management will no doubt reassure its 50 or so employees. And Taillefer isn’t the kind of guy to invest in a doomed company.

Communications Voir had previously owned editions in Saguenay and Mauricie, as well as the English Montreal alt-weekly Hour. Those were all shut down in 2012. Sherbrooke and Gatineau editions followed in 2013.

UPDATE: Taillefer in interview with Radio-Canada. Suggests the purchase price was in the low seven-figures. And in an interview with La Presse, he says the big reason for buying the company was the Boutique Voir concept.

And also in La Presse, Nathalie Petrowski on Voir’s declining influence and Taillefer’s vague plans for rebuilding it.

The Jewel shuffles its lineup, moves Tasso to drivetime

Not even a month after he started, Tasso has gotten a promotion.

Starting Monday, Paul Zakaib and his alter-ego move to the afternoon drive slot (3-7pm) from mid-mornings.

That shift bumps Bob Coley to weekends. Kris Leblanc, who was doing weekends, will produce the Tasso show as well as doing weekend and fill-in work.

The move means that Tasso will for the second time be in the same time slot as former partner Aaron Rand. Though just as he did when he started doing afternoon drive at Mike FM, Tasso downplays the idea that his music show and Rand’s talk show are directly competing against teach other.

How local is Global’s plan for local news?

Shaw Media calls it innovative and transformative. Critics and the union calls it cost-cutting at the expense of local programming. What the CRTC calls it might become an issue.

Earlier this month, Global announced changes to the way it does local news across the country. The biggest one is that 11pm and weekend newscasts will no longer be anchored locally. Instead, an anchor or anchors in Toronto will produce local newscasts for the various local stations, customized for those stations and containing local news.

I get into the details of what’s changing in this story for the Montreal Gazette.

This is a step beyond what they did in 2008, when they centralized newscast control rooms in four broadcast centres (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto) so that one team could produce several newscasts in a day instead of just one or two.

What we’re left with are newscasts that feature reports from local journalists and are presumably lined up by local staff, but where the anchor, weatherman, director and just about all technical staff are in another city. Can that really be considered local programming?

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month. (File photo)

There are also changes to the morning show, which will soon feature eight-minute segments every half-hour produced nationally that will be identical for all markets. As a result, the morning show is losing three employees, including co-host Richard Dagenais.

The promises

The union representing Global Montreal employees isn’t happy. It sent out a press release last week (later corrected) that condemned the loss of local programming. Except for a couple of tweets, no one paid attention.

CUPE/SCFP tells me they will be watching the new shows with a stopwatch to see if Global is meeting its obligations to the CRTC, and will complain if they’re not.

Like all commercial television stations, Global Montreal has to ensure a minimum amount of local programming is aired. For stations in large markets like Montreal, that’s 14 hours a week.

Shaw also made a separate promise to create morning shows at least two hours long when it purchased Global from Canwest in 2010, and to keep them running until at least 2016-17, contributing $45 million to that cause ($5 million for Montreal). Because that’s a tangible benefit as part of a major acquisition, those 10 hours a week have to be in addition to the usual 14 hours a week of local programming.

If we consider Morning News, Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal as local programming, including their repeats and best-of shows, Global is meeting that obligation of 24 hours a week.

But are they really local?

As far as I can tell, the CRTC only really got around to establishing a definition of local programming in 2009, when it established the since-terminated Local Programming Improvement Fund. In Paragraph 43, it decided on the following definition:

Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.

Are these late-night newscasts produced by local stations? Do they use local personnel? It depends how you define “produced” and “personnel”, I guess.

When Global first outsourced technical production in 2008, the unions complained then too, saying these newscasts were not really local. The CRTC didn’t see it that way,

In 2009, the commission decided that there was no evidence that Global was contravening its licence requirements by outsourcing production of local news. It confirmed this later that year in renewing the licences of Global stations, but said it “will continue to monitor the situation.”

