Tag Archives: Journal de Montréal

Journal de Montréal/Québec will stop printing Sunday editions in 2023

After La Presse, the Montreal Gazette and countless other newspapers across Canada and around the world, the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec are becoming the latest to announce they’re reducing their print schedules.

In a note to readers published Thursday evening, they announced they will no longer publish on Sundays in 2023. The last Sunday print edition will be Dec. 18, before the two holiday Sundays.

They were among only four mainstream (English or French-language) newspapers in the country still publishing print edition seven days a week. The only ones still publishing after this will be the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. Most others are either six days a week (Monday-Saturday), five days (Tuesday-Saturday) or something less often than that.

The Journals (their notes had virtually identical wording) promise additional content in their Saturday papers to carry them through the weekend. Other papers that dropped Sunday editions, like La Presse in 2009 and the Gazette in 2010, made similar moves. But having a slightly bigger Saturday edition doesn’t compensate for not having a Sunday one.

The move is kind of inevitable, and I’m surprised it took this long, frankly. Not only does laying out, printing and distributing a paper cost a lot these days, but with no other newspapers publishing on Sundays, the Journal de Montréal couldn’t share delivery costs with their competitors. (Many of the independent contractors delivering newspapers in Montreal deliver multiple papers simultaneously.)

The Journal made it a point of touting how it wasn’t abandoning print readers like its competitors were. Only three years ago, it had a slogan about how it was a “real newspaper.” But, as the editor’s note says, times have changed. Publisher Lyne Robitaille took swipes at the big tech giants, as many newspapers like to do these days, as well as CBC/Radio-Canada, which Quebecor has long considered an unfair competitor because of its government subsidies.

The truth is that this is a reflection of both changes in readership habits and changes in business models. A new federal government bill to somehow force Facebook and Google to pay newspapers may bring some money back into the industry, but don’t expect the Sunday newspaper to return. The economic fundamentals simply aren’t there anymore.

It’s the end of an era. And if something spectacular happens on a Saturday, you’ll need to wait until Monday morning to get a sheet of paper that announces it in a way that makes it feel real.

No more paywall at the Journal de Montréal

“Autre nouvelle importante”, it starts, burying the lead a bit: The Journal de Montréal announced on Wednesday that all content on its website will now be free. Ditto for the Journal de Québec. No more paywall on either site.

The Quebecor-owned paid newspapers instituted their paywalls in 2012, putting some content behind it but leaving other content free. At the time, the purpose of the paywall was to protect the print edition’s subscription fees.

So what’s changed? La Presse asked, and the answer is basically that their priorities have changed: with the rise of social media, reach has become more important, and a paywall is a hindrance to that.

So the Journal falls back onto advertising as the primary source of digital revenue, even though digital advertising hasn’t exactly taken off. It’s in that line that it signed up for Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allows JdeM stories to be read directly in people’s Facebook feeds. Publishers can include ads in the feeds, which is supposed to be a way to increase revenue.

Other Canadian launch partners for Instant Articles are Chatelaine, Diply, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean’s, Sportsnet, The Canadian Press and TVA Nouvelles, plus some international media like BuzzFeed.

The Journal de Montréal’s decision isn’t that surprising considering the context. Its competitors in francophone news, including La Presse, Radio-Canada, RDS, TVA Nouvelles, Métro and others don’t have paywalls. Le Devoir is the only major francophone publication that still has one up, and it’s not searching for as many hits as possible.

On the English side, we’ve seen the Toronto Star drop its paywall, but The Globe and Mail and Postmedia (my employer) still have them, porous as they may be. And they put them up after concluding it was a mistake to have content online free in the first place. Will they follow suit in determining it was a mistake to consider that a mistake?

The decision would be much easier if online advertising was a viable revenue source.

Meanwhile, this decision means the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec will be even more eager for as many clicks (or taps or whatever) as possible. There’s a huge incentive for clickbait, so don’t be surprised if it increases.

Journal de Montréal plagiarizes PressProgress, blames “simple omission”

Stories about newbie candidates (usually in no-hope ridings) being shamed for their views expressed on social media seem to be a dime a dozen these days. Opposition researchers and party activists are scouring every Twitter and Facebook account associated with a candidate to find something they wrote years ago that is either downright awful or can be spun in a way to make them intolerant, mean, disgusting or just stupid.

So when the left-wing website PressProgress published a story about a Conservative candidate’s sharing of Russian stories on Facebook, it just got added to the pile. Apparently some of these articles are, to be generous, not politically correct when it comes to gender.

Because the original articles are in Russian, people who don’t understand that language kind of had to take PressProgress’s word on its translations. So there was initial skepticism about the story.

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NADbank: La Presse has more readers overall than the Journal de Montréal

NADbank, the organization that measures newspaper readership, has come out with its mid-year national survey. Based on its large-market readership numbers:

When combining print and digital readership, La Presse and the Journal de Montréal both reach 1.241 million people a week. The difference in the official numbers is only 300, or 0.02%, which is far below the margin for error in such a survey.

Even more surprising, the daily readership of La Presse, measured by asking survey respondents which papers/websites they read the day before, is significantly higher than the Journal de Montréal, at 750,000 to 582,000.

La Presse has closed the gap with the Journal mainly through a huge increase in digital readership. The survey doesn’t distinguish between digital methods, but La Presse’s publisher Guy Crevier says this is mainly due to its now-flagship product La Presse+. Its digital readership jumped from 571,000 a week to 721,000 a week, a 26% increase.

