Tag Archives: Rue Frontenac

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.

Rue Frontenac is dead

And so it ended, not with a bang, but with … I don’t know how to describe it.

As Montrealers were celebrating Canada Day and moving their stuff into their new apartments, the online news outlet Rue Frontenac, that began as a pressure tactic of locked-out Journal de Montréal workers and made of itself a solid source of news and investigative journalism, quietly shut down.

The website remains, but stripped of all its content. Its empty shell has been taken over by a new owner, whose identity is protected by a confidentiality agreement (UPDATE: The new owner, Marcel Boisvert, has revealed himself in an open letter). Negotiations about keeping Rue Frontenac running were unsuccessful, and all the writers, photographers, editors and others who shunned a return to the Journal or other jobs to try to keep Rue Frontenac running on its own have quit their project in apparent disgust.

The writing has unfortunately been on the wall since the Journal de Montréal lockout ended this spring. Salaries haven’t been paid since the end of April, and it wasn’t long before the organization that had split from the union filed for creditor protection. There was hope for a big name to come in with money and take over, then when that didn’t work they regained hope with another potential suitor. But for reasons that will probably only become clear once we know who this second party is, their ownership of Rue Frontenac caused everyone to leave.

It’s too early to say what these highly skilled journalists will do now. Most long ruled out rejoining the Journal de Montréal (in fact, only one news reporter and three sports reporters went back to their jobs, which required the paper to actually post for the remaining positions and hire new reporters). The most likely scenario is they go their separate ways, working for other media, freelancing (as many already do), writing books or doing other stuff.

It’s sad to see Rue Frontenac go. But let’s be honest, it’s for the best. Rue Frontenac wanted to be a generalist French-language news source in a market that was already oversaturated with competition. It was too big a project for two small a slice of the audience pie. Now those talented journalists can get on with their lives.

It’s also sad to see all the work done over the past two and a half years disappear from the Internet. Links to Rue Frontenac stories no longer work, and so far there’s no online archive of the stuff they posted. It’s a situation similar to what happened to MédiaMatinQuébec after the Journal de Québec lockout, although for a different reason. (UPDATE: Rue Frontenac’s archives have been reposted to ExRueFrontenac.com)

You can read more about the end of Rue Frontenac, including some interviews with its leaders, in stories from:

UPDATE (July 4): Marcel Boisvert’s open letter, which seems to present a reasonable case for why he thinks he’s the victim here, opens up a lot of new questions (and caused a lot of bitter comments from the Rue Frontenac people on Twitter). The letter is summarized in Le Devoir. I’ll try to make some sense out of this whole thing in the coming days if another journalist doesn’t beat me to it.

Also: Radio-Canada’s Pénélope McQuade interviews Jean-François Codère.

Rue Frontenac ends paper edition

Rue Frontenac has been publishing weekly since October

Citing an unsustainable business model that was based on advertising revenue that never materialized, Rue Frontenac coordinator Richard Bousquet announced on Wednesday that the publication of formerly-locked-out Journal de Montréal workers will no longer be publishing a weekly printed edition.

Rue Frontenac has published weekly on Thursdays since October. Small, squarish, with all its pages in full-colour and very little advertising.

When I talked to Bousquet in January on the anniversary of the lockout, he said that advertising was starting to pick up, and that the big problem was that so many marketing companies plan advertising campaigns months in advance, that they want the stability of a paper they know will last that long. Bousquet mentions in his piece that large companies and even governments prefer to deal with ad placement agencies for the sake of simplification, and that made it difficult for Rue Frontenac.

Though it was played down at the time, there was also the nervousness from some businesses about antagonizing the Journal de Montréal, something that was expected to end when the lockout was ended with Quebecor apparently blessing the continuation of the newspaper and website.

In the end, though, I think the biggest problem goes to the larger problem of Rue Frontenac’s business model. Not only do they have far more journalists than they can afford, but they’re trying to squeeze into the most overserved market in Canada: Francophone Montrealers. They’re fighting against five daily newspapers, including two free ones that are handed out every weekday morning outside metro stations. Rue Frontenac, meanwhile, is distributed like an alternative weekly, with distribution points in bars, supermarkets, restaurants and random places where the papers can easily be forgotten or missed among the dozens of others vying for attention.

So now Rue Frontenac will focus its efforts on its website. Bousquet notes that it’s growing in popularity – if not so much in advertising revenue – and there are no plans to end that part of the project.

