Tag Archives: freelancing

Bienvenue, Huffington Post Québec

I suppose I should say something about Le Huffington Post Québec, the new website that is supposed to, as Patrick White writes, “transformer la vision du monde des Québécois.”

It launched this week amid what’s been called “controversy”. It’s funny how easy it is to create a controversy. Just get one person to write something on a blog or in a column, have a bunch of people post links to it on Twitter and Facebook, and then get journalists to ask them for their reaction. Voilà: a controversy.

In the case of the Huffington Post, it started with a blog post from Voir’s Simon Jodoin, accusing people of volunteering their services as writers for the sole profit of the giant AOL empire. (A feeling echoed by La Presse’s Nathalie Collard.) The fallout from that led to some people who had agreed to blog for free (notably Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir) to change their minds. But not all.

The word “controversy” appears in many stories about HuffPost Québec. The Gazette, Les Affaires (and again), Radio-Canada (and its Triplex blog), CTV, Canadian Press, Branchez-Vous. Bad PR, for sure, but Arianna Huffington dealt with it well when she was surrounded by journalists jumping over each other to talk to her.

(You can read more about Le Huffington Post at Projet J, which visited its offices and covered its launch.)

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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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Canwest settles with freelancers over copyright lawsuits

This hasn’t gotten a lot of attention outside of the business press, but Canwest has reached multi-million-dollar settlements with freelancers who have sued the company over what they argue are unauthorized uses of their works in electronic databases.

One of the settlements is with Heather Robertson, who leads a rather massive class action lawsuit against a bunch of publishers, and whose case reached the Supreme Court of Canada – and a decision in her favour, which led to the Globe and Mail settling. The case is still pending against other defendants, including ProQuest, Torstar and Rogers.

You can read the Robertson settlement here (PDF).

The other settlement is with a group called the Electronic Rights Defence Committee, which is a group of Gazette freelancers suing Canwest over the same issues, and which had only gotten class-action status last year.

The settlements are valued at $7.5 million and $9 million respectively, but the amount of cash actually distributed will likely come down as Canwest continues to go through restructuring under creditor protection.

The freelancers can thank this process for pushing these ancient cases forward. As the court-appointed monitor overseeing the restructuring put it in his report on the Robertson case (PDF):

The Settlement Agreement greatly reduced a large claim against the LP Entities and the resulting uncertainty to the CCAA Proceeding and facilitated the approval of the Amended AHC Plan by the requisite majority of stakeholders at the Creditors’ Meeting, which approval is vital to the successful restructuring of the LP Entities.

In the Robertson case, the original claim was for $500 million. In the ERDC’s case, $33 million.

Because the restructuring process requires settling outstanding claims, the freelancers’ lawsuits became an issue that it was easier to deal with quickly than fight.

The ERDC estimates it has about 800 writers in its class, which would work out to $11,250 each. This is above the $1,000 limit set for small creditors, which means they would not be getting cash payments in full, but an option for less cash or shares in the new company. The ERDC says it will hold that cash or stock in trust until the distribution is complete.

The settlement also would grant Canwest and its subsidiaries all the rights the freelancers were fighting to protect. In exchange for the cash, Canwest gets rights to use all articles submitted by all freelancers for whatever purpose it wants, including online publication or electronic archiving.

This means one of the primary goals of the ERDC, to render void these we-take-all-your-rights contracts that Canwest and others are forcing new freelancers to sign, will not succeed. Those freelancers who have signed such agreements, allowing Canwest to use their contributions for electronic media, are not considered part of the settlement group.

Players in the ERDC, including chair Mary Soderstrom, have kept quiet (except to announce the deal and promise more later) until the settlement reaches its final approval.

UPDATE (June 28): The ERDC has released a statement:

“We are pleased that freelance writers will eventually receive some compensation for their work used electronically, and that the other side explicitly acknowledges ‘the importance of protection of electronic rights and fair compensation for the electronic dissemination of content’,” said ERDC President Mary Soderstrom. “But we regret strongly that it has taken 13 years to get to this point, and that, because of the protection against creditors proceedings, freelancers will receive amounts much less than the face value of the settlements.”

She added that the ERDC also continues to maintain that contracts which freelancers have been forced to sign with The Gazette and Canwest are unfair.

A slight moral victory, I guess, though kind of empty if Canwest’s freelancing contracts can still demand all these rights at no extra charge.

Those who want to opt out of the class-action settlement have the chance to do so, although I can’t imagine why they would.