There’s also a separate definition of “local presence”, which has three criteria:

  • providing seven-day-a-week original local news coverage distinct to the market;
  • employing full-time journalists on the ground in the market; and
  • operating a news bureau or news gathering office in the market.

Global’s new plan fits all three of these criteria, though the first might be arguable depending on how distinctive the newscasts really are.

Global points out that it’s not unprecedented to anchor local newscasts outside of the local market. Its New Brunswick newscast is anchored out of Halifax. Other small stations owned by Global and CTV have their local news produced out of neighbouring markets. And the CRTC hasn’t seemed to have a problem with that.

The CRTC will be reviewing its local television policy in the coming year, and this could become a central issue.

What the new Global Montreal will look like

So how will this affect what actually goes on air? Here’s what we know:

  • The 6pm newscast is unchanged. It will still be anchored locally by Jamie Orchard, and produced out of Edmonton with a weatherman in Toronto. Its news will still be local, since it’s followed directly by Global National at 6:30.
  • Focus Montreal is also unchanged.
  • The late-night and weekend newscasts will have a Toronto anchor, and 11pm newscasts will be expanded to a full hour.
  • The morning show will have more nationally-produced content.

Many details are still unclear, but here’s some things I’m predicting will happen:

  • The morning show will have national news, world news and entertainment segments that are nationally produced, but still have the local anchor doing local news. There may be a temptation to do sports nationally, but unless they do something like City where the national sports segment is customized to the local market, it would probably be better to leave that local. We might also see some national lifestyle segments produced for all markets, or special all-markets broadcasts like we’ve seen on City.
  • The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.
  • Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.

One thing that’s unclear is who will be running the show locally nights and weekends. Global says it will commit to having a local person exercising editorial control over those newscasts, but setting aside how hard it is to effectively use that control when everyone is in another city and there’s enormous pressure to not be different from other markets, who will be the person doing this?

Under the current system, the only person in the newsroom for most of the night or weekend is the anchor. They’re handling assignment duties, lining up the newscast, and even calling the cops to get updates. Will there still be a reporter doing this? And if so, why not just have that person still act as anchor?

Global’s plan is clearly to focus on content over its container. But I think the company is underestimating the contributions that anchors make to their newscasts. It’s not a job that involves only 30 minutes a day of work.

How will the viewers react? Well, when your late-night newscast gets a couple of thousand viewers, you might ask if it even matters. And will they even recognize that their anchor is in Toronto, with little or no knowledge of the city he’s describing every night?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, TV newscasts are so 20th century. And Global is looking toward the future. Its plans for Global News 1, which ironically involve hiring a bunch of staff instead of laying them off, is a similar blend of national and local where the local resources are all gathering news instead of producing newscasts. But we’re still waiting for the CRTC to publish the application for that proposed service.

Other reading

UPDATED: Global to have late local newscasts anchored out of Toronto

Updated April 21 with new details. See also this Gazette story.


You’d think that Global couldn’t go any further in centralizing the production of their regional newscasts. As it is, stations like Montreal have their control rooms in hubs thousands of kilometres away. All that’s left are the newsroom, the journalists, some ad sales and marketing people, and a small green studio with a desk and an anchor.

But they’ve managed to find a way to take it even further. On Thursday, Shaw Media announced that in eastern and central Canada, late-night and weekend newscasts will be done out of Toronto. Like what they did with control rooms, now even the anchors will produce multiple newscasts for different regional markets in one shift.

It’s part of what Global News boss Troy Reeb describes as a move to “a story-centric production model and that means moving past some of the traditional ways we’ve produced television newscasts.” In other words, the focus is on having local people work on the content, while saving as much money as possible on the container for that content.

This won’t be the first time Global has had people from Toronto do local news. Evening news weather man Anthony Farnell is based in Toronto, a fact that’s never made obvious to viewers.

But it’s odd that Global thinks that local anchors aren’t important. After all, they’re not just pretty faces that sit at their desks until they’re ready to go on air: They’re writing scripts and checking up on local news, work that presumably would need to be taken up by someone else if the anchors are taken out of their jobs.

