Tag Archives: bad ideas

CBC jumps into semantic nightmare with “ICI” debacle


I thought nothing short of an alien invasion would unite the country. Heck, even then I’m sure the PQ would blame the federal government. But the CBC managed to do so last week when it announced that it was rebranding all its French-language services as “ICI”.

But the move has been so universally condemned, from the left, from the right, from its enemies and its friends, that I feel the urge to play contrarian and find some reason to support it. But I can’t.

The reasons to dislike it just pile up:

  • It’s confusing. Are they changing the name Radio-Canada? No. Except yes. They’re not changing their name, but just adopting a new “brand identity”, or using a “term”, or “denominator”. Just the list of synonyms for the word “name” they used (including the word “name” itself) created needless confusion. Even CBC and Radio-Canada journalists couldn’t figure out what “ICI” was, exactly.
  • It’s expensive. This rebranding exercise cost $400,000. You can see that as a tiny part of the corporation’s $1-billion annual subsidy from the Canadian government, or you could see that as a handful of well-paid full-time jobs for a year. Rebranding is an expensive endeavour that does little to further the CBC’s mandate.
  • It’s unnecessary. The closest thing I got to a reason for this whole thing in the first place is a video (now deleted) in which someone put a confused look on their face when explained that “Radio-Canada” means both radio and television. I get that, in a sense. You’ll recall that Télé-Québec used to be called Radio-Québec. But is this really a problem for a brand that’s existed for 75 years? Does anyone who lives in Canada and speaks French actually get confused?
  • It’s consultantism at its finest. The CBC loves consultants. People who tell them that newscasts have to look a certain way, or that Peter Mansbridge should stand at all times. Some consulting is good. You want to focus-group television shows or expensive concepts before putting them into motion. But consultants are also good at convincing people to buy things they don’t need. I don’t know if that happened in this case, but it certainly gives that impression.
  • It’s abandoning a strong brand. Rebranding is something you do when your brand isn’t working. Maybe you’re involved in a scandal, or your name doesn’t reflect what you do anymore, or it’s not politically correct. But Radio-Canada is a very strong brand. People know what it is and expect good things from it. Why would you mess with that? Even the federal government got involved to complain.
  • It’s anti-patriotic. Fuelling the exaggerated notion that Radio-Canada is filled with separatists (as if half of Quebec wasn’t), cutting “Radio-Canada” in favour of “ICI” has been seized by some in English Canada has a political move. “ICI” is also being seen as reinforcing the Quebec-centric view of Radio-Canada by groups that feel the corporation all but ignores francophones in the rest of Canada.
  • It’s a generic word with little meaning. The Abbott and Costello routine from Jean Lapierre and Mario Dumont might be a caricature of the problem, but there’s a very serious lack of meaning in the term “ici”. It’s a generic word, an adverb, and they’re trying to use it as a noun. “ICI” has been the name of a bunch of things, including a weekly alternative newspaper in Montreal. “ICI Montréal” was even registered as a trademark by Télé-Métropole, which is now TVA, in 1985.

But the biggest problem with this rebrand is this: It’s screwing the little guy.

Sam Norouzi


Here’s that little guy. His name is Sam Nowrouzzahrai, but he does business as Sam Norouzi because he wants to save people the trouble of always looking up how to spell and pronounce his name. He’s the man behind a new ethnic television station in Montreal. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, owned by his family and run as a producers’ cooperative. He’s not looking to get rich off of this, just find work for some ethnic broadcasters and bring local ethnic television back to one of Canada’s most diverse cities.

He wanted to call the station International Channel/Canal International, or “ICI” for short.

As I explain in this story in The Gazette, Norouzi did his homework, applying for a registered trademark and waiting for it to get approved as the CRTC application process followed its course. Now, weeks before the station is set to go on the air, he has to deal with the CBC’s lawyers who are trying to take his name from him. And while he has a legal team to deal with that, it’s taking up a lot of his time too. “There’s not a day that goes by that there’s not an issue I have to deal with” involving the case, he said.

I first wrote about this story in March, but now Norouzi has decided he’s ready to play offence in his David-vs-Goliath battle. Articles in the Journal de Montréal, La Pressethe Globe and Mail, the National Post, even the New York Times. An interview on CBC Radio’s As it Happens. An angry column from Sophie Durocher. And while he told me back in March that he didn’t have the funds to take this matter to court, he now says he’s ready to fight.

