Category Archives: Slow News Day

Quebec’s most and least trendy baby names of the decade

People love talking about baby names, and so the time of year when Retraite Québec announces the most popular names of the year is always a tempting fruit for a journalist looking for a quick story.

Unfortunately, the top five names doesn’t tell us that much. Liam and Olivia have been popular for a while now, and the top five doesn’t change that much year to year. Some journalists go a bit further and look at the end of the list for more unusual names (misspellings, mashed-up names, or words you wouldn’t think of as names), which can be amusing if you can avoid making fun of a name in a language you don’t understand.

Fortunately, Quebec’s open data website has full datasets of first names used since 1980 for boys and girls, so how about we do some more interesting number crunching?

Rather than just look at the most and least popular, I decided to see if I can suss out some trends. So I took the full data set, with almost 400,000 first names, and added a column calculating how many times they were used in the past 10 years versus the past 40 years. Normally this would be about 25%, but many names have gotten much more or much less popular.

A few caveats about these lists:

  • The database only goes back to 1980, so names that had already fallen out of favour by then won’t show up.
  • I’m assuming the database is correct. There may be errors here throwing off the results.
  • The lists are separated by gender because it’s two different data sets. In several cases names have gotten less popular because they’re traditionally associated with the other gender. Combining them would take a while and probably crash my computer.
  • For data entry cleanup reasons, I’ve excluded compound names from these lists (whether they have a hyphen or a space separating them) as well as names that are in the database as just one letter (which I assume are initials incorrectly coded as names). I’ve also set minimums for the number of times a name has to be used to weed out outliers.
  • Since the database does not include accents, I have not included them here.

Good? OK, here we go:

Continue reading

Dear Véro and Louis

Hi, how are you doing? You look a bit stressed. Here, have some tea and sit down.

OK… so, you probably know why I asked you here. That whole Bye-Bye thing. You know, you boycotting Quebecor and all. I don’t know if it was your intention to create such a firestorm, but you should have expected it.

Two full pages in the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday devoted to your decision to settle the scores, as they say. Two articles from the Journal’s Michelle Coudé-Lord condemning your decision and Radio-Canada for supporting you. That, of course, in turn has generated all sorts of press over at Gesca (a piece by Richard Therrien, a column by Hugo Dumas, a blog post by Patrick Lagacé) which has turned your Bye-Bye sequel into a media controversy 10 days before anyone actually sees it.

I know, I know, you’re mad. You’re both on Quebecor’s enemies list and you’re probably never going to come off. They used that giant media empire thing against you after the 2008 Bye-Bye and you felt like crap for months trying to deal with the fallout.

Here’s the thing: The backlash wasn’t some Quebecor empire fabrication. A lot of people took offence to some of the jokes in that television special. Even the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council had issues with it. Sure, Quebecor went crazy with it, mostly because it was funded with taxpayer money through Radio-Canada. But if you were going to boycott everyone who said mean things about the show, you’d be boycotting a lot of media.

Wait, hold on, can I finish? Please. Let me finish.

OK, so Quebecor doesn’t like you. It’s not like this is news. It’s been the case for so long even I don’t know why it started. I’d think you’d be used to it by now.

But this isn’t the way to handle it. You’re just playing their game, coming down to their level. It’s childish, and I expect better from you. As Lagacé points out, you’ve just created a controversy when your goal, ostensibly, is to avoid exactly that.

It would be one thing if you were taking a stand because of the Journal de Montréal lockout, or because Quebecor had done something particularly evil, or to protest Quebecor pulling out of the Quebec Press Council. But your main reason for refusing to accommodate Quebecor news outlets at your press conference is the coverage that was given to the last Bye-Bye … two years ago, before the Journal was even locked out.

Yeah, I know you haven’t talked to them since, and this boycott isn’t new, but nobody noticed before because the Journal doesn’t talk about you unless you do something bad.

And surely you understand the bad precedent that’s set when people refuse to speak to journalists whose coverage they don’t like.

Plus, now you’re bringing the people you’re working with into the fray. Joël Legendre’s relationship with the Journal is starting to look bipolar. He likes them, he hates them, he loves them, he won’t speak to them… A bit silly, don’t you think?

And come on, you’re not new at this media thing. You’ve been in show business for years now. Véro, you’re on Montreal’s most listened to radio station every day, and you host one of Quebec’s hottest new television shows. Louis … I understand you also have a career. I think I saw your face on a DVD of something at Future Shop.

