Tag Archives: West-Island-Chronicle

Transcontinental kills the Chronicle and Examiner, the last of its English newspapers in Quebec

It’s true. Transcontinental, the publishing company that owns community weekly newspapers across the province, has confirmed that, for financial reasons, it is ceasing publication of the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner. Their final issues are next week.

The Montreal Gazette has the details, as well as some comments from former Chronicle/Examiner reporters.

But as much as people are reminiscing the official passing of two institutions (the Chronicle dates back to 1924, the Examiner to 1935), the mourning began long ago. The newspapers aren’t so much being shut down as they’re finally being put out of their misery.

The fact that only three people are losing their jobs because two newspapers shut down should be as clear an indication as any of how far these papers had fallen in recent years. Where once they each had a small team of reporters and editors covering stories as best they could, at the end there was only a single reporter being shared by both papers. At that point, to call what’s being done journalism might be a bit of a stretch. The reporters that have gone through there have accomplished herculean tasks, and many have better jobs at larger media outlets now, but there’s just so much that can be done with no resources.

You need only take a look at the Chronicle’s last issue to see how thin it has become, or how much of it is ads, or advertorials. There’s journalism there, too, but nothing even remotely close to what it used to be.

Fortunately, Transcontinental will give them one last issue, just after the federal election, where they can publish results and maybe say goodbye.

The shutdown follows the conversion of the former N.D.G. Monitor to an “online newspaper” in 2009. That no longer exists, its old website URL redirecting to Métro. And this summer, Transcontinental turned another old newspaper, the Huntingdon Gleaner, into an insert in a French-language weekly, getting rid of the Gleaner’s staff. (I’ll have more on that in a future story.)

So now what? Transcontinental made a reference to the western Montreal market being served by alternatives. In the West Island, there’s the weekly West Island section of the Montreal Gazette (my employer). In Westmount, there’s the Westmount Independent. And in both, there’s the Suburban. Will one or more of these boost their resources to attract the closed papers’ former readers (and their advertisers)? Or will less competition open the door to them cutting back?

More coverage:

UPDATE: A “wake of sorts” in memory of the West Island Chronicle is planned for Nov. 11 at Le Pionnier in Pointe-Claire.

Montreal’s community weeklies must make do without journalists

Can you have a newspaper without journalists? Transcontinental certainly seems to think you can. It announced that the 22 community weeklies in the Montreal area, which include the West Island Chronicle, Westmount Examiner and papers that cover various boroughs in Montreal, will be cut down from 23 to 12 journalists. That’s about half a journalist per paper.

The CSN union got angry about this and sent out a press release on Monday, which prompted stories from the FPJQ and Projet J. La Presse’s media columnist used it to lament the decline of newspapers in general. Everyone seemed to agree it was sad news.

And it is, for the people who are losing their jobs, plus those who may have had some connection to these once-respectable papers that have since been left to rot into empty shells for advertising.

The two journalists at the Chronicle (Marc Lalonde and François Lemieux), and Toula Foscolos, who is the news director for the Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, will survive the cuts, Foscolos tells me. Union rules dictate that those with less seniority will get the boot. That means part-timers like Morgan Lowrie, who had been doing most of the reporting for the Examiner and will be looking for a new job in a few weeks.

What the papers will look like after these cuts is unclear.

According to the FPJQ, the remaining journalists won’t even really be journalists. They’ll be community representatives, tasked with desperately filling the space available the cheapest way possible. The papers will lean harder on free content from citizens, people with axes to grind or things to promote, and businesses who want free advertising.

The point of no return is long gone. Does anyone still read the West Island Chronicle, or the Messager LaSalle, or the Courrier Ahuntsic? Now there will be even less of a reason to do so.

It’s a shame. But if Transcontinental had any shame, it would have let these papers shut down with some dignity many years ago.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post said there was just one journalist left at the Chronicle. There are actually two. It also failed to mention Morgan Lowrie, who is among the cuts.

UPDATE (May 7): Projet Montréal plans to present a motion to city council denouncing the cuts. It’s an entirely symbolic move that will change nothing, but I’m sure the laid-off employees appreciate it.

QCNA award noms show the struggles of some

As the big guys were patting themselves on the back this week over the National Newspaper Award nominations, smaller newspapers in Quebec also got a list of nominations: for the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards.

The full list is here in PDF format, but since we judge papers by the number of awards they are nominated for, let’s tally the numbers:

The clear winner in number of nominations is the paper with the best name: the LowDown to Hull and Back News. The Gatineau hills paper with the adorable publisher has 17 nominations and two honourable mentions. Surprisingly, Best Overall Newspaper isn’t one of them.