“We have full rights to go forward with the name and we intend to do so,” Norouzi told me. “We will defend ourselves. For us it’s really a question of principle.”

CBC by a technicality

So what kind of case does the CBC have here? Can they really force Norouzi to give up his name?

Companies don’t have to register their trademarks for them to be legal. They just have to use them. Same thing with government bodies and their “official marks” according to the Trade-marks Act. But it helps. And Norouzi’s application for ICI came a year before CBC’s 31 applications for ICI-branded services. (The only CBC mark that predates Norouzi’s is one from 1969 for “Éditions Ici Radio-Canada”.)

I spoke with Pascal Lauzon, a lawyer and trademark agent with BCF. He said most of the case is “very debatable on both sides.” He pointed out that the registrar of trademarks looks through the database when a trademark is applied for. The process also includes a two-month waiting period so opponents can file oppositions to proposed registrations.

But Lauzon also said that there’s a five-year period during which someone can apply to the federal court to expunge a trademark.

Obviously not in a position to prejudge a case like this, Lauzon said the CBC has a strong case, not so much because it can prove it used the name first, but because of what amounts to a technicality.

Part of the trademark registration process is the filing of what’s called a “declaration of use.” This tells the Canadian Intellectual Property Office that you have actually used the trademark you’ve applied for on a good or in connection with a service. Norouzi filed this on Aug. 20, 2012. But his station wasn’t on the air at that time. We didn’t even know it existed because the application for it wasn’t published until a month later.

The CBC alleges in its lawsuit that, because Norouzi did not appear to be actually using the trademark, his declaration of use was “materially false.”

That, Lauzon said, is enough to have the entire trademark registration thrown out. If that happens, Norouzi would have to file for a new one, but that would put his application behind those 31 marks of CBC-Radio-Canada, and would weaken his case considerably.

“He should have waited” until the station was on the air, Lauzon said. He had three years to file a declaration of use, and waiting would not have made his initial filing date of August 2011 any less valid. “If he had waited, he would be in a much better position,” Lauzon said.

An amicable solution is the best solution

There is another way for this to end: The CBC could see the error of its ways and abandon the whole “ICI” plan entirely. Or it could offer to pay the costs associated with Norouzi’s station taking another name. I don’t know if either of those are likely.

Norouzi tells me he has had no communication with the CBC other than through its lawyers, who first contacted him last November complaining about possible confusion. (Norouzi dismissed those claims since they came long before anyone had any idea that Radio-Canada would be rebranding.) The CBC won’t comment except through written communication that goes through its legal department. Which means I didn’t get a response from them by press time. (I’ll update this post with what I hear back.)

The CBC has already started to back away from ICI. On Monday, president Hubert Lacroix apologized for the “confusion” and announced that some services, including the main TV and radio networks, would retain the Radio-Canada name. You can see a full list here (PDF). Names like “ICI Radio-Canada Télé” and “ICI Radio-Canada Première” sound like awful compromises, taking names that were long and making them even longer.

This backtrack was after days of trying to re-explain a move that should have been self-explanatory.

It hurts to throw away a $400,000 project. But sticking with a bad idea isn’t a better option.

UPDATE: I asked for additional comment from CBC about this case. Hours after the request, I was asked to submit written questions. Almost 24 hours later, I finally got this as a response from Radio-Canada’s Marc Pichette:

In response to your questions sent yesterday (and I apologize for the delay), the term “ICI” has been closely tied to Radio-Canada’s identity for over 75 years. That it has risen to increased prominence recently is only a reflection of the close association our audience makes between that word and our brand.

Confusion is in no one’s interest. That’s why the matter to which you refer is part of an ongoing legal process which is before the Federal Court. I hope you will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics.

The contradictory stock photo

I find it funny how the lady in the Sun News Network promo complaining about how “political correctness has run amok”:

is the same lady promoting government assistance to old people in Quebec:

(Click on the photos to get links to where they come from)

This is, of course, a stock photo. I tracked it down to German photographer Martina Ebel, who sells it through various stock photo sites. She confirmed the photo was hers, though she didn’t give me information about the model, who appears in dozens of other photos taken by Ebel.

I’d be willing to put money on the assumption that this nice-looking old lady is not Canadian, has never requested financial assistance from the Quebec government, and has never watched the Sun News Network.

But that’s not important, right? What’s important is the illusion that this photo represents an actual person we can relate to, and who are news media or the government to dispell us of the false impressions they planted in our minds?