In Montreal, the jobs affected would be those of late-night anchor Elysia Bryan-Baynes and weekend anchor Peter Anthony Holder. Bryan-Baynes is staying on as a reporter, but Holder, who’s technically a freelancer, is out of a job this fall.

Also gone are morning co-host Richard Dagenais, morning show associate producer Gloria Henriquez, and morning show control-room director Jim Connell. Connell is already gone, the others leave May 15.

Connell says he plans to return to freelancing. The others either declined to comment or didn’t respond when I asked them to.

“While we can’t comment on specific individuals, many of the impacted studio positions will be converted to field reporting which should help provide more local content not only for the late and weekend shows but for online and mobile,” Reeb told me.

Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald referred comment to national PR in Toronto.

Reeb put the cuts at less than 30 nationwide, which suggests maybe four or five on average per market affected.

No changes are planned for the evening newscast at 6pm, which will still be anchored locally, or for the weekly interview show Focus Montreal.

And on the plus side, the late-night news will be extended to an hour from the current half-hour when the change happens sometime over the summer. Late weeknight newscasts in New Brunswick and Halifax are also being extended to an hour.

National segments in local morning shows

The other major change is centralizing content for the local morning shows. Shaw promised to create local morning shows as part of its acquisition of Global in 2010. That promise included $5 million of total funding for Montreal’s morning show until 2016-17.

While the morning shows will still be three hours, still feature local anchors and still be produced locally, segments that are the same in different regions will be produced on a national level.

Reeb explains:

“Each half hour, an eight-minute segment covering national and international content will be produced centrally and will air in all shows. This is approximately equal to the amount of national content covered currently in each local show. Again, the goal is to eliminate the duplication that occurs when multiple anchor teams in multiple studios discuss the same trending stories, and to focus our local newsrooms on distinct, local content.”

I’m not sure how true it is that eight minutes each half-hour is of non-local content. There’s entertainment and sports news, sure, but in Montreal at least most of the morning show’s time is spent on local headlines and in-studio interviews.

This change is expected to roll out by the end of May.

The Global News 1 model

The strategy of centralizing news production and leaving local news to local journalists is nothing new. CTV makes use of its media empire to put business news from BNN and sports news from TSN on its newscasts. City TV’s local morning shows have sports updates from Sportsnet, personalized for each market.

But Global is taking it a step further with outsourced anchoring, giving us something a bit closer to what they have planned for their Global News 1 project. Submitted to the CRTC in September, the plan is to have news feeds for each market contain a mix of local and national news without requiring their own control rooms.

Global is still waiting for the CRTC to process and publish its application for the unique all-news service.

UPDATE (April 15): The Canadian Union of Public Employees has sent out a press release decrying the loss of local programming on Global Montreal. The statement says that the morning show will also be anchored out of Toronto, which contradicts the information I have above. I checked with Global, and a spokesperson responded by calling CUPE’s statement “inaccurate and misleading.” The way I describe the situation above is correct, Global says.

April 16: CUPE has sent out a correction, claiming it was given incorrect information from management the first time. The two stories are now consistent.

June 7: Dagenais was heard on the air doing the weekend morning newscasts on CJAD.

Bell fires Kevin Crull — but that doesn’t solve the problem

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won't say.

Kevin Crull: Bad apple or scapegoat?

The head of Canada’s largest media company is suddenly out of a job. And the press release announcing the departure of Bell Media president Kevin Crull makes it clear the departure is related to Crull’s attempt to interfere in CTV News’s coverage of a recent CRTC decision:

“However, the independence of Bell Media’s news operations is of paramount importance to our company and to all Canadians. There can be no doubt that Bell will always uphold the journalistic standards that have made CTV the most trusted brand in Canadian news,” said Mr. Cope.

At the same time, Bell announced other executive changes, including the appointment of Mary Ann Turcke to replace Crull as president of Bell Media.

