Tag Archives: newspapers

O, I C

A Cmore tag on A2 of Tuesday's Gazette

Gazette publisher and editor-in-chief Alan Allnutt introduced a new feature in today’s paper: articles are being outfitted with little boxes containing keywords, which when texted to a special short code sends an email with a link to the article (and any online extras attached to it).

It’s a three-month pilot project being tested by The Gazette and the Calgary Herald. The technology side is handled by Montreal-based Cmore Media (not to be confused with C-More Systems, which makes gun sights).

The idea is similar to the one that has led to 2D barcodes appearing in newspapers such as the National Post: It’s a way to bridge the gap between the non-electronic physical newspaper and the endless possibilities of Internet communication. People who want to get online-only extras related to a story or who want to share the URL with friends online have to go to the newspaper’s website and search for the story. This is inconvenient, so these tags are designed to make it automatic, taking advantage of the fact that people carry cellphones with them wherever they go.

But while Scanlife, the system used by the Post, requires a mobile device to have a camera and a special application, the Cmore system requires only the ability to send a text message (and the patience to do so).

Here’s how it works:

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Don’t call the newspaper worthless

It’s a cute little video from Search Engine’s Jesse Brown, making a point about how newspapers aren’t all that. And his arguments are valid – there are a lot of ads, wire service stories, opinions, comics, games and other not-original-news in your local newspaper.

But what bothered me was the implied conclusion: Newspapers are so full of not-news that they don’t deserve to be saved. They should be left to die, because they’re worthless.

This, while he’s holding up a copy of the Toronto Star.

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The Daily Miracle: Exaggerated, but only slightly

(From left) Arthur Holden, Jean-Guy Bouchard, Ellen David, Sheena Gazé-Deslandes and Howard Rosenstein in David Sherman's The Daily Miracle

Over the weekend, I joined a group of journalists (in fact, two distinct groups – one veteran and one up-and-coming) to see a production of the Infinitheatre play The Daily Miracle, written by former Gazette copy editor David Sherman.

I’ll spare you the usual theatre review stuff, because (a) I’m not a theatre critic and (b) it’s already been talked about in The Gazette (along with a feature article), La Presse, Mirror, Hour, the Suburbanthe West Island Chronicle, the McGill Tribune, the Concordian, the Link, Le Quatrième and maybe some other places too.

We’d first heard about this play years ago, when Sherman left his copy editing job at The Gazette. By the time he made his leave permanent to become a playwright (and work on his first play Have a Heart for Centaur), there were rumours floating that he would use the copy desk as the basis for a production – and the editors potentially as models for his characters.

I should add here that I know Sherman – he was a copy editor when I was an intern at The Gazette, and he was one of the people who I got the most on-the-job training from.

Though I got a sneak preview at a reading a while back, the people I went with on Saturday didn’t quite know what to expect from this play. Though the name of the newspaper is the Montreal Star (taken from the former newspaper of the same name – they even used the same logo on computer screens and papers on set) and its parent company is called WestPress, it’s pretty clear which major newspaper the play is based on. Even some of the characters are familiar, either as composites (Gazé-Deslandes’s Carrie, the pretty young desk intern) or as near-ripoffs (Jean-Guy Bouchard’s Roland reminded most of my former colleagues of a particular person with a similar personality and accent).

But what’s most familiar is the work. The play, staged at the Bain St-Michel (literally inside a pool that had been converted into a theatre) is set in real time, between the 10:30pm first edition deadline and the midnight final. It’s a time when copy editors and other night staff get chatty (the stress of making first edition deadline having just been lifted) and start airing their grievances with the paper and the news industry, along with spreading personal gossip.

It’s hard to evaluate the play objectively because I’m so familiar with what it’s based on. It’s the life I lived for three and a half years at The Gazette. I know the terminology, I know the stress, and I know the characters and their roles.

Still, for the benefit of those who don’t work on a copy desk, I can tell you that what happens in this play is a dramatization. I for one never saw anyone come to work five hours late, pop pills like they were candy and start sexually assaulting his coworkers. But maybe it’s just because I wasn’t there in the old days.

One of the people who saw the play the same night as me was Thomas de Lorimier, who works as a copy editor at La Presse. He agreed that there was a lot more drama here than you’d see on a normal night (but then, that what we’d want in an entertaining play, right?) but that the elements of the characters’ personalities and the way things work are what you’ll find on the copy desk of a major newspaper. A line about how disasters in China need a triple-digit death count before becoming news is entirely true. Having a picture of a pop diva on the cover solely because she’s famous and she performed at the Bell Centre that night is also spot on, as are the staff’s reactions to the burying of (what they considered to be) real news in order to emphasize fluff.

