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