In fact, more respondents said they read La Presse on a digital medium the day before than read the print paper. Other than the national papers Globe and Mail and National Post, no other major-market daily has more daily readers online than in print.

Even more amazing, La Presse reported slightly more daily digital readers in Montreal than the Star did in Toronto.

Excluding digital media and focusing just on print, the Journal de Montréal is still tops on weekdays and weekly, and that’s what it focused on with its press release. But on Saturday, La Presse has slightly more readers in print alone.

This dramatic increase in digital readership — and the fact that it has resulted in an increase in readership overall instead of just cannibalizing print readers — is yet another statistic justifying La Presse’s new strategy. And as if on cue, publisher Guy Crevier has another interview, in which he says 35% of La Presse’s revenues come from La Presse+, and that he doesn’t expect the print edition to still be around (at least as a daily) by 2020, or maybe even 2018.

Other facts in the NADbank numbers:

  • More than three years after 24 Heures became the official newspaper of the metro system, Métro still has more readers overall (300,000 vs. 270,000).
  • Métro and 24 Heures both get more than 90% of their readership from their print product. Their online readership is so low NADbank warns the numbers are statistically unreliable.
  • Only two papers in Montreal had more than half their weekly readers reading on any given day: La Presse and The Gazette. Readers of these publications are more likely to be everyday readers, compared to occasional readers for the others. (The Gazette has more daily readers than Métro or 24 Heures, but fewer weekly readers, because of this.)
  • More people said they read The Gazette online the previous day than the Journal de Montréal, despite the Journal’s gains online. The Gazette’s weekly online readership is up 37% from the previous report.
  • The Globe and Mail beats the National Post in both print and digital in all major markets. (In Edmonton, the Post has more daily digital readers, but fewer weekly digital readers and fewer readers overall.)
  • This isn’t new, but I just noticed it now: The Journal de Montréal has more readers in its home market than the Toronto Sun, daily and weekly.

The Journal de Montréal lockout, five years later

This entry has been corrected. See below.

Rue Frontenac's newsroom in 2011

Rue Frontenac’s newsroom in 2011

It was early in the morning on Saturday, Jan 24, 2009, when the Journal de Montréal changed forever. After an agreement with its union not to engage in work disruptions expired, management locked out all 253 unionized employees, starting a battle that would last more than two years.

The union, knowing this was coming, simultaneously launched a new website called Rue Frontenac, in which locked-out journalists would continue doing their jobs, showing readers that it’s the journalists, not the logo, that really matters.

The solidarity among locked-out workers was impressive, as was their dedication to their craft. But the union’s hefty strike fund kept their income going, and that wasn’t going to last forever.

When it all ended in 2011, the victory went more to the Journal than to the workers. The deal, approved during a heated meeting of the union’s members, meant only a quarter of those locked-out would be re-hired. The rest would split a $20-million severance package.

The deal allowed Rue Frontenac to stay alive, spun off from the union into an independent entity. It was eventually sold, but the staff quickly quit and pulled all their content in protest after learning the identity of someone connected to the new owner and finding that they would pose a threat to their journalistic integrity. The pulled content was eventually posted to a new archival website. RueFrontenac.com now simply redirects to another website owned by that new owner, La Métropole.

Where are they now?

The union treated “253” as a magical number throughout the lockout, but the reality was it was a lot more complicated than that. The employees consisted of people from various departments, some were part-time, some temporary, some on leave for various reasons. I don’t have a list of those 253 people, nor the time to contact them all, but I was curious where the journalists ended up five years later (and more than two years after Rue Frontenac ended).

Of all the journalists that were locked out of the Journal, only one two news reporters — Daniel Renaud and Isabelle Maher — returned after the lockout. (Other departments like sports and photo had more people come back.) The conflict had become so bitter, and the journalists so disgusted with its resolution, that the reaction to the offer to come back was more “over my dead body” than “yes please”.

And Renaud didn’t last long. He now works for La Presse.

The result was that even though the lockout was started so that the Journal could lay off staff, and even though the resolution meant much of that staff wouldn’t come back, the end result is that the paper had to actually start hiring journalists.

What about the rest? Many are still in journalism, and some have moved on to other things. Here’s a partial list, some based off of this list that Michel Rousseau put together for Trente in 2012:

Still at the Journal de Montréal

La Presse (Gesca) was the biggest beneficiary of Rue Frontenac talent:


Le Devoir


TC Media

Cogeco Nouvelles

Other media


Public relations or other communications media


  • Richard Bousquet, lecturer at UQAM
  • Jean-Guy Fugère, math teacher

Other non-media jobs

  • Mélanie Brisson, IT coordinator, city of Sainte-Julie
  • Jérôme Dussault, crown prosecutor
  • Dominic Fugère, general manager of the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières (also contributes to RDS)
  • Guy Madore, real estate
  • Noée Murchison, Office des personnes handicapées du Québec


  • Luc Laforce
  • François Robert
  • Michel Sénécal


  • Pablo Durand

Some of these could easily be outdated, incorrect, miscategorized or incomplete. And I’m missing a bunch of names. Let me know of any corrections below or by email.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said that Daniel Renaud was the only news reporter to go back to the Journal de Montréal. Isabelle Maher also returned to the paper after the lockout. I’ve also updated titles and added names based on people’s suggestions.

Journal de Montréal radically redesigns, adds busload of columnists

Front page (well, inside front page) of today's Journal de Montréal

Front page (well, inside front page) of today’s Journal de Montréal

In some ways, it looks a lot different. A new headline font, a new logo, new sections. But in more important ways, it’s still the Journal de Montréal, a tabloid with short articles and big photos and Richard Martineau.