But part of the idea behind a printed edition of Rue Frontenac was to provide enough revenue to at least partially subsidize the work of journalists who report online.

Now they’ll have to find some other way to make money. Even though the lockout ended more than two months ago, Bousquet and his team are still trying to figure out a viable business model.

If I can offer one piece of advice, the most important move they will make in that direction will be finding a niche audience that is willing to give them a lot of attention or a decent amount of money. Billing itself as a generalist news publication that’s just better journalism than the Journal de Montréal isn’t going to work in a market that has Le Devoir, La Presse, Radio-Canada and others.

Gesca to buy Rue Frontenac

Rue Frontenac's journalists would be pulled out of their spartan newsroom and given proper offices in the deal

It makes perfect sense, and yet it makes none.

According to senior officials, Rue Frontenac (the website and weekly newspaper run by locked-out employees of the Journal de Montréal that was set to split off into an independent company after a new labour contract was approved) is being purchased by Gesca, publisher of La Presse.

The deal, which would need to be ratified at a meeting likely to take place over the next couple of weeks, will see the website and newspaper purchased for a nominal fee (probably $1) and its remaining employees (those who haven’t returned to the Journal or taken retirement) offered employment within Gesca. Though the details have yet to be finalized, the most likely scenario would see Rue Frontenac published as a weekly insert to Gesca’s seven daily newspapers (six in Quebec, plus Ottawa’s Le Droit) that focuses on investigative reporting. A source within La Presse said that, for now, there are no plans to make major changes to the content of the newspaper, though in time Rue Frontenac’s journalists and other workers would be expected to integrate into newsrooms of La Presse and other papers. This also means that the paper’s current offices on Iberville St. would be vacated, either turned back to the Journal’s union or simply abandoned altogether.

The reaction of those employees who have heard about the deal is mixed. Most are a bit troubled that this essentially amounts to a takeover by a big media enterprise, and would have preferred that Rue Frontenac remain independent. But even the most hardcore of RF faithful know that the offer of employment to those who would otherwise be struggling to pay the bills is an offer too good to pass up.

“Our goal was to make sure everyone here could go back to work, and this offer gives them exactly that,” said one member of Rue Frontenac’s managerial committee who asked not to be named. “The downside is minimal comparatively.”

After the plan is approved, it would still take weeks, maybe months for the integration to be complete. Until then, the plan is to keep everything status quo. Rue Frontenac will still appear on Thursdays on newsstands, with breaking news at ruefrontenac.com.

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 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.

Rue Frontenac hits the streets

The first edition of the Rue Frontenac weekly (a collector's edition!)

Rue Frontenac, the website run by locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal, launched a paper version of its public-relations campaign on Thursday morning.

The first edition of what will become a weekly newspaper is 48 pages, all of them colour.

It has a cover piece by Gabrielle Duchaine on how some pregnancy crisis centres hide their militant anti-abortion stance in order to manipulate expectant mothers. (Online, the piece is presented as a Flash graphic.) There are also interviews with Guy A. Lepage (one of Rue Frontenac’s biggest supporters among the artistic community – the paper rewards him by devoting an entire page to showing just his head bigger-than-life-size) and Louis Morissette, a piece about how Quebecor has pulled ads from Le Devoir (supposedly as punishment for Le Devoir’s criticisms of the Journal), and the usual arts and sports news you’d find in a newspaper, plus some puzzles.

Notably, though, there is no wire content (and, of course, no advertorials). All of the articles are written by Rue Frontenac’s journalists. This means the paper won’t present anything close to a complete perspective on the news, but the point is to show that they can still produce serious, quality journalism worth its weight in gold.

Only time will tell whether it’s worth the price. It’s not cheap to print 75,000 copies of a newspaper.

This is the second time Rue Frontenac has actually printed on newsprint. A one-off special issue last year at the start of the Canadiens’ season appears to have been well received, at least enough for them to try again.

The paper has advertising, the vast majority of which is from other unions. There are also ads from sympathetic left-wing politicians including Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir, the Projet Montréal Plateau team, and NDP MP Thomas Mulcair.

A man hands out copies of the Journal de Montréal for free outside the Mont-Royal metro station

It was 8:30am on Thursday as I came out of the Mont-Royal metro station, the heart of the Plateau. Just inside the doors was a man in an orange vest handing out copies of Metro. Just outside, another man in another vest handing out copies of 24 Heures. Next to him, a lady in a La Presse hat handing out free copies of La Presse. And nearby, what I had originally confused for a homeless man handing out free copies of the Journal de Montréal.