Louis, don’t leave, I was just kidding. I know you work hard too. Come back.

OK, I realize Quebecor is this giant media behemoth, but you’ve shown that you don’t need their cooperation to succeed. Heck, you should consider it a compliment that they focus so much attention toward you.

Like it or not, you signed up for this. Nobody forced you into becoming stars. You can’t have your faces put up on billboards all over the place and then complain when a photographer takes a picture of you at the airport. You have the right to privacy, and you have the right to keep your children outside the spotlight, but you can’t just disappear when the news about you is unflattering and not expect people to go looking for you.

I’m gonna talk to Michelle Coudé-Lord, try to talk some sense into her. But … you’re letting them play the victim here (letting the peanut gallery take their side). And if your goal is peace in this media war, this isn’t the way you’re going to get it.

Please bury the hatchet. Swallow your pride, or you’re going to have a bad taste in your mouth for a long time.

Oh, and Véro, please, stop undressing me with your eyes. I mean, Louis is sitting right there. And he’s … wait, is he also undressing me with his eyes?

Dear Michelle Coudé-Lord,

Here, have a seat. I promise there aren’t any Cloutier cooties on it.

How are you doing? Boy, you must be ready for a vacation. Almost two years now you’ve been without a reporting staff, having to fill the Arts & Spectacles section with wire pieces, stuff from other Quebecor publications and whatever original content you and your fellow managers can come up with. I’m not exactly shedding tears for your paper, but I understand if this period has caused some stress among its middle managers.

Anyway, so those articles you had in the paper. Two of them. Was it really necessary to devote a full page (plus a full section cover page) to the fact that the Bye-Bye crew wouldn’t talk to you? And is it really surprising after what you did to them two years ago? You say that coverage after the 2008 Bye-Bye was fair and balanced, but you can’t possibly say with a straight face that it wasn’t excessive.

And really, “vengeance”? You make them sound like a dictator who destroyed an entire village because some woman in a bar wouldn’t accept his propositions. They had a hissy fit, and now you’re having a hissy fit over their hissy fit, forcing everyone else to have a hissy fit over your hissy fit over their hissy fit.

I explained to Véro and Louis that what they did wasn’t a good idea. They were letting themselves be guided by emotion rather than wisdom.

But surely you understand that it’s hypocritical for you to play the victim on behalf of Quebecor here. Your paper is no longer a member of the Quebec Press Council, arguing against regulation (even though it’s not government-run and has no power to impose penalties) and in favour of the free market. You have to accept that freedom also means the freedom not to talk to you, even if this is the government-funded Radio-Canada.

You appeal to the size of your audience as if somehow without talking to you they could never hope to reach those people. As if that alone meant that anyone on the government payroll (or even who receives money from the government) must give you an interview. I see how you think answering your questions about a show during a press conference is like a government agency answering an access-to-information request about its expenses, but it’s not. You want to interview a celebrity, and you’re whining because you’re being turned down.

And, come on Michelle. Certainly you realize the irony of complaining about how people aren’t giving you interviews, and then refusing to speak to reporters from La Presse and Le Soleil about this very same issue.

I also found it funny that the page next to the one complaining about Véro and Louis is a full page puff piece devoted to how Quebecor creation Marie-Élaine Thibert has an album that went gold.

Looking at these pages, can you really blame people for getting the impression that Quebecor rewards its celebrities and attacks those who don’t play by its rules?

Aren’t you tired of being seen as a pawn of the Quebecor media narrative machine, whether or not you think it’s true?

Think about it. Get some sleep. Maybe when you’re rested you can see this with a clear head and realize all the damage this media war has done, and maybe you’ll be the bigger person and decide to do something about it.


French at the Olympics: Unsatisfied below 50%+1

You might think there are more important things to discuss, but to Quebec media, there’s nothing more important than condemning the Vancouver Olympic Committee for having banned the French language from the opening ceremonies.

Sure, they had Garou (unless you were watching on NBC – they cut to commercial when the francophone singer came on stage), and every announcement was in both languages (French first)*, and referee Michel Verrault read the officials’ oath in French, and IOC president Jacques Rogge read part of his statement in French, and Nikki Yanofsky performed the national anthem in both languages. But only one of the half-dozen songs of the ceremony were sung in French, narration by Donald Sutherland and slam poetry by Shane Koyczan weren’t translated into the langue de Molière, and VANOC chair John Furlong spoke with a thick anglo accent in the few words he spoke in French.

