I was going to do some interviews and put together a story about two major changes at senior management at Le Devoir, but it would be hard to top Le Devoir’s coverage of itself.
For those who don’t know yet, Bernard Descôteaux, whose title is “directeur” but basically meaning publisher, announced last summer he’s retiring after 42 years with the newspaper. That retirement took effect on Saturday. His replacement is Brian Myles, a former Le Devoir journalist and former president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec.
As Canadian newspapers have gone back and forth over the idea of charging online readers directly for access to content, trying to find that sweet spot between encouraging them to subscribe to read high-quality reporting and getting as much ad revenue as possible through traffic to popular stories, one newspaper’s strategy has stayed the same for the past decade.
People without subscriptions will now be able to access 10 paid articles per month before the paywall comes down. (And, of course, as with any metered paywall, there are many ways around that restriction.)
After La Presse and the Montreal Gazette, Le Devoir has become the latest Montreal newspaper to launch an enhanced tablet app.
Le Devoir’s app, which like its website is available only to paid subscribers (but is free until Dec. 8), isn’t as flashy as its competitors, but it does offer some nice features, including working crossword puzzles and the ability to read in portrait or landscape mode (La Presse+ and the Gazette app are landscape-only). The app is also meant to be read offline after downloading.
It’s available for both the iPad (iPad 2+) and Android tablets (OS 4.4 and above). It promises each edition (Monday to Saturday) will be ready by 4am.
If you don’t subscribe to Le Devoir, you can buy each issue for $1.99. Or you can get a web-and-tablet subscription with no delivery for $17.75 a month, or a digital subscription plus Saturday-only paper delivery for $19.75 a month.
Though it remains the only major newspaper in Quebec to charge readers for complete access to its website, Le Devoir apparently wants to increase the scope of its paywall, and is starting a pilot project that could see users paying for Twitter updates.
How it would work isn’t too complicated: It takes advantage of a Twitter feature that allows people to protect their accounts and only allow those who are authorized to receive their tweets. The trick is coordinating the paper’s subscriber database (those who subscribe to Le Devoir would get the tweets for free) with some way of automatically authorizing (and de-authorizing, as the case may be) access to the Twitter accounts.
Le Devoir’s Web technology team says it’s just about ready to begin wide testing of this new system, for a full public launch sometime in the summer. It’ll be up to the marketing and editorial sides to find a way to make readers want to pay to read updates from the paper’s columnists and reporters.
Whether anyone will pay for bits of information 140 characters at a time is the big question. But Le Devoir’s paywall exists, so why not extend it to Twitter?
Continuing its year-long project of pretending everyone cares about its 100-year history, Le Devoir has launched a podcast (“baladodiffusion”, in the proper français), in which it invites people to tell stories about the past century. To kick it off, Clémence Desrochers talks about the 1955 Rocket Richard Riot, and Claude Robinson talks about Nelson Mandela.
They’re short vignettes, 7-8 minutes long. No interviews, just someone telling a story with a bit of music in the background.
Maybe this will appeal to some people, but to me, if you’re just going to read some text into a microphone and call it a podcast, why not just give us the text and let us read it to ourselves?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps there’s a value to having Claude Robinson read stuff to you. You be the judge.
But as much as I’m fascinated with the minutiae of the inner workings of the media, I’ll recommend giving this one a pass. It’s background noise, and there isn’t much said. No screaming of “on tue la une!” or other newspaper clichés.
Newspaper newsrooms are, in fact, very quiet places. There are reporters on the phone with police or other sources, editors conferring with each other on matters important and trivial, and the usual office gossip during downtimes. But otherwise, it’s quiet as reporters type their stories, and editors read and proofread.
Unless something crazy is happening, or you’re in a meeting, there’s just not anything interesting to listen to.
100 years ago today, Henri Bourassa published the first issue of a newspaper he somewhat arrogantly called Le Devoir. It was a different time then, both in terms of technology (there was no concept of desktop publishing as there is now) and in terms of politics (the paper was nationalist, but that meant they wanted independence from London, not Ottawa).
For those unfamiliar with the archive, it scans countless newspaper pages, subjects them to optical character recognition, and encodes it all in a vast database. From there, you can search for stuff and it’ll take you right to the newspaper page in question, highlighting the appropriate text.
The system isn’t perfect. Some dates are wrong, some newspapers mislabelled. And the text you’re looking for might have gotten garbled up in the OCR machine.
And not every issue is there, so you might get disappointed if you’re looking for a particular issue or article.
Le Devoir’s archives are also online, though Google’s newspaper search algorithm seeks out block of what it considers legible text, so what comes out are those bits of English that have been published in the newspaper.
A month ago, Le Devoir launched a redesign of its website. It lasted only a few hours until, crippled by technical problems, it reverted back to its old design.
Now the newspaper has tried again, with the same design, but hopefully a more robust back end.
The look is a huge change from the previous design (you can see a gallery of previous designs at the end of this article explaining the new website). It looks a lot more professional, in both the good and bad ways. It’s slick, but it’s very busy. It has a lot of unnecessary text on homepages. Those homepages are also long:
Really long Le Devoir homepage
Despite the visual changes, the essentials are the same. Le Devoir remains one of the few dailies in the country to restrict some content to paid subscribers. Uncoincidentally, it also features ads very prominently offering subscriptions.
One thing I notice right off is that while they now have photo galleries, there is no way to link directly to a Garnotte cartoon (unless I link directly to the JPEG file). It’s a common problem with newspaper websites big and small.
Le Devoir today has a series of articles about the 15th anniversary of Canal D, the documentary/educational network launched on Jan. 1, 1995. About half are subscriber-locked, but there’s some open ones worth reading:
A piece about Canal D’s programming, which includes a brief mention of my favouritest show ever, Mayday. Mayday is produced in Quebec for both Canal D and the Discovery Channel, and with the help of its massive tax credits, is exported to countries around the world.
Le Devoir has a whole special today on Wikipedia (I’m not quite sure why). Half of it is subscriber-blocked, but the main story is free. Seems they’ve found some errors in Wikipedia articles about Quebec history.
It ignores the fact that Wikipedia has never said it should be trusted. It doesn’t want to be trusted. It asks people – pleads with them – to check every fact in every article (and correct/cite those that are wrong). It is not designed to be a source of information, it is designed to be a summary of information with clear citations.
And, of course, Wikipedia would never have achieved all this popularity if it wasn’t immensely useful as a resource in the first place.
The problem isn’t Wikipedia, it’s that people have been taught to believe everything they read without question. You could argue that this isn’t a proper way to setup an encyclopedia, and if so you’re welcome to use all the other failed Wikipedia-you-can-trust experiments out there.