For the most part, commuters breeze by not touching any newsprint. Some will pick a paper they like, or just take the ones that normally aren’t free. Some collect the different papers.

What’s clear is that even here, in the plateau known for its “clique” and which elected Québec solidaire’s only MNA so far, any effect of the Journal de Montréal conflict on its newspaper’s popularity is invisible. People young and old, poor and rich were taking copies of the newspaper at the same rate as those who took La Presse or the free papers. The fact that it is heavily reliant on wire copy and overhyped articles from its remaining managers seems to be of little consequence to those rushing to work in the morning.

That, above all, is what Rue Frontenac has to fight: indifference to their cause from regular folk. The paper might put enough wandering eyes on the quality of their journalism to make an impact. Or it might just annoy Pierre Karl Péladeau even though it’s not doing him much harm. Or it might do nothing, coexisting with its writers’ previous employer for months or years as a settlement of the conflict becomes no closer to arriving.

A stack of Rue Frontenac papers at a metro on Mont Royal Ave.

Not seeing any Rue Frontenacs at the metro station, I made my way eastward in the direction of the giant Journal de Montréal logo. I eventually picked up a copy at a recently opened Metro grocery store near the Journal’s offices. I was a bit surprised by this. Even though there were spaces for all sorts of publications, the fact that a major company would appear to take sides in the conflict is noteworthy. (Though the fact that the paper is distributed through Diffumag allows it to reach a lot of distribution points quickly.)

(Micro Boutique, a reseller of Apple products, also took a stance with a half-page ad in Rue Frontenac.)

A Google map shows the hundreds of distribution points for Rue Frontenac, spread out all over the city and surrounding region as far as Valleyfield, St. Jean sur Richelieu and Assomption. There are also distribution points in the Mauricie, Sherbrooke and Outaouais regions, and subscriptions are available for an unpublicized price.

A van appeals to Cardinal Turcotte to stop a lockout

Just across the parking lot from the Journal’s offices (and ironically just after the point where Frontenac St. turns into Iberville St.), a handful of union members at the offices of Rue Frontenac chat jovially before they pile into a van with a giant photo of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte on top. Even though this conflict has been going on for 21 months, morale hasn’t been as low as it had been expected to be. The rejection of a contract offer the union had considered insultingly bad brightened spirits and resolve even though it meant the conflict would last longer.

Maybe it’s naive. Or maybe it’ll work.

A typo in the website's address got by the proofreaders on Page 3.

More coverage

Rue Frontenac puts it on paper

Rue Frontenac's first attempt at a paper edition last September

You might remember last September, just before the start of the Canadiens’ season, the locked-out journalists and other workers of the Journal de Montréal published a special print edition. It was just a one-time thing, but it got read and now they want to try for something more permanent.

Last week, Rue Frontenac announced that a print edition would be made on a weekly basis (Thursdays) and distributed throughout the Montreal area (from St. Jerome to St. Jean sur Richelieu) starting in late October.

Like most newspapers these days, this one promises to have more features and analysis, keeping the day-to-day breaking news for the website.

The announcement was enough to prompt stories in other media:

From those stories we get some more details:

  • The paper will be called Rue Frontenac
  • Distribution will be a minimum of 50,000
  • The paper will be big – at least 48 pages to start
  • The union expects that non-labour costs will be paid by advertising and other revenue
  • Distribution will be through newsstands and in person by locked out workers (the other newspaper primarily distributed by handing it to people is 24 Heures, which is sure to make for some interesting mornings in front of metro stations)
  • BV!Media, which owns Branchez-Vous and provides online advertising for Rue Frontenac, will help supply advertising for the print product

The Gazette’s story also provides some stats on RueFrontenac.com: 300,000 unique visitors and 2.2 million page views monthly.

A paper edition was successful in Quebec City during the Journal de Québec lockout, mainly because there are no free daily newspapers in that city. In Montreal, there are two free dailies, three francophone subscription dailies, the weekly Voir, plus all the anglo publications, community newspapers and weekly news magazines.

It remains to be seen how many people will opt for the union paper over the many other options out there.

Fab Fabrice does the unfathomable

Fabrice de Pierrebourg

La Presse scored a major coup last week, hiring investigative reporter Fabrice de Pierrebourg, who has been breaking stories for Rue Frontenac since he and 252 others were locked out from the Journal de Montréal in January 2009, a lockout that just marked its 18-month anniversary.

