Tag Archives: Hour

Hour’s website being left to die slowly

The racks that used to carry Hour sit empty (others are just filled with extra copies of Voir)

Though everyone knew the announcement last week that Hour Community would cease publishing meant the death of the brand, owner Communications Voir left a bit open by saying it would become online-only. Publisher Pierre Paquet wouldn’t return calls to clarify what that meant.

So, one week after the final articles went up, I checked hour.ca to see what this online-only publication would be. And … nothing. Same stuff from last week. No new content at all.

It’s obviously not surprising. Kevin Laforest was the only full-time staff member, and he was let go. Even when he was working, the paper had far fewer than the minimum necessary to provide useful content on a weekly basis. Now there’s simply nobody left there to provide content to this publication, online-only or not. Its reliance on “community” (i.e. user-generated) content seems fruitless since the “community” section hasn’t been updated since March.

If Hour.ca is being kept alive merely for historical purposes, to keep its archives available, then good. I’m all for that. Put up an announcement saying you’re no longer publishing and leave it at that. But leaving it in limbo like this seems unfair. Hour deserves more than to simply be forgotten like an old Geocities page online.

UPDATE (May 22): Voir has also shut down sister paper Ottawa XPress in similarly noncommunicative fashion. Coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen.

The end of Hour (for realz)

I wrote a brief story about Hour’s demise for The Gazette. You can read it here.

The final issue of Hour Community - Vol. 20, No. 18, dated May 3-9, 2012

Hour died a year ago. But now they’ve made it official.

Word leaked out Wednesday night that Communications Voir was pulling the plug on Montreal’s second English-language alternative weekly newspaper, 13 months after a purge that saw everyone associated with the paper lose their jobs or regular freelance cheques. The paper was renamed Hour Community, got a new editor in Kevin LaForest, and crawled along with even less content and advertising than before. Near the end, the paper was embarrassingly thin, with few ads that weren’t from the government or from Voir itself. Its content consisted of little more than a column from Anne Lagacé Dowson and a handful of music and restaurant reviews.

On Thursday, Hour Community publishes its final issue.

The war was long over. In the end the question wasn’t about whether the paper would recover and compete with Mirror again, but whether it could pick up enough advertising by default that it could continue operating while spending peanuts on content. It’s perhaps fortunate for the journalistic industry that the answer to that second question was “no”.

The final columns from LaForest and Dowson are online. Neither makes mention of the finality of the issue. LaForest said he heard of the decision only late Wednesday afternoon. Dowson called the news “sad” on Twitter.

“We gave it our all,” LaForest wrote to me, “but, as you wrote a year ago, I guess there’s just no room for two anglo weeklies in Montreal.”

It was an anomaly that in a place like Montreal there would be two English-language alternative weeklies but only one French-language weekly, ever since Ici closed in 2009. Though LaForest and Dowson tried to breathe new life into the crippled publication, it was just a matter of time until it too was shown the door. When one paper has eight articles and the other has 42, it’s not even a contest any more.

Hour will be remembered as a place that acted as a breeding ground for many journalists and writers, from Josey Vogels to Linda Gyulai.

Now the question will be: Will Mirror profit from this and get a boost in advertising and readership that ensures its continued success, or is this another step in the death march of this form of media?

Also being terminated are the Saguenay and Mauricie editions of Voir. In the cases of the Saguenay Voir and Hour, the news came out via Twitter messages from staff. For the Mauricie paper, it came out only after the fact.

There has been no comment from Communications Voir aside from this statement, which gives no source. It blames the advertising market for not doing enough to support the papers. Former Hour editor Jamie O’Meara disputes that, putting the blame on management that just didn’t care about Hour once it was clear it had lost the war against Mirror.

A petition has been started to convince Voir to change it mind on the Saguenay edition. It has 300 signatures online.


You’d think this would be a pretty big story, but … it’s not. Of the three local anglophone newscasts, only Global even mentioned Hour’s demise, and that was a brief apparently based on the Gazette story. (It also posted it on its website.) But aside from some blog posts and a very small number of stories, the shutting down of a newspaper in Montreal was given little attention.

That’s sad.

UPDATE: Saguenay Voir’s Joël Martel gives a proper goodbye column online, since the news came too late to make it into the paper. Now Martel is trying to use social media to help him find his next job, and has released a YouTube video and started up a Facebook campaign to help him.

UPDATE (May 22): Voir has also shut down sister paper Ottawa XPress in similarly noncommunicative fashion. Coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen.