Réjean TremblayJean-Guy Fugère, Caroline Touzin, Rino Morin Rossignol, even Jean Charest and the Conservative government complained that there wasn’t enough French (though Michel David suggests the government didn’t complain enough).  Jean-François Bégin wonders why Wayne Gretzky was picked over Gaetan Boucher to be the one to light the flame. Patrick Lagacé sighs that we should have expected this insult to Quebec’s position in Canada’s heritage. Touzin says most of the volunteers there don’t speak French (many of the ones who do come from Quebec). Radio-Canada has a whole dossier on the topic.

The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste expressed condemnation, according to a story that Associated Press decided was worth writing.

The Globe and Mail also editorialized in favour of more French, The Gazette devoted an editorial and two columns to the subject, and Paul Wells also chimed in, proving it’s not just francophones that noticed. (Though the National Post was lukewarm in its endorsement of the outrage, and the Vancouver Sun calls it “tedious regional whining” that is “best ignored for now”.) André Pratte and Guillaume Bourgault-Côté took notice of this.

Hell, even Richard Therrien complained about how commentators in France were pronouncing the city’s name in the anglo way. And Chantal Hébert complains about ignorant comments posted to news stories online (while asking for comment from her own ignorant online commentators).

And Ted Bird makes a funny. So did Andy Riga.

You know it’s gotten bad when even the Angry French Guy comes to the anglos’ defence.

Insufficient, but not insultingly so

My first reaction was to think, as Francis Vachon did, that we should give them a bit of a break because this was in Vancouver, not Quebec City. But I’m not going to defend the organizers – these are Canada’s games, not those of British Columbia, and French should have been more prominent. Hopefully they’ll improve things a bit for the closing ceremonies, if only by including an extra song in Canada’s other official language.

But the reaction from Quebec media – particularly Tremblay’s bitter sarcasm (he suggests it was insulting to Quebecers that First Nations were given such a large role) – is over the top. There was plenty of French at the ceremony (especially when you consider that most of it didn’t involve anyone talking at all), and the fact there wasn’t enough to satisfy some people doesn’t negate the effort made.

To me, the biggest language failure came not from VANOC or the IOC, but from the television media covering the ceremony. None of the Canadian networks provided any translation for those few parts that were only in one language. RDS and V (which basically just took the RDS feed and slapped its logo on it) didn’t translate speeches and narration into French. CTV, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet didn’t return the favour for speeches in French (and when those speeches came up, the closed captioning read the very helpful “[SPEAKING FRENCH]”). This despite the fact that speech text and translation were provided on giant screens at BC Place.

The closest thing to translation was NBC, which summarized the officials’ oath with a “basically what he’s saying here is…”

Meanwhile, during competitions, official on-screen graphics (provided by VANOC) are English-only, which astonishes me not only for the sake of Canadian bilingualism, but for every other country in the world that doesn’t speak English. Having English graphics on RDS and V is insulting, moreso to me than Garou singing off-key of Furlong’s pronunciation of “bienvenue”.

Suddenly, we care

What got to me most about this media overhyping was that suddenly Quebec seems to care about French outside of Quebec. Tremblay lamented the plight of the Acadian people, without mentioning that Quebec and its nationalist zealots are as responsible as the rest of the country for throwing them under the bus.

I’ve been of the view for a long time that the battle for the survival of the French language shouldn’t be fought in Quebec – where it is already dominant – but in the rest of Canada, where it is truly endangered. But Quebec sovereignists don’t care about the rest of Canada because they know Quebec will eventually separate and there will be no reason to protect the language outside its borders.

At least we can hope that this so-called controversy will help people understand that this country has a serious problem with language, and that nobody seems serious about fixing it.

UPDATE: Patrick Lagacé responds to this post, saying that the battle for French outside Quebec has already been lost. Even though he says I’m “dans le champ”, I actually agree with most of what he writes.

*It’s been pointed out that French is an official language of the Olympics and that official announcements are always in French. I know this. I’d like to think the announcements would be in both English and French regardless. But the fact remains that French was there. It’s not like they’re going to give the announcement in French twice (or once in French and once in Québécois joual).

Journalism’s feel-good story of the year

Henry Aubin has a nice piece in Thursday’s Gazette, praising a half-dozen investigative journalists as his persons of the year for uncovering corruption scandals at city hall.