De Pierrebourg was the posterboy for the lockoutés’ argument that the true value of the Journal de Montréal came from hard-working investigative journalists, which their newspaper has replaced with wire stories, freelance opinionators and overhyped reporting from managers.

Henry Aubin named him one of the “watchdogs of democracy” in December for his scoops about city hall and the municipal election campaign. He was just as useful before he got locked out, perhaps best known for breaching security at Trudeau airport to prove a point.

De Pierrebourg was also one of nine employees fired by the Journal for storming the office while locked out – as part of a peaceful but illegal demonstration – in July 2009. While Patrick Lagacé says it’s unrelated (because negotiations began weeks ago), de Pierrebourg tells Rue Frontenac that was the final straw.

The news of de Pierrebourg’s hiring was met with mixed reviews. It’s a huge move for La Presse (though not unprecedented – the guy who made the announcement was himself hired from the Journal de Montréal back in 2006).

And speaking of La Presse, I guess those financial problems that nearly forced them to shut down less than a year ago, until the union made serious concessions, are a thing of the past. Not only did they take on a new high-profile hire, but they’ve made 17 temporary workers permanent. (One of those workers I spoke to had no idea why, though that person wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

Aside from being good news for La Presse, de Pierrebourg’s hiring is also good for him. He has a proper job again. The anxiety and stress is gone.

It’s bad news for the Journal de Montréal (at least at first glance), which has lost a solid investigative reporter.

But it’s also bad for Rue Frontenac. And if the comments attached to its story are any indication, his now ex-colleagues are supportive of his escape but still saddened at losing a high-profile member of their cause.

The beginning of the end?

Though I hate to use the term “trend”, I have to wonder about who else might follow in de Pierrebourg’s footsteps. Bertrand Raymond, the most high-profile columnist on the picket lines, announced in January that he would “retire” – and never again return to the Journal.

Raymond has, of course, hardly retired. He writes now for RDS, putting out a column about twice a week on average. Like de Pierrebourg, Raymond has simply found an employer that he can live with.

Both Raymond and de Pierrebourg gave similar reasons for leaving: they couldn’t fathom the idea of going back to work for the Journal de Montréal, for Quebecor and the managers who put them out on the street.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jean-François Codère, when I interviewed Rue Frontenac’s technology guy in January. I asked him how they would be able to work out their differences with their managers once the conflict ends, and he said he didn’t know. Codère has turned down other job offers to stay at Rue Frontenac, but can he and the rest keep this up forever?

The Journal de Montréal isn’t showing any signs of cracking. It’s still publishing seven days a week (soon it will be the only Montreal newspaper to do so), and so much of the work of producing it is outsourced that they’ve made it seem almost transparent to its readers. (The number of people who have moral objections to reading a newspaper produced during a lockout are far outweighed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about it.)

De Pierrebourg said he felt bad leaving his colleagues at Rue Frontenac. He should. Not because what he did was wrong, but because whether he wanted to or not his departure hurts the cause of those still locked out.

As this labour conflict drags out into the long term, more departures like this are inevitable. Some who are close to retirement age will just decide to give up. Some who aren’t might take better jobs elsewhere. And as the union’s strike fund starts running out, the rest might not have a choice.

And as the cream of the crop gets poached, what’s left will be those who can’t get jobs elsewhere. Those who work in classified sales or other non-editorial jobs, who have spent decades in a highly specialized function that doesn’t translate well into the job market.

By then, the argument that the Journal is a lesser paper without these people begins to fall apart.

Evolution of a Habs scoop

Back in journalism school, one of my teachers put the class through a simulated process of editing a breaking news story for a multi-edition newspaper. A story would be written and edited, then new details emerge and get corrected, forcing a rewrite, and then the process would repeat itself.

I thought the exercise was a bit silly. I didn’t think real newspapers would function in such a way. As it turns out from five years working at a real, multi-edition newspaper, the exercise was surprisingly accurate.

Working as the late sports editor on Monday night, I went through this process with a relatively minor story.

Guy Boucher is the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, which is the farm team of the Canadiens. The Bulldogs play in the American Hockey League, and its players are routinely called up to Montreal to fill in for injured players.

There was a report that Boucher had gotten an offer to jump to the big leagues (even though he’d spent only a year with the Bulldogs, his first professional hockey team), becoming the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Monday came word that Boucher had turned down that offer.