Besides, it’s so heartwarming that right-wing media blowhards and left-wing government money wasters have at least one thing in common: the same taste in generic old women.

STM takes down its totem pole

A new bus stop sign design was shown off with a new shelter design

Last fall, the STM showed off – with great fanfare – a prototype for a brand new bus stop shelter, which it installed on René-Lévesque Blvd. near Jeanne-Mance St. Installed along with it, a few feet away, was a prototype for a new bus stop sign pole, as seen above in this photo I took last week.

Cool, I thought, but as hip as it looked, it also meant losing a lot of information, such as what metro/train stops a bus will go to, whether it’s a rush-hour-only bus or express bus or night bus, and the bus stop code. All this information was moved to a panel lower down that has schedules and other info.

More importantly, I thought, it’s going to be more complicated to add routes to this totem pole, and you can’t indicate detours or disruptions in service like you can by slipping one of those temporary bus stop covers over the traditional signs.

With the new night bus network taking effect on Monday, adding four new routes to this stop (and the deletion of this leg of the 515 bus, which also took effect Monday), I passed by on Sunday to see if they had updated the totem pole.

Continue reading

CTV Two: The second-rate brand

BBC Two. ESPN2. CBC Radio 2. TSN2. And now Bell Media has added another broadcaster to the list of brands whose names literally scream out “second-rate stuff goes here”: A Channel/ATV will become CTV Two, they announced on Monday.

Of course, A Channel is a second-rate channel, carrying mostly American programming that CTV has the rights to but can’t fit into the main network’s schedule. And I wasn’t exactly crazy about the /A\ branding either, particularly because of how ungoogleable it was.

A poll apparently told Bell that CTV’s brand is the most trusted media brand in Canada, and so it has decided to use that brand to maximum effect. It can’t turn A Channel stations into CTV stations directly (most are too close to existing CTV stations), so it’ll impose its brand and add a number to it because they can’t think of anything better to name it.

Another change will be rebranding the newscasts as “CTV News” – so they’ll be indistinguishable from CTV newscasts in all the other markets. Whether viewers of the local stations want this is, of course, irrelevant. The decision comes from the top, using the same logic that killed the Pulse News brand in Montreal.

CTV seems to be implying that it will put more effort into the network than it has in the past, giving it higher-profile shows instead of third-rate crap. It promises “one monster acquisition to anchor the schedule” – which I guess means that they’re going to give the network a single hit show and otherwise keep the relationship between the two networks unchanged.

Using A as the sloppy-seconds network is the main reason it has never been profitable. And it will probably remain that way. But part of Bell’s deal with the CRTC when it purchased CTV’s assets was a commitment to keep the unprofitable A Channel stations running for another three years. So we’ll see this experiment continue whether or not it’s successful.

There may not be a lot of money for newscasts or original programming for the A stations, but apparently there’s plenty of money to keep rebranding this network every few years. Hopefully whoever came up with the stupid name and cheap logo didn’t get paid too much.

UPDATE (June 2): The announcement of CTV Two programming for this fall contains little of interest. Certainly no “monster acquisition” I can see.

All-traffic radio: A $9-million waste

Coverage map for CINW 940AM at 50,000 watts, as submitted to CRTC

Last week, news came out that Cogeco and the Quebec government have reached a deal that will see the creation of two new all-traffic AM radio stations in Montreal set to open in the fall. The project will cost taxpayers $9 million over three years.

It’s the most ridiculous use of $9 million I’ve seen in a while.

The history of 690 and 940 AM

Montreal has had two giant holes in its radio spectrum since January 2010. Both frequencies – 690 and 940 kHz – started out as CBC stations. CBM (CBC Montreal) moved to 940 and CBF (Radio-Canada Montreal) moved to 690 in 1941. They were among Canada’s oldest AM radio stations and each had clear-channel status, meaning that they could operate at 50,000 watts and did not have to reduce power overnight to avoid interference.

Clear-channel status is highly sought – or at least it was. There are only about a dozen such stations in Canada (CKAC is the only active one in Montreal), and the clear-channel status means they can be heard from very far away with a good enough antenna.