Others, in order:

It’s a bit silly to judge these papers strictly on the basis of these numbers, but the disappointing showings from some former QCNA stars is worth noting.

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, whose claim to fame is being North America’s oldest continually-running newspaper, was one of the few English media in the Quebec City region, and a strong community paper. But problems at the ownership level led to a fear that it would stop publishing, a fear that its fans hope is no longer necessary after a new owner came in in November.

The West Island Chronicle, meanwhile, is suffering after the departure of its editor and only reporter a year ago. The paper was among the leaders last year on the strength of their work before they left, but now it has become at best average as its young staff learns the ropes and reinvents the journalistic wheel.

(If you want some advice, by the way, having reporters paraphrase celebrity gossip rumours they found online like a poor man’s Doug Camilli probably isn’t an optimal use of limited resources, even if it’s attracting a bunch of junk traffic online.)

The QCNA awards are handed out May 27 in Vaudreuil.

UPDATE (June 1): The list of winners is out. The Suburban won five awards, including best overall newspaper. The Eastern Door won two, Your Local Journal four, The Nation three, The Equity three and Pontiac Journal two.

The Gleaner Nunatsiaq News, Westmount Examiner, Bulletin d’Aylmer, Laval News, Townships Outlet, Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph and West Island Chronicle won one each.

It’s not like anyone died

Community weeklies have a reputation for preferring fluff over substance. But after this weekend’s St. Patrick’s parade, in which a young man died, a rare intersection of fluff and news gave them a great opportunity to discuss a serious issue.

Haha, just kidding.

This week’s West Island Chronicle has a big cover photo from the downtown parade, whose caption includes this rather insensitive part: “The persistent rain thinned the crowds a little this year, but they couldn’t put a damper on the fun being had by many.”

Inside, more photos, but no mention of there being a fatality.

Similarly, The Suburban has a parade photo on its front page, a story about the parade on Page 2, and a photo gallery. But the death was buried on (depending on your edition) Page 13 or 22.

West Island newspaper editors give up on former jobs

A month after their positions were eliminated, and after surprising their bosses by saying they would not accept demotions, the editors of the West Island Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles have both confirmed that they’re not going back to their jobs. Negotiations between their union and Transcontinental Media general manager Serge Lemieux did not result in a decision favourable to them, and they’re leaving their newspapers.

For reasons that are still unclear, Lemieux apparently agreed to consider reinstating the editor position at Cités Nouvelles, but not the Chronicle. Both newspapers previously had one editor and one reporter. Even then, Marie-Claude Simard said she wouldn’t be interested in returning to her job at Cités Nouvelles.

So all that’s left for her and Albert Kramberger is to discuss their severance packages.

Of the four journalists at the two newspapers, only Olivier Laniel of Cités Nouvelles is still there. His reporting has been the only news in either paper since the beginning of January (his Cités Nouvelles articles are translated for the Chronicle). Raffy Boudjikanian, his former counterpart at the Chronicle, has already moved on and has been getting some work at the CBC.

One journalist covering the entire West Island for two newspapers.

It’s possible Transcontinental might choose to hire someone new, at least for the Chronicle. Maybe they’ll pick some eager kid straight out of university. And that kid will jump into a job with a lot of responsibility and little pay, and wonder: How did I get so lucky to land this job?

It’s amazing how much history can be erased with a simple turnover.

Chronicle, Cités Nouvelles editors refuse demotions

On Friday, the West Island Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles, the two Transcontinental-owned weeklies covering the West Island, each had two full-time editorial employees – an editor and a reporter.

On Monday, they may have none.

Layoffs announced just before Christmas of the papers’ reporters (Raffy Boudjikanian for the Chronicle, Olivier Laniel for Cités Nouvelles) took effect on Friday. Technically they’re not permanent, but for an indeterminant period. But Boudjikanian doesn’t expect to return to the job and is now unemployed. Laniel was a temporary worker, replacing a reporter on maternity leave.

Albert Kramberger

Hearing about the job cuts and their own demotions from editor to sole reporter (and sole journalist), Chronicle editor Albert Kramberger and Cités Nouvelles editor Marie-Claude Simard told their employer on Christmas Eve that they would refuse their demotions and wouldn’t work for their papers if they were expected to do so solo.

Their superiors “seemed shocked to get the news”, Simard said, and they have been holding meetings this week with the union to discuss the matter.

Whether those meetings will go anywhere is another matter. A decision could be weeks away, and the demotions take effect on Monday.

