Saturday, October 31, 2009

What brand are you?

Me 2.0: Using the Internet to brand yourself
By Mark Tutton, CNN
October 30, 2009Personal branding means marketing yourself and your skills to potential employers.

London, England (CNN) -- The concept of personal branding has been around for more than a decade, but the Internet and social networking have made it easier than ever to sell brand "you."

The basic idea of personal branding is to promote yourself as having certain values, skills or expertise -- your brand -- so that if someone needs that expertise, they'll come to you first.

While many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of marketing themselves as a commodity, others see it as part of the changing world of work.

Professor David James is director of the school of growth, innovation and enterprise at Henley School of Business, in England. He told CNN, "We're in an age when corporate businesses don't care for you as an individual any more -- you're just an employee number.

"They will outsource you, insource you, relocate you, and delocate you in whatever way they think suitable. Therefore you have to look after number one, and personal branding is really important."

So how do you go about creating your personal brand? James says the first step is to be clear about your strengths and your core values. Your brand identity needs to be a clear message of who you are and what you have to offer.

Next, give yourself a short and long-term plan of where you want to be, what job you want to have, and how you want people to perceive you.

Think about the people who can help get you where you want to be -- they are your target audience. In the same way that a conventional brand markets itself to a certain demographic, you need to advertise your brand to your target audience.

"We're in an age when corporate businesses don't care for you as an individual any more -- you're just an employee number."

Professor David James

"If you have a view that others want to hear, think about where your target audience goes for information and what media they consume, and then get your message to them," James told CNN.

The Internet has made it easier than ever to reach out to your target audience. Blogging and social networking are powerful and readily accessible ways to promote yourself.

Dan Schawbel is the author of "Me 2.0," a book about personal branding. He says blogging has been crucial to building his own personal brand.

"Blogging is extremely important, but it's very hard to be successful now because there are so many blogs," he told CNN.

"To stand out you have to figure out your niche by doing research online and finding somewhere in the marketplace that isn't completely saturated."

As for the content of your blog, that depends on what you want to be known for, but Schawbel says you should be passionate about your subject matter and have expertise in the area, or no one will want to read what you have to say.

The next stage is to get a high search-engine ranking for the area you've made your niche, so that whenever anyone searches the Internet for that subject, your name comes up.

To that end, name your blog with your own name and your specialist area. Join in conversations about your subject on other blogs, always using your full name -- your brand name.

Write articles for other Web sites and join social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, using them to build useful contacts and reflect your brand.

If all that strikes you as simply blowing your own trumpet, then you'd be right.

"In a sense, it is shameless self publicity," James told CNN.

"My parents said to me, 'if you work hard enough the world will recognize what you do,' but we know that doesn't work.

"I tell my children, 'If you work hard enough to make yourself good at what you do, then you have to tell people about it.' Take command of the situation, know what you're good at and shout it from the rafters."

Worth a try?

The Honourable Greg Selinger
Room 204 Legislative Building
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3C 0V8

Dear Premier Selinger:

As a constituent we would like to congratulate you on your recent leadership victory.

We are attaching an article from featured the other day on CTV's national network.

Given our problem with gangs and the success of the Los Angeles program, does Manitoba have anything comparable or plans for a much smaller scale pilot project to assist our young people break the vicious cycle?

Clare L. Pieuk
Ralphs store to sell salsa prepared by Homegirl Cafe
The grocer aims to help gang-intervention agency Homeboy Industries, which runs the Homegirl Cafe & Cagering job training program, learn how to commercialize its food products.
Homegirl Cafe & Catering workers Alma Cova, left, Abbigale Vasquez and Jessica Perez make mango salsa, one of two varieties to be sold at the Ralphs on West 9th Street in downtown Los Angeles. (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times / October 8, 2009)

By Jerry Hirsch
October 9, 2009

Homegirl salsa is about to find a home at the deli counter of Ralphs Grocery Co.

Salsa made by women in Homeboy Industries' Homegirl Cafe & Catering job training program will be sold at the chain's downtown Los Angeles store starting today.

It is part of an initiative by Ralphs to help the L.A. gang-intervention agency learn how to commercialize its products.

"Finding commercial outlets for our food products will allow us to generate more revenue, employ more people and do more job training, said Mary Ellen Burton, chief financial officer of Homeboy Industries Inc., which operates the Homegirl Cafe, a landscaping business and a silk screen shop as part of its efforts to steer younger residents in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods from gang life.

In the highly competitive supermarket world, Homeboy Industries is getting a break. Normally, it would be almost impossible for a start-up food company to even get a meeting to pitch a new product to a major supermarket chain.

Food manufacturers are often asked to pay the grocery companies money -- called slotting fees, new item merchandising allowances or promo dollars -- to launch a product. The charges can begin at $10,000 and run into the six-figure range, industry experts and food companies say.

But some segments of the industry waive such expenses for small, local and minority-owned businesses, according to industry analysts. Still, "a new company would have to start with independent grocers and small chains and show a larger retailer that they have a program that works," said Norris Bernstein, an industry consultant who helps businesses get products into grocery chains.

Homeboy Industries, founded 21 years ago by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, provides job training for about 450 formerly gang-affiliated youth annually. The nonprofit organization says it provides legal, psychological and addiction counseling services for an additional 12,000 youth along with academic tutoring and job training in industries such as food service and solar power. The participants can even have their gang tattoos removed.

The Homeboy Bakery and accompanying Homegirl Cafe do about $2.5 million in sales annually, but this will be the organization's first venture into a major food retailer. The agency's budget is about $9 million, with the rest of the money coming from private foundations, individual contributions and government grants.

Initially, Ralphs will sell two types of salsa, Homegirl Mango and Homegirl Molita, for $3.99 a pound.

"We are starting with salsa in the deli counter and hope to expand to packaged salsa and hummus in the refrigerated case," Burton said.