Despite this seemingly huge advantage, CBC decided in the late 90s to move its AM stations in Montreal to FM – 88.5 and 95.1 MHz – where they remain today as CBC Radio One and Première Chaîne). The argument was that FM provided better quality audio and the signal would be easier to capture in the city. The tradeoff – that the signal would no longer be carried by skywave to neighbouring provinces and territories – didn’t seem to be such a big deal. It was a controversial move at the time, particularly for CBC Radio listeners who had better reception with AM than FM.

In 1999, the decades-old CBC transmitters were shut down and the frequencies vacated. Métromédia (later Corus Quebec), which owned CIQC 600 AM and CKVL 850 AM, wasted no time in snapping the clear channels up, and moved those two stations to the vacated frequencies. They were reborn as all-news stations CINW (940 News) and CINF (Info 690).

We all know how that turned out. The anglo all-news station didn’t work out financially, so they changed it up into a news-talk format in 2005. When that didn’t work either, they fired everyone and started played music in 2008. (Info 690, meanwhile, kept going with their news format). Then, in January 2010, Corus pulled the plug on both stations and gave up. They returned their licenses to the CRTC.

Since then, the frequencies have remained vacant. Clear AM channels that it seems anyone could have had just by asking. But no takers.

In 2010, Corus agreed to sell its Quebec assets to Cogeco. This included the transmitters for CINW and CINF, even though they were inoperative and had no broadcast license. The deal was approved in December, giving Cogeco the equipment (and a lease on the transmitter site in Kahnawake until 2021) but no idea how to use it in a way that could make it profitable.

And here’s where the Quebec government comes in.

Congrats, Cogeco lobbyists

According to documents they submitted to the CRTC (you can download them yourself from here), Cogeco found out about the Quebec transport ministry wanting to improve the way it communicates information about traffic disruptions to the public. With all the construction work expected to come (the Turcot Interchange, for example), they wanted to minimize the pain to drivers by keeping them as well informed as possible.

Cogeco went to them and proposed a … let’s call it a partnership. Cogeco would provide the transmitter, the programming, the staff. The government would provide access to traffic information and lots and lots of money.

The government thought it was a great idea, and on April 14 they published their intention to award a contract to Cogeco. The deal was finally announced last week by the government and Cogeco (PDF) and the CRTC announced it would hold a hearing on the proposal to give the licenses back to CINW and CINF. News coverage was brief, most just regurgitating the press release:

The station, which according to the deal must be operational by Oct. 31 (though the target date is Sept. 1 pending CRTC approval), would broadcast live from 4:30am to 1am weekdays and 6am to 1am weekends and holidays. This information includes:

  • Traffic status on highways and bridges
  • Road conditions
  • Information on road work sites (it’s unclear if this is just those run by the transport ministry or all municipal sites as well)
  • Highway safety tips
  • Weather conditions

In other words, the kind of stuff you’d expect from any traffic information radio station. Missing from this list is an item about providing information on public transit service. It’s unclear why both sides left this out of their press releases, but it’s contained in their CRTC submission and in the contract between the government and Cogeco, and I would imagine the intention is to include such information in their broadcasts.

The deal also includes promotion of the station by Cogeco and 25 minutes a day of airtime for the ministry.

Cogeco says it plans to use CHMJ in Vancouver (owned by Corus) as a template. That’s also an all-traffic radio station, but with one major difference: It’s not funded by the government.

You could also compare it to The Weather Network and MétéoMédia, which provide all-weather programming, funded mainly by subscriber fees that all cable subscribers must pay for the channels.

Why this is a bad idea

I appreciate that the ministry wants to improve communication about traffic and road work. But they’re doing this by getting into the broadcast business. The figure of $3 million a year might not be much, but it represents about three-quarters of the stations’ proposed budgets. Cogeco also predicts that figure will rise if the contract is renewed beyond three years (the CRTC asks for seven-year projections for a station’s finances) to $3.3 million a year for the next three years.

Put simply, this is a solution to a problem that does not exist. I mean, seriously, is the biggest complaint about commercial radio that there aren’t enough traffic reports? Just about every station does traffic reports every 10 minutes during rush hours. CJAD does it all day. All this without any specific funding by the government to do so. Even CBC Radio One does traffic reports, including public transit updates. (The CBC is funded by the federal government, but that funding doesn’t come with a requirement to do traffic updates. CBC Radio does traffic reports because it knows that’s what rush-hour listeners want to hear.)

This isn’t to say an all-traffic radio station wouldn’t make sense. CHMJ is trying that format. And it’s a good idea for AM radio, because most portable music devices these days can’t receive AM radio, but most cars can. But if there’s a demand for it, then it can be done without government funding. And if there isn’t a demand for it, why bother?

