Tag Archives: Jean-François Codère

Entrevue: Jean-François Codère, ruefrontenac.com

A week before the anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout, I went to Rue Frontenac’s offices and sat down with tech journalist Jean-François Codère, and asked him a few questions that had been nagging me.

You’ll have to excuse the background noise, because Gabrielle Duchaine couldn’t shut her bloody pie-hole and stop flirting with me I haven’t gotten around to getting an external microphone for my cheap new video camera.

Some highlights from the interview, for those too lazy to sit through a half hour of a talking head (or who can’t understand French):

  • Codère learned about the idea for Rue Frontenac in December 2008, at which point he undertook the mission to setup “something like Cyberpresse” in a month, in time for the expected Jan. 2 start of the lockout. (Last-minute negotiations pushed into the new year, delaying the lockout until Jan. 24.) The site is based on Joomla, only because they’re familiar with it and the union’s website is based on the same platform.
  • Though the few people organizing the website knew well in advance, and some journalists had an idea of it the week before the lockout, most of the 253 union members didn’t know about Rue Frontenac until the day of the lockout.
  • The three-week delay between the end of the collective agreement and the start of the lockout helped to build up the site, but training everyone on how to use it still took a while, and was the main reason for a four-day delay between the lockout’s start and the launch of Rue Frontenac. (Codère points out Patrick Lagacé’s complaint last year that they weren’t acting fast enough – he says he asked Lagacé about it when he visited Rue Frontenac at Christmas, and Lagacé admitted that nobody remembers or cares anymore)
  • Salaries are paid out of the union’s strike fund, but Rue Frontenac’s other expenses are expected to be self-funded, mainly by advertising and donations.
  • Rue Frontenac works with assignment editors, but most people just cover their own beats. The number of articles journalists might file in a week varies depending on the type of story and other considerations.
  • Non-journalists, like classified and business office workers, tend to do more picketing because there’s not much they can contribute to Rue Frontenac.
  • Most people Codère talks to are at least aware of what Rue Frontenac is, so he doesn’t have trouble getting interviews. (Codère’s experience may be atypical – he’s their tech reporter, so the people he deals with are more connected and more exposed to the website.) Most reporters also already have good relationships with their contacts.
  • Getting access to events like concerts isn’t that difficult, even though they’re the only purely web media accredited at the Bell Centre. They’ve negotiated photographer access to 15 of 42 Habs home games, and hope to get a better deal next year (assuming they’re still locked out).
  • Rue Frontenac uses the Reuters photo service to get images for international stories. But all the text is generated from Rue Frontenac journalists.
  • Working at Rue Frontenac is “fun” compared to the Journal, but Codère is a realist: It’s not profitable to do journalism the way they’re doing it.
  • Some computers come from MédiaMatinQuébec, others are personal laptops used by journalists (many of whom had to get old ones or buy new ones because their work laptops were confiscated after the lockout was called).
  • They enjoy not having to do stories about the weather, Boxing Day and other ridiculousness.
  • Codère has received job offers since the lockout, but so far he’s turned them down to remain a journalist.
  • Yes, Rue Frontenac asked for documents to submit a bid to do news for V (ex-TQS), but that was more to learn from the documents. Considering the CSN is still fighting for former TQS journalists whose jobs are being replaced by this subcontracting of news, actually submitting a bid would put the union in an awkward position to say the least.
  • What happens to Rue Frontenac after the lockout ends will depend on negotiations, but MédiaMatinQuébec’s website was taken down as a condition of the Journal de Québec workers going back. What kind of impact that would have depends on how long it will be, and how much work will have gone into Rue Frontenac. Codère’s ideal would be for the Journal to buy Rue Frontenac and all its content, but he isn’t holding his breath.
  • Despite the success of Rue Frontenac, Codère doesn’t think it’s feasible in the short term to have an online-only news organization without a corresponding newspaper. Newspapers come to you, he points out, whereas you have to go to websites. He thinks it will be at least a few years until a serious online newsroom can be financially sustainable.

And one thing that wasn’t in the interview: Rue Frontenac subscribes to digital television. But for some reason they prefer Bell satellite TV to Videotron cable.

UPDATE (Jan. 28):

Jean-François Codère talks about Rue Frontenac on CFCF's News at Noon

Seems CTV also got the idea that Codère was a good person to talk to about this anniversary.

The medium is not the message

Third Tuesday, a bimonthly meetup of PR people talking about social media, got a visit this month from Jean-François Codère. Codère was a journalist for the Journal de Montréal and now RueFrontenac.com, and his speech was mostly a response to one in January from blogger Michelle Blanc, who was preaching to the choir about how the traditional media don’t get the Internet. He’d written a blog post criticizing Blanc’s presentation, and was invited to take his message to the masses.

Codère’s presentation was treated with a lot of skepticism from bloggers, who accused him of using stereotypes and not knowing what he’s talking about. As Codère pointed out afterward, most of the people Tweeting about him not checking his facts misspelled his name.

Petty insults aside, Blanc and Codère are both guilty of generalizations and unsound arguments in their social media vs. traditional journalism debate, because they’re both acting under the impression that there’s a difference between a newspaper and a blog other than the fact that one is on paper and the other is on a computer screen.

Codère is mostly correct in his generalizations about blogs and user-generated news sites: they’re mostly opinion, they produce very little original journalism, they don’t verify most of what they put up, and they’re not particularly trustworthy.

But that’s most, not all.

Blanc and other new media advocates (most of whom are self-appointed “social media marketing experts” – UPDATE: Note that I don’t include Blanc among them) cherry-pick the few cases where social or new media got to a story before AP or the New York Times. The Hudson plane crash, for example (something I’ve already debunked). Even if the examples given have logical holes in them, there’s nothing inherent about the medium to show that news can’t be scooped by new media. I’ve had a couple of scoops here in my couple of years of existence.

The problem (and one of the reasons I’m not crazy about Twitter yet) is that the signal-to-noise ratio of what’s online is incredibly low. Unless the news happens to Ashton Kutcher, the vast majority of people aren’t going to hear about it directly – they’ll hear it through friends, aggregation sites or the news.

Codère’s comments prompted some knee-jerk reactions from the crowd who built up the straw-man argument that he says all journalists are perfect. He of course said nothing of the sort, because they aren’t. There are tons of lazy journalists out there, and the various cuts to news media going on as the industry explodes are just making that worse. Many journalists are going on Twitter and creating blogs and are learning the bad habits of their social media counterparts, posting information without verification being the most common one.

The big difference between professional journalists and citizen journalists is that professional journalists are paid to do what they do. That means they’ll have the time to research an issue, and their motivation is to build credibility and a career. Citizen journalists (and here I’m not talking about bloggers) are mere witnesses to events. They can tell you that a plane went down in the Hudson, or that people are running out of Dawson College. But they can’t tell you why.

Codère’s error is that he assumes the dynamics of news online won’t change, except that eventually newspapers will use the Internet and not paper as their primary method of delivery. I think we’ll see the same thing happen online that we’ve seen in television – generalists will be replaced by specialists, and people won’t be getting all their news from one place anymore. Bloggers will develop niches that drive enough traffic to create a revenue stream that allows them to do that job full-time. At that point they become professional journalists.

The debate is all a question of semantics. What’s the difference between a blogger and an online journalist? How does someone who expresses himself via blogs differ from someone who does so via Twitter or Facebook? I’d argue that the difference is as trivial as the one between a TV reporter and a newspaper reporter.

As the Internet matures, the importance of medium will diminish, and all we’ll be left with are the generalizations, which by then I think will be quite dated.