The grocer was looking for a distinctive product made near downtown L.A. to sell at its store on West 9th Street (one of the chain's busiest), and approached Homeboy Industries.

Ralphs will be the first retailer to sell a Homegirl product. The agreement is part of Ralphs' support for Homeboy Industries that includes a $25,000 grant, product donations and job training for women participating in the Homegirl Cafe & Catering program.

"Ralphs is committed to supporting community organizations in California, and we believe this is a different approach to doing just that. Our intention was to find a sustainable way to support Homeboy Industries and bring a quality product to our customers at the same time. This accomplishes both of those goals," said Mike Donnelly, president of Ralphs.

It also is a good move for the supermarket chain, consultant Bernstein said.

"Ralphs understands that Homeboy is creating jobs and teaching kids how to work," Bernstein said. "That is a compelling story that could transform the salsa into a serious food product."

The cable wars increased rates?

Cable rivals drop gloves
Theresa Tedesco and Jamie Sturgeon, Financial Post
Published: Saturday, October 24, 2009
At a dinner meeting on March 21, 2000, cable magnates Ted Rogers and Jim Shaw agreed to swap most each other’s cable assets if those assets were on each other’s side of the country. (Dave Olecko/Bloomberg News)
When Owen Boris decided to sell Mountain Cablevision Ltd., a family-owned, full-service high-speed Internet, telephone and cable provider based in Hamilton, Ont., he offered Rogers Communications Inc. an exclusive opportunity to negotiate a deal. After all, the small company, with its 41,000 cable customers, was a natural to fit in with Rogers' cable TV services in nearby Brantford.

For almost six weeks, from late January 2009 to early March 2009, the two sides couldn't agree on a price.

Mountain Cablevision's shareholders and advisors believed Rogers was lowballing them. The country's largest cable company, which was now operating without late legendary founder Ted Rogers, felt the asking price was excessive and wouldn't budge on its offer. Instead, Rogers walked away from the bargaining table, leaving the coveted cable assets seemingly up for grabs.

Mountain Cablevision hired investment bankers a month later to organize an auction, which attracted five potential suitors, including Rogers.

By the time the bidding concluded in July, Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc. emerged the victor with an offer of about $300-million, besting Rogers by a mere $10-million.

Sources say the folks at Canada's largest cable company were miffed. Rogers never expected to compete with Shaw for core cable assets in its own backyard.

A non-compete agreement signed by Ted Rogers and J.R. Shaw, controlling shareholder of Shaw, prohibited the Western cable company from encroaching on Rogers turf in the East and vice versa.

According to the restrictive covenant signed in 2000, the two companies divided Canada in half -- Rogers in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, and Shaw in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia -- and agreed not to acquire or start a new broadband wireline cable business outside their territory for a period of 10 years. The purpose was to allow Rogers and Shaw to bid on a cable operations in their areas for the lowest possible price without competition from the other.

As far as Rogers is concerned, the non-compete agreement is effective at least until 2010 -- and thus, Shaw had no business bidding on Mountain Cable.

Rogers sought a legal injunction against the sale, which it failed to secure last month.

"Competition between Rogers and Shaw, Canada's two largest cable operators, for the purchase of a cable television business, is more than restrained under the covenants," wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Frank Newbould in his Sept. 16, 2009 decision. "It is eliminated."

Justice Newbould ruled Rogers would not suffer irreparable harm if it was required to bid against Shaw for cable operations. More importantly, he openly questioned whether the non-compete agreement, which was not filed with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or the federal Competition Bureau, is contrary to the public interest.

That blunt wording has caught the attention of Canada's competition watchdog.

Ian Jack, a spokesman at the Competition Bureau in Ottawa, confirmed the federal agency is "aware" of the court's ruling, and is "examining whether the non-compete agreement raises issues under the Act." He would not comment further, citing the confidentiality provisions under which the bureau conducts its examinations.

For its part, the CRTC, which regulates the country's cable television industry, was also not aware of the nine-year-old non-compete covenant between Rogers and Shaw.

The acquisition of Mountain Cablevision allowed arch-rival Shaw to surpass Rogers in the size of its cable operations. "Never in a million years would Ted let cable assets go to market because they rarely come up for sale," observed an insider familiar with events.

"I think the gloves are off, that's for sure," said the insider who asked not to be named.

Added an analyst who asked not to be named: "Is this a question of Shaw now saying ‘I'm going to use this acquisition to send a message'? Which is what some guys on the Street were extrapolating."

Meanwhile, sources say that although Rogers maintains the non-compete with Shaw is still effective, the cable giant has decided not to pursue an appeal of Justice Newbould's decision.

Now, there are reports the company and Bragg Communications Inc. are considering swapping cable systems in southern British Columbia and Newfoundland. Bragg, a private company, is said to be in discussions with Rogers about possibly trading its Delta Cable and Coast Cable systems in British Columbia for Rogers' cable assets in St. John's, Corner Brook and Gander, Nfld. In other words, Rogers could land in Shaw's backyard.

A spokeswoman for Rogers said the company "always looks at any opportunity that arises," but it was not pursuing specific assets at the moment. "There's very little opportunity for that at this point," she said, adding that there are only a handful of options out there on the market to buy.

Indeed. As long suspected by millions of Canadian cable consumers, ownership of Canada's cable television industry is highly concentrated in the hands of four companies, each with controlling shareholders.

Rogers and Shaw account for nearly two-thirds of all cable subscribers in the country, while Vidéotron, a subsidiary of Quebecor Media Inc., dominates the Quebec market with 1.7 million cable television customers, as well as francophone communities in New Brunswick, and eastern Ontario. Cogeco Inc., Quebec's other cable TV provider, is the second-largest cable system operator in Ontario and Quebec.