One thing de Lorimier and I both agreed on that was missing from the play was pun-offs. That’s when an editor takes a story and makes a really bad pun (like saying Haiti’s “all shook up”) and other editors jump in with even worse ones. It’s part defence mechanism against the horrors of life they’re exposed to on a daily basis, and partly a way to hone their skills as wordsmiths.

It’s a skill Sherman clearly doesn’t need too much help with, judging by this play.

If you’re interested in getting a dramatic look at a newspaper’s news desk on deadline, The Daily Miracle is a good way to spend an evening. It’s on every night until Sunday, Feb. 14. Details at Infinitheatre.com

The new Page 1 Story

It’s that time of year again, when journalists all take their vacations, the B-teams take over to deal with any breaking news (like, say, an unscheduled mob shooting), and the news media fill the lack of news with retrospectives of the year gone by, the journalistic equivalent of a clip show.

The Gazette devotes a page a day over 10 days to the subject, looking back at both 2009 and the 2000s as a whole.

Dave Bist, a highly-respected senior news editor at The Gazette, wrote one of those year-in-retrospective stories for Sunday’s paper about the Michael Jackson story, and his decision not to tear up the front page to run with it.

His reasoning was that by the morning after, everyone would have known that Jackson was dead (including readers of montrealgazette.com, where the story was played up), and because The Gazette had nothing original to offer on the story (the original plan for A1 had a Gazette exclusive, albeit a small one). So instead, Jackson took over the skybox above the Page 1 flag, as well as a large part of the Arts section inside.

It’s a decision that makes sense, but wouldn’t have 15 years ago before the creation of the Internet. Though I worry a bit sometimes about newspapers being so desperate to “advance” a story that they neglect to mention what actually happened for the record (like, say, “Man walks moon“). People still pick up newspapers even if they know what the story is, just to see it on paper. Barack Obama’s election, the Alouettes’ Grey Cup win, or the next Canadiens Stanley Cup, which should come any time now. If I pick up the paper, I want to see “Canadiens win Cup”, not “RDS hurries to schedule parade coverage after NHL playoffs end early”, even if the latter advances the story.

And while the print world considers what to do about their front pages, the online world is still trying to figure out how to balance so-called “top stories”. Right now, the emphasis seems to be on time more than importance – big news websites are expected to change their top story on an almost hourly basis, unless the story is so important that it trumps all others. People complain when they see that the top story is about some recent traffic accident or something sports-related, but they’re applying the old newspaper Page 1 logic to the Internet.

I’m still conflicted about it. This blog is strictly chronological, so an important feature might be pushed down by some funny cat video I found online a few minutes later. That clearly doesn’t work for a large media organization that has so much content that nobody should be expected to read it all. But keeping the same story up for hours or even days at a time makes it boring and discourages people from coming back.

Ideally, we’d have a dual system, where you can check the top story on the homepage or see the stories posted chronologically, depending on your preference (the Toronto Star is trying something like that). And, of course, tagging, RSS feeds and topic pages means the homepage won’t be the point of entry for many visitors.

So maybe this whole discussion will become irrelevant.

We’re Number 2.7!

Lookin' good

Lookin' good

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (the people who measure how many people subscribe to newspapers, as opposed to NADbank which measures how many people read them) has released numbers for this summer.

Media In Canada looks at the national numbers, and InfoPresse looks at Quebec. Both cite The Gazette as bucking the trend, with a 2.7% increase (it went up more than that in the spring numbers).

The National Post went down considerably (20% due mostly, I’m guessing, to their decision to not publish Mondays this summer), the Globe went down too (8%), as did Le Soleil (5%) and, just barely, La Presse and Le Devoir (less than 1%).

Sun Media, which owns the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec, is part of rival CCAB, and so numbers aren’t available for those newspapers.

Still, a conclusion is hard not to reach here. The Gazette is the only paper with a significant circulation increase, and it is also the only paper that currently employs me.

I expect my huge bonus cheque will be waiting for me in my office mailbox this week.

The Link looks at media democracy

The Link, one of the student-run papers at Concordia University, focuses this week on the challenges facing the news media in its Media Democracy special issue.

The eight-page insert is part of the weekly paper, available for free on campus or for download in this 10MB PDF file. Or you can read the stories online.

Among the articles is this interview with some know-it-all complaining about his doomed career.

Also in this section:

The Free Press ain’t free

Rumours, reported by the CBC last week, that the Winnipeg Free Press would cut its Sunday edition and simultaneously come out with a newsstand-only Sunday tabloid have turned out to be exactly true.