Independent dependents

From the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec, this video uses some fancy graphics to show how much it sucks financially to be a freelancer here, and how that suckitude has only gotten worse as rates have been frozen or even dropped while inflation goes up.

The AJIQ has made some progress for freelancers, particularly with signing a deal with Gesca, though some are upset that with a fixed freelance budget, this will mean fewer opportunities for work with Gesca papers.

There’s an argument that a union representing freelancers is a contradiction in terms. But to suggest that most freelancers are truly free is to ignore the reality of the situation.

Good news for freelancers

Frozen freelance cheque arrives ... now I can retire!

While many people are up in arms that Canwest asked forand received – retention payments for top executives while it’s under creditor protection, some good news is also coming for those at the other end of the scale.

Freelancers for The Gazette were resigned to the fact that invoices for work published before Jan. 8 would either not be paid at full price or might never be paid, because as independent contractors the freelancers were considered unsecured creditors after the creditor protection filing (all work done after that is covered under a separate agreement and is being paid as normal).

But recently, I’m told, the court-appointed monitor for Canwest LP has authorized the payment in full of outstanding invoices for freelancers. Many of those freelancers have already reported receiving cheques, and the photo above is one I got last week, covering a tiny bit of work that was frozen from the last invoice.

Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon talks about the agreement signed between Gesca (which owns La Presse) and the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec, which covers freelance work done for Gesca.

Congratulations, you’re an unsecured Canwest creditor

FTI Consulting, one of the groups of lawyers handling Canwest Limited Partnership’s creditor protection filing, has a section on its website devoted to the proceedings. There you can find, among other things, a list of creditors (PDF).

They include, of interest to Montrealers and Gazette followers (in alphabetical order):

  • $253,808.16 to 1001 Dominion Square Management Inc., The Gazette’s landlord
  • $12,726.14 to Agence France-Presse, a newswire
  • $406,505.42 to Amex for corporate credit cards
  • $6,556.34 to the Audit Bureau of Circulations
  • $47,497.80 to Bleu Blanc Rouge, which handles The Gazette’s marketing campaigns
  • $5,213.38 to Bloomberg, another newswire
  • $114,700.77 to the Calgary Flames
  • $74,763.18 to Canada Post
  • $44,237.47 to Canadian Press (even though Canwest no longer uses CP) – listed separately as Canadian Press and The Canadian Press
  • $5,179.91 to CNW for press releases
  • $38,892.90 to Garda for security services
  • $24,035.10 to Getty Images
  • $1 million exactly to GWL Realty Advisors of Edmonton, the largest single non-bank creditor
  • $24,419.64 to Henry’s photo shop
  • $44,100.00 to Ipsos Reid for surveys
  • $21,380.91 to La Presse
  • $22,575.00 to Kleintel, a Montreal-based phone survey company
  • $28,041.92 to Legacy.com, a partner for paid obituaries online
  • $10,450.00 to Loblaws
  • $12,167.94 to the Los Angeles Times – Washington Post, another news service
  • $16,558.62 to Messageries Dynamiques, a Quebecor-owned distribution company
  • $52,783.50 to Microsoft Canada
  • $145,026.49 to the Ministère du revenu du Québec
  • $8,475.66 to the National Newspaper Awards
  • $17,931.06 to Nestle Canada
  • $5,065.31 to New York Times Digital
  • $9,946.29 to the Ontario Press Council
  • $50,400.00 to Orsyp Logiciels, a Montreal-based job schedule software company
  • $90,000.00 to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux
  • $72,930.38 to Rexall Sports Corporation, which owns the Edmonton Oilers
  • $37,153.20 to Rogers Media
  • $34,755.00 to Rogers Publishing
  • $11,841.84 to Saxotech Integrated Mediaware, which is providing a new desktop publishing system for Canwest papers
  • $331,160.57 to Service-Now.com, which … well, it’s anyone’s guess what they actually do.
  • $70,987.96 to Sun Media
  • $15,813.11 to Montreal’s Teleze Inc., a telemarketing company selling Gazette subscriptions
  • $87,499.65 to the Globe and Mail
  • $8,065.02 to New York Times Syndication, yet another news wire
  • $54,485.00 to the Salvation Army in Saskatoon
  • $145,341.3 to Toronto Star Syndication Services and Torstar Syndication Services
  • $10,773.90 to (Chicago) Tribune Media Services
  • $27,151.49 to United Way in Edmonton
  • $6,124.99 to the Winnipeg Free Press
  • $112,481.44 to the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia
  • $15,491.17 to World Entertainment News Network for celebrity gossip
  • $45,986.85 to three radio stations
  • $45,437.84 to four union locals

The list is very long, but two items stand out like a sore thumb because of the extra digits, and those are the ones that really matter in all this:

  • $78,382,191.78 to the syndicate of banks under the senior subordinate credit agreement
  • $449,411,375.34 to senior subordinated notes

That’s (some of) the money Canwest LP owes the banks, and the reason it’s in financial trouble.

