Matthew Kupfer

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#VoxTranspo on Spacing Radio

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The first edition of VoxTranspo is being featured on Spacing Radio as a podcast.

Credit for the recordings on the podcast go to Samia Madwar (Ottawa sounds), Alex Nursall (herself) and Lana Cuthbertson (Edmonton). I recorded the sounds in Toronto.

Some basic background on VoxTranspo:  I started the project to collect stories from across Canada that reveal a little bit about our local life, as heard through transit announcements. The intention is to collect stories from cities and suburbs across the country that range from the personal, like the Toronto stories in the podcast, or to bigger policy issues, like language and accessibility. Some of the early responses have been great, but remember: the project is still growing and I’m happy to hear your stories. Drop me a line at matthew -dot- kupfer -at- gmail -dot- com and you can follow @matthewkupfer (yes, that’s me) for updates.

I hope to hear from you soon!

Written by matthewkupfer

August 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Canadian digital TV transition lacks leadership

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The Department of Canadian Heritage has been slow to promote the transition to digital over-the-air broadcasting because of dithering and delay over promotional campaigns and reluctance from broadcasters.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ordered the end of analog broadcasting in major markets by August 31, 2011 and an upgrade to digital over-the-air broadcasting.

The end of analog broadcasting will free up part of the broadcast spectrum so new wireless providers can enter the market. However, if Canadians using rabbit ears don’t buy a digital-to-analog converter box, their TVs will go dark on September 1.

Industry experts have long criticized the government’s promotional efforts. Now the government has less than three* five months to warn more than 850,000 Canadian households it estimates receive TV exclusively by antenna.

Documents obtained through Access to Information show the department in charge of coordinating the switchover, Canadian Heritage, was considering a video contest to promote the upgrade, but worried awarding a prize of $20,000 would look bad and that the contest could spread “misinformation.”

“Monetary prizes would encourage participation in the competition,” the memo proposing the contest says. “However, in times of economic uncertainty and government cutbacks, this could be viewed negatively by Canadians and in the media.”

The memo proposing the contest suggests Canadians may have had difficulty explaining the “technical and specific nature” of the transition.

The potential confusion could have ranged from participants creating videos incorrectly saying over-the-air broadcasting was scheduled to stop entirely or confusing the government-ordered transition with similar digital upgrades from cable or satellite providers.

Canadian Heritage confirmed by email the contest, which would have run from December 2010 to March 2011, never happened, but declined requests for an interview.

Michael Janigan, executive director for the Public Interest Advocacy Council, says Canadian Heritage has been asleep at the switch.

“The amount of lethargy that’s been shown, particularly by Canadian Heritage, is remarkable,” Janigan says. “The Canadian government seems to have ignored the lessons of the United States and Europe in promoting their transitions.”

When Americans and Europeans made the switch, governments and industry ran multimedia campaigns on billboards, websites, radio and TV for more than a year prior to the deadline. The U.S. government even provided vouchers for converter boxes – a measure Canadian Heritage has ruled out.

In Canada, the CRTC’s order to broadcast public service announcement only came down March 18 and it doesn’t take effect until May 1 – only four months before the switch.

Janigan says the broadcast regulator has tried to make changes, but it has lacked support from Canadian Heritage.

CRTC documents obtained through Access to Information show the broadcast regulator could not force broadcasters to promote the transition since many already had their licences renewed past the August 31 transition deadline. University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist says this weakened the CRTC.

“The CRTC’s primary mechanism to influence broadcaster activity is through licence renewal.” Geist says. “Obviously, there are other regulations in there for certain violations. It’s license renewal where it holds the hammer more than any other circumstances.”

Broadcasters were expecting government leadership in the transition. CRTC briefing notes show the majority of broadcasters wanted the government to either lead the promotional campaign or pay for it. Geist says broadcasters haven’t been eager partners.

“This transition was one that the broadcasters had very little interest in from the beginning,” Geist says.

Broadcasters can’t charge advertisers or viewers for the switch, so they will lose money paying for the new technology. However, Geist says switching from analog to digital broadcasting may have broader benefits – it will free up frequencies on the broadcast spectrum for new uses such as wireless broadband.

“This represents our best and – possibly, for the foreseeable future – last opportunity to really inject significant new wireless competition in Canada.”

** UPDATED: I edited the story to reflect the current time for the switch. This was an article I pitched to a large news organization, but it was not picked up. Since I wrote this article some DTV transition ads have started airing on major TV networks, though there are still many outstanding issues.