The new paper came out on Tuesday morning, with an eight-page explainer section, plus another two in sports. The content of that is reproduced online here, or you can read Quebecor’s press release.

(The Journal de Québec underwent a similar redesign.)

In short, here’s what’s changed:

  • The logo. The lowercase “journal de montréal”, which has been the paper’s logo since 1964, has been replaced with uppercase text, each word in its own red rectangle. Publisher Lyne Robitaille says these four blocks represent the four platforms the Journal is distributed in.
  • The fonts. The headline font is replaced by Tungsten. The narrow, blocky font allows for more characters in one line, which the Journal’s editors believe will allow them to write longer, more descriptive headlines. Other fonts used are Stag Sans for the labels on top of headlines and other display type below, and World Wide for the body type. The Journal also notes it has increased its line spacing a bit.
  • The colour scheme: Rather than a uniform red, the upper folio will have the colour of whatever section it’s in (news is red, others mainly blue or green).
  • New sections and pages:
    • JM: Pronounced “j’aime”, this pull-out section (it’s like you have two papers in one, they say) contains all the arts and life sections, including the weather, horoscope, cartoons, the photo pages and Louise Deschâtelets.
    • Monde: International news is broken off into its own section instead of just following news
    • Dans vos poches: A page in the Argent business section is devoted to practical information for consumers and investors
    • Photo: Because apparently the photos in the Journal weren’t big enough, they’ve promised to make them bigger. The paper will now include a full-page photo of the day, in addition to its weekly best-of photo pics and its photo blog, and it will also publish photo-taking tips and run contests for the best reader-submitted photo.
    • Techno: Also part of the JM section, with technology news and useful information.
    • Grandes entrevues: The Saturday paper will include a feature interview with a personality in the news, by various columnists.
  • Fewer listings: Arguing that this is information better put online, the paper is reducing its stock listings to half a page, and says it will now publish movie listings only on the most popular days: Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Radio is back: Le journal du midi, which had been off since June, is back, with Sophie Durocher and Gilles Proulx. A new show by Michel Beaudry, about hockey, airs Mondays at 3pm.
  • Contact information for writers now includes Twitter addresses (below their bylines) and email addresses and phone numbers at the end of their stories. The explainer also mentions their Facebook and Google+ addresses. But this isn’t uniform for every writer. Some stories include only an email address, others no contact information at all.
  • Expanded sports: Though the Canadiens will still be the big draw in sports, and more coverage is planned of the bleu-blanc-rouge (including sports-specific Michel Beaudry humour columns and Ygreck cartoons), there will be a larger focus on non-hockey sports, with new weekly columns on tennis, basketball and running.
  • A new tagline: “Le journal qu’on aime lire.”

New columnists

Two pages of the paper are devoted just to listing all the new columnists and contributors. Some of them are big names (though some of the bigger names will contribute whenever they feel like it).

The list of “chroniqueurs invités” includes such big names as Jean Charest, Jacques Parizeau, Line Beauchamp, Gilbert Rozon, Louise Beaudoin, Isabelle Hudon and Dominic Maurais.

But in terms of people we’ll see on a regular basis, they include Josée Legault (who will also have a blog), François Bugingo, on world affairs, and Martine Desjardins. Plus comedians Kim Lizotte and Maxim Martin with lifestyle columns, and Renaud Lavoie (formerly of RDS) in sports.

The Journal has also added some winter sports athletes as columnists focused on the road to the Sochi Olympics: Alex Harvey (cross-country skiing), Dominique Maltais (snowboarding), Alexandre Bilodeau (freestyle skiing), Marianne St-Gelais (short-track speed skating), Erik Guay (alpine skiing), Marie-Michele Gagnon (alpine skiing) and Laurent Dubreuil (long-track speed skating).

Enquête sur Quebecor: Good, but I expected more (UPDATED)

UPDATE (Nov. 10): More excerpts from documents cited by Enquête, and reaction in Quebecor media outlets added below, including one in English from Éric Duhaime.

“Il est aussi clair dans notre esprit qu’un groupe de presse rival peut poser un regard critique sur un autre,” Enquête host Alain Gravel writes in a blog post published hours before his show’s report on the Quebecor media empire (also viewable on tou.tv). “Ça se fait partout dans le monde. Sinon, qui pourrait le faire?”

It’s a good question. There are few journalistic enterprises here with the resources to pull it off. Maybe La Presse, but it suffers from the same problem as Radio-Canada of being a perceived enemy of Quebecor. An anglophone media outlet like the Globe and Mail or Toronto Star or Maclean’s might, but this story needed to be told in French.

Aside from La Presse and Radio-Canada, the only big media left in this province are all owned by Quebecor. And that’s kind of the point. A study by Influence Communication done for Enquête shows that these three media companies produce 83% of the journalism that Quebecers consume. Though Quebecor is the largest of these three groups, the problem of media concentration concerns all three.

Gravel pointed out right off the bat how delicate the report would be, because Quebecor owns TVA, which competes directly with Radio-Canada. It’s an important point to keep in mind, and certainly No. 1 on the list of issues Quebecor would bring up in response.

Fortunately for us, Enquête has pretty solid journalistic credentials, and isn’t about to say something unless it’s been verified.