I was highly critical of Crull’s interference in news (particularly because it wasn’t the first time he’d done it), but I don’t know if firing him (or whatever negotiated departure actually took place) is necessarily the right call. I’m willing to take his apology at face value, even if it seems in hindsight as if it might have been forced on him.

What is clear, though, is that this does little to guarantee that such interference in Bell’s news operations won’t repeat in the future. There has been no investigation into whether Crull or other Bell Media executives tried to influence news coverage, and no procedures or independent watchdog in place to protect CTV News, BNN and others from BCE executives in a conflict of interest.

Unless there’s an announcement about that next, it’s hard to be too optimistic that this is a big change. Though it will probably do a lot to reassure journalists working at Bell Media.

Shaw Media also announced executive changes, though not nearly as controversially.

UPDATE: Cue the conspiracy theories — Crull was set up by Bell — and more reasoned analysis: Crull was sacrificed to prevent the CRTC from getting even angrier.

The Jewel in Hudson hires Tasso for mid-morning show

Paul Zakaib, aka Tasso Patsikakis

Paul Zakaib, aka Tasso Patsikakis

The Jewel 106.7 FM in Hudson is running a listener contest to guess who their new on-air personality is. I hate to spoil the fun, but it’s Tasso.

Paul Zakaib, known on air as Tasso Patsikakis and Aaron Rand’s long-time morning show co-host on Q92, will be doing the 10am to noon shift on the easy-listening off-island station starting April 8, according to two independent sources who are in a position to know this but not in a position to publicly confirm it until the contest is over.

After being dumped from the Q’s morning show in 2009, he resurfaced in 2011 to do the afternoon show on ethnic station Mike FM with his friend and colleague Patrick Charles. Charles left the station, and in 2013 Tasso left too.

Zakaib and the station have been in talks for a while now. Some details are still unclear, such as how much of the old Aaron and Tasso morning show shtick Tasso will bring along with him.

Videotron appoints advisory council for MAtv

Two weeks after the fact, Videotron announced today that it has met the March 15 deadline set by the CRTC in February to set up an advisory committee for community channel MAtv in Montreal. The commission made the requirement in response to a complaint that MAtv was not properly representing the community it serves.

The nine-person committee, which will serve in an advisory capacity but won’t be making the decisions about what goes on air, is composed of members of the arts, business and cultural communities, as well as a member of the English-speaking community, which presumably means we should start seeing English programming on the channel some time soon.

The members are as follows:

  • Fortner Anderson, English-Language ARTS Network (ELAN)
  • Éric Lefebvre, Director of Development, Quartier des spectacles Partnership
  • Annie Billington, Coordinator, Communications and Community Relations, Culture Montréal
  • Martin Frappier, Director of Communications, Chantier de l’économie sociale
  • Marie-Pier Veilleux, Director, Strategic Forums, International Leaders, and Special Projects, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal
  • Cathy Wong, President, Conseil des Montréalaises (consultative body on gender equality)
  • Philippe Meilleur, Executive Director, Montreal Native Community Development Centre
  • Aïda Kamar, CEO, Vision Diversité
  • Vanessa Destiné, student, Université de Montréal; regional coordinator, Communautique; volunteer, MAtv

Quebec government eliminates all funding to everything but healthcare, says critics want sick people to die

In an unusual but predictable about-face on its budget proposal, the Couillard government says it will now eliminate all funding to everything and putting the entire $100 billion budget into emergency care at hospitals starting April 1, 2016.

Called the “Life First” policy, it states that “it is unconscionable for the government to take any taxpayer money away from saving lives and put it into luxuries like transportation, culture and education.”

The move was quickly criticized by the Parti Québécois as “insane”, but Premier Philippe Couillard had a strong comeback: “How many people must die to satisfy the PQ’s funding promises?”

Details of how other services will be delivered privately are still to be worked out. Roads will be sold to private companies so they can install tolls. The education system will be completely privatized (but still regulated by the government), and members of the National Assembly will work for free, though encouraged to raise their own money through endorsement contracts.