There are two things I like about this:

First, there was no single newspaper, no single journalist, no single news agency that got the scoop. These are six journalists for five different – competing news outlets in Montreal, including the three paid daily newspapers not currently in a labour conflict (as La Presse’s Marc Cassivi notes, the Journal de Montréal contributed precisely nothing). They each uncovered another facet of the story. They each tried to get that “exclusive” badge of honour, but they also worked off each other’s findings. The competition among them produced a better story as a whole.

Second, it’s a strong argument in favour of professional journalism. Note that I use the term “professional” here, not “traditional” or “old”. Only half of these journalists are print reporters, and one works exclusively for an online publication. But they’re all professional. This is their job. (Here I differ with Aubin on an issue of pure semantics: there’s nothing about a blog that makes it unprofessional other than its reputation – it all depends on who is doing the writing.)

While I still think it’s unfortunate that Montreal gets so much attention but hundreds of other cities across Quebec get little or no attention from professional journalists, I’m glad the eyes of the people are on this one, at least.

So congratulations (in alphabetical order so as not to play favourites) to Fabrice de Pierrebourg (Rue Frontenac), Marie-Maude Denis and Alain Gravel (Radio-Canada), Linda Gyulai (The Gazette), Kathleen Lévesque (Le Devoir), and André Noël (La Presse). You did good.

(And then we went ahead and re-elected Tremblay.)

The Michael Jackson publicity stunt

Look, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m anti-fun or something, because I really do enjoy it when people just go out and do something silly, if only for a few minutes.

But when you have an event involving a professional dance troupe that you’ve publicized to the media, when you have dozens of journalists present, when police and a government minister are taking part, can you really call that a “flash mob“? If so, the term has lost all meaning and should cease to be used.

No wonder groups so associated with the term, like Improv Everywhere and Newmindspace, have rejected it. I think it’s time we all follow their lead if it’s going to be commercialized like this.

Call it a publicity stunt, call it a public performance, call it street art, but don’t call it a flash mob.

UPDATE (July 30): Similar thoughts from Patrick Dion, Jean-Philippe Rousseau and Le Détesteur, plus a defence from a participant.

40 years ago today

The Onion: Holy Shit - Man walks on fucking moon

Oh, and I should add a link to the Bluffer’s Guide in Monday’s Gazette, courtesy of yours truly: The moon landings: fake or fact?. Choosing a news-relevant topic was enough to get my name above the fold on Page 1 (all part of my master plan).

UPDATE: This story surfaced just after I filed that one, showing that there are indeed pictures of the moon landing sites. But, of course, those are all fakes. (Thanks Ha!)

Go fuck yourself Eric Amber (UPDATED)

      The shows listed were in english and therefore so is the message.
      You obviously can't read in english because you are an
      uneducated bigot.

      estce que vous comprenez l'expression anglophone: Go Fuck Yourself?

On behalf of the local news industry, I’d like to offer my thanks to Eric Amber of Théâtre Ste. Catherine, which despite its name is an anglo venue.

You see, despite the people in space, the huge investment scandals and the giant rocks falling on people’s heads, it’s kind of a slow news period right now. Hockey is in the offseason, politicians are on vacation, and most of the people who would make serious news are instead outside enjoying the summer.

Perhaps subconsciously sensing this, Amber decided to do the following things to ensure coverage in the local media:

  • Be an asshole
  • Be an asshole on a language issue
  • Be an asshole on a language issue in writing
  • Be an asshole to someone who didn’t provoke him
  • Create a PR crisis for one of the city’s biggest festivals right in the middle of it
  • React childishly when called on about his behaviour
  • Refuse to apologize

For those who haven’t seen the news in La Presse, the Journal, Le Devoir, The Gazette and elsewhere, francophone group Les Sages Fous was receiving English-only messages on TSC’s mailing list about Zoofest shows related to the Just for Laughs festival. They sent a rather matter-of-fact email asking that they be removed from that list unless the messages are sent in French. A bit snarky, but not unreasonable. Amber responded by calling the guy an uneducated bigot and telling him to “go fuck yourself”.

Louis Préfontaine was the first to break the email on Wednesday, and it spread from there (including the requisite Facebook group). Préfontaine also has a follow-up and the raw text of the back-and-forth.

It’s happened to everyone. Maybe you’ve just been dumped, fired or made to wait on the phone with Bell to fix a billing issue. You’re frustrated and tired, and someone sends you an email that sounds snarky. It’s the last straw and you let them have it. Realizing your mistake, you later apologize.

