Tag Archives: Cyberpresse

The death of Cyberpresse

BEFORE: Cyberpresse.ca

AFTER: LaPresse.ca

When I heard last night about how Cyberpresse.ca was being transformed into LaPresse.ca today, I started planning a post in my head, about how the last great example of the “portal” concept from a decade ago had finally fallen, following in the footsteps of Canada.com and Canoe.ca, who for years forced its papers and other brands to be mere sections of the portal instead of having their own websites with their own domain names.

But … that doesn’t seem to be what has happened here. At least not yet. Instead, they’ve changed the name and the branding (one that has existed for more than 10 years), but not the concept, and for now anyway all the Gesca newspapers still share the same online brand.

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Cyberpresse creates political donation map

Political donations mapped by postal code from Cyberpresse

Cyberpresse has outdone itself.

Cedric Sam and Thomas de Lorimier, who brought us that poll-by-poll map of 2008 election results – and ported it into English so the Rest of Canada could enjoy it too – have mashed up a Google map with data from Elections Canada on party and candidate donations. It’s introduced here on Saturday by Martin Croteau.

As you should know, political donations are public information, and Elections Canada provides some raw data (though not all, see Sam’s comment below). Sam and de Lorimier used some Google Refine finessing to create an interactive map of donations, colour-coded by party. Each dot represents a postal code where a registered donor lives. Clicking on one reveals the name of the donor, the date and amount of the donation, and the party or local riding association the money was donated to.

It’s a fun tool if you know your neighbours and want to find out who among them is politically active. You can also search through the data. Or, if you don’t like the way they presented it, you can download the raw refined data yourself and create your own map.

Another example of the power of data journalism.

Cyberpresse publishes English electoral map

Cyberpresse, which spent quite a bit of effort creating an interactive Google map of 2008 federal election results by individual poll, has decided to release it in English after seeing how popular it became in English Canada.

The web application allows the user to choose any riding in Canada and see a colour-coded map of how each poll in that riding voted. In even the smallest riding – Papineau in Montreal – you can see the breakdown of votes: Solid red in Park Extension, and mostly blue in Villeray before trending back red in St. Michel.

Large residences that have their own poll are represented by large squares (mostly red, because old people vote Liberal). Ties and polls with no results are marked with white.

It’s an impressive feat of programming, but the fact that Cyberpresse has produced English content is the most interesting part of this. It was a trivial move – the data is already bilingual – but I can’t recall a previous instance of this kind of thing happening before.

Other media outlets (at least those with the resources to produce major projects like this) should take note: The Internet allows you to expand your audience far beyond your regular readership, and language can sometimes be much less of a barrier than you might think.

UPDATE: Cedric Sam, who created the map, said it took him about a week and involved some code he recycled from previous projects.

Perhaps the best feature we had for the Cyberpresse and didn’t on the previous projects was the fallback on Google Maps. It means all the people on work computer, tablets, can visit and use the website.

I coded a program in Python that generates KML, the Google Earth format. Then, Google Maps reads this as well and displays it.

Battle of the MS Paint

According to La Presse, Radio-Canada is considering a French version of Battle of the Blades. That’s interesting news.


But I’m not sure about the picture they used to illustrate it.

I realize cutouts like this are used often in printed newspapers without an indication that the photo has been manipulated, but it’s clearly called for here, no?

I mean, some people notice these things.

UPDATE (Nov. 13): After being alerted to the error, Cyberpresse has fixed the image. Apparently an online editor took the cutout (used for a section front) and didn’t think to replace it with the original photo.

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.

Trente explores Cyberpresse

Trente, Quebec’s journalism magazine and a website I should go to more often (I would if they had an RSS feed), has some interesting articles this month, including an inside look at Cyberpresse. It follows Hugo Meunier, a journalist who is specializing in breaking news, and talks a bit about the agreement reached last year to give Cyberpresse workers the same salaries as La Presse colleagues.

It also includes an interview with RBOer André Ducharme, who says he wants journalists to go beyond the press release and look at stories from unusual angles, and a pessimistic look at the Journal de Montréal lockout.

If you missed it, the last issue had a piece on the Montrealization of media in Quebec, which it says people in the regions aren’t doing much to fight against.

Cyberpresse redesigned

Cyberpresse today went live with a redesign of its entire site, ditching the old coloured box motif in favour of a grey, white and red OMGWEB2.0 deal that seems to be in vogue with media sites recently.