Historically, cable regulation in Canada was based around the granting of exclusive rights to provide cable television to specific geographical areas. This provided incentives for cable providers to build the costly infrastructure. In return, the CRTC regulated most of the commercial terms upon which cable providers were permitted to offer service to subscribers, including channel availability and rates.

Shaw and Rogers carved up the country as a result of a swap agreement signed in March, 2000. Rogers agreed to trade the its existing cable television business in the Vancouver area in exchange for Shaw's cable business in the greater Toronto area, including Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Barrie, Orangeville, Orillia, as well as parts of New Brunswick.

In the cable business, it makes economic sense to have contiguous systems -- neighbouring cable networks that are physically linked -- as opposed to scattered operations.

Around the same time, the two companies also signed the non-compete agreement, in which they agreed not to compete in each other's territory. According to the court filings, the swap agreement was approved by the CRTC but no there are no references or discussion about the non-competition provisions.

"This was not a deal that said we're never going to compete with each other. This was a deal that said effectively they would carve up Canada with respect to how they consolidate," explains Greg MacDonald, equity analyst at National Bank Financial in Toronto. "Rogers effectively said, ‘I'm not going to go buy small cable companies in the West, and Shaw said I'm not going to do the same in the East so they could cost-effectively consolidate the business."

And while Shaw's acquisition of Mountain Cablevision could be construed as provocative, it's still not likely to incite a major offensive from Rogers into the West, he argues.

"I wouldn't expect a company like Rogers to go and buy something in Shaw's territory just because they think its an opportunity to cause Shaw some grief," Mr. MacDonald says.

While Canadian cable customers have little say in their choice of cable providers, when it comes to wireless service -- provided by many of the same companies -- the landscape is a little more open. As the much younger sibling to cable in Canada's telecom services industry, wireless has grown up without the same kinds of restrictive practices, analysts say. Despite the dominance of the country's three national providers in Rogers, BCE Inc. and Telus Corp., costumers at least have choice.

Better still, that choice is about to expand with the arrival of new entrants in the coming months.

Compounding the problem for Rogers, already feuding with Shaw, will be an escalation of competition with its cellphone rivals, both of whom have quashed Rogers' advantage in network technology that has given it a monopoly on popular devices like Apple's iPhone. Next week, BCE and Telus will introduce HSPA networks on par with Rogers, and begin offering the iconic iPhone handset.

In wireless, at least, the grip of the few is weakening.

With files from Giuseppe Valente in Montreal

Opportunities squandered?

Fat Arse ( has left a new comment on your post, "The day the music stopped!"

Oh, poor little Lenny Asper, I feel so sorry for him! NOT! Only an insular, privileged, and unrealistic fool would have presided over a debacle like this.
Dear Fat Arse:
Thank you for writing. It could be argued Leonard Asper was but one person, albeit very important, in a decision making team. From the case study it's quite apparent debt reduction and not expansion should have been the group's primary focus. Unfortunately, opportunities were squandered. Perhaps the people to feel sorry for are stockholders and creditors who will likely see pennies on the dollar.
Wonder what Izzy Asper would say if he were still here?
Clare L. Pieuk

The day the music stopped!

Good Day Readers:

We decided to publish this story because of the huge impact the Asper family has had over the years not only on Winnipeg but the rest of the province. Its philanthropic contributions are legendary. A fascinating inside look at what happened at CanWest Global.

Clare L. Pieuk

The day Leonard Asper lost the Street
The CanWest dream didn’t die in October when the company entered creditor protection. No, it died on 28/01/2008
Grant Robertson
October 30, 2009

On a deep winter morning last year, Leonard Asper summoned a dozen or so Bay Street analysts and investors to Toronto’s stately King Edward Hotel for a private lunch. The city was knee-deep in snow, but inside the hotel’s Kensington Room, grilled shrimp and white wine were in the offing, and the talk was of warmer climes—Australia.

The chief executive officer of CanWest Global Communications Corp. had become impatient with his company’s eroding share price. In less than a year, stock in Canada’s largest media company, owner of the Global Television network, 13 daily newspapers and more than 20 cable channels, had fallen to less than $6. Asper was starting to take the slide personally. With good reason: The drop from nearly $12 the previous January had halved the value of the family’s controlling stake in the company.

To Asper, the problem was all just a simple misunderstanding stemming from CanWest’s decision to cancel the sale of its Australian TV network a few months earlier. It was a flip-flop in strategy, sure, since investors had been told to expect a deal, which would help pay down the company’s debt. But to Asper, the market was wildly overreacting.

Now, with a captive audience of some of the most influential CanWest-watchers, an upbeat Asper set about convincing them that CanWest’s 57% stake in Australia’s Ten network was too important to sell. Flanked by high-level executives flown in from Sydney for the occasion, the CEO had the lights dimmed as he launched into a narrated slide show carefully orchestrated to change Bay Street’s mind. “It’s got a lot of growth opportunities…” Asper began.

The pitch didn’t work.

To everyone but Leonard Asper that day, the problem at CanWest wasn’t one of perception. The problem wasn’t even Australia itself. Rather, it was the same four-letter word that has tripped up countless overreaching executives over time: debt.

When Asper was handed the reins to CanWest in 1999 by his father, Izzy, he inherited a business that was built using debt as an instrument. Izzy, a street-smart tax lawyer, started CanWest by purchasing a small TV station in North Dakota, then trucking the broadcasting equipment north to Winnipeg. Over the next three decades, the business grew across Canada and overseas. The younger Asper shared his father’s vision, it was well known, and he vowed to expand the empire. But did the son have his father’s touch?

As he stood at the front of the room enthusing about the Australian TV market, Leonard Asper didn’t realize that his most important audience—Bay Street—had already tuned him out. Everyone but Asper could see: Yes, Australia was a nice, profitable asset. But that was precisely why it needed to be sold. If CanWest didn’t start paying down its $3.8-billion debt, the company was going to crash.