What the list doesn’t include, though, are freelancers, those independent contractors who provide stories and photos to newspapers in exchange for a negotiated fee. Most freelancers who did work between mid December and the Jan. 8 filing (and some who did work much earlier than that but weren’t paid or didn’t cash their cheques before the filing) are now grouped in with the paper suppliers, wire services, distributors and anyone else who provides goods and services to the newspapers and websites.

I counted two freelance columnists in The Gazette on the list through their companies:

  • $5,418.00 to L. Ian MacDonald’s Lian Public Affairs Ltd.
  • $9,673.79 to Phil Reimer’s Phil Reimer Communications. He’s Canwest’s travel cruise columnist

Other freelancers, including fine dining columnist Lesley Chesterman, are also out thousands of dollars as a result of this filing. Smaller freelancers (which may include myself, I’m still not sure yet) are out mere hundreds of dollars.

Whether they’ll see any of that money owed depends on how much money is left to give to all the other creditors, and that will depend mostly on the sale price of Canwest LP. The banks have set a floor bid of $950 million, the amount they’re owed for their loans (which means they wouldn’t be paying for the chain but rather exchanging their debt for equity and ownership), but they’re hoping someone will put in a higher bid. The higher the sale price, the more money can go to creditors. But there’s little hope that the price will be high enough to pay 100 cents on the dollar.

That’s very disappointing. The banks won’t fold if they’re out a few hundred million. The wire services aren’t a few thousand dollars from bankruptcy. But some freelancers rely on it as their only source of income, and a few hundred dollars can be the difference between making a rent payment and having an angry landlord.

After Canwest LP filed for creditor protection (not to be confused with bankruptcy, which eliminates debt), it secured so-called debtor-in-posession financing, which allowed it to continue its business. This means that people who did freelance work after Jan. 8 will still get paid (along with other post-filing creditors), as publisher Alan Allnutt explained. That also puts many in a strange position of getting screwed out of payment but still continuing to do business with a company.

If only I understood business, it would all make sense to me.

Transcontinental and the freelance union oxymoron

Over the past few years, a group of Canadians fed up with increasingly restrictive standardized freelance contracts from large print publishers (combined with stagnant or even declining freelance fees) has been toying with the idea of starting up a union.

It’s not clear what form such a union would take, since the entire point of being “freelance” is to negotiate deals on your own. But the media environment that has developed, with just about every magazine and large newspaper owned by one of only a dozen or so major media companies, has meant that freelancers face a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that leaves no room for negotiation. Groups of professional freelancers have been looking at banding together to get these standard contracts changed so that publishers have to pay if they want to re-use freelance content on other media, particularly on the Internet or in electronic databases.

This all came to a head this week when the Canadian Writers Group, the Periodical Professional Writers Association of Canada and a bunch of other similar groups called on all freelancers to boycott Transcontinental, which publishes Canadian Living, Elle Canada and dozens of regional newspapers. The press release is here (PDF).

The groups argue that the so-called Master Agreement (PDF) that Transcontinental is forcing all its writers to sign is over-the-top, even to the point of licensing TV rights for free.

The move prompted reaction from Transcontinental, which said it was surprised and it thought the contract was fair. It argues that the language is misunderstood, and that the rights grab is only for properties tied to a particular brand, and that Transcontinental can’t re-use content across brands (read: magazines and their associated websites) without paying an extra fee. The writers’ groups dispute those arguments.

So the campaign has begun, and writers are asking people to boycott anything published by Transcontinental. They’re even asking people to unfollow The Hockey News on Twitter, since it’s a Transcontinental publication.

This is all coming at the same time as Transcontinental is considering a lockout of its employees at community weeklies in and around Montreal. Not a good week for the company.