The end of Hour

The last of the Hour staff at their final meeting. From left: Meg Hewings, Robyn Fadden, Jamie O'Meara, Melora Koepke, Richard Burnett (photo totally stolen from Facebook)

If you haven’t already, go ahead and pick up a copy of Hour that’s on the newsstands. It should be a collector’s item. Unfortunately.

A little more than two months after word came out that the editorial staff of Hour was being canned, it’s happened. This week’s issue is the last for what’s left of them (and many of the freelancers who have supported the paper’s editorial content). Included are goodbye columns from Jamie O’Meara and Richard Burnett, who will be looking for other jobs once they sober up. (Burnett has started up a blog to keep the public informed of his opinions.)

Because the paper’s owners don’t think they need to answer to the media, official information about the changes isn’t easy to come by. (The Gazette is waiting to hear from them.) But here’s what we know from the information those departing staff have:

  • The editorial staff has been canned. All the people in the picture above, as well as “nearly all” of the paper’s freelancers, have been told their services are no longer required
  • Some freelancers have remained and others are being added at reduced rates
  • Among the new people being brought in is Black Sheep Reviews film reviewer Joseph Belanger
  • The arts section is history
  • The paper will be renamed “Hour Community” (UPDATE: A Facebook page has been setup)
  • Voir’s Kevin Laforest takes over as the man in charge of Hour

It all adds up to a giant effort to cut costs for editorial content far beyond what anyone would consider reasonable. Hour’s owners are gambling that people are so desperate for bylines they’ll accept being paid next to nothing, and that there are advertisers so clueless they’ll buy space in a paper nobody wants to read anymore.

It’s a gamble that I’m going to go ahead and predict won’t work. It might take six months, or a year, or longer, but either the slow descent into oblivion will continue as more and more costs are cut or Voir will finally throw in the towel and give up on Hour altogether.

They might as well just put it out of its misery. Despite the best efforts of its tiny staff, Hour has been on death’s door for years.

Hour of commiseration

Former and now-former Hour staff are talking about their beloved newspaper like people talk about departed friends at a funeral. Through a private Facebook support group, they’re sharing stories and photos from their days at the paper, many from more than a decade ago. They’ve even planned a wake for Saturday night.

Congratulations, Mirror

The race for anglo alt-weeklies was long ago won by Mirror. The tipping point for me was when Hour dropped sex columnist Josey Vogels (who’s nationally syndicated now, but got her start at Hour), and though they briefly tried a replacement columnist, the sex content disappeared when she left too.

As Hour started shedding regular features, Mirror added them. Readers and advertisers chose sides, and the difference between the two started to become more apparent.

It’s not the fault of those people in the photo above. They tried their best to keep the ship afloat. But they had no time and no budget to experiment or do anything beyond going through the motions.

How much management is to blame is also up to interpretation. If the market couldn’t support two francophone alt-weeklies, it’s hard to argue it could support to anglo ones. On the French side, it was Voir that won the war with Quebecor’s Ici. On the English side, Quebecor’s Mirror beat Voir’s Hour. In both cases it was the older paper that came out alive in the end.

Jan. 20 editions of Mirror (left, 48 pages) and Hour (right, 12 pages) sitting side by side

Hour vs. Mirror: A quantitative comparison

When I first heard about the problems at Hour in January, I picked up a copy of the paper. I admit it had been a while since I stopped to pick up either of Montreal’s alt-weeklies. I was stunned by how thin it was. I knew Hour was thinner than Mirror, but it hadn’t hit me how much.

I looked inside to find very little. I started counting what was inside so I could get a sense of scale.

The numbers below are taken by comparing the Jan. 20, 2011 issues of Hour and Mirror, which came out just before Hour staff were informed they were losing their jobs.

Here’s how the numbers add up:

Hour Mirror Mirror/Hour
Age 18 years (1993) 26 years (1985) 144%
Pages 12 48 400%
Size per page (inches) 11×15 11×13.5 90%
Total area (square inches) 1980 7128 360%
Display ads (movies) 4 6 150%
Display ads (other) (*1) 12 43 358%
Classified ads 108 171 (*2) 158%
Articles (*3) 8 42 525%
Aritlces: Music 3 4 133%
Articles: Film 2 6 300%
Articles: Theatre/dance 1 3 300%
Articles: Other art 1 2 200%
Articles: Books 0 1 Inf.
Articles: Food 1 1 100%
Music reviews 3 12 (*4) 400%
Cartoons 1 2 200%
Columnists 0 (*5) 7 Inf.
Other features
(horoscope, puzzles)
0 2 (*6) Inf.
Contributors 4 35 875%
Editorial staff (*7) 6 7 117%

*1 Does not include house ads, filler ads and contest ads.