Friday’s paper contained a headline noting the most important part of the story: “More in Saturday Free Press“!

Yeah. So the newspaper will, starting Oct. 31/Nov. 1, be moving some Sunday regular features (i.e. comics) to the Saturday paper, and the new Sunday tabloid (called “On7“) will be newsstand-only to save on the cost of home delivery (the FP story even suggests carriers will welcome this news because they’d get to sleep in once a week).

What the story doesn’t say is that seven-day subscription rates, now that they have become six-day subscription rates, won’t change. On7 will be $1 or $1.25 an issue.

It’s true that La Presse (Sundays) and the Victoria Times-Colonist (Mondays) have cut a day off the week, and the National Post did so temporarily this summer (Mondays). But none of those was paired with a new product that they refused to deliver to home subscribers.

As the union told the CBC: “If you are a seven-day home subscriber, you will have to go out and buy this product. I would be a little p-o’d at that.”

One organization that’s not pissed off is the competition, the Winnipeg Sun. Their article on the subject points out that the Sun will be the only paper with home delivery on Sundays, offers quotes from the Sun’s publisher saying if they subscribe to his paper, “after a week or two I’ll bet they won’t miss their old paper at all”, and even helpfully offers the phone number of their circulation department.

Stay classy, Sun.

Rue Frontenac, paper edition

Rue Frontenac, with Quebecor's Journal de Montréal and 24 Heures

Rue Frontenac, with Quebecor's Journal de Montréal and 24 Heures

As Montreal’s favourite hockey team suffered yet another preseason loss, many fans had in their hands a new newspaper put together by some very experienced journalists. Rue Frontenac, the news website put together by the 253 locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal since January, put together its first printed product, a special section on the Canadiens.

You’ll recall that when the Journal de Québec was locked out in 2007-08, they printed their own free newspaper MédiaMatinQuébec to compete with their employer as a pressure tactic. When the Journal de Montréal faced the same fate, it was determined that the larger city, not to mention the existence of two free dailies (one owned by Quebecor) meant doing the same here wouldn’t work as well, so it was decided that RueFrontenac.com would be an online-only operation.

But then, online only gets you so far.

The publication, coordinated by Jean-Guy Fuguère, is strictly a Canadiens season lookahead, with commentary from veterans like Marc De Foy and Bertrand Raymond, as well as union-sympathizing stars Martin Brodeur and Jacques Demers. It’s 40 pages long, and has a few advertisements, from Molson, Chambly Mazda, various unions and Georges Laraque’s WeTeam Ice.

You can get it in PDF format on Rue Frontenac’s website. They will also be distributing 50,000 copies of the paper over the coming days.

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Can you feel the love, t.o.night?

t.o.night, the new free Toronto evening newspaper, launched on Tuesday.

Reaction has been mixed:

  • blogTO, which is a content partner with t.o.night (the paper has a page devoted to content from the blog), has a blog post with pictures of Day 1.
  • Torontoist, which is blogTO’s main competitor in the Toronto alt-blog scene, has a much more critical post which picks out all of t.o.night’s flaws (making the blog look a bit like sour grapes in the process).
  • Eye Weekly is also highly critical of t.o.night, predicting it won’t last because of its many flaws (like misspelling a word on the front page).

CBC and the Doon Valley Journal have previews of the new paper.

The Bluffer’s Guide this week in The Gazette looks at t.o.night and evening newspapers in general. It also debunks one of the arguments used by t.o.night’s backers that this concept worked in London (England) by pointing out that the free evening daily there probably won’t last another month.

I can feel it coming in the air: t.o.night (UPDATED)

Note: This post has been updated with clarifications and a correction from a blogTO comment below.

t.o.night newspaper mockup from Blog.TO

t.o.night newspaper mockup from BlogTO

It’s being compared to Dose because it’s new, hip and aimed at a younger audience. The comparison is perhaps more apt because it’s a cheap junk rag in an over-saturated market that’s doomed to inevitable failure within two years.

It’s called “t.o.night“, it’s a free, advertising-supported newspaper which will be distributed in Toronto in the fall. It will contain mostly wire copy and wire images with a minimum of local content and no original journalism, and will be handed out to transit users.

Now, you ask, how is this different from Metro or 24 Hours, which have that exact same business model (ditto for Dose)? Well, t.o.night will be an afternoon paper, and will be printed on glossy paper. Ta-Da!

The brainchild behind this newspaper launch in quite possibly the worst market for newspaper launches ever is a 24-year-old business school graduate who saw a similar thing in Melbourne, Australia, and thought it could work here.