CRTC chair confesses his battle with Bell stems from a bad customer service experience he had six years ago

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn't made or positions it hasn't proposed.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.

If only a Bell customer service representative had properly dealt with a $17 overbilling in 2009, Bell might had had an easier time in front of the CRTC lately.

In testimony before a Senate committee this morning, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais let it slip that he had a bad experience as a Bell customer, and that if the giant telecom company had done a better job of treating those customers, he might not have taken such an aggressively pro-consumer stance as head of the broadcasting regulator.

“Someone needs to keep those jerks in line,” an angry Blais blurted out at the hearing in Ottawa. At first he tried to downplay his personal experience with the media giant, but senators pressed him on the details. Under oath, he reluctantly described what happened to him.

Blais said he was accidentally charged twice for a Bell Mobility calling plan. He called customer service, and waited on hold “for several hours” before a customer service agent replied. When he pointed out the error, “that asshole tried to make it seem like it was my fault or something.” Blais said he demanded to speak to the agent’s superior, “and he totally gave me the fucking runaround, then put me on with some bitch who LIED TO ME about when I would get my refund.”

The chairman became more agitated as he recounted his story. But he really exploded when one senator, apparently familiar with Bell’s billing process, asked if maybe Blais had been mistaken in thinking he had been charged twice for the same month.

“Who the hell are you?” Blais asked the senator. “I’m the goddamn head of the CRTC! I’m the king of telecom in this country! I know what the hell I’m talking about and I know how to read a goddamn bill! And if I don’t then that’s their fault, isn’t it? I worked in the fucking Department of Finance for the Government of Canada! You think I don’t know how to read a fucking telephone bill?”

The chair of the committee called for a recess, after which Blais apologized for his remarks. “But I’ll never apologize to Bell, those assholes. They get what they deserve.”

Among CRTC policies that have been implemented under Blais is a new consumer rights code that simplifies contracts and bills for wireless telephone services and makes them easier for consumers to understand.

Citizens upset at health care cuts propose 24-hour boycott of emergency rooms

It worked so well for protesting gas prices and electricity prices, could it work for healthcare?

That’s what a group of people online are thinking, so they’ve proposed a 24-hour boycott of Quebec hospital emergency rooms on April 15.

“Seeing those ERs completely devoid of people should send a strong message to Gaétan Barrette that the population won’t stand for these drastic, inhumane cuts to our healthcare system,” says the description from the Facebook group.

In order to ensure everyone gets the message, volunteers from the group plan to picket outside ERs on that day to ask those who weren’t already aware of the boycott to decline emergency care for that day.

“It’ll be an inconvenience for sure, but I think once they realize how we’re trying to change the system they’ll quickly be on board,” the group’s founder says.

Those who can’t wait a day will be treated by a volunteer medic experienced in anti-austerity protests, who will administer a mixture of antacid and water to cure most ailments.

TSN invents new sport of Canadaball

Trying to find creative ways of filling airtime now that Rogers has won the rights to NHL games, and with only so many new curling tournaments it can create, TSN has put its creative minds to work creating a new summer sport called Canadaball, and a league that it will own and have the exclusive rights to broadcast.

The sport, played indoors 12 months a year, consists of two teams of eight players each trying to get a ball in each other’s net. It’s sort of a cross between hockey, lacrosse and football, “except with the excitement factor turned up to 11,” the press release reads.

Full details of the rules are expected in the coming weeks, and the network says it will go on a national tour to promote the new sport and recruit players. Games should start being played this fall.

CBC beta-testing new write-your-own-news application

Faced with budget cuts that are putting increasing strain on news-gathering resources, the CBC has begun experimenting with an innovative solution: Get its audience to write their own news stories, and edit them.

Under the proposed crowdsourced model, people write their own stories about their organization’s community event or some injustice they’ve experienced at the hands of some company, and submit it for peer review. Other users comb through submissions, edit them and vote on their importance. The most popular ones bubble up to the top.