Freelance for free

The problem with this boycott campaign is the same one that has caused these contracts to be put forward in the first place: writers are a dime a dozen, and so many of them are willing to work for peanuts that publishers find they can demand more rights for less pay and still have people climbing over each other trying to get a byline.

The erosion of freelancer rights has already hit newspapers, where Canwest, Sun Media and others have forced their freelancers to accept these terms or stop contributing. Now Transcontinental is trying to move this to the magazine world (with a contract that’s still much more generous to freelancers than the newspaper freelance contracts), and the professional writing community has said it’s not going to take it anymore.

Even with a writers’ boycott in place, expect plenty of journalism school students, part-time writers and others to jump at the chance to take the place of the professional freelancers for the few bucks an article that Transcontinental will offer them.

This slide to mediocrity won’t end because of a boycott by the cream of the crop, it’ll end when either publishers decide that the content they’re paying peanuts for is too crappy to justify the savings, or when young status-hungry writers figure out that an eight-point byline nobody will remember and a cheque for $100 isn’t worth all the work they’ve spent crafting a magazine feature.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for either of those to happen, unfortunately.

Transcontinental wants your copyright

Following in the footsteps of TVA Publications, Transcontinental is now demanding that freelancers sign contracts that assign to the publisher all rights associated with submitted pieces (PDF).

In Transcon’s case, at least, there is still a provision for additional fees if the pieces are reused in other publications.

Like it or not, publishers (especially mega-corporation multi-media publishers) are pushing freelancing in this direction. The issue is whether freelancers will be paid more for the additional rights they’re giving up.

Freelancers get a union/agency – but will it work?

The Canadian Writers Group launched today. It’s essentially an agency that represents freelance writers in their negotiations with publishers (and taking a cut of their income). Or it’s a union which hopes to raise freelance rates by uniting writers behind a common front. Or both, depending on your perspective.

The Toronto Star explains a bit about the group.

The key to the CWG’s success is whether or not it can get to critical mass and keep members in line. With only 50 members so far, it wouldn’t be difficult for publishers to simply blacklist the group and deal with writers willing to accept less. On the other hand, if the group can get enough quality freelancers to sign up, publishers might decide it’s easier to deal with one group than dozens of individuals, even if it means spending more money. And other writers would notice they have a better chance with the group than without it.

But even if the CWG does reach that critical mass, it has to ensure its members don’t start taking deals “under the table”, either by convincing publications to deal exclusively with it or by punishing members who work outside the agency.

Its a tough road ahead, but if it helps freelance writers get better pay and better contract rights, it’s worth the fight.

Globe settles with freelancers

Heather Robertson’s 13-year legal battle has finally come to an end.

More than two years after the former Globe and Mail freelancer won her class-action case at the Supreme Court of Canada in a nuanced and split decision, the paper and its pursuers agreed to an $11-million settlement to her and other former freelancers for the Globe’s illegal use of their works in a searchable electronic database.

This case is similar to that of a group of freelancers who are suing The Gazette and Canwest.

The court’s ruling essentially said that the Globe could reproduce copies of the paper in other media (microfiche, digital editions, CD-ROM, etc.), but that piecemeal repurposing of content (like in electronic databases) was not allowed unless permission was sought from the writer.

The Globe says this issue is “primarily a historical matter from the days before The Globe and Mail entered into written contracts with our freelance contributors.”

What that means is that the Globe (and other large Canadian newspaper publishers) now have strongly-worded freelance contracts that give blanket permission to the publisher to do whatever they see fit with a submitted piece – including putting it into a database or transmitting it through any media (even if it doesn’t yet exist).

UPDATE: Reaction in the blogosphere from freelancers Giancarlo La Giorgia and Mary Soderstrom.

Freelancers get class action authorization against Gazette

The following was just released (following an embargo) by the Electronic Rights Defence Committee, a group of former Gazette freelance writers who have received authorization to bring a class action lawsuit (UPDATE: Link fixed. Stupid gummit website.) against The Gazette, Canwest and related companies for republishing freelance articles submitted to the paper in the Infomart article database.

The release is presented here without comment, since as an employee and freelancer (though not a member of the committee) I’m in a conflict of interest.

After more than a decade, the Electronic Rights Defence Committee has received authorization from Quebec Superior Court to proceed with a class action suit against some of the biggest names in Canadian media.

At issue is the electronic use without permission or compensation for work by freelance writers in The Gazette.  The defendants are Montreal Gazette Group, CanWest Global Communications, Hollinger Canadian Publishing Holdings, CanWest Interactive, Southam and Southam Business Communications, Infomart Dialog and Cedrom-SNI.