Since the Bulldogs are related to the Canadiens, and Boucher is considered one of the candidates to replace Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin if he’s ever fired or quits (we don’t suspect either is imminent), this story was going to become the lead brief in Tuesday’s paper.

As the night went on, we received news from the Columbus Dispatch that the Blue Jackets had gone with their second choice, Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel. The brief had to be rewritten (it started off with “The Columbus Blue Jackets are still looking for a new head coach…”), but that was easily accomplished before first edition.

The scoop

At 10:59 p.m. Monday night, about a half hour after first edition, Rue Frontenac’s Martin Leclerc published a scoop that Boucher had accepted an offer to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It referred to three unnamed sources as confirming the news.

This news spread quickly, even at this late hour. A post on Habs Inside/Out was updated to reflect the new news, crediting Rue Frontenac. Habs-crazy broadcasters RDS and CKAC were reporting it, also offering credit where it was due.

Ironically, I learned about the story through a Canwest News Service report, also quoting Rue Frontenac. A Gazette editor later called to make sure I was aware of it.

Again, the brief had to be torn up and rewritten, starting with the latest news, but including the rest. (At this point there are three stories merged into one – Boucher turning down Columbus, Columbus hiring Arniel, and Boucher going to Tampa Bay.) An online story was also put together, crediting and linking to the Rue Frontenac report.

Few things are as embarrassing to a journalist – and a journalism organization – than having to admit you’ve been scooped. Because the report doesn’t list its sources – and because it’s late at night when usual sources are unavailable – there’s no way to independently verify the report. There’s no choice, really, you have to credit the news organization that broke the story. Otherwise, you’re putting your organization’s own reputation on the line if the story turns out to be false. It doesn’t matter how respected the other organization is, if they’re your only source you have to say so.

The multiplication of unnamed sources

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Rue Frontenac is the website published by locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal, a Quebecor publication. To say there’s animosity between these two publications is putting it mildly. There appears to be a policy at Quebecor’s news outlets that the term “Rue Frontenac” is never mentioned, even when they put out a scoop like this.

But Quebecor, the Journal and its Agence QMI couldn’t ignore the story and let everyone else report it. So while RDS, CKAC and The Gazette prominently referenced Rue Frontenac, an Agence QMI story referred to “certaines sources”. A different Agence QMI story credits the Tampa Bay Tribune for the scoop.

Except when you look at the Tampa Bay Tribune story, it credits “Montreal sports television outlet RDS”. And RDS, you’ll recall, credits Rue Frontenac.

Later in the night, TSN managed to get what seemed like a confirmation on the story. But by then, many news stories were already referring to “multiple sources” (say, “RDS and CKAC are reporting…”), even though all those sources led back to the same source.

That’s a journalistically dangerous problem when it comes to these kinds of reports. Improper sourcing leads to the impression that news outlets have gotten independent verification of a story, which leads to more news outlets reporting on it with increasingly vague sourcing. Eventually everyone is reporting it because everyone else is reporting it, and it becomes common knowledge. Readers, viewers and listeners are left with the impression that everyone has verified the report, when in fact it’s just one guy who’s said something on the Internet.

In this case, it seems the story was true, so all the news outlets win their gamble. Nobody has to make any apologies for getting it wrong (and Quebecor doesn’t have to say it relied on a report from its own locked-out journalist while refusing to credit him).

The next time this happens, they might not get so lucky.

Journal de Montréal, I wish I could quit you

Recognizing, I guess, that despite not having most of its journalists the Journal de Montréal is still putting out a paper every day and people are still reading it, the union representing the 253 locked-out employees has released a new ad comparing the evil newspaper to some sort of drug, and Rue Frontenac to the nicotine patch.

It’s cute, but it just reminds me that people are still reading the Journal. And I don’t think most of them are trying to stop.

Meanwhile, the union has also put up a 13-question FAQ for those who want to learn more about their position and what’s at stake in this conflict.

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.

Rue Frontenac and donation priorities

There’s a debate going on, sparked by Steve Proulx, about whether Montrealers should be directing their donations directly to Haiti relief than by funding a trip by journalists from Rue Frontenac to cover the devastation.