The first thing you notice, as you do with all these new news websites, is that it goes on forever. You see, some web marketing genius decreed that users no longer care about vertical scrolling (which is true) and some web designer at an important media outlet decided this meant the homepage should be infinitely long vertically. And now everyone is mindlessly copying each other with these layouts that have no structure and look absolutely haphazard as far as placement of stories on the homepage:

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Still with me? Good. Since the page is so freaking long, I had to shrink it down considerably, so let’s take a zoomed-in look here:

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

It’s a very boring, unoriginal layout. Some account-specific links at the top, then a horizontal bar for links to individual sections. Oh wait, it’s actually two horizontal bars. One is for sections, the other is for “websites” that Cyberpresse owns for sections special enough to get their own domain. If you’re not familiar with that system, you’ll probably get confused here and have to read the entire thing a couple of times to figure out which link is the best one to click on. Below that are main stories on the left, a search box on the right and some editor’s picks. Looks OK so far.

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Here’s the meat below. It goes on like this for about four or five screens worth, and they’re all basically the same. Can you tell the logic behind what goes in which columns?

If you answered anything coherent to that question, then you’re wrong. The first column has sections like news and business, except for fluff sections like home, auto, environment, movies that are in the second column, except for arts, technology and lifestyles which are back in the first column.

Oh, and they have names like “Automobile” and “Maison” even though their names are “Mon Volant” and “Mon Toit” elsewhere. Whatever, consistency is for losers.

The third column at least has some consistency. It’s where all the interactive stuff goes. The polls, the “most emailed stories,” the user-generated content, etc. In fact, you’re encouraged to submit your own content (click on “Soumettre une nouvelle,” a page I can’t link to directly), which requires you fill out a form and agree to an 800-word terms of service (which I also can’t link to directly) with gems like these:

  • Lorsque vous soumettez Votre contenu à Cyberpresse, vous concédez à Cyberpresse une licence mondiale illimitée, irrévocable, non exclusive, perpétuelle et à titre gratuit : i) d’utilisation, de reproduction, de stockage, d’adaptation, de traduction, de modification, de création d’œuvres dérivés, de transmission, de distribution, d’exécution publique ou de mise à la disposition du public de Votre contenu à quelque fin; et ii) de concession en sous licence à des tiers du droit illimité d’exercer l’un ou l’autre des droits précités. Outre la concession de la licence susmentionnée, par les présentes, vous i) convenez de renoncer à l’ensemble des droits moraux dans Votre contenu en faveur de Cyberpresse; ii) reconnaissez et convenez que Cyberpresse ne saurait être tenue responsable de quelque perte, endommagement ou corruption de Votre Contenu; et iii) reconnaissez et convenez que Votre Contenu sera considéré comme non confidentiel.
  • Vous devez être âgés de 14 ans ou plus afin de pouvoir soumettre Votre Contenu à Cyberpresse.
  • Les Règles de Contributions des Utilisateurs peuvent être modifiées en tout temps par Cyberpresse à son entière discrétion.
  • Vous vous engagez à coopérer avec nous dans la contestation de toute réclamation.

Well, when you put it that way…

One thing the website emphasizes is its Dossiers, in which stories on a single topic are packaged together, like the U.S. presidential election. Organizing stories by topic instead of more broadly by section is something you’d think media web types would have concluded long ago was boneheadedly obvious, but the news sites are only now really picking up on that. And there are plenty of important, recent topics that don’t have their own pages yet and really should.

Cyberpresse’s launch article also mentions a more powerful (i.e. less crappy) search engine that better finds what you’re looking for. I typed in “Patrick Lagacé” and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo, biography and even email link. Except nowhere do I find a link to his blog. I tried again with “Patrick Lagacé blogue” and the response was “Aucun résultat.” Bravo.

Putting in other search terms for important stories of the past few weeks, I become even less impressed with the search engine.

The blogs also got a redesign. The authors’ pictures are moved to the side, leaving a big space for “le blogue de X”in stylized letters. (Though it seems poor Sophie Cousineau and Nelson Dumais got left behind.) These designs range from the obvious clichés to the we-don’t-know-who-this-is-or-what-she-writes-about generic.

Finally, there’s the RSS page, which has lots more feeds for specific topics. This is good, though the wording on many of these feeds is strange and confusing (what does “ctrl::dossiers cbp” mean?). I managed to decode a few of them which have been added to my Google Reader.

And now, the really bad intro videos

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Oh, and I just noticed there’s a video tour of the new website (honestly folks, if you have to give a video demonstration of how your website works so people understand it, then you didn’t design it properly in the first place). I say “just noticed” because the article announcing the new website has no link to the videos nor does it even mention them.