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Journal de Montréal: The day the union died

Tech reporter Jean-François Codère has only his iPhone to comfort him

It’s hard to describe the emotions coming from Rue Frontenac’s journalists when I met them a few hours after the vote that approved a new contract between the Journal de Montréal and its workers’ union.

Sad. Angry. Indignant. Depressed. Resigned. They certainly weren’t celebrating, but they decided as a group to drink their troubles away at a local bar as they contemplated their futures. They were cooling off after a 10-hour meeting that ended badly for them (and they let the cameras know it just afterward).

This group was a minority of the 253 workers locked out of their jobs on Jan. 24, 2009. They are the Rue Frontenac faithful, the young, motivated journalists who have worked hardest to feed a website and weekly print publication that was setup primarily as a pressure tactic and a demonstration that the success of the Journal de Montréal had more to do with the workers than the company or its name.

People like Gabrielle Duchaine, Jean-François Codère, Jessica Nadeau, Dominic Fugère, David Patry, Pascale Lévesque, David Santerre, Vincent Larouche, and others. I can’t say for certain what was in their minds (or their secret ballots), but for the most part, these are people who voted against the contract, who were ready to say on the spot that they’re never going back to the Journal (“no fucking way” was how Nadeau put it when I asked, though others didn’t want to commit officially while emotions were still high), who are so low on the seniority list that they probably couldn’t come back even if they wanted to, and who are ready and eager to make a run at turning Rue Frontenac into a viable business.

Starting Monday, as the journalists who are returning to their jobs come back to work (though it won’t be in the same building, and at last report it seemed they wouldn’t even be able to fill all 42 editorial positions because only 23 have agreed to return), Rue Frontenac changes from being a union pressure tactic into an experiment with an untested business model.

While the prime focus of the anger of this group after their ratification vote was and remains Pierre Karl Péladeau, the chief executive of Quebecor who they believe has turned lockouts and union busting into a business model, a flood of criticism emerged that night against a former ally: the CSN, who they believe let their union be destroyed.

Was CSN incompetent?

The list of criticisms against CSN management and its leader Claudette Carbonneau were many: They were woefully unprepared for the type of conflict they were engaging in. They were slow to push a public campaign to boycott the Journal de Montréal (one which was obviously unsuccessful – the paper actually saw a readership increase despite the drop in original content). Their lawyers were incompetent, unable to battle on the same level of those of Quebecor. They didn’t even support the idea of Rue Frontenac when it launched. Carbonneau, who was too timid to be a union leader, bungled the PR for the union’s side of the conflict, and should have known despite her denials about an agreement shortly before the lockout that Péladeau argues could have stopped it before it started.

It’s not so much the motives of the CSN that are in question. Carbonneau says the central union gave $7 million to the local to support it and its members, and made it clear at the second anniversary of the lockout that it would continue supporting the union for as long as it takes.

But it’s clear the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal believed it knew better how to run its business, and it was the local that did most of the organizing and planning. The CSN provided money and organizational support, but the campaign – particularly Rue Frontenac – was mostly the local union’s doing.

The anticlimax

The last straw – or perhaps just the most recent example – of CSN’s perceived incompetence came during that heated Saturday union meeting at the Palais des Congrès. After the vote was counted, as the executive waited for all the members to come back into the room for the announcement, a flak for the CSN assembled a scrum of outside media to tell them the result. Those journalists instantly forwarded that information to their desks or tweeted it themselves, resulting in all sorts of breaking news alerts going out. Many of the union members sitting patiently waiting to hear the results ended up getting it not from their executive but on their smartphones from Radio-Canada or other media.

There was no harm done – the result had been counted. But it made for an incredibly anticlimactic announcement, according to some of the people who were in the room. That, they said, aside from being yet another example of the CSN screwing something up, hurt them psychologically.

“They stole that moment away from us,” explained Jessica Nadeau. That moment where the announcement is made, and people cheer, yell, cry, pat each other on the back, or otherwise react together. Instead, the ground had been softened by rumours (much like a government will leak bad news to the media before it’s announced so the impact is lessened), and there was no such release.

CSN head Claudette Carbonneau, seen here at December's protest, spent a lot of time explaining herself to the media in the past week. Union president Raynald Leblanc is on the far left.

Say it ain’t so, Carbo

After this very public airing of grievances (even Beaudet had a cartoon on the subject), and articles from people like Patrick Lagacé taking her to task (he defends his views in a blog post), Carbonneau and the CSN went on the defensive. She talked to Radio-Canada. She explained herself to Presse CanadienneShe appeared on Tout le monde en parle to explain herself to Guy A. Lepage (and got a rather nasty pancarte from Dany Turcotte saying the CSN was “so-so-so-solidement planté”). The FNC’s president wrote an op-ed in Le Devoir defending the union.

It got to the point where the STIJM’s president, Raynald Leblanc, had to issue a press release defending the CSN.

Former CSN head Gérald Larose didn’t bite when invited to by Rue Frontenac, instead saying such a long conflict is bound to cause tensions. In Le Devoir, columnist Gil Courtemanche also wrote that it’s difficult to assign blame to any one party for all of this. Though he and others make it clear that the unions came out on the losing side.

Less than two weeks after the vote, and for reasons she said had nothing to do with the Journal de Montréal, Carbonneau announced she would not seek re-election to the top post at CSN.

Fractured union

Now that the formalities are out of the way, the STIJM is no longer what it once was, if only because its membership will be only a fraction of those 253 from 2009.