Two hours after it began, the meeting concluded and the analysts filed out. A few gathered in small groups in the lobby to discuss what they had just witnessed. CanWest was not selling Australia. It was not paying down debt. One analyst, whose firm was once a major investor in the company, shook his head. “They’re fucked,” he said.

January 28, 2008, was the day Leonard Asper lost Bay Street.

CanWest founder Izzy Asper and his children—David, Gail, Leonard—in the 1990s. The next generation never paid down the debt that their father incurred. (Perry Zavit)

Blame for the problems that forced CanWest into creditor protection in October is typically laid at the feet of Izzy Asper. The patriarch’s single-minded drive to create a national media powerhouse led to the purchase of Hollinger Inc.’s newspapers from Conrad Black in 2000. The debt from the peak-of-the-market price—$3.5 billion—outlived Izzy, who died in 2003. Defenders of Leonard Asper ask what the now 45-year-old son possibly could have done to avoid his company’s fall.

Quite a lot, actually. What is almost always overlooked in CanWest post-mortems is that Asper missed three critical chances to save his company over a three-year period.

The first opportunity came in the summer of 2005. The markets were strong and the notion of a recession in the near future seemed absurd. What’s more, corporate Canada was pulsing with income-trust fever. Any asset that reliably generated cash, but was not in the sort of high-growth position that required prodigious investment, became a candidate for conversion to a trust. Since trusts, by definition, did not pay income tax, but instead paid most of their earnings directly to investors, companies were rewarded with inflated valuations for converting themselves.

Eager to take part in the gold rush, CanWest turned to its newspaper division, which included a dozen English-language dailies across the country, including the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal’s The Gazette, the Calgary Herald and The Vancouver Sun, each of them dominant in its market. The division was a perfect candidate for conversion. Though the papers were seeing readership declines typical of the sector, they were spinning off steady cash and not likely to require major infusions of capital. Even better, the papers could be neatly parcelled off into an initial public offering without disrupting CanWest’s structure.

CanWest went public with plans to sell roughly a quarter of its newspaper business in the trust market that fall, hoping to raise more than $700 million. Though Asper and the board had been discussing a trust IPO for more than a year, they dithered. That September, the federal government, which had been nervously watching its corporate tax revenue drain away, announced it was reviewing the sector. By the time the IPO was ready, the CanWest trust was one of a deluge of offerings being rushed out the door amid uncertainty over the future of the trust market.

With investors spooked, CanWest was forced to scale back its trust offering to $550 million worth of units. CanWest also had to sweeten its annual payouts, boosting distributions from a budgeted range of 80 to 85 cents per unit to 92.5 cents. Together, those changes cost the company $300 million—money that could have gone toward slaying the debt.

That CanWest had waited too long and missed out on the frothy trust market suggested a basic lack of shrewdness. And if the company was willing to sell a quarter of the newspaper business, why didn’t it go large and sell 49%? Asper could have still retained control but maximized his company’s advantage on the bottom line, netting $1 billion.

The next misstep was even more baffling. In October, 2006, the federal government announced it was ending trusts’ tax advantage by 2011. All trusts would eventually have to convert to public companies and pay income taxes. In response, in May, 2007, CanWest decided to buy back the trust units. Though unit prices had fallen sharply across the income trust sector, CanWest offered an attractive $9 for each outstanding unit, at a cost of $495 million.

The rationale was that CanWest would be repatriating the cash payouts, rather than doling them out to investors. But this benefit, which at best was worth $50 million a year to the company, did not impress analysts. CanWest had just spent close to half a billion dollars to buy back the trust—the windfall that had been realized from the trust offering was all but wiped out for what amounted to a marginal gain. Meanwhile, the debt had edged higher that year.

“With the right moves, the debt was manageable,” says Chris Diceman, senior vice-president of bond rater DBRS Ltd., which has tracked CanWest’s debt closely over the years. “They could have not done the trust buyback.”
“I don’t think there’s any point just having [the money] sit there in a bank in Canada.

Leonard Asper

If the trust two-step represented two missed opportunities to fix the CanWest debt problem, the third—and most important—oversight came a few months later, in the summer of 2007.

The Australian government was relaxing its rules on media ownership, allowing more foreign investment while also opening the door for large media companies to own more assets. The upshot: There would be more buyers in the market and the value of Australian media companies would surge.

Asper had seen the regulatory signals for a while, and he began discussing a sale of the Ten network with analysts. This was not an easy decision, since Ten was one of his father’s crowning achievements, a veritable gusher of a find. Izzy Asper acquired an initial stake in the slumping network for a mere $45 million in 1992, then set about growing the business to be worth 20 times that. Moreover, Ten brought in more than $60 million a year in cash for its Canadian parent. “People questioned the wisdom of a regional broadcaster in Canada making an initial investment of $45 million in a struggling third-place television network,” Leonard Asper proudly pointed out in a letter to shareholders in early 2007. Izzy had been such a genius, in fact, that the only way for his son to sell the asset without losing face was to get exactly what he figured Ten was worth. Some estimates that summer were pegging the potential price for CanWest’s stake at more than $1.2 billion.

But Asper never got his deal. Bankers were hired to shop the Ten stake, but an offer never came. Word rippled through the Australian market that the Canadian owners wanted too much. Ten was a nice money-spinner, true, but it wasn’t dominant in its market; indeed, it was an also-ran in the race for ratings.

By the summer, Ten had spent several months on the auction block; then Asper cancelled the sale. The investment his father was so proud of, the star asset in the company’s international profile, was staying inside the CanWest stable.