Amber, unfortunately, didn’t do this. Instead, he told Le Devoir and the Journal about other emails he got from francophones which relentlessly attacked him. The emails weren’t from Les Sages Fous, but Amber made the mistake that far too many make in this unending language debate and painted everyone on the other solitude with the same brush, as if one is responsible for the actions of everyone who speaks the same language.

Which brings me to this: On behalf of the anglo community, go fuck yourself Eric Amber. You’re the last thing we need right now. Because those idiots who comment on Patrick Lagacé and Richard Martineau’s blogs will start painting all of us with the same brush, and that makes us responsible for your behaviour.

To bring this drama to an even higher level of absurd assholity, Amber has been sending the following message to those emailing him to condemn his comments or ask what the hell he was thinking:

Due to the overwhelming racism and bigotry in French society toward minorities and non-french cultures, Theatre Ste-Catherine will be closing in protest. Effective immediately TSC will no longer be accepting bookings and will closed permanently Dec. 21, 2009.

I’ll assume you mean francophone Quebec society and not the society of France (though you could make such an argument about racism in the motherland). But let me get this straight: you’re going to shut down the venue over this? Either TSC has been on the financial ropes for some time (which is certainly plausible) or you have the thinnest skin on the planet.

I don’t agree with some who say that TSC should be sending emails in French. I don’t see why, any more than I would see why The Gazette would advertise in French (except when it wants to, like it’s been doing the past few Sundays). But that’s irrelevant now, because you had to be an asshole.

No matter how long this goes, it’s going to end eventually by you eating a truck full of crow. Better start now before more has to be shovelled onto your plate.

Somewhat sincerely,


UPDATE: Just when you thought this ridiculousness couldn’t get any worse, it seems the Jeunes Patriotes and their ilk are doing their best to prove Amber right about bigotry in Quebec. Amber says he has been receiving death threats, and the JPQ are organizing had a protest at 4pm Sunday30 people showed up. Josée Legault also turns this into a language issue, painting all anglos with the Eric Amber brush.

And apparently someone has setup a Twitter account for the sole purpose of calling me an asswipe fascist.

Patrick Lagacé has a follow-up on his blog. Hour complains how this is unworthy of newspaper coverage … with an article in its newspaper.

UPDATE (July 22): Crow special, Table 1! Amber also speaks to The Gazette’s Pat Donnelly where he takes great pains to prove he’s not a bigot. He also does an interview with Radio-Canada where he says he never expected to start up such a shitstorm.

His apology (also on Donnelly’s blog), which you’ll note is in both languages:

To whom it concerns,

There has been much media activity in recent days that began with an email that I sent to the theatre’s mailing list. Les Sages Fous were upset after receiving an all-english message regarding Zoofest programming as part of the Just For Laughs festival.

I reacted inappropriately to their request to receive emails only in French and for this I would like to apologize. However, I would like to explain that I did so not simply due to this one response, but rather because I often receive a disproportionate amount of negative feedback whenever I promote English events that are hosted at Theatre Ste Catherine.

Although it is true that I lost my temper, it must be said that it was in no way an attack on Quebec or French-speaking Canadians as was implied by some of the media covering this story. As I myself am French Canadian and a francophone from La Beauce region of southern Quebec, to hate French culture would be to hate myself.

I truly regret offending any of my French brothers and sisters, however I do not believe this would have become an issue if certain media had not sought to create discontent. As such, this situation has been blown out of proportion to the point where it now stands. Unfortunately, not only has this resulted in negative publicity for both Theatre Ste-Catherine, Zoofest and the Just For Laughs Festival, but as my personal information has since been released, I have received hundreds of hate letters including several death threats.

Due to the actions of certain individuals who fanned the flames of hate within a community of extremists, a great hurt was inflicted upon me personally that I fear could threaten the harmony of Montreal. I am upset with the intolerance that I receive on a daily basis as displayed by the many hateful emails that have been written. I also believe that the French language and culture is alive and strong, and need not be afraid of others.

When I first opened the theatre five years ago, which I myself built in what was a very troubled neighbourhood, my intention was to create a venue for people of every culture to come together for the celebration of art and unity. It would be regretful to have to shut the doors to those who have come to make Theatre Ste-Catherine their home and meeting place.

Again, I would like to sincerely apologize to Les Sages Fous, The Just For Laughs Festival, Zoofest, all of Theatre Ste Catherine’s company members as well as anyone who has been affected by this situation.

I wish I had addressed this issue sooner because of the hurt it has caused.