The videos star some tech dude or blogger I’ve never heard of. His intro video is unintentionally hilarious, as he invites people to see another video “en cliquant ici” (clicking on the video per his instruction does nothing), and then sits there and does nothing but stare at the computer screen for a minute and a half while we make up our minds.

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

In fact, it goes on for so long that he twice looks off camera wondering if he can stop yet:

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

The content of the video is basically him repeating the same thing that was in the introductory article, although he strokes his ego by using himself as a search example. Even though he got the same result I did (i.e. a picture of himself but no link to his blog), he pretends that it works.

Other than all that the site is great. I mean, it’s got gradients and JavaScript-controlled content tabs, so how could it not be?


UPDATE: Michel Dumais has a positive review of the new Cyberpresse. Steph looks at it from a Web 2.0 perspective.

Cyberpresse launches widget, fails

Cyberpresse editors are really excited about this new widget they’ve launched. There are versions for Windows XP, Apple Dashboard and Google Desktop. I tried the Dashboard version and I was rather disappointed:

  • They say it’s “really easy to configure,” which is true because there are only two configuration options: category and refresh time
  • Oh, and that “category” thing? You can only choose one. So if you want breaking news and health news, you’re out of luck
  • And the category list isn’t very extensive. It has hockey, for example, but no other sport. So if you want the latest Alouettes headlines, better try something else.
  • All of this could be made irrelevant by La Presse merely improving their RSS feeds and allowing people to choose the reader of their choice. Right now the feeds are limited to some very general categories and the blogs.

I know all the know-it-alls are saying widgets are the future of media online, but I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind.

This is 90s-era Pointcast technology, with a mindset to match.

Steep learning curve

Dear La Presse,

Maybe you should get out of the video business. Your people are great writers, but they’re not equipped to do standups in the street about business stories. It’s just embarrassing.

By all means, put up videos of things that require video to properly understand. But if the video is a talking head surrounded by B-roll, why bother?

(I’d provide a link, but Cyberpresse seems to have something against people linking to its videos)

I don’t need your help, Cyberpresse

Like every other OMGWEB2.0WE’RE S000K001!!!111 media website around, Cyberpresse has added those dreaded share links to the bottom of every story. You know, the ones you click on and, through the magic of URL variables brings you directly to a del.icio.us bookmark-save page, Fark submission page or prefabricated Facebook post.

These things really annoy me for a few reasons:

  1. They’re entirely unnecessary. I already have a bookmarklet to save pages to del.icio.us. For any other purpose, it’s simple to copy the URL and paste it where needed.
  2. There are far too many of these. Del.icio.us, Digg, Fark, Slashdot, MySpace, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Furl, etc. There are so many, in fact, that other services have been created to be the middleman and make sure they’re all supported. If you’re not using one of the top three services, you’re not going to find those links on all pages, and so you have to find an alternative, and so #1 comes back into play.
  3. They’re ugly.

This unnecessary help doesn’t end there. Cyberpresse, like many of its bretheren, also has plenty of other buttons and links that pointlessly duplicate existing browser functions, badly.

  • Text size: Toggles between only three sizes (the default is the smallest). Changes only the article text, not the text of other type on the page.
  • Print: Normally, you’d expect this to provide a specially-formatted print-friendly version of the article. No, instead it just calls the print function through Javascript. Oh, and there is no specially-formatted print-friendly version, so you get the background image, navigation, headers and footers, and all the ads.

It’s all just a waste of HTML, much like everything else on the page that’s not the article I want to read.

Meanwhile, their entirely Flash-based video site provides no way whatsoever to share links to individual videos. I can’t bookmark them, send them as emails, save them to social networking sites, or post them to blogs.

Maybe you should start working on that instead?

Anglo ads on franco websites?

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but some astute francophone bloggers are noting English-only advertisements on French-language websites like Cyberpresse and Le Devoir.

Assuming it’s not a technical malfunction or clueless advertising agency, should it be a scandal that an ad on a French-language website be in English? A lot of anglophones read French newspapers, watch French television and go to French websites when they can’t find what they need in English. Why not put forward some ads that cater to them?

For example: If The Gazette put a TV ad on RDS during a Habs game to promote its Habs Inside/Out website, in order to reach anglophone Habs enthusiasts who can’t watch the game on another network, or francophone fanatiques who want to immerse themselves in everything about Les Glorieux, would that be so bad?

Or if an anglophone school board had ads in French promoting… oh wait, they already did that. And people are pissed.