*2 About 2/3 of The Mirror’s classified ads are for “adult services”, which all but disappeared from Hour.

*3 The definition of “article” is up for some debate. I’ve included columnists but excluded some items too small for a byline.

*4 Does not include a handful of “mini reviews”

*5 Jamie O’Meara and Richard Burnett were columnists up until the end, but their columns did not appear in the issue studied here.

*6 Mirror has a Sudoku puzzle and a horoscope.

*7 This is based on the number credited, not the number employed. Hour, for example, had only two full-time staff.

Thank you … Richard Martineau?

UPDATE: The following was posted by former Hour editor Martin Siberok. It’s reposted here with permission:

How it all started

I remember getting a call in October 1992 from Richard Martineau, the editor-in-chief of Voir, asking me if I wanted to have lunch with him and his boss, Voir publisher Pierre Paquet.

At the time, I was at The Mirror, which was being helmed by my former “editorial board” colleagues, Eyal Kattan and Catherine Salisbury.

I agreed and we arranged to meet at L’Express on St-Denis for lunch. Our conversation was light and entertaining as Richard and I caught up, while Pierre and I spoke about our degree of separation, namely his Stanislas school buddy Ivan Doroschuk (Man Without Hat). Pierre had been part of the early Hats along with Dave Hill and Jeremie Arrobas.

Towards the end of our two-hour luncheon, Pierre asked me whether I knew why I had been invited to this meeting. I answered that I thought Richard had phoned to discuss a possible Voir-Mirror bowling night. Then Pierre popped the question, what did I think about starting a new English-language weekly and would I be interested in working for if?

I told him it was an exciting proposition and played coy, but I knew it was an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse. Starting up a new English-language publication in Montreal was a dream. I had already been involved in setting up the Mirror and now this.

Pierre explained he had approached the Mirror’s publishers about selling, but their price was too high. So he had decided to start his own publication and take on the Mirror.

Over the next two months, Pierre and I had a few more clandestine meetings until I finally jumped on board. On December 31, I went to the Mirror offices and cleared out my desk. I told Catherine I was leaving the paper and would be heading up a new publication to be launched in the new year.

Luckily I wasn’t alone. My friend Lubin Bisson, the Mirror’s former distribution manager, was also on board. And then after several phone calls I persuaded Peter Wheeland to quit his job as editor of the Nuns’ Island paper and join us on a journey into the unknown.

Five weeks later, on February 4, 1993, the first issue of Hour hit the streets.

I would to thank everyone who contributed to Hour – over the years – because of you the paper had a run of 18 illustrious years.

UPDATE (April 16): The new Hour is out, with its new website, new Facebook page and new columnists Anne Lagacé Dowson and Kevin Laforest. The announcement is here.

Also, you might be interested in this Ryerson Review of Journalism piece from 1998 describing Montreal’s alt-weekly newspaper war and Hour’s beginnings.

Hour of silence

There were lots of rumours, but very little news, about the alternative weekly Hour yesterday.

Rather than spread some of those rumours, I waited to hear from the people there. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting.

The Gazette talked to the president of Communications Voir, which owns Voir and Hour. Though he called the rumours of a shutdown “bull—-“, he said they are “restructuring some things in the organization. There’s no news. We’re not closing. We’re not doing anything. It’s none of anybody’s business. It’s internal.”

We know, based on a somewhat cryptic tweet on the official Twitter feed that there are some cuts to editorial staff and freelancers, but we don’t know who they are. (If anyone does know, feel free to share that information. Otherwise we’ll just wait and see whose bylines disappear.)

UPDATE: Brendan Kelly says during Friday’s Daybreak (MP3) that editor Jamie O’Meara is gone, and other sources say the entire editorial staff is getting laid off over the next few weeks.

Pierre Paquet, the president, would neither confirm nor deny the layoffs, saying “it’s possible. It’s not public,” and “we’re replacing a couple of staff” and “we’ve revised our content.” When The Gazette asked about freelancers, he said “I don’t know … I don’t control the market.”

Paquet is allowed to be this coy. Communications Voir is a private company, and doesn’t have to answer to shareholders.

But Hour is also a newspaper. And it seems ridiculous to keep such information from the public, particularly if we’re going to find out eventually anyway.