The contract effectively split those members into the following groups:

  • The 62 full-time workers and one part-time worker who will be returning to the Journal de Montréal (assuming all positions offered are taken)
  • Those who will take the buyout/severance money and retire – a number that theoretically could encompass more than 100
  • Those who will work with Rue Frontenac as it tries to become a viable worker’s cooperative – one that coordinator Richard Bousquet admitted in January could realistically only include a handful
  • Those who have already found other jobs (like Fabrice de Pierrebourg), will quickly find other employment or will rely on other jobs for income, taking semi-retirement or working for less
  • Those who are not part of the above groups, who are too young or too poor to retire even with this extra cash, and whose skills aren’t transferrable to available jobs elsewhere

It is, of course, that last group that is the big worry. And we won’t know for a little while how many people are in it.

Will this end up in court?

The division between members of the STIJM heightened shortly after a followup meeting to vote on a back-to-work protocol. An email signed by photographer Claude Rivest (one of many people in the editorial department whose contributions to Rue Frontenac trailed off in the months after it launched and eventually stopped entirely) sought to round up opponents to the protocol to launch a court case arguing improper procedure in the vote. (Rivest didn’t answer a request for comment on the matter.)

The main issue was the way the union decided to disburse the $20 million severance funds. It was by seniority, with a minimum and maximum. Rivest argued that setting a maximum unfairly hurt those who worked at the paper before 1985 by making those years not count.

Rivest’s email launched a heated back-and-forth over email among STIJM members, most of whom were strongly opposed to Rivest’s move, calling it “cheap” “disgusting” and “absurd”. The discussion died down quickly, and not much has been heard since.


Everyone and their grandmother tried to analyze the Journal de Montréal conflict to find some sense in it:

Most agree that this is a union defeat, that the Journal proved one could operate a newspaper legally and successfully during a lockout, and that the readers who could have made a difference by refusing to read the Journal chose to continue reading, rendering the union virtually powerless.

Frankly, I think both the union and the paper have been crippled. Sadly, both look like they’re what Pierre Karl Péladeau wanted. (He disagrees, of course, during an interview with Paul Arcand)

Now what?

As some employees return to work, the rest try to forget about the Journal de Montréal, either trying to figure out how they can begin their retirement, finding another job or trying to work out a viable business model for Rue Frontenac.

Union president Raynald Leblanc is not among those returning to the Journal, and still deciding on his future. So what’s left of the crippled union needs a new leader.

As far as the public is concerned, the campaign is over. That hoopla about changes to Quebec’s anti-scab law is all but gone now, even though nothing about the agreement prevents another company in a similar situation locking out its workers in the future. The Journal de Montréal was a heavily mediatized conflict (some would argue it was overexposed in the media), and the end of the conflict has made this issue less important in everyone’s minds, no matter what efforts the CSN may put behind promoting it.

Nothing changed outside of the Journal itself, to the point where people may forget about this conflict entirely in a few years.

Rue Frontenac may be the exception to this. It’s still trying to figure out what it can be and how it can make money. (I, for one, would suggest less focus on things everyone else is covering, like Canadiens games and Tout le monde en parle episodes.) Even the most optimistic would admit its chances aren’t that good. But everyone hopes it can survive and prove that good-quality original journalism is a viable business model.

If Rue Frontenac survives in the long term, it may be the only real lasting evidence that there ever was a lockout here, and a reminder of what the Journal de Montréal used to be.

Because whether you’re on the side of the union or the employer, you have to admit that the Journal de Montréal won’t ever be the quality it was when those 253 employees were working there.

Hell, it’s even given up Frontenac St. itself.

It’s over: Journal workers approve contract by 64%

Locked-out workers of the Journal de Montreal have accepted – very reluctantly – an offer ending their two-year lockout.

After a 10-hour session inside a closed meeting at the Palais des Congrès, members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal voted 64.1% to approve a proposal by the mediator that will finally end the lockout that began on Jan. 24, 2009.

A back-to-work protocol still needs to be worked out. And approval is contingent on this being negotiated successfully. But it’s unlikely anything will stop this deal from getting final approval.

The deal, which lasts five years, will see the Journal hire back 62 workers (plus one temporary worker), which includes:

  • 24 journalists (12 in news, seven in sports and five in arts)
  • five deskers
  • four photographers
  • four graphic artists
  • an editorial cartoonist (assuming Marc Beaudet wants to return)
  • a statistician (plus a part-time or temporary one)
  • two quality control people
  • one “adjointe”
  • 10 people in classified (nine salespeople and one customer service agent)
  • 10 people in the business office, including two accountants

The rest will share a $20 million severance package, whose method of splitting is up to them (something expected to cause a lot of tension as they decide how to calculate how much each worker gets). For those of them lucky enough to get the choice, they’ll have two weeks to decide whether they want to rejoin their former newspaper.

Almost all of the Rue Frontenac personalities I talked to later Saturday night had already made up their minds: “No fucking way” are they going back to work for Quebecor, in the words of journalist Jessica Nadeau. Though some left open a slim possibility that they might accept a return, not wanting to close the door completely out of anger without thinking about it first, most of the core of Rue Frontenac made it abundantly clear that they are going to stay outside the grip of the Quebecor empire and try to make an independent publication of Rue Frontenac and RueFrontenac.com.

The contract is over 100 pages long and I’m just getting my first look at it. I’ll post more details in the days ahead, but suffice it to say this is a huge victory for Quebecor and a giant defeat for the union.

But at least some people will get some money out of it.