The most attentive shareholders—institutional investors—voted on the decision with their feet. A stock that had traded at nearly $10 before the cancellation of the sale shed an average of 50 cents a month over the next year. The smart money saw that CanWest had missed a $1.5-billion benefit: In addition to a sale price that even conservative estimates put at $1 billion, the deal would have removed a half-billion in debt on the books at the Australian operations.

A month later, in July, 2007, a defiant Asper defended his decision—and a 36% drop in CanWest’s quarterly profits. There was no need to liquidate the Australian network for cash, he told analysts on a conference call. “I don’t think there’s any point just having [the money] sit there in a bank in Canada,” Asper said.

But he was missing the point. The money wasn’t supposed to sit in a bank. It was supposed to pay down debt. Of all the opportunities Asper missed to control CanWest’s debt, this one would prove to be the most damaging. “The trouble with Ten was that it just became too good of a business for them,” says Diceman. “It became too big and too valuable for Asper to say this was the right time to sell.”

Certainly there was a rationale for keeping it—and there was a rationale for the trust decisions too. But if CanWest had pulled the trigger on trusts and Ten rather than hesitating, it would have entered the recession with a debt as low as $1.5 billion, possibly even less. Instead, it staggered into the jaws of a recession in late 2008 with a debt load approaching $4 billion. And the slowdown meant that advertising sales—which CanWest depends on for 77 cents of every dollar it makes—plummeted.

“This was a company that was not properly capitalized for a downturn,” Diceman says. Asper, in other words, simply never planned for a rainy day.
Leonard Asper at an annual general meeting at The King Edward Hotel

It was no accident that Asper’s fateful Ten pitch was made at the King Edward Hotel. For Winnipeg-based CanWest, the King Eddy has long served as a home away from home, an elegant venue just a couple of blocks from the financial epicentre of King and Bay.

In January, 2007, when the fate of the Ten network was still an open question, Asper called a press conference at the hotel. As he stepped to the microphone inside a capacious meeting room, he glanced, smiling, at a row of TV cameras pointed his way. Some of the crews were from CanWest’s own Global TV; others had been dispatched by its rivals CTV and CBC.

“By now you’ve probably heard the news,” Asper quipped. Word of CanWest’s $2.3-billion purchase of Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. was among the worst-kept secrets around town that week, rendering the press conference slightly anti-climactic. Still, this was Asper’s crowning moment, the first major deal he’d made without his father looking over his shoulder.

The takeover saw CanWest acquire 13 specialty TV stations, including popular channels like Showcase, HGTV and the Food Network. The transaction held crucial strategic importance. In contrast to conventional TV networks like Global, which must depend solely on the whims of advertisers for revenue, specialty channels enjoy a steady stream of monthly fees from cable and satellite customers.

The fact that CanWest owned few specialty TV channels had been a glaring weakness in the company’s portfolio. The problem had become particularly acute in recent years as rival CTV began using the steadily increasing revenues from specialty assets like TSN and Bravo to undermine CanWest. CTV regularly outbid Global for the Hollywood shows that the networks rely on for ratings and revenue; now Global had a way to fight back. “It makes great sense,” CIBC World Markets analyst Bob Bek wrote in a research note.

But the purchase of Alliance Atlantis came at a hefty price. Lacking for cash, CanWest had to partner with American investment bank Goldman Sachs, which agreed to foot most of the bill. CanWest was contributing a mere 36% of the equity. To make it worth Goldman Sachs’s while, CanWest struck an intricate agreement that worried analysts.

CanWest agreed to combine Global TV with the Alliance channels to create a single business unit that, in 2011, would be divvied up in direct correlation to the financial performance of the assets. At that time, CanWest would be given a price that it would have to pay to buy back full control from Goldman Sachs. For CanWest to walk away with at least a 50% stake, the company needed EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of the combined TV operations to reach at least $200 million by 2011. EBITDA of $250 million would give CanWest 58%; of $300 million, 63%. “It’s a performance-driven model,” Asper said, touting the cleverness of the deal. The better job CanWest did at operating its TV businesses, the lower the price to buy out Goldman Sachs.

Quite apart from pushing the envelope on federal ownership rules, the deal was fraught with risk. Goldman Sachs isn’t known for coming out on the losing end of deals, and analysts wondered what CanWest was getting itself into. Though Asper was all smiles at the announcement, the deal reeked of desperation.

The stable of Alliance Atlantis channels and Global were estimated to be making combined EBITDA of about $160 million, meaning the targets set by the deal were within easy reach—so long as the economy kept doing its bit. But since then, advertising markets have fallen flat, conventional television has struggled, and it’s safe to say that the earnings figure for those assets hasn’t risen to meet the projections CanWest needs.

So when 2011 arrives, the math will likely have worked in Goldman Sachs’s favour. A reorganized CanWest will face a buyout price of between $600 million and $1 billion. If the company can’t pay the tab, the agreement allows Goldman Sachs to sell its stake in the broadcasting business to the highest bidder.

“This is not the sword of Damocles hanging over the company’s head,” Asper insisted in an interview after the deal. But making the Alliance Atlantis acquisition on what amounted to a Goldman Sachs credit card undermined Bay Street’s confidence in him. It also raised CanWest’s debt to $3.8 billion.
"If I could go back in time, I would have certainly focused to a greater degree on ways to reduce the debt.”

Leonard Asper

After the Alliance Atlantis purchase was announced, it was assumed on Bay Street that CanWest would sell the Australian TV network to pay down debt. And if that wasn’t happening, investors wondered aloud what Plan B was.

To these questions, Asper responded that the company was seeking several “regulatory fixes” that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Atop that list was CanWest’s push—alongside its rival CTV—to reap specialty channel-style revenues for its conventional network by charging cable and satellite companies to carry the signals.

Beyond that change, which would bring in more than $70 million annually, CanWest was also mounting a costly legal fight, again alongside CTV, to loosen federal restrictions on pharmaceutical ads—worth $350 million annually to the media industry, by some estimates.