Of course, there are differences between Melbourne and Toronto. Melbourne only has two major dailies, and no freesheet competition. Toronto is home to two major local dailies (the Star and Sun), two freesheets (Metro and 24 Hours) and two “national” newspapers that obsess about everything Toronto (the National Post and Globe and Mail). Metro, the Globe reports, has tried afternoon papers and failed for various logistical reasons.

Part of me kind of likes the idea of an afternoon paper which can set itself apart by at least having different news than the morning papers. But afternoon papers died off for good reasons, and coming out at a different time isn’t going to be enough for t.o.night to separate itself from the other freesheets.

One thing that t.o.night is doing different is getting content from blogs. It has reached a “partnership” with blogTO (the sister publication of Montreal’s Midnight Poutine) to use its content, similar I suppose to the deal its competitor Torontoist has with the Globe and Mail (UPDATE: Except as blogTO’s Tim clarified below, that the Torontoist/Globe deal involves website links, and the blogTO deal involves actual syndication of content in the printed paper).

The hitch, of course, is that blogTO doesn’t pay its contributors (UPDATE: Though it does pay its regular editorial staff). So t.o.night is trying to take the blog’s idea of making money off the free work of others (oh but don’t worry, they’ll get a byline!) Tim says that unpaid “community contributions” won’t appear in t.o.night, only the work of paid writers. He wouldn’t say how much blogTO’s writers are paid.

As much as I like seeing a new voice in the newspaper scene, I have to agree with Torontoist’s skepticism here (even though it can’t really criticize blogTO without being hypocritical): the paper will offer little of value (basically anything that breaks after the morning papers go to press and that Canadian Press can publish before 11am), and will only serve to dilute the market for advertising at a time when the other papers can least handle a drop in ad revenue.

Then again, maybe it will finally make commuters realize that a free newspaper with nothing but wire copy and advertising isn’t worth even that price.

UPDATE: A quick hit from the New York Times’ media blog.

Print media isn’t dead yet, SF Chronicle hopes

The San Francisco Chronicle’s 15-year deal with Montreal-based Transcontinental to print its newspaper officially began today, and the paper heralded the new (outsourced) presses that allow for more colour. That, of course, is being mocked in the usual places.

You’ll recall that Transcontinental signed an 18-year deal with the Globe and Mail to print their newspaper last year.

UPDATE: A short piece in the New York Times that questions the point.

Dimanche vide

"Bienvenue aux lecteurs du dimanche" reads the Gazette

"Bienvenue aux lecteurs du dimanche" reads the Gazette

Well that’s it. There’s no La Presse today, and there won’t be any next Sunday, or the Sunday after that.

The painful decision to cut out the most expendable of the seven daily editions, made last month, has finally seen its effect. Except for a blog post from Chantal Guy, there isn’t much mention of it today, probably because everything has already been said.

I’ll note a couple of things though, both involving my newspaper. First is that today’s cover has a note which I’m sure some old lady in the West Island will ask to have translated for her, welcoming former La Presse readers who are so desperate for a paper to read on Sunday that they’ll grab the anglo rag. There’s no article inside or anything, just the banner.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a newspaper has tried to move in on the Sunday market left empty by another:

The other is a notice in yesterday’s paper that warns readers in some far-away areas that the delivery of their Sunday paper will be delayed because The Gazette subcontracted delivery in those areas to La Presse and now there’s no one to bring their newspapers to them. It’s one of those little secrets of newspapers that often the same person will deliver competing papers to an area (especially when there are few readers in that area, as one would expect for Trois Rivières and Sorel). La Presse’s cancellation of its Sunday edition was sudden and caught my paper a bit flat-footed.


... and again the next week

... and again the next week

Another newspaper doesn’t like Mondays

Message from the publisher in Victoria Times-Colonist, May 9, Page A2

Message from the publisher in Victoria Times-Colonist, May 9, Page A2

The Victoria Times-Colonist announced in Saturday’s paper that, because of the weakened economy and the business crisis facing newspapers, the TC will stop printing on Mondays as of June 22.

That’s a week before the National Post does a similar cost-cutting measure. The difference is that the TC move isn’t temporary and they’re not producing a smaller online-only edition, just promising to post breaking news online seven days a week.

(The TC story is closed to comments, but the Globe and Mail story about it is open.)

The Times-Colonist case is also unusual because the newspaper will still print both Saturdays and Sundays. Unlike most other Canadian newspapers, the TC has a strong Sunday paper with plenty of advertising.

I’m not sure if this is a coincidence, but the this-week-in-history column in Sunday’s paper focuses on the decision of Victoria’s two newspapers, the Times and Colonist, to move in together and share space, though keep their editorial matters separate. We all know how that turned out.