As you wait for more of my thoughts, you’ll find coverage of this story … well, just about anywhere:

Reaction and analysis is coming in from:

  • The FPJQ, which sees this as reinforcing its worries about media concentration in Quebec
  • Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon, who wonders if the managers who have been doing the work of journalists for the past two years won’t see themselves out of their jobs soon
  • Le Soleil, which looks at how this affects the Journal de Québec
  • The right, which sees this as a victory against the unions
  • Mauvais Oeil, which humorously looks at how readers of the Journal and the rest of the world see the conflict

And reaction from the journalists themselves:

New contract proposal to Journal de Montréal workers

The CSN has announced that locked-out members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal will vote on a new contract offer proposed by the mediator appointed by the Quebec government.

Note that this does not necessarily mean there’s an agreement in principle. The release mentions nothing about whether the union executive recommends the proposal, whether the employer will accept the proposal, or any details about the proposal itself. (UPDATE: Apparently the CSN is saying the union is, in fact, recommending the proposal, which is pretty huge — oh wait, the union is now denying it has recommended the deal.)

The vote will take place Saturday at 10am at the Palais des congrès, and followed by a press conference.

You’ll recall that the last vote on a proposal, in October, resulted in 89.3% of workers rejecting the offer.

Some reading on Quebec’s anti-scab law

Hearings began today (finally a reason to watch the National Assembly channel!) into Quebec’s labour laws, specifically the provisions against strikebreakers (scabs). They are prompted by the enduring two-year-old lockout at the Journal de Montréal, and the union’s argument that laws forbidding the use of replacement workers during a labour conflict need to be updated because they only apply to workers who physically enter the employer’s workspace.

An example to illustrate this is a company called Côté Tonic in Quebec City, which has been doing copy editing and page layout work for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout. Stories in Rue Frontenac and La Presse show that the small company did production work during the Journal de Québec lockout and had to fire people after that was resolved, but learned about an impending lockout at the Journal de Montréal before it was launched and even before the end of the labour contract for Journal de Montréal workers.

This information comes out now for a somewhat ironic reason: an employee who was laid off when she took maternity leave complained she was fired illegally. Her complaint was rejected because it was determined that the layoff happened after the Journal asked the company to reduce its workforce. But because labour relations board decisions are public, the dirty laundry comes out into the open.

The union representing locked-out workers claims there are all sorts of fly-by-night operations doing their work in secret, from customer service to page layout to accounting. But they’ve had difficulty gaining evidence about how they work, and under the current law there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

Also worth reading:

There’s also the Twitter feed of Rue Frontenac’s David Patry, or the hashtag #commissionJdeM. The hearings can also be viewed online, in case you have a few hours to waste.

The future of Rue Frontenac

Rue Frontenac's newsroom

Rue Frontenac started as an idea, in that it was copied from an idea realized elsewhere. When the Journal de Québec was locked out for a year and a half, its workers launched a competing free daily and later a website called MédiaMatinQuébec.

The publication was a pressure tactic (a judge even ruled as such when Quebecor sought an injunction preventing them from publishing). It would keep people updated on the status of negotiations from the union’s perspective. But more importantly, it would remind readers that the real power of the newspaper came from its journalists, who would continue to do their jobs despite being in a labour conflict.

In essence, the journalists protested their lockout by continuing to work.

Whether MédiaMatinQuébec succeeded in its mission of forcing the employer’s hand by turning public opinion against it is a matter of debate. But it raised the profile of the locked-out workers, and journalists facing a labour conflict since then have made this idea part of their plans.

On Jan. 24, 2009, about six months after the end of the Journal de Québec lockout and less than an hour after an agreement not to launch a labour conflict had expired, 253 members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal were officially locked out of their jobs.

The lockout wasn’t a surprise – the writing had been on the wall for months. So a plan was already in place when the lockout became official (for both the employer and the union). Journalists would work out of the STIJM’s offices, which are next door to the Journal de Montréal’s office building at 4545 Frontenac St., at the end of Mont Royal Ave.

But rather than a free daily, they decided to go with a website. Unlike Quebec City, Montreal already had two free daily newspapers (one of which is owned by Quebecor), and its larger area makes it less practical to distribute a newspaper on a daily basis. Four days after the lockout began, RueFrontenac.com was launched.

(The title is somewhat ironic – though next door to the Journal’s offices on Frontenac, the STIJM is actually on Iberville St., just north of where Frontenac merges into it.)

Its team of journalists, working out of drafty offices without most of the usual office comforts, continued to work their beats, trying to come up with exclusives that would raise the website’s profile. It’s now considered a primary source of news and a major news organization in Montreal.

Rue Frontenac's first issue in October

In October 2010, after a successful test the year before with a special Canadiens issue, Rue Frontenac launched as a weekly tabloid newspaper to accompany the website. Rather than try to stay up to date with breaking news (much of it would be days old), the paper focused on features and exclusive reports. It was more of a magazine on newsprint than a newspaper.

Richard Bousquet, who has been coordinating Rue Frontenac in both its formats, says he worked seven days a week from August to December on this project, until he finally took a vacation over the holidays.

When it launched, Rue Frontenac had 1,400 distribution points, most shared with the free weekly Voir. Now, Bousquet says, it’s more like 1,600. And distribution points in Quebec City have been added to those in the Mauricie, Eastern Townships and Outaouais regions. The publication is also taking names of people who would be interested in paid delivery.

The print run is 75,000 copies, and Bousquet wants a return rate of under 5%. Right now it’s about twice that, but dropping as they adjust the number of copies for each stand.