Neither of these fixes, nor any of the others proffered by Asper, materialized. As the calendar turned to 2008, with a debt approaching $4 billion, CanWest was running out of ideas.

The first signs of deep financial trouble began in the fall. With advertising revenues declining, CanWest broke a bank covenant that required the company to keep its debt below 5.75 times its pretax earnings. Asper responded by negotiating breathing space with his banks, and told analysts the situation was under control.

Before long, CanWest broke the same covenant again as revenue fell further. On October 31, 2008, DBRS raised the first of many red flags, putting CanWest’s debt under review. On November 11, it warned that some senior subordinated notes carried “below-average recovery prospects.” To translate bond-rating speak: CanWest was hemorrhaging.

The free fall in CanWest’s shares soon worsened. It became more apparent that the company was going to default on interest payments to bondholders, and the shares, which had sold for $6 a year earlier, dropped to less than a dollar. Asper tried his best to shuck off the “penny stock” stigma. But what individual retail investors thought began to matter less and less as the bondholders exerted more influence over the company.

By March, the bondholders were owed millions in outstanding interest payments, and had the right to call more than $760 million owed to them by CanWest’s holding company, CanWest Media Inc. Instead of forcing CanWest into foreclosure, the group—led by Toronto-based West Face Capital and U.S. hedge funds GoldenTree Asset Management and Beach Point Capital Management—demanded seats at the table, and the ultimate say in what would happen to CanWest’s assets.

All three funds were specialists in distressed companies—“vulture” funds. In exchange for their debt, they would take the vast majority of the shares in a restructured CanWest. The terms were simple: If CanWest was going to survive, it had to get used to answering to a small group of powerful new partners. And the Asper family would have to get used to not calling the shots.
Inveterate dealmaker Ted Rogers tried to play white knight at CanWest shortly before his death (The Globe and Mail)

The crisis at CanWest has taken its toll on Asper. But he has done his best to not let it show. On a warm spring night in May, the CEO, fresh from meeting with the CRTC, was found boarding a Porter Airlines flight in Ottawa for the short hop into Toronto’s downtown Island airport.

Asper, who’d ditched his suit for casual attire, greeted a few other passengers with a smile. But his mood was solemn as he slumped in his seat. It looked inevitable that CanWest was headed for a major restructuring—and possible dismantling. No white knight had emerged to save the company. Prem Watsa, the billionaire behind Fairfax Financial Holdings, had been buying CanWest shares for the past two years, amassing 22% of the non-voting stock. But in this instance, the famously savvy investor had made the wrong call: Owning equity, not debt, meant he was shut out of the endgame as the debtholders took over.

Another redemptory prospect had briefly surfaced back in November, when an ailing, bedbound Ted Rogers phoned CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein. Rogers was blunt, offering to save Global TV if the regulator would relax rules and let Rogers Communications own two conventional television networks. Von Finckenstein said no. Rogers died two weeks later, and the plan was never revisited.

By the time of Asper’s May excursion to Ottawa, relations had already frayed inside the Asper family, as his siblings David, an executive vice-president at CanWest, and Gail, corporate secretary and a director, watched the value of their family business dwindle. Close friends say that when the family gathered in Winnipeg in April to mark Passover, the atmosphere around the dinner table was tense as the conversation turned to what had gone so terribly wrong at the company. The answer was obvious: CanWest had carried too much debt for too long, and had missed several opportunities to dig itself out. On Bay Street, a new term had been coined—“CanWest fatigue”—as bankers grew weary of the same debt story playing over and over, with the company doing little to solve it.

As Asper left the plane in Toronto and headed for the short ferry ride that takes Porter passengers to the mainland and into a fleet of waiting taxis, he paused to ponder the company’s looming restructuring. “There’s still a long way to go,” he said. The CRTC aside, Asper was spending most of his days on a treadmill of meetings with banks, bondholders and lawyers, often running from one to the next, trying to keep all groups happy.

Throughout the negotiations, one all-too-familiar topic kept weighing down the talks: Australia. The bondholders and other creditors were fighting over the sale of Ten—whether to liquidate the network immediately for cash, or wait for a better time to sell. The bondholders finally won out in September when a small window opened for an Australian deal.

With advertising markets in the country showing signs of life, investor interest in media assets began to pick up. Watching the rise in antipodean media stocks, the bondholders instructed Asper to board a plane for Australia and work a deal to sell the network in the open market.

The asset that had been valued at more than $1 billion was sold for $634 million. The deal also allowed CanWest to erase from its books $582 million of debt that was linked to Ten. All told, the divestment was worth more than $1 billion—not enough, by this point, to save the company.

The sale of the Australian business marked the end of CanWest’s international ambitions. But the price Ten fetched signalled something else: The bondholders were now running the business, period. Accordingly, a few weeks later, CanWest filed for protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

"If I could go back in time,” Leonard Asper says, his voice flat and serious, “I would have certainly focused to a greater degree on ways to reduce the debt.”

It is October 6, the day CanWest has filed for court protection from its creditors. What might he have done differently? He acknowledges that the trust sale and buyback could have been handled better. And the Australian situation still bothers him. “There might have been a window where—if you knew everything you knew today—you would have just dumped it,” Asper says. “But I can’t look back and regret that decision. Decisions of companies get made by not one person. There was a collective view that we should hold on to Ten. And it turns out that, with everything else that happened, it wasn’t the right decision.”

Asper then cuts this part of the conversation short. It’s no use revisiting decisions. “You could pick any of these things. And I think once you do that, you start driving yourself crazy.”

Should he?