Eric Amber

Theatre Ste. Catherine

À qui de droit,

Depuis quelques jours, bien des médias et sites Internet s’attardent sur un courriel envoyé récemment par moi-même à un inscrit de la liste d’envois électronique générale du Théâtre Ste Catherine. Je répondais alors à un message provenant de la troupe Les Sages Fous, qui protestait avoir reçu un courriel en anglais concernant la programmation anglophone du Zoofest dans le câdre du Festival Juste Pour Rire.

Ma réaction face à leur demande, de recevoir une version française de ce même courriel, fut inflammatoire et non justifiée et pour cela je voudrais sincèrement m’excuser. Ma réplique très agressive s’explique en partie par le fait que Le Théâtre Sainte Catherine est toujours ciblé par des messages francophones très négatifs et diffamatoires concernant nos évènements anglophones et ce, tout au long de l’année.

Malgré l’important manque de jugement dont j’ai fait preuve, il se doit aussi d’être clarifié qu’en aucune façon, mes remarques visaient le Québec ou la Francophonie, tel que certains médias l’ont laissés entendre cette semaine. Étant moi-même francophone ayant grandit et provenant de la région de La Beauce, dans le sud du Québec, d’émettre de pareilles insultes envers la Francophonie serait contradictoire et impensable.

Je regrette sincèrement avoir offensé mes propres frères et soeurs Francophones, mais suis tout à fait convaincu qu’une couverture médiatique alarmiste et sensationnaliste n’a fait qu’aggraver la situation. Cette réaction incroyable de la part des médias provoque non seulement une publicité extrêmement négative pour Le Théâtre Ste-Catherine, mais engendre également une campagne négative envers le Zoofest et le festival Juste Pour Rire. Il est aussi important de noter que je fais personnellement maintenant face à des menaces de mort et insultes personnelles très inquiétantes.

Il m’attriste donc de constater que suite aux actions marquées de quelques individus qui avaient pour but précis d’encourager la haine et l’extrémisme, l’harmonie culturelle de notre ville de Montréal est affectée. Je suis déçu par le niveau d’intolérance présent dans les centaines de courriels et de lettres que nous avons reçus cette semaine, surtout parce que je suis profondément convaincu que malgré ces incidents isolés, la culture Française est essentiellement forte et inclusive au Québec.

Lorsque le Théâtre Ste Catherine a ouvert ses portes, il y a cinq ans, un théâtre que j’ai moi-même fondé et bâti dans un quartier très désavoué de Montréal, mon rêve était de créer une scène, un endroit où tout le monde pourrait se réunir, quelle que soit leur culture, pour célébrer l’art et la communauté. Aujourd’hui, ce théâtre est bel et bien vibrant et il serait dommage de devoir fermer ses portes au public et aux artistes qui le fréquentent maintenant en si grand nombre.

Je souligne donc à nouveau mes excuses sincères envers Les Sages Fous, Le festival Juste Pour Rire, Zoofest ainsi qu’envers tous les membres de la communauté du Théâtre Ste Catherine et tous ceux et celles qui sont affectés par cette situation.

En regrettant de ne pas m’être prononcé plus tôt sur ces évènements importants,


Eric Amber

Théâtre Ste. Catherine

UPDATE (July 23): Amber just couldn’t keep his bloody mouth shut. He sends another email to Les Sages Fous taunting them.

UPDATE (Aug. 4): The Mirror weighs in.

“This is not journalism”

GlobalPost, the Boston-based startup of foreign correspondents that is trying to make money, is supposed to be “high-quality journalism” covering stories that are “left aside“.

So would an 1,157-word report about the Daily Show and Colbert Report that summarizes the shows, links to articles elsewhere, embeds some videos and apparently can’t count to four be too unprofessional for this high-quality organization?

Apparently not.

Don’t forget the apostrophe

The mythical flag of Anglophonia

The mythical flag of Anglophonia

You may not be aware of this, but there’s a scandal – no, a SCANDALE! – involving Gazette humour columnist Josh Freed.

I know what you’re thinking: Josh Freed is still alive? He still has a pulse? Someone’s still reading him?

Apparently so. He writes weekly on Saturdays on Page A2, usually about some issue of the week and relating it to how he can’t figure out his microwave. This past Saturday, he wrote about the Fête nationale craziness, and praised how it was francophones who lobbied to get two anglo bands reinstated for a concert tonight.