11th Hour

The idea of Hour shutting down makes sense as a rumour. It was less than two years ago that the French side of the alt-weekly scene went from two papers to one with Quebecor’s Ici closing shop (it’s now an insert in 24 Heures). It wasn’t long before people started wondering if Montreal could support two anglophone alt weeklies at the same time.

On the English side, the situation is somewhat reversed. The Voir-owned Hour is younger and now noticeably thinner than the Quebecor-owned Mirror, though until today both seemed to be relatively healthy, and neither of the anglo papers have to compete with free dailies.

Paquet’s way with words notwithstanding, Hour’s going to need to do better to assure advertisers that it’s not going to close up shop in the next six months. A bit of honesty would go a long way in that regard.

Thoughts on local media

Kate McDonnell, author of the much-read Montreal City Weblog, does her yearly anniversary post and writes about how local media has changed since her blog was launched in 2001. A recommended read for people interested in the local media scene (like me).

Some thoughts to add:

Major local media have all redesigned their websites multiple times since 2001. Most now copy each other (much like print newspaper layouts copy each other), their homepages excessively long, far too much focus on Javascript, Flash and throwing as many links as possible into a tiny space. The idea of the Internet portal died a long time ago, but many still concentrate on the homepage as the single point of entry.

I don’t own an iPhone, and I use my cellphone strictly for making calls (and sending text messages), so I can’t comment on mobile offerings. But it would be nice if content-providing websites would open up their content a bit and let us make it work with our devices. Force us to go to your page for the full article if you’re worried about page impressions, but let us spread the technology to better connect those pages with the people who want to see them.

At some point in the future, the idea of paying for wire copy will be considered ridiculous. It made sense for newspapers. It doesn’t make sense online. Sure, keep your Canadian Press subscriptions for now, but at least separate the copy-paste wire dreck from original content your journalists create. Don’t lump it all into one feed and put it all on one page.

Local media need to hire more programmers and geeks. Even with all the advances there is still so much inefficiency when it comes to news websites and how journalists and editors perform their craft.

For many people, Twitter is replacing the RSS feed. That can be both good and bad. But a lot of people just use Twitter to replicate their RSS feed. That’s just bad. If I want to follow your feed, I’ll do it in Google Reader, instead of getting a truncated headline and bit.ly link. If I see “via twitterfeed” on your Twitter page, I won’t be following.

I can’t help but agree about the “old arts weeklies”. I don’t read Voir much (Steve Proulx excepted), but my interest in the two anglo weeklies has diminished considerably. I thought it was because they focused less on news and more on arts, but I think they’re falling behind in both categories, going through the motions instead of spending effort coming up with something new. I find I get more interesting news from The Suburban than Hour or Mirror, and that’s not saying much.

As for Metro, Transcontinental’s free daily, it has improved a lot since its launch in 2001, when it was exclusively wire copy. Now it has actual journalists. They’re not doing groundbreaking investigative reporting, but considering their budget it’s surprising the amount of original local content they get in. I’m not sure how much of their recent quality is based on competition with 24 Heures, whose journalists seem to exist right now solely to provide filler for the locked out Journal de Montréal, though. That might change if that labour conflict is ever solved.

Which brings us to Rue Frontenac, which has been working hard, but doesn’t look like the kind of website that needs 253 people to put together. Obviously people have other responsibilities like picketing, and not all of those employees are journalists, but the small core of people putting out most of the stuff at that website is arguably exactly what the Journal and Quebecor want.

Finally, as far as local bloggers are concerned, well, that’s the subject of another post.

Oh, and Kate, maybe it’s time to install WordPress and start allowing comments on that blog. That way I don’t have to write a response on my own blog to get it published.

Fagstein’s 2009 suggestions

The fine folks at Hour asked me to provide some “suggestions” for The Man various powers-that-be for 2009, which would then be used as free holiday filler quoted in an article to come out on Christmas Day.

The piece, which puts me the bottom with the rif-raff and interest group leaders, includes pretty well verbatim what I sent them.

