Distinct English market

Everyone knows that Quebec is a distinct society. But not everyone realizes that within Quebec there is another large, distinct society: English Quebec.How large? English Montreal (more precisely, non-French Montreal) is the third-largest English market in Canada, 750,000 people strong. How...

Everyone knows that Quebec is a distinct society. But not everyone realizes that within Quebec there is another large, distinct society: English Quebec.

How large? English Montreal (more precisely, non-French Montreal) is the third-largest English market in Canada, 750,000 people strong. How distinct? Very distinct. And that is not just an intuitive assertion.

CROP survey

Look, for example, at crop’s cross-country survey of Canadians’ values and habits, published by L’actualite magazine in January 1992.

Non-francophone Quebecers showed up as a unique cultural blend, quite different from both French-speaking Quebecers and Canadians in other provinces.

They are well-educated. They are more tolerant about such things as homosexuality than other English-Canadians (though less tolerant than francophones). Of all Canadians, they are the ones most involved in their community or in volunteer activities.

Travel more

They travel more than everyone else and are far more open to the rest of the world. They have wide-ranging interests: for crop, they scored the highest recognition of figures ranging from u.s. runner Carl Lewis to Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

‘It’s incredible to see how much they are aware of what’s going on around them,’ pollster Allan Gregg said after seeing these results.

Another pollster, who analyzed the numbers, Michael Adams, told L’actualite, ‘These are the English-Canadians that Pierre Trudeau dreamed of.’

And these are the people who are The Gazette’s market.

They are a long way from the facile old caricature of the stodgiest, most Victorian wasps this side of the Empress Hotel. In fact, 59% of anglophone Quebecers are bilingual, far more than any group except francophones outside Quebec.

Another vital truth about Montreal is that, along with its great French-English duality, this was Canada’s first multicultural city, a gateway for immigrants who have come to enrich the city’s fabric for generations, and are still coming.

They are one of the key elements that make ‘English’ Quebec unique.

By law, virtually all immigrants must now send their children to French school. But a solid majority of those who go on to college and university do so in English.

The result is a growing population of Montrealers who are not just bilingual but trilingual – speaking English, French and their mother tongue.

There are 270,000 such people in Quebec, mostly in Montreal, and they are a stimulating, challenging and fast-growing market (up 53% from 1981-91).

And they live in the city with the greatest media variety in Canada. There are four daily newspapers here, dozens of weeklies, six local tv stations (plus cable) and a full range of radio in both French and English.

It is against that background that The Gazette operates, solidly established as the paper of non-francophone Quebec.

The core of our market is mainstream English Quebec, the 540,000 Montrealers who claim English as their mother tongue.

But we also serve the other minorities, not to mention the nearly 20% of our readers who are, as has been the case for generations, francophones.

How do we do it? How does this fascinating, demanding audience shape the paper?

For starters, we have to have an almost entirely bilingual staff, not just to serve advertisers and subscribers, but also to cover the news. Our readers need to know about what is going on in their town, whatever language it is happening in.

We have to cover a metropolitan area of three million, though our own core market is less than one million.

We have to cover roughly 30 municipalities, and associated numbers of school boards, fire and police stations, and so on. This is one reason why we so value our zoned editions, serving the West Island, West End and South Shore regions.

Community paper

But even in the mother paper, we are pre-eminently a community paper.

This does not mean parochial boosterism.

It does mean being a leader in covering local issues and fostering a sense of community. (Our Christmas Fund raised $1.2 million last year – more than The Toronto Star raised from its far larger market.)

We also have to be acutely aware of minority concerns and needs. We have pioneered campaigns for everything from minority hiring in the public service to help for minority social services.

Recently we have assigned one of our best reporters to cover minority communities – to do not the ritual coverage of ethnic festivals, but hard news stories from those communities.

Foreign news

Our readers want foreign news, everything from World Cup soccer to riots in India.

We have to cover four universities and a passel of research and other institutes; indeed, we have a reporter covering universities full-time.

But we also have to concentrate extra hard on readability, to assist those readers who do not have English as their mother tongue.

And, of course, we have to meet all the other challenges that face newspapers in a changing society with our youth pages, expanded business coverage, Womannews section, better graphics and design, and so on.

Perhaps most of all, in a society periodically wracked with language or political tensions, we have to strive doubly to maintain our credibility, our reputation for being fair, balanced and accurate.

What other papers might shrug off as a minor slip can spark major controversy here.

That demanding standard is probably one reason why The Gazette has consistently been in the top rank of papers nominated for National Newspaper Awards.

Another reason, however, is that our reporters are like the society they cover and serve: unique.

Joan Fraser is editorial page editor at The Gazette, Montreal’s English-language daily newspaper.