Cogeco’s own submission to the CRTC says there are about 1.3 million vehicles travelling in the Montreal area during the afternoon rush hour (less in the morning), which means more than $2 per vehicle per year spent on these stations. They expect their market share will be 1.5% for the anglo station and 1.6% for the francophone station. Based on their estimated total weekly hours of listening, the English station would expect about 1,000 listeners on average (more, obviously, during rush hour) and the French station about 3,000 listeners.

And CRTC submissions are usually pretty optimistic.

Why this is overkill

The other thing that bugs me about this is the choice of channel. Cogeco wants to put both these stations on clear channels, and have both running 50,000 watts day and night. The reach of these stations, as you can see from the map at the top of this post, is not just the greater Montreal area, but as far as Gaspé, Moncton, southern Maine, Kingston, northern Ontario and even Labrador. The vast majority of its listening area couldn’t care less what happens on the Champlain Bridge.

Then again, if nobody else wants the frequency, I guess it’s better to do that than nothing at all. But surely we can find a better use for such a powerful signal than traffic reports for one city.

There are also some strange proposals, like having a roving reporter patrol the city to report from the scenes of major traffic events. Compare this to the private sector that has helicopters flying overhead to report on traffic and other issues. It’s a government employee doing a job that the private sector is already doing better.

What the government should spend its money on

In the grand scheme of things, $9 million isn’t a lot of money. But rather than spend it on duplicating a service the private sector already does for free, how about the transport ministry use it more wisely. Spend it on adding more traffic cameras, providing better real-time information to traffic reporters, better ways of getting information to smartphones and other portable devices, improving the Quebec 511 service. Create a database of road work (both provincial and municipal) that can be integrated into Google Maps and used to suggest better routes to drivers.

Or, you know, they could use it to improve the province’s highways. At least repave the kilometre or two closest to the Ontario border, which will give the most psychological bang for the buck and end those silly anecdotal cross-border comparisons.

The CRTC will be hearing the two applications for all-traffic radio stations on July 18 in Gatineau. Comments and interventions are being accepted until June 20. The contract is contingent on CRTC approval and would be cancelled if CRTC approval doesn’t materialize before Oct. 31.

UPDATE (May 31): A Gazette piece says that there was a call for bids in this deal. That’s not entirely accurate. On April 14, the transport ministry published its intent to give a contract to Cogeco (a document that starts off by saying “this is not a call for bids”), and gave competitors 10 days to indicate that they could provide a competing offer for the deal – something that if accepted would have led to a formal call for bids. After the deadline passed, the ministry gave the deal to Cogeco.

I don’t want to be a professional journalist

Members of the Fédération professionelle des journalistes du Québec are being asked to vote today until Thursday on a proposition to establish the “title” of “professional journalist”, in an effort to improve journalists’ working conditions and give them more power to maintain their integrity.

The goal is a laudable one. But here’s why they should vote “no”:

When the FPJQ first decided to consider this idea in the fall, I wrote a blog post panning the idea. I picked apart the argument for creating a professional journalist status, as well as the supposed perks having such a status would give people. I also criticized the examples given of France and Belgium, where such statuses exist but whose media environments aren’t nearly the same as ours.

My primary concern wasn’t so much that journalists were getting more rights, but that these rights would be given only to those people deemed worthy of them.

Journalism has existed as we know it for decades without needing any type of formal accreditation system. So, I asked, why should we establish one now? What problem is it solving?

Still, because a big study on the issue hadn’t been released, I held off on a final judgment. Maybe it would convince me that I’d been wrong, that the perceived disadvantages of such an accreditation system would be vastly outweighed by the positives.

The famous report (PDF) from Dominique Payette came out in January.

I remain unconvinced.

Is this necessary?

It’s very clear from the material being shared with members that the FPJQ wants people to vote yes. There’s no effort at balance in the arguments here. No space given to the possible downsides of separating “professional” journalists from non-professional ones.

The Payette report into the state of journalism is also heavily biased in favour of this system.

Payette’s argument is that convergence (read: Quebecor) and the ease with which people can share information have had a detrimental effect on journalism, and establishing a professional title (though not necessarily an order like we have for doctors or lawyers) would somehow help fix this problem.