Specifically, that:

  • Gérald Tremblay and Benoît Labonté think for a few more seconds before their next project to blatantly pander to voters before next December’s election
  • STM provide real-time updates online about metro service disruptions
  • Montreal police and other emergency services post their breaking news about car accidents, fires and murders online so that curious Montrealers can check for themselves what’s going on instead of having to wait for one of the media outlets to take dictation from the PR guy
  • more Montrealers start up niche blogs about their communities and their areas of expertise
  • TQS and Global TV, who are third in the franco and anglo TV ratings for their local newscasts, realize that slashing budgets isn’t the only answer and start experimenting by covering the news in some unique way
  • 940 Hits die a slow, painful death for having replaced 940 News with crap
  • Montreal music radio stations stop desperately clinging to the lowest common denominator and take a chance by allowing their DJs some freedom in choosing what goes on the air
  • Montreal newspapers, radio and TV stations stop giving lip service to the Internet and put some real focus online – the Journal [de Montréal] could start by dealing with its union issues that are preventing it from launching a real website
  • local TV stations start creating local programming that goes beyond the evening newscast that gives us the weather, fatal car accidents and fluff every day
  • Montrealers stop complaining about the snow and take public transit if they’re so annoyed at having to shovel out and move their cars all the time
  • Amir Khadir brings hard work and new ideas to the National Assembly instead of spending his time as an MNA whining about how the government isn’t helping poor people enough
  • the next major public transit expansion project take fewer than 20 years to plan and execute.

Any you’d like to add?

Smoke for Hour

I find it a bit funny that Hour, the alternative weekly newspaper that decided a while back that it needed better standards and imposed strict rules for its back-of-the-paper sex classifieds (which is why there’s a stark contrast between it and the Mirror when it comes to those starry-eyed escort service ads) celebrated Quebec’s new anti-smoking law with four full-page, full-colour ads promoting cigarettes (offset by a single full-page ad from the government about the new law).

Which is more immoral? Selling women’s bodies in the newspaper or promoting smoking to the 16-29 demographic?

Vogels to talk dirty on CBC Radio

Ex-Montrealer Josey Vogels, who was replaced as Hour’s sex columnist in October but is still doing weekly columns on sex and dating, will be joining CBC Radio One, where she gets her own “sexuality” show called Between You and Me.

That was part of a lineup announcement that included an interesting-obit show hosted by Gordon Pinsent, as well as a multiculturalism identity show hosted by CBC Montreal’s Geeta Nadkarni (CBC’s article calls her “Geeta Nadkami”).

The news about Vogels’s new show comes coincidentally at the same time we hear that Torontonian sex superstar Sue Johanson will be hanging up the dildo and retiring from full-time sex advising and ending her show’s run on the Oxygen network.

Roberts revisited

Speaking of Vogels, her replacement at Hour, Laura Roberts, asked me to critique her column. I admit that I’ve stopped reading Hour and Mirror regularly because they don’t have RSS feeds and have a very small news-to-advertising ratio.

So I perused through the archives, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It’s a bit wordy, a bit opinionative (in the sense of spouting opinions without much analysis or research to back them up), and a bit too focused on the author’s personal life. These are all fairly common for new columnists still trying to figure out what works, and even then it may appeal to others more than it does to me.

In the end, even though it’s been six months already, it’s still a bit too early to tell if the column works or not. It’s definitely not Josey, nor should it be.

Josey Vogels leaves home

Josey Vogels I picked up a copy of Hour sitting on a metro seat the other day and noticed that I’d completely missed the fact that Josey Vogels has been replaced as their sex columnist.

Vogels’s final column (which took me about a half hour to find, thank you very much Hour’s horrible navigation system) points out that it’s been 13 years and 500 columns. Her career as a (professional) sex and relationships journalist began at Hour in 1994, after she was a Concordia student and Link editor.

To say that Vogels stopped her column (as is sort of implied) wouldn’t be exactly accurate. Vogels has lived in Toronto for many years now and her column is syndicated in newspapers across the country. My Messy Bedroom lives on in other “alternative” newspapers and on her website, while her tamer relationships-but-no-icky-sex column Dating Girl appears in many mainstream newspapers including The Gazette.

I can only theorize at the reason behind the change. I hope it was more a matter of wanting editorial renewal with a younger, fresher and more local face than it was about wanting to cut costs by slashing an expensive syndicated column.

Either way, she’s being replaced by Laura Roberts, Editor-in-Chief of local smut zine Black Heart Magazine and herself a former Link editor. How Roberts will do with the space is anyone’s guess. Her debut column focuses on herself, and how she’ll report on her boyfriends (an issue I have wondered about quite a bit myself thoughout the entire run of Sex and the City), and The Link has a brief interview with her.

One thing’s for sure: Roberts is now about as old as Vogels was when she started her column. And the replacement will mean a huge loss in experience, which hopefully will be mitigated by a big increase in enthusiasm.