The insecurity of broadcast journalism

From the time I was very young, journalism represented my chosen profession. I grew up watching my dad enjoy a career as a radio announcer and sports reporter and determined this was the future for me. Then my mom intervened, insisting that the media was an unstable business. "I want you to become a chartered accountant," she proclaimed.

I began my journalism career while in Grade 11, writing a local community newspaper sports column and helping my dad out in the press box covering the Expos, Canadiens and the Alouettes. It was all pretty exciting, yet when I graduated from high school I reluctantly decided to follow mom’s advice and entered the commerce program at Dawson College. Not surprisingly, I did not like it at all. Journalism was my passion and when I was hired during my second semester to become the assistant sports editor of The Sunday Express, a Quebecor publication, I made the decision to bolt commerce. Becoming a CA was simply not in the cards.

Journalism has been a central part of my life for 30 years. However, at one point I did realize that my mom was correct. Upon graduation from the Communications and Journalism Program at Concordia University I applied for posts at nearly every daily newspaper in the country. I still remember the then city editor of The Gazette, Jim Peters, telling me that since my experience was with weekly newspapers he had no place for me. His sports editor at the time, Alan Allnutt, tried to convince him otherwise. Ironically, Allnutt is now the publisher and editor of that paper.

While I continued on after university as a full-time reporter for The Suburban, I also started to dabble in public relations. I gained experience as the sports information director for Concordia varsity sports and then went into the communications field permanently when the Canadian Jewish Congress hired me as their national director of communications. During those wonderful 11 years, I continued to write for weekly newspapers on the side. In 1999 I moved on to the English Montreal School Board as their communications and marketing specialist, retaining my column in The Suburban and undertaking some other newspaper assignments.

Four years ago I added another post to my repertoire when I gained 92 percent of the vote for a C

ôte Saint-Luc city council seat. I am seeking re-election this fall. PeterAnthonyHolder Why am I giving you this background? Well, upon learning of the recent decision by Astral Radio to let go the likes of Kevin Holden, Peter Anthony Holder (left)  and Kathy Coulombe from CJAD and the new Q92’s dismissal of Paul "Tasso Patsikakis" Zakabe and Suzanne Desautels - my mother’s warning screamed loudly in my head. Their sudden dismissals were just part of the business. And where do they go now? AM 940 sacked its newsroom last year when it switched from news to oldie songs. CBC is the midst of letting personnel go. Global TV virtually gutted its news operation two years ago and now runs a top notch organization on a shoe-string. The Gazette is getting smaller in size and has gone through a number of procedures whereby it asked for voluntary retirements. Gazette writers have been negotiating for a new contract. They tried a byline strike as a pressure tactic. It did not work. And they probably see what a real strike did to the writers from Le Journal de Montreal, who have been out of work since last January as the editors cover the stories. The paper is making zero attempt to entice them back to work or even negotiate. La Presse just cancelled its Sunday edition.

I am not among those who believe that as the internet continues to gain in popularity, the newspaper will go the way of the dinosaur. People still like to sit with a paper at breakfast, on a bus or Metro or in a waiting room. However, there are definitely less jobs in the business now that when my mom gave her warning nearly three decades ago.

If you are young and contemplating a career in this business, do not let me stop you. But have a backup plan.

Changes to VDN Cable

Many residents of District 2 subscribe to VDN Cable for television and Internet service. First let me say what an exceptional company this is. The complex where I live was among VDN's first clients. Then owner Phillip Gale use to make regular visits to our property in person. Well the little company grew and a few years ago it was purchased by Bell Canada.

You cannot just pick up the phone and subscribe to VDN. They have contracts with specfic buildings. In the case of District 2, most condos and apartments are with the VDN family. It is a wonderful alternative to Videotron. The TV channel selection is generous while the cable internet hookup is lightning fast. They also have good customer service.

A few weeks ago I was surprised to see VDN switch their American affiliates from Plattsburgh and Burlington to Boston. For viewers whom, for instance,taped the Guiding Light soap opera at 3 p.m. on CBS weekdays, the Boston affiliate runs the show at 9 a.m.

Here is what Terry Shannon, Director of the Bell Video Group responsible for VDN & Wireline Video Operations, told me.

When customer complaints and escalations regarding related poor signal quality and outages were brought to his attention in December he asked his team to investigate severity, frequency of occurrence and intervals. The results of his investigation highlighted consistent service degradation, an unacceptable customer experience, an increase in customer complaints and many customer disconnects. VDN then proceeded to establish an action plan to come up with alternate signal feed options as well as a change notice communication to customers. The initial plan called for a formal advance notice to all VDN customers in the March 2009 billing invoice mail out. Six weeks following mail out, they were to proceed with respective channel changes. Due to the increasing number of customer complaints and the need to improve the situation sooner than later, they opted to change plans and act quickly Mr. Shannon says he personally listened to customers who advised that they were disconnecting their service because they could no longer tolerate such poor signal quality. They could not watch or record their favourites without experiencing problems. In several instances, VDN customers had made arrangements to view TV at their neighbour's residences because they could no longer count on watching their favourites from beginning to end without a service interruption. "At the end of the day, our valued customers were asking why they were paying for such a poor quality viewing experience," he said.

"As it is our responsibility and privilege to provide quality products and services, we made the decision to immediately address customer concerns / complaints and change to alternate feeds. While customer response was immediate and very positive with many calls of thanks noting evident new quality of service, we remained very concerned about making such changes prior to our planned communication to our customers. While customer complaints and escalations about signal quality ceased, we certainly did receive calls from customers about the lack of notification prior to respective changes. While we fixed one problem in the sincere interest of customer service and a positive customer viewing experience, we unfortunately created another by upsetting some of our customers due to lack of notice and their unfamiliarity of new feeds. The communication to VDN customers will continue as planned with the March billing invoice mail out although in this particular case it is unfortunately after the fact."