As far as Kramberger is concerned, unless some stunning reversal on the employer’s part takes place, he’s already worked his last shift at the Chronicle, and he’s looking for another job.

Wayne Larsen, who was also demoted from editor of the Westmount Examiner, saw the positive side of his new role and is expected to stay on.

The emptying of the Chronicle is particularly distressing. Only five years ago, I spent a week there as an intern, and it had a skeleton staff, but still a staff. News reporters, a sports reporter, an editor and a photographer. The Chronicle was a perennial winner at the Quebec Community Newspaper Association awards, mostly because they had more resources than the other papers.

Now they’re all gone.

Transcontinental might choose to hire a new reporter at each paper, perhaps some kid straight out of university or a laid-off journalist who’s desperate to make ends meet. But the loss of institutional memory would be huge. They would end up as shadows of the shadows they once were.

With the Chronicle and Cités Nouvelles on their last legs, a void opens up for West Island community coverage. The best of what’s left is the weekly West Island section of The Gazette, which has four full-time editorial employees and relies on the resources of the larger paper. Beyond that, there’s little. Unlike Westmount or NDG, there’s no mom-and-pop paper running out of someone’s basement trying to compete with the big guys. Even The Suburban hasn’t really reached out to the West Island yet.

Transcontinental may have seen this as just two layoffs, but they’ve essentially abdicated their responsibilities to the West Island.

Now, who will fill that void?

Other coverage from CTV Montreal and The Suburban

Merry Christmas from Transcontinental (P.S.: You’re fired)

When was the last time you read a community weekly from Transcontinenal Media? When was the last time you learned anything interesting from it about your neighbourhood that you couldn’t get from the borough newsletter?

Most of the on-island community papers are pathetic – many don’t even have a full-time journalist – but others have been giving it the ol’ college try despite their tiny budgets.

Those budgets, though, are about to get smaller.

On the Friday before Christmas, just days after the latest earnings report showed good news for the parent company, journalists at Transcontinental-owned weeklies across town got the news that their services would no longer be required starting Jan. 8. Among them are two on the West Island: Raffy Boudjikanian of the West Island Chronicle and Olivier Laniel of Cités Nouvelles. It’s unclear at the moment (even to them) if these are temporary or permanent layoffs.

Normally, the downsizing of two journalists wouldn’t be a big deal, but these newspapers are running on a skeleton staff as it is. What was once a newsroom of three now becomes a newsroom of two.

One of those is the editor, who will now become a reporter. Albert Kramberger at the Chronicle, Marie-Claude Simard at Cités Nouvelles and Wayne Larsen at the Westmount Examiner. This appears to also be the case chain-wide. Their salaries will remain essentially the same or have slight reductions, depending.

Montreal regional manager Stéphane Vinet

The exact nature of the measures taken by Transcontinental is not absolutely clear. According to Benoit Leblanc, president of the Syndicat de l’information de Transcontinental, they affect a dozen employees, three of whom have definitely lost their jobs. Another vacant position is being eliminated.

As for Transcontinental, it’s not talking to the media. Stéphane Vinet, the Montreal regional manager for Transcontinental Media who is responsible for weekly papers on the island, did not respond to a request for information.

His name, meanwhile, is being spoken along with unkind words by some of the journalists involved.

Those who spoke to me asked me to not to name them for fear of reprisals. So I offer them anonymity even though the entire pool of editorial staff at the three newspapers mentioned above is less than a dozen. One journalist was angry, saying Transcon “declares journalists are obsolete for their ad rags” and that this was a retaliation for union grievances. Two others shrugged and accepted the cost-cutting as a fact of life, and that they’ll just find other sources of income.

It’s easy to say (as I did above) that these newspapers are garbage and this is just the continuation of their suicidal death spirals. Looking back just a decade, many of these newspapers looked a lot different, they were well connected with their communities, they didn’t just copy-paste press releases or use the same stories as their neighbours.

But there’s still just a little bit of journalism coming out of these papers, and that’s where they’re cutting. Laniel last week compiled a list of salaries for West Island mayors. Boudjikanian has been following the case against a snow plow company that hasn’t delivered on its promises. Neither of these can be replaced by a press release.

The cuts also mean an end to paid freelance work, what little is left of it anyway. Unpaid contributors, of which there are unfortunately many, will not be affected. Since, you know, they’re unpaid.

More “clarifications”

Media outlets not used to issuing corrections will tend to want to downplay them. Some (like CTV) will call them “clarifications” even if they’re outright falsehoods, to make it seem less serious.