It’s sort of like a combination of Wikipedia and Reddit, said Avril Fürsht, CBC managing editor for new newsgathering technologies. “At the beginning, CBC News journalists will be guiding the process, but eventually we hope to make it entirely self-sustaining.”

The hope is that eventually local CBC News websites would have a mix of professional stories and those submitted by the public. Having the public produce its own community stories will free up what few professional journalists are left to do investigative pieces and enterprise journalism, Fürsht said.

The system allows citizen journalists to posts photos with their submissions, and the plan is to soon allow them to upload video and audio clips as well. And CBC is asking users what they think about a plan to offer $20 per submission for complete packaged TV and radio reports, as a way of “giving back” to the community for the content it offers.

The first stories are already up on the website. You can see an example of a crowdsourced TV report here.

Shaw Media to launch all-Simpsons rerun channel this month

Spurred by the CRTC’s recent decision to stop enforcing genre protection or nature-of-service requirements for specialty channels, Shaw Media wasted no time putting a plan in place to quickly capitalize on the newfound freedom. It announced that it will launch an all-Simpsons channel on April 15.

It won’t be all Simpsons, because of the requirement to have 35% Canadian programming. So the hours from 6am to 1pm will be devoted to classic Canadian comedies like Corner Gas.

In a press release filled with Simpsons references, Shaw said it was “totally having a cow” about the new channel, and that it would be “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It implored people to “choo-choo-choose it” for their cable packages.

The Simpsons Channel will be available at launch on Shaw Cable and Shaw Direct. Other providers haven’t announced plans to carry it yet.

Shaw Media also said they’re planning other single-purpose channels in the coming months, including an all-Seinfeld channel, an all-NCIS channel, and an all-M*A*S*H channel.

MTL Blog to launch sister site covering National Assembly

MTL Blog, the ultra-popular viral news site, isn’t just expanding to Toronto, it’s also becoming only the second online-only journalism outlet to open a bureau at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

NatAss Blog, set to launch in a few weeks, will bring MTL Blog’s unique brand of award-winning journalism to Quebec politics. “Our goal is to turn it from boring to scoring,” the site’s press release says. A NatAss correspondent hasn’t been named yet, but “we’re well into the process of selecting” one, it says.

NatAss Blog promises stories not just about what bills are being presented and debated on the hill, but what goes on “behind the scenes” and in the personal lives of lawmakers and others who work there.

I haven’t seen any full stories yet, but some headlines from prewritten stories have been leaked. They include:

  • 10 best NatAss cafeteria menu items
  • 15 MNAs who are crazy about Nutella
  • 5 hottest PQ leadership candidates
  • Lorraine Richard’s 10 best places to eat in Quebec City
  • You won’t guess what the government spent $38,296 on last week
  • The 12 most insane provisions of Bill 193
  • Here’s a picture of a homeless man jerking off on Rue des Parlementaires
  • 20 reasons the Nordiques are totally coming back
  • 17 myths about the CAQ
  • 10 crazy ways to have fun during a budget lockup
  • The changes to the healthcare system that will totally make you facepalm
  • It’s official, Sylvain Rochon is joining the Committee on Citizen Relations
  • 19 political aides who are rumoured to be sleeping with the enemy

Radio Classique becomes Radio Classique Hits

Months after news surfaced that CJPX Radio Classique and sister station CJSQ in Quebec City were being sold to Gregory Charles, the new owner just announced that the stations are being rebranded and will move to a francophone classic hits format, abandoning the classical music they’ve been long known for.

The news is bound to anger classical music fans (I see a few of them lashing out already on Twitter), but Charles says the classical music format simply wasn’t profitable because not enough people were listening to it. He said he heard from many people in Montreal and Quebec City who said they wanted to hear more music from the 70s, 80s and 90s on the radio.

There’s no word if the employees of Radio Classique will be kept for the new stations, whose format launches tomorrow.