It’s a simple argument, but there are a lot of nuanced points to consider on both sides:

  • Donations aren’t always a zero-sum game (though “donor fatigue” was brought into the lexicon after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Different causes attract different people, and the difference may not be between donating to Rue Frontenac and donating to Haiti, but between donating to Rue Frontenac and keeping the money to oneself.
  • There are already plenty of journalists in Haiti covering it. Is there really an advantage to sending more of them, especially when they might put even more strain on the already struggling resources of the area? Especially when the stories they file, while very emotional, don’t provide much in the way of useful news?
  • People making these donations are grown-ups and can decide for themselves how much money goes to humanitarian causes and how much goes to fund journalism
  • If we accept this logic, then how will organizations like Spot.Us (Dominic Arpin notes the similarity between the two) that take donations for journalism ever be able to cover humanitarian crises?
  • Rue Frontenac is not a newspaper. It’s not a profit-making enterprise. Its purpose is technically as a pressure tactic in negotiations with the Journal de Montréal to get locked-out journalists and other employees back to work. It doesn’t need to send journalists to Haiti to prove itself.

I stopped by Rue Frontenac’s offices this week and had a chat with one of its journalists, Jean-François Codère. He argued that other news media sending journalists to Haiti (and everyone’s doing it – The Gazette, La Presse, TVA, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CTV, CBC among others) at much expense rather than donating money to relief causes.

Personally, I see both sides. I prefer to give my money to the Red Cross than Rue Frontenac because I think what Haiti is suffering from right now is not a lack of western journalists. But I don’t blame anyone for wanting to put a few bucks toward their plane tickets (their salaries are being paid out of the union’s strike fund). It’s their choice.

In any case, they’ve already got money and are reporting from Haiti. Vincent Larouche has a report and Martin Bouffard has photos and a video.

Thoughts on local media

Kate McDonnell, author of the much-read Montreal City Weblog, does her yearly anniversary post and writes about how local media has changed since her blog was launched in 2001. A recommended read for people interested in the local media scene (like me).

Some thoughts to add:

Major local media have all redesigned their websites multiple times since 2001. Most now copy each other (much like print newspaper layouts copy each other), their homepages excessively long, far too much focus on Javascript, Flash and throwing as many links as possible into a tiny space. The idea of the Internet portal died a long time ago, but many still concentrate on the homepage as the single point of entry.

I don’t own an iPhone, and I use my cellphone strictly for making calls (and sending text messages), so I can’t comment on mobile offerings. But it would be nice if content-providing websites would open up their content a bit and let us make it work with our devices. Force us to go to your page for the full article if you’re worried about page impressions, but let us spread the technology to better connect those pages with the people who want to see them.

At some point in the future, the idea of paying for wire copy will be considered ridiculous. It made sense for newspapers. It doesn’t make sense online. Sure, keep your Canadian Press subscriptions for now, but at least separate the copy-paste wire dreck from original content your journalists create. Don’t lump it all into one feed and put it all on one page.

Local media need to hire more programmers and geeks. Even with all the advances there is still so much inefficiency when it comes to news websites and how journalists and editors perform their craft.

For many people, Twitter is replacing the RSS feed. That can be both good and bad. But a lot of people just use Twitter to replicate their RSS feed. That’s just bad. If I want to follow your feed, I’ll do it in Google Reader, instead of getting a truncated headline and bit.ly link. If I see “via twitterfeed” on your Twitter page, I won’t be following.

I can’t help but agree about the “old arts weeklies”. I don’t read Voir much (Steve Proulx excepted), but my interest in the two anglo weeklies has diminished considerably. I thought it was because they focused less on news and more on arts, but I think they’re falling behind in both categories, going through the motions instead of spending effort coming up with something new. I find I get more interesting news from The Suburban than Hour or Mirror, and that’s not saying much.

As for Metro, Transcontinental’s free daily, it has improved a lot since its launch in 2001, when it was exclusively wire copy. Now it has actual journalists. They’re not doing groundbreaking investigative reporting, but considering their budget it’s surprising the amount of original local content they get in. I’m not sure how much of their recent quality is based on competition with 24 Heures, whose journalists seem to exist right now solely to provide filler for the locked out Journal de Montréal, though. That might change if that labour conflict is ever solved.

Which brings us to Rue Frontenac, which has been working hard, but doesn’t look like the kind of website that needs 253 people to put together. Obviously people have other responsibilities like picketing, and not all of those employees are journalists, but the small core of people putting out most of the stuff at that website is arguably exactly what the Journal and Quebecor want.

Finally, as far as local bloggers are concerned, well, that’s the subject of another post.

Oh, and Kate, maybe it’s time to install WordPress and start allowing comments on that blog. That way I don’t have to write a response on my own blog to get it published.