Payette makes her case based on a statement early on in the report:

Depuis quelques années, on observe au Québec une réduction du nombre de producteurs d’informations originales d’intérêt public, et ce, malgré la multiplication des plateformes de diffusion.

No source is provided for this statement, nor is it made clear who is doing the observing here. Yes, many newsrooms are smaller than they once were. But we also have many more newsrooms than we used to have, and lots of people are using different forms of media to get their message across. Is there really less original news of a public interest being produced? Has someone studied this to see if it’s actually the case?

Payette’s report notes that “l’information d’intérêt public est fragilisée par le développement de médias spécialisés ou de « niche »”, as if the creation of more specialized news sources is somehow a bad thing. I would argue the opposite, that instead of general-interest journalists learning the basics of an issue and giving a simplistic (and potentially wrong) explanation of it to the public, we now have experts in various fields willing to give in-depth analysis of issues.

Whether those experts are “journalists” is a good question.

The Internet and changing consumption habits have radically changed journalism. In some cases for the better, in some cases for the worse. That’s change, and we have to change with it.

But despite all the fretting about how journalists are being laid off and media empires are no longer what they once were, there’s little justification in the material I’ve read for the establishment of a massive bureaucracy that won’t actually regulate much.

Recommendations hard to swallow

Where Payette’s report gets really scary is in some of its recommendations. As I said in the previous post, some of the ideas for benefits of the professional journalist status sound good but should be applied to everyone.

  • The protection of sources, for example, should apply to anyone whose protection of a source is for a journalistic reason, not just someone who has a card saying they’re a journalist.
  • Preferential treatment for access to information requests would make a lot of journalists happy, but would hurt those who don’t have journalist status and want to get information. In many cases, non-journalists making access to information requests want to get data on themselves or a family member, and their needs are much more important to them than a journalist’s curiosity. And, of course, there are cases that gum up the system that come from journalists themselves. Quebecor’s massive access dump on the CBC, for instance, would now be given preferential treatment and make the problem even worse. (Thankfully, a suggestion that journalists’ A-to-I requests all be free of charge has been dropped.)

Then there are the recommendations that are just crazy:

  • Allowing journalists to leave work and take full paid leave of up to a year because they don’t believe their working conditions allow them to be fully ethical is just asking for years of litigation.
  • Restricting government advertising to Quebec Press Council members would create all sorts of problems. Could governments no longer advertise on billboards or on Métrovision or on specialty channels because they aren’t run by people who employ journalists?
  • Changing the law to prevent anyone who has been libelled from seeking any damages from media who follow standard policies about corrections gives those media less of an incentive to stop libelling people. I’m not suggesting that people should be able to sue for millions because of what’s written in the paper about them, but people who are wronged by the media (for example, being accused of a crime when they haven’t even been charged) deserve compensation.
  • Setting up a 1-800 number for the Quebec Press Council so people can get ethics advice sounds like a really stupid idea and a giant waste of money.
  • Requiring all professional journalists to pass a French language test and get regular French language training not only ignores the fact that that not all journalism in Quebec is done in French, but it also sounds like its goal is more about politics than it is about journalism. (The Suburban clearly wasn’t happy with this suggestion.) The report makes a case that language skills are vital to proper communication (though I don’t think too many people are failing to be informed because of journalists’ quality of French), but there are no similar recommendations for other skills journalists should have, like math, basic science or history.

The FPJQ’s vote isn’t necessarily to accept all the recommendations of the report, but this entire project is based on that report, and the association hasn’t rejected any of the ideas above.

The Payette report isn’t all bad. There are some decent recommendations here:

  • Allow freelance journalists to negotiate on a level playing field and ensure their contracts have a minimum standard
  • Allow journalists to represent themselves at access to information hearings, as non-journalists are allowed to do
  • Increase support for small regional independent media (through government handouts or other measures)
  • Having the government follow an open data policy and put raw data online as much as possible
  • Forcing municipalities to publish publicly-accessible documents online and provide adequate public notice of council meetings and their agendas

But none of these in any way require the establishment of a title of professional journalist.

Better or worse for new media

Some bloggers and independent journalists are praising the idea, thinking they will improve their working conditions. Nathalie Collard of La Presse went down to South by Southwest and concluded her vision of the media universe contrasted radically with the visions of young media entrepreneurs.