In February 2008, the Honourable Eva Petras, J.S.C., heard three days of arguments from Mireille Goulet, ERDC lawyer, and a team of lawyers representing the defendants. The Justice’s decision was rendered March 31, 2009.  It authorizes the ERDC to institute class action proceedings with writer and translator David Homel as its official designated member. The class action group includes all freelance writers whose articles, originally published in The Gazette, have been allegedly illegally reproduced on the Infomart data base since 1984.

The next steps will lead toward a trial on the merits of the case, a process which may take several years to reach a conclusion.

The ERDC case is one of several in North America seeking compensation for unauthorized electronic use of freelance writers’ work. In October 2007, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled five to four in the Heather Robertson vs. Thomson case that freelancers do indeed hold copyright on their work reproduced in electronic data bases.  The US$ 18-million class action settlement in the United States which followed from the Tasini vs. New York Times case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court which has agreed to decide whether a lower court has jurisdiction to approve settlement agreements. The Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec is also currently in the process of undertaking a class action against several Quebec medias.

I’ll update with a response from The Gazette or Canwest if one is issued publicly.

Other comments from ERDC members Mary Soderstrom and Jack Ruttan.

Journal Daily Digest: Jack to the rescue

NDP leader Jack Layton roared into town on Wednesday and stole the show for this week. In a meeting with locked-out Journal de Montréal workers, he lent his support, denounced the use of scabs and said he’s written to the prime minister asking that federal advertising be pulled from the paper until its union conflict is resolved.

Seeing an opportunity to get his name in the media again, Denis Coderre also wanted to make sure we know that the Liberals support the workers.

[Insert rebellious song title pun here]

Eric Goulet

Quebecor sucks!

In the wouldn’t-have-been-printed-in-the-Journal category:

We like freelancers, trust us!

The STIJM makes a case for the support of freelance journalists with the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec. Though it admits that fighting for freelancers isn’t its primary mission, it says it tried to get some union protection for freelancers at the Journal and has opposed onerous contracts that demand excessive rights waivers.

Meanwhile, in other news

It’s time to add freelancers to media union contracts

In a half-hour panel discussion with Radio-Canada’s Christiane Charette on Wednesday, some of the most respected minds in Quebec media analysis discussed the lockout at the Journal de Montréal and the debate over whether freelance columnists like Richard Martineau, Stéphane Gendron and Joseph Facal should continue writing their columns.

One comment (there were a bunch of guys there and it’s hard to distinguish them by voice alone) was that unions and freelancers need to come together and not see each other as the enemy. One of the arguments Martineau and others use for continuing to write is that the union does nothing for them, they wouldn’t get strike pay nor would the union intervene if they were suddenly fired.

Now, Martineau is a world-class douchebag. He’s a product of the Quebecor Media empire, with a column in the Journal, a blog at Canoë and a show on LCN. He’s paid to be a blowhard and scream fake outrage at everything while being politically incorrect for its own sake. (This is a stark contrast to his work at Les Francs-Tireurs, which I actually like because there he asks people questions and listens to their answers.) He holds quite a bit of influence and wouldn’t be on the street if he stood with the locked-out journalists. He’s refusing to stop on principle, and to continue being a douchebag.

But he’s right. The union does nothing for him. It does nothing for any freelancer. And neither do most unions.

That needs to change.

Freelance isn’t free

Way back when, before my time, the idea of a freelance columnist was a rarity. Really, it seems like such a contradiction in terms: a columnist is relied upon to have a regular presence in a newspaper, whereas a freelancer is a one-time contributor who’s being given a few bucks for an article.

But freelancing has become such a useful tool for media companies: You can fire freelancers whenever you want, there’s an almost endless supply of them, they don’t take vacations, and they’ll sign just about any contract you put in front of their faces. When taking total cost into account, it’s much cheaper and more flexible to get a freelancer than a full-time or part-time employee.

And so we enter the age of the freelance columnist. Some are that way by choice, because they want the freedom to work for other organizations, or to syndicate their content. Some are former columnist-employees who have taken buyouts but decided to continue their columns under a different contractual relationship. And some are just people who have real day jobs in other industries and don’t want to become full-time journalists.