Quebec group demands apology for francophone 'ethnocide'
Canwest News Service

Published: Friday, October 30, 2009
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Oct. 27, 2009, in Windsor, England. The Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste wants the Prince to apologize for francophone 'ethnocide.' (Leon Neal/Getty Image)
MONTREAL -- Prince Charles should use the occasion of his visit to Quebec next month to apologize on behalf of the British Crown for past harm caused to French culture in North America, says the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will visit Montreal during the couple's visit to Canada from November 2 to November 12.

The group says it wrote the Prince on Friday to say he will be welcome in Quebec if he apologizes for "ethnocide" of francophones after New France passed into the hands of Britain in 1763.

Among the alleged acts of oppression: Acadian deportations; deporting or executing the leaders of the Patriote rebellions of 1837-1838; instituting a majority-English Canada in 1840; execution of Metis leader Louis Riel in 1885; and repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 without Quebec approval.

The hardline French-language rights organization says it will support anti-British demonstrations during the visit if an apology is not forthcoming.

Montreal Gazette

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stephen Harper in blue jeans?

The Relentless Rise of Power Jeans
World Leaders and Executives Wear Them (Mostly Well); How to Get Denim right
October 28, 2009
Nicolas Sarkozy (Agence France-Press/Getty Images)
When Dmitry Medvedev dined with the Obamas in July, the Russian president appeared both relaxed and powerful. He hit that elusive note by pairing his fine blazer, crisp buttoned shirt, and expensive-looking leather-soled shoes with dark, straight jeans. Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama (Associated Press)
Power jeans are increasingly common in high-ranking business and political circles. Indeed, jeans are now a legitimate part of the global power-dress lexicon, worn to influential confabs where the wearers want to signal they're serious—but not fussy—and innovative.

The look started with the young but has crossed into gray-haired circles. In preparation for a meeting with the U.S. president of Swiss watchmaker IWC, Larry Seiden, a 56-year-old fine-watch collector from San Jose, California bought a pair of black Agave jeans from a high-end boutique. "They tailored them for me and I have to tell you, I really love them," he says. "Now I'm thinking of getting another pair in blue denim."

Jeans are recruiting new fans among even dressy executives. "I'm not really a jeans guy," said Gilles Mendel, chief executive and designer of J. Mendel furs and evening wear, not long ago, sitting in his New York office. Still, he went with a snug set of dark blue Acme jeans under a black Dior blazer.
Many leaders wear jeans for a power look, like Barack Obama (Associated Press)
Chosen well, jeans can suggest the wearer is confident and modern. Traditionally cut blue jeans carry a whiff of the laborer about them, so denim on a leader suggests a willingness to roll up the sleeves and dig in. There's also something of the rebel in a pair of jeans. In the boardroom, that can read as creative.

But jeans must be carefully paired with a pressed shirt and good shoes to be elevated to business class. And some industries haven't (yet) become open to denim as power wear. Banks and accounting-firm boardrooms, for instance, remain decidedly woolen. New York-based career adviser Jonscott Turco says jeans are generally a "no-brainer" in the media, manufacturing and creative industries, but not in financial services and law firms.
French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin, right, with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair in jeans. (Associated Press)

Power jeans may best be left to the executives in mixed-rank groups. Being a junior person wearing jeans in a room full of pinstripes could spell "youthful blunder." Perhaps the best rule is that of the high-priced boutique: If you have to ask, you can't afford to wear them.

It's also possible to go awry with the wrong jeans in the right place. Barack Obama, whose wife and children have been heralded as fashion icons, was ridiculed for wearing dorky "dad jeans" (baggy and high-rise) to pitch at an All-Star game. When Tony Blair wore jeans to meet George Bush two years ago, the British prime minister was criticized for his pants' snug fit. Steve Jobs (Associated Press)
Few items of clothing speak as loudly, to the positive or negative, as a pair of jeans. As with tuxedos and Hawaiian shirts, wear them right (on the latter, only to a luau if you're a mainlander), or not at all.

To wit, fit is as essential for jeans as for tailored slacks. Eric Jennings, Saks Fifth Avenue men's fashion director, suggests that men keep their executive jeans "dark and straight." And never dress as if the jeans had been switched out from formal suit pants at the last minute: No fancy French-cuffed shirts with jeans, he advises.

In fact, getting power jeans right involves lots of no's. No distressed jeans at work. No metal studs. No acid washes. No lavish embroidery. No boot cut. No skinny. No pedal pushers, shorts or cutoffs. No baggy high-rise. No super-low-rise. No holes. And no fussy ironing.

A Staple in American Fashion
Copper-riveted, rolled tight or stone-washed, jeans have sustained the wears and tears of fashion for over a hundred years.

We have Steve Jobs to thank for today's power jeans. His uniform of Levi's 501s and a black turtleneck was synonymous with innovation in the '90s; now, in the tech world, dressy pants can be viewed with suspicion. "When someone shows up to an interview or meeting in anything other than jeans, it shows inexperience and a lack of confidence," says Andrew Dumont, vice president of marketing for text-messaging company Tatango.

Little wonder that the folks at Levi's are reverential toward Apple's founder. Steve Jobs, says You Nguyen, a Levi's executive in charge of women's merchandising and design, "is the Marlon Brando of his time."

Write to Christina Binkley at

Time to listen politicians?

Time to legalize?

Marijuana growers turn nasty
Crop Protection; Booby traps, armed guards getting common
Kenyon Wallace, National Post
Published: Friday, October 30, 2009

Marijuana growers in Ontario are resorting to an increasing array of brutal tactics to protect their outdoor crops, including bear traps, spike boards and armed guards, warn provincial police.

The alarming security measures were a common discovery during the OPP's annual marijuana eradication program that wrapped up earlier this month. Newly released figures show the eight-week operation, scheduled to coincide with the end of growing season, yielded 118,443 marijuana plants -- 10,000 more than last year -- that police estimate would have amounted to a street value of about $118-million. More than 200 grow-ops were discovered, resulting in 110 charges against 56 people.

