A search for ruefrontenac.com will no longer direct readers to the online French language newspaper, originally started by the locked-out journalists of the Journal de Montréal as a pressure tactic against their employer. The site has been stripped of all content by its own journalists. Only the logo remains, with the words “Bientôt de retour parmis vous …” which translates to “Soon amongst you again …” and four links to promotional websites.
Launched in 2009, the website established a reputation for solid investigative reporting and, in late 2010, began publishing a weekly print edition. The site’s contributors stopped receiving pay cheques, which had been paid by the STIJM’s strike fund, following a resolution in April between Quebecor, owner of the Journal, and the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal (STIJM), the journalists’ union.
For nearly two months, Rue Frontenac’s team of 45 worked without salary to keep the site running, while trying to find financial backers. In late April, the paper stopped publishing a print edition, citing a lack of advertising revenue. Soon after, the group filed for creditor protection, which gave it thirty days to find a buyer.
A few deals fell through, including one with Transcontinental, the fourth-largest printing media group in Canada. On June 15, management at Rue Frontenac signed a hasty deal with Marcel Boisvert, director general and VP Business Development at EstriePlus.com, a website which unites regional news outlets. Rue Frontenac would have been in charge of feeding a new website with general and national content, to which regional outlets would add their own content.
Jean-François Codère, formerly a Rue Frontenac coordinator, says that the deal proposed with Boisvert was initially interesting because “he had a good plan. This afforded us the chance to tap into new, regional markets.”
Boisvert also promised a lack of editorial infringement, a sticking point at the Journal. “He came to us and said, ‘I don’t know anything about the newsroom, I won’t tell you what to write. I’m just the ad guy,’” Codère stated.
The agreement soured after Boisvert informed the Frontenac workers that many of them might not be hired – or paid – until September if business fared as expected. Only a handful of reporters would have been hired as of August 1.
Boisvert also named Michel Strecko as one of his investors.
“We were actually told the name like 15 minutes before the deal went through,” said Codère. “We looked [into] him, and we didn’t like what we found. …This guy has, like, 80 civil law suits against him.”
In 2002, Strecko was convicted of extortion and fined $1,500.
On July 1, Rue Frontenac contributors announced their decision to abandon the project and stripped the site of its content. Two days later, Boisvert countered with an open letter published on EstriePlus. In the letter, Boisvert maintains that Strecko was only brought on as a legal consultant, and not an investor, and blames miscommunication for the business deal’s failure.
Since leaving Rue Frontenac, most have found jobs elsewhere, said Pascal Filotto, a former editor.
“Some have jumped the fence and started doing PR work, a lot of us are doing freelance work. Others are working for the New Democratic Party,” he said. “There’s a lot of Rue Frontenac scattered around.”