Along with these vedettes, though, are the freelancers who aren’t that way by choice. Those aspiring young journalists whose souls haven’t yet been crushed. The ones who sign overly abusive contracts, work for peanuts and beg for more. With such a compacted media landscape, and so few corporations in charge of so much media, they have no choice but to accept whatever abuse is thrown at them in order to realize their dream of being a journalist.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

CBC provides an example

Take a look at the contract (which is about to expire) between the CBC and the Canadian Media Guild (PDF), which represents all employees outside of Quebec and Moncton, N.B. (which are represented by another union). The deal was worked out after the 2005 lockout, and speaks quite a bit about contract and freelance work. Specifically:

  • It sets minimum wage rates for specific types of original freelance work, and requires additional remuneration for additional use of the work
  • It provides certain minimum rights (copyright, moral rights) for freelance work
  • It includes a provision which spells out that related expenses are paid by the employer
  • It bans working “on spec”, in which work is done before it is sold, and provides for a minimum “kill fee”, for work that’s approved but then never used.
  • It bans employees working freelance gigs on the side and requires that such work be paid at overtime rates
  • Finally, it states that the freelancer is (for the limited purposes of the contract) a member of the union (the union even has a freelance chapter and a guide for freelancers), and must pay dues from the freelance pay.

The standardized contract is probably the most important part of this. The company can’t go around and start demanding more rights of powerless freelancers without first getting it approved by the more powerful union. It’s part of the reason why the Periodical Writers Association of Canada supported the union in the lockout.

It’s not perfect, and it’s been criticized as not doing enough, but it’s much more than most media union contracts have to give rights to freelancers.

And by protecting freelancers, the union makes it less attractive for employers to use them instead of salaried employees to save money. Instead, freelancers are used where they are supposed to: For occasional work that can’t be done by regular employees.

While regular employees aren’t exactly swimming in cash at the CBC, freelancers at least are not overly exploited (so-called “casuals” are another problem entirely, and that’s another post).

Wishful thinking

Of course, this is the worst time for media unions to start demanding sweeping new rights. A union in negotiation going to the employer and trying to set a standardized contract for freelancers would quickly get laughed out of the room. The time to create a common front between freelancers and employees was years or even decades ago, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.

And so Martineau is right. Sadly. He’s not turning the other cheek, and he’s siding with the employer in a dispute with the employees, making it easier to continue putting out the newspaper and try to break the union. He’s being a douchebag, but he has every right to be.

If the union had focused more on bringing freelancers into the fold and less on protecting their short work week and inflating their salaries, they might not be in this boat now.

Rue Frontenac launches


Four and a half days after they were locked out of the Journal de Montréal (too much time for the impatient Patrick Lagacé), 253 unionized workers launched their competing news site, RueFrontenac.com at a press conference at 2pm Wednesday.

In a welcome message, Raynald Leblanc says the union was willing to negotiate about increasing the work week and moving toward multimedia. But they wouldn’t stand for the elimination of entire departments (the Journal wanted to outsource accounting) and the laying off of dozens of staff.

Sports has its own welcome message from Mario Leclerc. And Marc Beaudet is doing cartoons. It’s also continuing the Journal tradition of screaming “exclusive scandal” on stories that don’t sound particularly scandalous.

The site is based on Joomla, and definitely could use a bit of tweaking (Arial as a body typeface? Would it kill you to use serifs somewhere?), especially in the design of individual articles, but it’s a start.

InfoPresse explains the catchphrase “Par la bouche de nos crayons!” (via mtlweblog)

In other Journal news

… and so goes Godwin’s Law.

TVA Publications takes free out of freelancing

Steve Proulx has a copy of the new freelance agreement that Quebecor-owned magazine publisher TVA Publications is forcing its writers to sign.

What’s so extreme about it, sadly, isn’t that it demands complete exclusive rights, including copyright, over all work submitted, or that it demands writers waive all moral rights, or that it demands retroactive rights to all past submitted work, or that half of these demands are so over-the-top that they probably wouldn’t stand up in court.

What’s horrible is that this is for magazine freelancers, who once upon a time were treated with more respect and professionalism than newspaper freelancers.

And what’s worse is that so many aspiring writers are so desperate for a byline and so naive about what it will mean for them that they’re willing to work for peanuts and will sign this agreement without giving it a second look.

UPDATE (Jan. 22): Steve adds a letter from a former contributor to Quebecor-owned weekly ICI.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): The FPJQ issues a press release condemning the contract.

UPDATE (Jan. 26): Looks like this may have had some effect, with a report that at least one editor is backing off from enforcing this contract.