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Independent media in Quebec banding together with infos.media

New site aggregates indy journalism to create stream of non-corporate news

by David Gray-Donald

Olivier Asselin, coordinator of infos.media, an independent media aggregator, speaks at the site's launch at Café l'Artère in Montreal. photo: Medi@s Libres
Olivier Asselin, coordinator of infos.media, an independent media aggregator, speaks at the site's launch at Café l'Artère in Montreal. photo: Medi@s Libres

The site infos.media is trying to shake up the way people access media in Quebec by making it easier to find news from independent outlets. Launched on Thursday, March 24, in Montreal, infos.media brings onto one page news from about 15 non-corporate outlets.

“Instead of getting all your news from Facebook and Twitter, you can check this page,” says Olivier Asselin, coordinator of the project and documentary filmmaker.

infos.media works as an aggregator, automatically pulling articles from independent media outlets. It uses an RSS plug-in technology that costs less than $100 (but is not open-source), the same plug-in used by IT’S GOING DOWN.

When people arrive at the page, article headings appear that, when clicked on, will open a new tab and take the user to the story on its original site. If someone viewing the infos.media site clicks on the heading for the article, for example “Living on the Streets: Toronto vs Montreal," they will be taken in a new tab to the site of CKUT (a Montreal community radio station) to access the story.

This new platform is the result of months of work and years of the idea being tossed around amongst Montreal independent journalists.  

It is part of “the battle against the concentration of media, the battle against the commercialization of information” says Asselin to the crowd made up mostly of white men on March 24. Quebec’s media landscape is dominated by just a few big corporate players, namely Quebecor and Power Corp, similar to how Bell, Rogers, Postmedia and a few others control the lion’s share of media in the rest of Canada.

infos.media does not include Radio-Canada (CBC’s alias in Quebec) because it is not deemed “independent,” owing to its proximity to government. Independence is one of the essential criteria for inclusion on the platform. Also notably absent because of the volume of news it produces is Le Devoir, a large independent daily newspaper in some ways similar to Halifax’s Chronicle Herald.

The audience in Montreal was quick to recall that infos.media is not nearly the first initiative launched to try creating a viable alternative to big corporate media channels. The international Independent Media Centre (indymedia.org) and its Quebec branch CMAQ (Quebec Centre for Media Alternatives) have both fizzled out in recent years and their sites stand as technologically-outdated remnants of their former selves, like the abandoned warehouses scattered around the Montreal neighbourhood where the infos.media launch was held. The Media Coop’s Canada-wide network too, with the exception of its Halifax local, has slowed production and currently lacks coherence.

“What the fuck happened to independent media?” asks Frank Lopez of subMedia at the infos.media launch. Lopez has been involved in independent media for 20 years, including with indymedia.org. He and several others in the crowd point to technological change and the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter, which developed by using tools created in the indymedia.org network more than ten years ago.

Coordinator of the project Olivier Asselin hopes the design of infos.media incorporates lessons from the past. “It’s harder to do the production than bringing it together, than doing aggregation,” he notes.

Asselin is paid to work on infos.media eight hours per week through the Médi@s Libres (Free Media) project of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at the Université du Québec à Montréal (GRIP-UQAM). A volunteer does tech support.

The bet is that people will keep producing quality independent content, but promotion is the missing ingredient, and that’s where infos.media comes in. Producers of content do not have viewers diverted from their sites; instead, infos.media helps promote stories and drive up traffic. “The RSS technology [used by infos.media] didn’t exist a few years ago,” Asselin adds.  

Most media on the platform are francophone and are based in Montreal, like 99% Media, and in towns around the province, like Journal Ensemble in Trois Pistoles. Though English-language outlets are included, like subMedia, Rabble and The Media Coop, the feed caters primarily to a francophone or bilingual readership. Ricochet, a national bilingual media outlet with strong presence in Montreal, is not currently involved.

Asselin stresses that the platform is trying to be diverse and not constrained by one particular political analysis or ideology. “We want to allow for a broad range of independent media, not just activist.”

Whereas on arrival at most major newspaper sites the reader sees headline news and sub-sections to click on, like Sports, Business, Arts and Cars, infos.media is an uncategorised stream of articles, with the newest up top and older articles buried below or on an archived page. This makes news browsing based on interest area difficult.

Indigenous-produced media is currently lacking from infos.media, Asselin notes, and adds that the current roster came together from an initial round of consultation and engagement, and further outreach is planned.

An editorial board is in the process of forming and will be tasked with this outreach work, as well as giving a unique flavour to the site. There is some talk of writing a monthly editorial article, or of compiling news round-ups.

“It’s good we’re here talking to each other,” Lopez of subMedia says to the crowd in Montreal, “and pumping each other up.”

Disclosure: the author has been paid in the past to write for The Media Coop and Rabble and is being paid by The Halifax Media Coop for this article.

David Gray-Donald is a freelance journalist and community organizer based in Montreal and Toronto.

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