He also discusses Quebec’s flag:

Maybe we could find a new apolitical flag for Quebec’s national day that speaks to all modern Quebecers who live in our city. How about a fleur-de-lys in one corner, with a snowmobile, a jazz saxophone, and some Cirque de Soleil stilts in the others? Or what about a Bixi bike stuck in a snowbank? Our licence plate is another relic of the political past that could use a facelift. It says “Je me souviens” – or “I remember” – but what do I remember? It’s certainly not my own license plate number, which I keep forgetting as I get older. In fact, given Quebec’s aging boomer society, our license should probably say “J’oublie – I forget.” Or, “Ou sont mes clefs d’auto?” Maybe we could put something practical on the license plate – like a warning for the driver behind you: “LOOK OUT! POTHOLE AHEAD!”

It’s fairly clear here, or should be, that Freed is a satirist and isn’t actually seriously suggesting these things.

But apparently a sentence earlier in his story raised an eyebrow or two:

The dinosaurs of nationalism like the St. Jean organizers who tried to stop two local bands from singing in a foreign dialect called English – a move reminiscent of the old days of the Apostrophe SS.

Somehow, despite only printing about 150,000 copies, one of them was leaked to one of Montreal’s million or so francophones, who passed it on to Gilles Rhéaume. He’s now hopping mad and has filed a complaint with the Quebec Press Council (via Montreal City Weblog).

It was only on Sunday that someone thought to talk to Freed about it, and he took the time to explain to La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé what “Apostrophe SS” means. Yeah, it’s a Nazi reference, which are almost always crude, but it’s also decades old (he even uses it in referring to the past), and it’s a play on words (or, rather, letter). He’s even used it before.

Some francophones might not get it. Or they might take it too seriously. But, of course, Freed wrote this in The Gazette, and he wasn’t writing for a francophone audience.

Considering all that was lost in translation, perhaps one should be provided next time.

A footnote: I edited this piece on Friday night, and wrote the headline “Politics ruin the party”. Had I known it would get disseminated so much (and misunderstood), I might have tried for a more absurd, more memorable headline at least.

UPDATE (June 27): Freed uses his next column to explain himself. In a nutshell, the Apostrophe SS went all Nazi death-camp on apostrophe-S-es, not people.

Holding the handrail of justice



On behalf of the news media, I would like to extend a thank you to Bela Kosoian and Laval police.

Our jobs can be hard sometimes, and during these spring months, as everyone goes outside and tries out their BIXIs and stuff, it’s hard to find something to be unequivocably outraged about.

But a Globe and Mail story came out on Saturday reported a woman was fined for not holding the handrail on an escalator (and not following police demands that she do so), and the need for outrage was obvious.

Reporters filed stories about her ordeal, photographers took pictures of a sad-faced woman holding a ticket in front of an escalator, columnists turned the outrage meter to 11 and bloggers just went ahead and called Laval police Nazisrepeatedly.

It even got some international attention in the “news of the weird” category, and a mention on Boing Boing, which was in turn Dugg.

For the benefit of those who haven’t gotten the story emailed or Facebooked to them a thousand times already, here’s what supposedly happened:

Kosoian, a 38-year-old student and mother, was heading down an escalator at the Montmorency metro station, and either ignored, didn’t hear or didn’t understand repeated instructions from a Laval police officer to hold the handrail. When she got to the bottom, she was handcuffed and issued two fines: One for not holding the handrail ($100) and another for obstruction ($320). Oh, and she also says there was OMGPOLICEBRUTALITY!!! because the handcuffs were too tight.

There’s no specific provision in the STM’s regulations that requires holding handrails on escalators, so a more general one was cited instead:

4. Dans ou sur un immeuble ou du matériel roulant, il est interdit à toute personne:

e) de désobéir à une directive ou un pictogramme, affiché par la Société;

Of course, the fine was excessive and the supposed infraction entirely benign (the escalator pictogram also prohibits strollers, a provision which is also routinely ignored). Even the STM said they don’t fine people for such things.

Kosoian will probably win her case in court, if it isn’t dropped outright by the prosecutor, especially after all this media coverage. Laval police, for their part, are justifying the actions of their officers, but that kind of blind loyalty is to be expected, especially where the officers were technically in the legal right to do what they did.

For next week, can we get a phone company who’s abusing a grandmother by not letting her cancel her service?

Cyberpresse is hit-and-miss for video

We’re in the middle of a revolution in the newspaper industry, and even though I’m caught up in the middle of it, it’s kind of fun to watch everyone try to muddle their way through.

Photographers are learning how to shoot and edit video. Reporters are learning how to blog. Editors are learning how to link. And managers are desperately trying to come up with new ideas that will help save their industry and their jobs.