Written by matthewkupfer

June 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

As It Happens

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I just finished my six-week internship at CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

I caught the journalism bug volunteering at CIUT 89.5 FM, the community radio station based at the University of Toronto. For someone who loves radio journalism, there are few higher heights than working on one of CBC Radio’s oldest and most beloved shows. It was a thrill and a great learning experience.

I got to pitch my own stories, prepare greens for Carol Off and edit interviews that were heard across Canada and the United States — and pretty much anywhere an As It Happens listener has subscribed to iTunes.

I had the opportunity to work on some great stories. Some of my favourites:

  • learning how the woman in Alabama who started a Facebook page to reunite people with their lost photos after April 27 tornadoes in Tuscaloosa was reunited with her long-lost family members
  • learning about the sense of injustice in L’Aquila and the loss from the 2009 earthquake while doing a story about the manslaughter charges against the Italian seismologists who didn’t predict the quake
  • talking to the Bayview Secondary School student who may have discovered a cure for cystic fibrosis
  • talking to cognitive scientists about the Best Illusion Contest

It was a great adventure in radio.

Written by matthewkupfer

May 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Notebook, Portfolio

Democracy in Education

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Diane Ravitch has some observations on the recent ousting of New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black that adds to the idea that public schools are a site for democracy in practice. Rick Salutin, as I mentioned, made this observation in the Toronto Star a couple of weeks ago.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the Ravitch article:

The lessons of this fiasco are clear: being a successful business executive is no guarantee that one can become a successful school leader. These are different worlds, which require different skills and training. To have a chance of success running one of the country’s largest school systems, one needs a deep understanding of federal and state education policies, of curriculum and assessment, of teaching and learning, and of what teachers and schools need. This is why the state sets requirements for the job of school superintendent, to assure that those who get the job are minimally qualified.


Bloomberg’s decision to replace the old Board of Education with a Department of Education controlled only by himself has alienated parents. The debates at the old Board seemed cumbersome, but they were actually just an expression of democratic politics—an arena in which policies are discussed before they are imposed, where officials listen to citizens’ concerns. Rather than maintaining stability, as the mayor promised, Joel Klein repeatedly reorganized the Department during the past nine years. School closings have become commonplace, and schools with long and established histories have been shuttered, replaced by scores of small schools and privately managed charter schools, all in the name of introducing a free-market approach to public education. Creative destruction is now the rule, not stability. The Department treats schools like stores that can be easily closed and opened with a new name, rather than vital public institutions that need help and should be improved.

Emphasis added.

Written by matthewkupfer

April 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Notebook

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Your reactions, a #voxtranspo update

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The response to the #voxtranspo project has been great so far.

I have volunteers who are helping to collect audio of automated announcements in Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton. That doesn’t mean your contribution in these cities isn’t welcome – maybe you have your own angle.

The response from friends on Facebook and email has also been great. While I suspected as much, it’s been great to see the stories that people have about their local transit voices.

In Toronto, the voices of the TTC and GO Transit seem to be minor local celebrities. Contributors talk about how the voice’s personalities help them through their day – one even gave them a (romantic) storyline.

Calgary Transit has sent me information about the voice of the LRT, Karen Hutton.

In British Columbia, the voice of the ferry is hinting at a story about Canada’s indigenous roots.

The point of this project is to tap into local stories across the country and find out what the little quirks about the voices (and transit riders) say about each city. That local angle is what makes your contribution so important.

Keep the stories coming!

Deadline: I am planning to edit this piece in August 2011, so please pass this and get around to telling me you want to be involved ASAP!

matthew dot kupfer at gmail dot com

Written by matthewkupfer

April 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Notebook

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Canadian transit sounds project #voxtranspo

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If you’ve taken public transit in most Canadian cities, the voices should be familiar to you: automated voices announcing your stop.

They are the sonic signposts of your daily commute. An aural window when you’re crammed between commuters in the centre aisle of the bus/metro/train.

People have been wondering about these little parts of their daily lives. Who gets to decide what we call places?

Whether it’s bilingual stop announcements in Ottawa or Spa-DIE-na vs. Spa-DEE-na in Toronto, these announcements can go from annoyances to controversies.

If you’re interested in contributing to this little project, a cross-country commute by sound send me an email (matthew dot kupfer at gmail dot com) or find me on Twitter @matthewkupfer or through the hashtag #voxtranspo.

Written by matthewkupfer

April 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Notebook

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