A similar thing happens at the West Island Chronicle, which issued this “clarification” for an article it printed last week (which is no longer online):

In an article called “Catering to a tinier crowd,” (The Chronicle, Aug. 13, 2008, Back to School p. 3), it was implied that Yummy Tummy Catering will provide individual hot lunches for schoolchildren as well as for larger daycare centre orders. The company will only provide cold lunches for individual order. The article also implied the catering company was told by Lester B. Pearson school board it could go meet with individual schools to see whether or not they could do business with them. However, this was the company’s own initiative. Yummy Tummy can be contacted at 514-967-9318, not the number reported erroneously in the original article. The Chronicle regrets the error.

First of all, there is more than one error here. “Clarification” and “error” should be plural.

The first error says that it was “implied” that the company would provide individual hot lunches. But the article more than implied it:

When Andrea Levy and Stacey Park noticed some of their acquaintances simply did not have the time to prepare food for their children to take to school but did not want to leave them without a home-cooked meal for lunch, they had an idea. … “Not everybody takes part in the hot lunches (provided) at the schools,” explained Levy … The idea is to provide hot lunches to kids who need it at school … Officials at the latter told them they would have to meet with individual schools to find out where hot lunches are provided …

The second and third errors are simple factual errors (bad phone numbers are a common problem, and this one was off by one digit).

This isn’t a clarification, it’s a series of corrections.

Let’s get it right next time, folks.

West Island Chronicle starts online-only weekend edition

This weekend, the Chronicle launched its much-touted (by itself) online-only weekend edition, which seeks to continue the age-old tradition of … whatever it is the West Island Chronicle is known for.

I don’t notice anything particularly new with this weekend edition, but perhaps it’s new for people used to getting a physical paper at home every week. It seems to be filled mainly with pixellated non-expert columnists talking about gaming, parenting, sales, exercise and … miscellaneous, I guess.

Chronicle just misses the sport

Jealous, I can only surmise, at other news outlets and their blog thingies, the West Island Chronicle has announced the creation of Sportlight (yes, with an “R”), a “blog” about Montreal’s professional sports teams, the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact. (It’s also available in French as Montréal en sport)

Sadly, despite their claims of being “experienced” and “up-to-the-minute”, they’re clearly neither. The journalists who write these blogs don’t cover these teams regularly (or at all). They’re just guys who watch hockey on TV and think they’re experts about it.

In other words, it’s just like all those other Habs blogs out there. Not worth seeing unless you know the authors personally.

The problem is that David is trying to slay Goliath on Goliath’s terms. The Gazette’s Habs Inside/Out blog takes advantage of the paper’s access to the team and its reporters’ experience to make it a comprehensive resource. Armchair sports analysts can’t compete with that, so why are they?

I noticed the same problem years ago with student media. Instead of concentrating on university sports where they have the access, time and resources to do a good job (and the lack of competition that would make them the best at what they do), some student newspaper writers prefer to rant about the Habs, doing bad imitations of professional sports writers.

There is no limit to sports that local reporters can cover. Junior teams, college teams, high school teams, all get ignored in big media because there are too many of them and they’re not interesting enough.

The ball is in the court of the local papers to write about local teams. Why is it trying to compete on a level it is guaranteed to lose?

Full disclosure: I work at The Gazette (though I don’t do anything on its Habs blog), and I once interned briefly at the Chronicle.

Stop inventing anglicized names

A disturbing trend (well, disturbing to anal-retentive copy editors anyway) has been developing in the anglophone media, of directly translating the names of Quebec-based organizations whose names have no English translation, and treating those translations as proper names. The Gazette invented the “Montreal Transit Commission” as its name for the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). The Chronicle calls it the “Montreal Transport Society“. Canadian Press calls the Sûreté du Québec the “Quebec Provincial Police” or “QPP”.

Most anglophone media in Quebec tend to use the French names, since their viewers and readers tend to be at least functionally bilingual. For media outside Quebec who must translate into English, please use a generic name for the organization (meaning lowercase) so people don’t get the mistaken impression that you’re using their actual name.

Let’s end the confusion. Stop playing Language God.

The full story? Nobody needs that

In another case of blatant editorial masturbation, The West Island Chronicle ejaculates the news that Peter McCabe (not this one, this one) has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award for this photo, which appeared in newspapers around the world the day after the Dawson shooting.

What the Chronicle piece doesn’t mention is why McCabe doesn’t work for them anymore. According to McCabe, the paper (or its owner Transcontinental) decided last year to go from using him as a staff photographer to abusing him as a freelancer and getting him to work for pennies. McCabe said no, and now he’s getting recognition worldwide for a photo his former paper would have paid about $20 for.

Kudos, Peter.