Criticism from journalists has unfortunately been very little. Most are quiet about it, perhaps unsure of their opinions. Some support the idea (like Le Soleil’s Pierre-Paul Noreau). Some hate it (like The Suburban and The Gazette – which makes it seem as if there’s a language divide here, but Voir’s Jérôme Lussier is critical too). Some don’t think this has been properly thought out. Le Devoir’s Josée Boileau asks the simple question: then what?

That’s a big question. The reports and recommendations kind of skip over the most important question of why this is even necessary, preferring to spend most of their time discussing how it would work (and even then, many of the not-unimportant details are left until later).

Some make a false comparison between independent journalists and artists. But this proposal wouldn’t establish a union for journalists, and artists don’t have a title or the same kind of ethics code that would be so vital for journalists.

Conflict of interest

The FPJQ is obviously in favour of this project, because it would give a legal status to the federation. It says people wouldn’t have to be members of the FPJQ to get official journalist status, but only members could elect FPJQ executives who decide who sits on the council that decides who can become a journalist.

The Quebec Press Council, a separate body whose membership is voluntary and whose powers are practically non-existent, also embraces Payette’s report. That might have something to do with the six-figure government handouts she wants the council to receive.

Judging from the fact that a preliminary proposal was approved unanimously at the FPJQ’s annual meeting, it’s likely this vote will also pass with a huge margin. Only FPJQ members are allowed to vote (and I’m not one of them), even though the decision – if it moves the government to action – would affect every journalist working in Quebec.

Then again, as far as this blog is concerned, whether I’m really a journalist could be up for debate soon.

UPDATE (April 6): Nathalie Collard has a letter from Le Devoir’s Louis-Gilles Francoeur saying he’s voting against this idea, not because he opposes having the title of “professional journalist”, but because he opposes having the FPJQ (as opposed to the press council) be the one to administer it.

UPDATE (Nov. 16): Disagreements over who should administer this scheme has resulted in the FPJQ being less than enthusiastic, and could mean abandoning the project.

Badly-timed celebrity deaths

Jerry Orbach, Susan Sontag, Benazir Bhutto, Michelle Lang, Tony Proudfoot, Rémy d’Anjou.

What do these people have in common?

They had the misfortune of dying in late December in recent years, meaning their presence on year-end obituary lists is hit-and-miss.

Orbach and Sontag died on the same day, Dec. 28, 2004, according to Wikipedia. That, more than some editorial decision that they weren’t important enough, was why they were left off lists of celebrity deaths that year, like this one from Associated Press and this one from Hour.

This year, Radio-Canada’s Regards sur 2010 special ended with a long list of important people (particularly Quebecers) who died during the year. Missing from that list is former Alouettes player Tony Proudfoot, because the news of his death came the morning of Dec. 30, the day after the show aired. Some print lists, like this one from Postmedia News and this one from Canadian Press, include his name (at least in their latest versions – this one from Postmedia and this one from CP don’t have it).

Radio-Canada’s year-end special, which was repeated on Jan. 2, is also missing Rémy d’Anjou, who died on Dec. 27, even though he was important enough for Radio-Canada itself to run an obit.

This is the problem when you summarize something before it’s over. I realize there’s a desperate need to fill space just before New Year’s, but publishing a list of people who died during a calendar year before the year is complete is like printing the boxscore of a hockey game before the last buzzer, or publishing a review of a movie before the final act. It’s inaccurate, and obituaries is a place where accuracy is pretty important.

And it’s not like you can just hold them over for next time. Tony Proudfoot and Rémy d’Anjou won’t be appearing on any “they left us in 2011” lists.

Show me your paper’s papers

It's not always so easy distinguishing journalists from the rest

At its general assembly on Nov. 28, the Fédération profesionnelle des journalistes du Québec will be debating a series of motions recommended by the organization’s executive committee. Among them is a demand for a parliamentary commission into the Journal de Montréal lockout, an update to its ethics guidelines to reflect the development of social media (a subject I’ve been invited to speak about at a panel discussion the day before), and a bill of rights for freelancers.

These things sound pretty good (though the wording of the demand for a parliamentary commission sounds like its goal is to get the government to publicly embarrass Quebecor and come down against the creation of the QMI Agency news service).

There’s also a motion to expand the definition of “Quebec”, as silly as that sounds, to include those media organizations that “étant établie au Canada, entretient avec le Québec des liens historiques et culturels“, which sounds a lot like they’ll accept francophone journalists from just about anywhere in Canada. I’m not necessarily against this, but it opens up a can of worms (will the FPJQ now have to deal with the Ontario and New Brunswick governments?) and reinforces the idea that there’s a French mediasphere and an English one, and the FPJQ is on the French side.