The plan is that, with the exception of labour costs paid out by the union’s strike fund, the paper should be self-sufficient financially, meaning that advertising revenue (and maybe subscription revenue) should pay for printing and distribution costs.

Advertising comes slowly

“Ça roule,” union president Raynald Leblanc said during a press conference two weeks ago when asked about advertising in the paper edition. The reality is a bit more complex.

The first issue of Rue Frontenac had quite a bit of advertising, but it was mostly from unions showing solidarity, not businesses trying to make money.

A notable exception was Micro Boutique, the Apple dealer, which had a half-page ad in the first edition. Bousquet says they wanted in right away to take advantage of the media coverage surrounding the paper’s launch. They knew a lot of people would be interested in that first issue.

For other corporate advertisers, the biggest problem was essentially a bureaucratic one: big advertising campaigns are planned and budgeted months in advance. This means there isn’t much money for last-minute ads. Many advertisers are also worried about the long-term future of this newspaper if the labour conflict is eventually solved.

And then, of course, there are those who are worried about offending Quebecor, though that’s not so much an issue as you might think, Bousquet says. “C’est pas un journal de combat,” he clarifies. It’s not afraid to say bad things about the media empire, but that’s not its primary purpose, either. Obviously, they’re not getting ads from Archambault or Videotron, but most other advertisers aren’t afraid of what Quebecor might think.

(On Rue Frontenac’s website, whose advertising is served by BV! Media, now owned by Rogers, ads for Videotron have appeared in the past, not because Videotron specifically wanted to be on RueFrontenac.com, but because the ads were displayed throughout the advertising network.)

As we enter into that 3-6-month window, more ads are showing up in the paper. We’re entering RRSP season, which means a lot of ads from Desjardins, Bousquet offered as an example.

A profitable paper?

“On fait tout pour que Rue Frontenac continue à vivre,” Bousquet says. Knowing that there’s no way the Journal de Montréal will hire back all 253 workers or even a majority of that, the union eventually wants to offer the Rue Frontenac name to a publication that would be run by some of the workers who will be left behind.

It certainly won’t be all the workers not hired back at the Journal who will be able to continue with Rue Frontenac. Forced to pay salaries on top of other expenses, its budget wouldn’t be able to support 200 workers, or even 100, Bousquet admits.

Still, he feels strongly optimistic about Rue Frontenac’s future as a small publication filling a niche as a weekly newspaper focused on in-depth, exclusive stories, and a website with mostly original breaking news.

Asked whether he thinks having an actually profitable newspaper is feasible, he responds: “Oui, il y a possibilité. On croit que économiquement c’est possible.”

There are no big plans for the short term (at least, none Bousquet was willing to share), but they do plan to study their audience and their options. They’re still collecting names as they figure out whether they should implement a home delivery service, and they’re studying the possibility of increasing from one to two editions a week of the newspaper.

After the lockout

When a contract offer was voted down by a huge majority in the fall, and the union complained about an anti-competition clause as one of its main reasons for rejecting the deal, Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau said the company would withdraw its demand that Rue Frontenac be shut down and that laid-off workers be barred from working for La Presse. (When the Journal de Québec conflict was settled, one of its demands was that MédiaMatinQuébec be shut down, which is why it is no longer online.)

There are still other issues on the table, the biggest one being the number of employees who would be allowed to return to work. Negotiations that have recently resumed are covered under a blackout that prevents both sides from commenting publicly, but I imagine that number is still a major issue.

La question qui tue

So if Rue Frontenac does continue beyond the lockout, perhaps with a handful of employees, what are its chances of success?

Journal de Montréal lockout by the numbers

Two years. 24 months. 730 days. 17,520 hours. 1.05 million minutes. 63 million seconds.

These are the figures in the Journal de Montréal lockout that are not in dispute. On Jan. 24, just after midnight, it celebrated – perhaps that’s a bad choice of word – its second anniversary.

But the number that’s drilled into everyone’s head is 253. That’s the number of employees that were officially locked out that day. The number is repeated over and over by the union, which refers to 253 families on the street, 253 people without jobs, 253 people working at Rue Frontenac. Some people only partially familiar with the conflict (the ones who use “lockout” and “strike” interchangeably”) even refer to “253 journalists”, unaware that the lockout also affects dozens of office staff.

Raynald Leblanc, the president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal, admits that 253 is a “symbolic” number. The list of lockoutés has 253 names on it, but many of those people – about 10% – are no longer contributing to the cause and no longer receive cheques from the strike fund. About 10, including columnist Bertrand Raymond, have decided to retire. Most of the others are still leaving open the option of coming back to work for the Journal, but are not receiving cheques either because they have found another job or because, Leblanc says, they are rich enough that they don’t need the money. Only two have officially resigned.

The law, Leblanc says, is clear that even those who have taken jobs elsewhere to pay the bills can come back once the conflict is over. Of course, it will be their choice, and some who have since moved on will probably choose to stay in their new jobs, if there’s even a job at the Journal to go back to.

Note: Numbers above might be off slightly, take them as estimates

Among the 230 people still “active” in the conflict, the level of that activity varies. There are some, like journalists Gabrielle Duchaine and Jean-François Codère, who are filing stories on a regular basis for Rue Frontenac, the website and newspaper setup as a pressure tactic and public relations campaign. There are some who contribute more occasionally to Rue Frontenac. And there are many, like the 31 people who work in classified ad sales, whose skills aren’t really that transferrable. Many of those can be found on the picket lines outside the Journal de Montréal offices, or in newly created jobs like running the Rue Frontenac cafeteria. And there are some who have disappeared off the map completely for whatever reason.

For Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Quebecor CEO whose company owns the Journal, the 253 figure is fiction. He breaks the numbers down another way. For him, the number of permanent employees “active” in the conflict is only 179, discounting 45 contract employees and 29 people who have retired or otherwise quit their jobs. In the latest offer to the union, 52 of those people would continue to have jobs (among them only 17 journalists), and 127 jobs would be eliminated, but 31 of those employees are eligible for retirement.

Leblanc, at 57 years old, is one of those who could leave and start taking their pensions. But he asks rhetorically: “are we obliged to take retirement just because we’re eligible?” The answer, of course, is no. Some people need more money and aren’t financially stable enough to retire. And to Leblanc, forced retirement isn’t much different from forced unemployment.

And so, as Year 3 of the Journal de Montréal lockout begins, and negotiations haven’t given us any news recently, we wonder how long this conflict will last.

When it started in 2009, the union bragged that it had a two-year strike fund, enough to pay its employees about 70% of their salary (tax free) until 2011. Asked about that two weeks ago, Leblanc was categorical: “It won’t run out.”

I asked him where that guarantee comes from. He said it was from other unions. The CSN has made an example of this conflict and will keep putting money into it until it’s over. They are determined not to lose this battle over money alone.

With both CSN and Quebecor having seemingly endless pits of reserve cash, the idea that one side could wait it out until the other had been brought to its knees financially has been exposed as a pipe dream.

A parliamentary committee will be holding hearings into this conflict next month. Which is good, because left to their own devices, it seems both sides are content to let this drag on forever.

Two years on: Media coverage

The various local media have noted the two-year anniversary with stories, among them:

and simple to-the-point stories from CBC, CTV, TVAPresse Canadienne, Agence France-Presse, Projet J and, of course, Rue Frontenac itself.

UPDATE (Feb. 1): A great story in Concordia’s The Link about the human cost of the lockout, talking to people including caricaturist Marc Beaudet.

Journal de Montréal Lockout Anniversary 2: The Boring Sequel

Three TV cameras and a handful of reporters at a press conference on Monday about the second anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout

Having nothing better to do on a Monday morning, I headed to a press conference announcing the second anniversary of the lockout at the Journal de Montréal. Miscalculating public transit travel time, I arrived a few minutes late, and passed a man carrying a TV camera down the stairs. I missed little of the press conference, but it was clear none of the journalists there were particularly impressed by what they were witnessing.

That impression was confirmed in the news coverage that came out of it, or the lack thereof. Articles for Métro, The Gazette, Radio-Canada, and, of course, Rue Frontenac. No mention, despite the three TV cameras present, on any of the local newscasts that evening, not even as a 10-second brief with anchor voice-over.

I have a feeling some of them might have expected the artists invited to this Jan. 24 concert to be present, giving at least a minimum amount of interesting video. Unfortunately, though this lockout affects dozens of people who know media very well, the union failed to create an event that would be interesting enough to capture the media’s attention.

I noticed that fellow media-watchers like Nathalie Collard, Steve Proulx and Stéphane Baillargeon weren’t at the press conference either. That’s perfectly understandable. They’ve all written quite a bit about the lockout, and wouldn’t have learned anything new here they couldn’t pick up from the press release that was published during the press conference: there’s a concert with Les Zapartistes, Bernard Adamus, Karkwa and Damien Robitaille, and nothing earth-shattering on the negotiation front. To have them transcribe a predictable statement from these people and then try to get a reaction from Quebecor would have been a waste of their talents. (Fortunately, I have no problem wasting my time on stuff like this.)

Notice the banner covering the window, reducing the amount of light coming in

On my way to the press conference, I bumped into a colleague in the journalism business, and we briefly discussed the lockout and how other journalists deal with it. We disagreed on whether people feel free to criticize the locked-out workers and are too afraid to be seen as cooperating with Quebecor (see Deschamps, Yvon). I have, on occasion, been critical of the union’s positions and of Rue Frontenac (as I’m being here) without feeling as though I would be attacked for it or be punished for it somehow. (Then again, I haven’t given any exclusive interviews to the Journal, either.)

But this all makes me wonder: Are we just getting tired of this conflict? The “253” workers who have been “on the street” for two years certainly are. Even if they’re still getting paid a significant salary, even if they’re playing in a media sandbox where they can do just about whatever they like without having to answer to any big corporate boss, even if they know most of them will probably never again set foot in the building at 4545 Frontenac St. The uncertainty of the future, living in limbo, it must get tiring after a while.

The rest of us, meanwhile, even those who follow the local media and think that the Journal de Montréal conflict is the biggest story of the past two years, we’ve run out of things to say. Negotiations are barely proceeding (Jean-François Lisée notwithstanding) and in some cases even going backwards. Even the name of this show they’re organizing, Le Show du cadenas 2, reflects that Year 2 of this lockout is just the same as Year 1, and Year 3 probably won’t be any different.

The print version of Rue Frontenac has spiced things up a bit, but even then the tiredness sets in. Richard Bousquet, who coordinates that project, took a two-week vacation over the holidays after working seven days a week on it since August.

Everyone is tired of this. But both sides will keep struggling to push ahead, and there’s no end in sight.

The Show du Cadenas 2 is at 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 24, at Metropolis. Tickets are $20 at Admission or the STIJM/Rue Frontenac offices just north of the Journal de Montréal.

UPDATE (Jan. 31): Video highlights of the show from Rue Frontenac.