At Cyberpresse, they’re pumping out videos. Newspapers are jumping on the multimedia train, creating videos, audio slideshows, photo galleries, podcasts and other things they couldn’t do on paper.

Part of me doesn’t quite understand why newspapers are trying to compete with television and radio on their own turf. TV has been producing three-minute packages much longer than newspapers have, and it shows.

On the other hand, some videos I’ve seen demonstrate that newspapers are capable of reaching a level of depth you won’t get on television outside of PBS or the occasional NFB documentary.

Cyberpresse and its producing partner Top Multimédias offer some good examples for newspaper videos, but unfortunately a lot of examples of what not to do.

Bad: Rudy LeCours

Bad: Rudy Le Cours

In the latter category, you’ll find this sleeper from La Presse business columnist Rudy Le Cours. He’s standing in front of a bright window (which is one of the first things you learn in photography school not to do because it makes the subject dark) and for three minutes and 27 seconds talks into the camera about … I think it’s unemployment or something. I had to be resuscitated a few times while watching it and I don’t remember much. There are no graphics, no charts, no pictures, no numbers. Nothing to make it worth setting up the equipment to have this guy speak text into a camera.

This video from Mali Ilse Paquin in Italy is also a head-scratcher. The audio is clearly taken over the phone or a really bad voice recorder. And the video is just a series of pictures. A blog post or story with the pictures attached would have made much more sense.

Good: Marie-Christine Blais

Good: Marie-Christine Blais

On the other hand we have Marie-Christine Blais and her “Week-end chaud” entertainment preview. She too is talking to the camera, but it’s clear she and her camera operator are having fun (something I’ve long argued is sorely lacking in a lot of news media these days). Not only is she adorable, but she piques my interest enough that I’ll click on that play button when her face comes up. The videos also put up web addresses of bands that she mentions (although displaying show times would be useful).

Cyberpresse still has a long way to go. There’s no way to add comments to videos or embed videos on other pages. And there’s no related links on any of the videos like you can find in YouTube video descriptions. All you can do is go to this page and navigate your way through the various videos in a giant Flash application.

Here’s hoping Cyberpresse (and others) move quickly toward having more fun (if not effort) and way less talking heads standing in front of windows.

Gazette launches “good news” weekly page

In the wake of non-stop bad news about the state of the Canadian and world economy, and readers who say they’re tired of reading about crime, politics and foreign wars, The Gazette on Tuesday launched a good-news-only page called “You’ll Like This”, which will appear every week.

This idea isn’t new. The Calgary Herald launched a similar project in January with a “Good News” page on its website.

The biggest problem with the idea of “good news” is that there is a reason news is rarely good. Good events are planned, bad events are unplanned and more newsy. “Good news stories” tend to be non-news fluff, particularly human-interest stories. They tend to fall into a few predictable categories:

  • Fundraisers, charity and other events
  • Miracle survival and other good-because-it-wasn’t-bad stories
  • People coming together to work on some volunteer project
  • Science news that makes us feel good about ourselves or see hope for the future
  • Amazing/funny coincidences and other believe-it-or-not stuff

Editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips tackles the skepticism of us curmudgeonly cynics head-on in a piece introducing the page. He says “…It’s not about highlighting light and fluffy items with no lasting consequence. There’s no reason that substantive, even ‘serious,’ stories can’t focus on the positive.”

The first two articles in this new section include a piece by Peggy Curran on McGill Law Outreach, where law students go to high schools with high drop-out rates and encourage kids to keep working on their education, and another from David Yates on the LaSalle Lions Novice A hockey team, undefeated in 51 games (which probably sucks for every other team in the league).

The paper is also asking readers to send in their good news stories to share with others. No doubt they’ll get a few tear-jerkers.

There’s also an unrelated week-long optimism series from Canwest, which today focuses on health and living longer.

The Suburban reports on … The Suburban

I wish I could link to the stories directly, but The Suburban now distributes online in a rather link-unfriendly virtual newspaper format, so I’ll just have to link to the whole of this week’s issue, which includes praise for having picked up an award for Best Local Editorial from the Canadian Community Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Competition (there were actually nine winners in that category, three for each size group, but an award is an award, right?) as well as eight awards from the Quebec Community Newspaper Association.

This week’s issue also includes what I can only assume are April Fool’s Day stories about Beryl Wajsman running for mayor and Andrew Carter being appointed to the Canadian Senate.