But the motion that really bothers me is a proposal to setup a certification system for journalists.

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New bus shelters are so sharp it hurts (UPDATED)

UPDATE (Nov. 25): The Gazette’s Andy Riga reports the STM says the average price for these shelters is actually lower than what they reported earlier. Also see below my photos of this shelter at night.

A prototype of the new STM bus shelter at René-Lévesque Blvd. and Jeanne-Mance St.

On Monday, the Société de transport de Montréal made a big splash of this rectangular glass box, inviting the media to take pictures and witness a dramatic unveiling. This is the model of a new style of bus shelter that the STM is planning to replicate hundreds of times.

Michel Labrecque, the STM’s chairman, said the biggest thing about it is the look, and how the aesthetic design of the shelter will draw more transit users in. People want to wait in something “sharp”, he said, something that looks more like the future than the stone age.

The shelters will cost between $14,000 and $16,000 about $12,000 each, not including the development cost, which will bring the total price for 400 shelters to $14 million. Even then, it’s significantly more than the price of existing shelters.

After installing three prototypes (the other two will come next month), the STM will seek input from users before making the order for the rest.

Not wanting to pass judgment before I saw it myself, I decided to pass by the shelter on the day after the big announcement, when all the TV cameras, PR people and giant tarps had long gone (and when the weather wasn’t so rainy).

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The garbage can is too dry

Automatic sprinkler systems annoy me quite a bit. I mean, we get enough rain here that it’s really not necessary to use the public potable water supply to water the grass.

But those behind the Place de l’Adresse symphonique of the Quartier des spectacles know it’s important not just to keep the grass drowning in water, but to keep the garbage can and sidewalk wet at all times.

Grass drowning in sprinkler water for no apparent reason

The metro car contract: a depressing timeline

Just to recap:


  • January 2012: A judge rules that the “urgency” argument doesn’t hold up, and orders a call for bids on the new metro car contract. Bombardier-Alstom sues.
  • March 2012: The STM puts out a new call for bids, and 12 more companies come out of the blue to express interest.
  • May 2012: The STM picks Bombardier-Alstom as the winner of the bid. ZhuZhou, CAF and a bunch of other companies promptly sue.
  • September 2012: A judge rules something, but nobody reads the judgment and everyone just announces they’re going to sue each other.
  • October 2012: The Quebec people sue the government for incompetent mismanagement of their funds.
  • December 2012: The world comes to an end. All evil dies in the apocalypse. Civil courts stop functioning, and all lawsuits are dismissed.
  • April 2025: The first new metro cars are delivered. Quebec Premier Patrick Huard participates in a photo op and pretends it was all his doing.

Front-seat driver

A woman sits on the bus driver's armrest greeting passengers

Maybe I’m being a bit of a prude, and insufficiently open-minded. And I know it can get boring when you’re driving a bus late at night.

But it just seems somewhat … inappropriate to have someone sitting with you in the driver’s seat as you’re driving the bus. Not only does it look rather unprofessional when people start to board the bus, but I’m pretty sure the people who tested the bus for safety don’t recommend people sit there.

There’s a seat right by the front door, and at this particular moment it’s unoccupied. Maybe you can sit there instead. Don’t worry, your conversation shouldn’t suffer.

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A Moving Day trash tip

Papers left for trash on Moving Day

A little late for this year, obviously, but next time, it’s probably best not to leave government documents with your personal information all over them out on the curb.

In fact, this applies whether or not you’re moving.

Listen to Le Devoir (or, you know, don’t)

As part of its centennial celebrations, Le Devoir invited Hexagram to record audio from their newsroom. You can listen to a four-minute clip of it on their website.

But as much as I’m fascinated with the minutiae of the inner workings of the media, I’ll recommend giving this one a pass. It’s background noise, and there isn’t much said. No screaming of “on tue la une!” or other newspaper clichés.

Newspaper newsrooms are, in fact, very quiet places. There are reporters on the phone with police or other sources, editors conferring with each other on matters important and trivial, and the usual office gossip during downtimes. But otherwise, it’s quiet as reporters type their stories, and editors read and proofread.

Unless something crazy is happening, or you’re in a meeting, there’s just not anything interesting to listen to.