There is also the matter with grid information which needs updating. Mr. Shannon says VDN engineers are working on the alignment of the program guide to ensure that all stations reflect accuracy including call letters and logos. The audio / video sync is also being finetuned.

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The death of The Monitor - print edition

The Monitor Newspaper produced its last print edition on February 5. For most of the paper's 83 years, it had circulated in Côte Saint-Luc, along with N.D.G., Snowdon, Montreal West and Hampstead. In recent years the paper, owned by Transcontinental, was publishing very thin editions. So it was not surprising that Transcontinental decided to stop the bleeding. Instead of completely folding the paper, though, they indicated that The Monitor will live on via an internet edition at

While I admire the efforts to keep a West End instution going, I do not believe we have reached the stage whereby readers will log on to a community weekly in the numbers the paper had in the past. However, if they can manage to do some kind of marketing plan they might attract a new readership. After all, The Monitor can now publish seven days a week and produce breaking news.

I owe my career in communications to The Monitor. When I was 16 years old I crushed  two vertebrae on my spine in a hockey game. I was in Grade 10 at Wagar High School, looking forward to a job as a counsellor at a summer camp. Well, the injury took some time to heal. I had to forego the camp job. My main summer activity ended up being the continuation of something I had begun a few years earlier: statistician for the Côte Saint-Luc Slo Pitch Association.  One of the things I did regularly was type up the weekly standings and batting leaders and bring them in to the sports editor. His name was Anthony Wilson Smith. Well, I approached Anthony and asked him whether I could submit a weekly story for the paper about the league. He agreed and my days as a journalist had begun. In the fall, Anthony gave me my own column - complete with my photo - to cover the local hockey leagues. I remained with The Monitor for several years. Anthony would go on to write for The Gazette and then Macleans Magazine. Today he is a senior executive at Canada Post. We will do keep in touch.

I left The Monitor to write for The Suburban (  and remained there for some time. But in 1989 I was lured over to a brand new paper called The Weekly Herald. It could not compete with The Suburban and by this time The Monitor had stopped circulating in Hampstead and Côte Saint-Luc. When The Herald folded I got a call from Don Sancton. At the time he was the editor of The Monitor. Louise Wolman, an ad rep, had recommended he contact me. I was offered a chance to be their new city columnist.  I jumped at the opportunity and happily returned to my roots. Sancton soon left to join the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and a series of editors succeeded him, including the likes of Julien Feldman and Leonard J Gervais. Distribution returned to Côte Saint-Luc and in addition to my column I began covering City Hall. It was at this time that I first thought about one day running for council.

Near the end of my second stint with The Monitor I brought in a couple of sales reps who never worked for newspapers before. They were a husband and wife team. The husband had sold cleaning products, but had fallen upon hard times. He took to this business famously and virtually single handedly turned the paper around. The Monitor was publishing 52 page editions and swimming in large profits. Not surprisingly The Suburban plucked the two of them away. In 1996 they did the same with me. I got an offer I could not refuse and returned to The Suburban, where I still happily write today. Nonetheless, I maintained a good relationship with The Monitor and its subsequent editors. They changed the paper's name to the West End Chronicle and for a time the ad rate seemed to improve. The Monitor moniker came back only recently, perhaps abit too  late to try and revive what was once a legendary journal.

I will miss having the paper delivered to my door. Ditto for its coverage of City Hall. Yes, I know they will have an internet edition. But for people living in the constituency I represent,  many are not yet online. That will change. I hope is still around when it does.

Subscribe to our e-newsletter

I strongly urge my constituents and all of Côte Saint-Luc to subscribe to our free e-newsletter. You can register to receive the e-newsletter using the form near the top left side of every page of the Côte Saint-Luc website at The only information required is an e-mail address. No personal information is collected.

We would like to communicate important information to as many residents as possible. Sending messages by e-mail is cost-effective and extremely quick. The e-newsletter does not replace our traditional communications, such as standard mass mailings or newspaper ads because we know not all residents use e-mail. These e-mail alerts simply enhance what we already do.

Côte Saint-Luc has been sending announcements by e-mail for more than a year on issues such as lane closures, special events and other practical information.

Current subscribers appreciate the service. For instance, we received several e-mail replies last December from residents who thanked us for letting them know about holiday office hours and changes to the garbage collection schedule.

On a personal note I am finding that more and more of my constituents are communicating with me via e-mail.

Journalism Students

Côte Saint-Luc city council generally meets in public once a month. As was the case last year, Jack Branswell has assigned his first year Concordia journalism students the task of attending two meetings in 2008 in order to file stories. Our meetings are usually covered by two local papers - The Suburban and The West End Chronicle. The audience is not often very large unless there is a pressing issue. It is therefore quite a sight to walk out and see an entire class of journalism students taking notes on everything we say. This is deja vu for me. I attended the Journalism Program of Concordia - actually the joint Communications and Journalism Program - from 1982 to 1985. I think it is great that they are covering our meetings, scrumming us afterward and asking interesting questions. It is interesting to note that two of these students are actually big Canadian television stars - Jake Goldsbie (Toby) and Sarah Barrable-Tishauer (Liberty) star in the hit CTV program Degrassi: The New Generation. They've been on the program for seven years, since the ages of 12. Now they have moved to Montreal in the hopes of pursuing a career in journalism.