"Marijuana grow-ops pose a real threat to both public and police safety. The cultivation of marijuana in Ontario has reached epidemic proportions," OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino said.

Police found grow-ops in the Brockville, Bancroft and Owen Sound areas, some fields with as many as 9,000 plants. At one grow-op near Smiths Falls, a barn was found to contain more than 1,500 kilograms of processed bud ready for sale.

"Since 2002, we've seen a steady increase in outdoor marijuana growth," said Inspector Bryan Martin of the OPP's drug enforcement section. "It's economics. It makes sense to have one large plantation with a single harvest than to have several indoor grow operations to get the same number of plants."

One grow-op discovered by police near Renfrew last summer contained 40,000 plants, with an estimated street value of more than $40-million.

With more tracts of rural Ontario land being taken over by marijuana plantations comes a growing need for organized crime to ward off police, other criminal groups intent on stealing crops and the public.

Inspector Martin said police are encountering an alarming increase in the number of booby traps, cameras, armed guards and other security devices surrounding grow-ops. Common booby traps include hidden animal traps with metal claws and spike boards suspended from trees designed to impale trespassers when they step on trip wires. Armed guards, usually illegal immigrants hired by organized crime, are also becoming increasingly common, Insp. Martin said.

This summer, police discovered an armed guard and several pitbulls at a grow-op in Apsley, near Bancroft. The guard was found with a diary that contained instructions to shoot trespassers.

In another case, two people driving ATVs near Minden last summer stumbled across a grow-op and were pistol-whipped by armed guards. When they managed to escape, the guards opened fire, but no one was injured.

"This isn't a couple of good ole' boys growing a couple of plants in their backyard. This is a criminal operation and they want to protect it at any cost," said Insp. Martin, noting his department spends about 60% of its workload dealing with marijuana grow-ops.

The growth of marijuana production in Ontario has also made for a lucrative trade business with organized crime in the United States, he said. In a criminal operation known as "brown south, white north," marijuana is shipped south in exchange for crystal meth and crack cocaine, which are then imported to this country.

The U.S. Department of Justice now calls Canada a "source country" for marijuana. Police also say gangs are trading Ontario-produced marijuana for cash and guns.

"It's not just grow-op locations that are a public safety threat because if the marijuana makes it south, drugs and guns come back to our local communities," Insp. Martin said. "It's a reciprocal effect."


118,443 Number of marijuana plants seized by OPP during this year's eradication program

$1,000 Estimated street value of one marijuana plant

500 Average number of grow-ops discovered by OPP each year

422 Number of grow-ops discovered by the OPP this year to date .

2,745 Number of firearms seized by the OPP drug enforcement section in the past five years

$1.18B Street value of marijuana seized by the OPP drug enforcement section in the past five years

38 Per cent increase in outdoor grow-ops discovered by OPP since 2002

62 Per cent drop in indoor grow-ops discovered by OPP since 2002

Kenyon Wallace, National Post

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The art of kicking ass!

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post, "Do you have a Director of Communications?"

How's the lawsuit coming? Are Murray Trachtenberg and the Peeps kicking your ass six ways from Sunday?
Dear Anonymous:
Thank you for writing. Kicking our ass? Hardly. Looks like he's the one getting it from his political handlers as the next Manitoba Metis Federation election draws closer and closer. Who are the Peeps? We'll have more to say shortly.
Clare L. Pieuk

The Incredible Hulk!

Do you have a Director of Communications?

Coalition of Concerned Metis Citizens (CCMC) Update
October 2009

CCMC Response to MNBC Legal Council Correspondence

The October 11th, 2009 MNBC legal counsel response is interesting. MNBC legal counsel Gereluk raises a few points that I will clarify to you as the President. Firstly, I want to remind you that Mr. Gereluk personally assured me during the recent MNBC Annual General Meeting that his written response to clarify his interpretation would be provided to me without delay.

See Attachments - CCMC Response Letter to Dumont _FinalOct 29.pdf

MNBC Legal Council Joe Gereluk - Letters of October 11th & October 25th 2009

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thank you for contacting CyberSmokeBlog. When you send these updates there's no Director of Communications or some such individual our readers can contact for follow up comment or information. As you know, we've previously raised the issue but received no reply. For an organization which, as we understand, is promoting greater transparency, accountability and better governance we find this a tad unusual. At least the Metis Nation of British Columbia provides a contact person.

We post your links more out of respect for Manitoba Metis citizens' right to know than the CCMC. Here you are folks you be the judge and jury.


Clare L. Pieuk


Suite 401 1011 Fort Street
Victoria, British Columbia
V8V 3K5

Telephone: (250) 380-1423

Fax: (250) 380-0920
Our File

October 11, 2009

c/o Vancouver Métis Cultural Society
158 4111 Hastings Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
V5C 6I7

Dear Sir:

Re: MNBC Constitution – MPCBC Bylaws

You have requested that I provide an opinion with respect to the MNBC Constitution and the MPCBC Bylaws as orally presented at the MNBC Annual General Meeting on September 26, 2009. I have been informed that a portion of my discussion has been provided to you and has been reprinted on your website.

Although it is not complete, that portion of my oral presentation does provide some of the reasoning I had expressed in relation to the MNBC Constitution and MPCBC Bylaws.

Further, I understand that you have engaged the services of independent legal counsel in this matter.

Accordingly, it would be improper for me to provide you with my opinion as requested and suggest that you seek an opinion from your counsel.

I note that, on your website, you have misquoted certain phrases taken out of context from my oral submissions. I trust that you will refrain from continuing the publication of those misleading and confusing phrases that, quite frankly, do not make any sense.

Yours truly
Joseph Gereluk

To be continued .....

"Will that be cash, credit or our convenient layaway plan Sir?"

Wal-Mart adds caskets to product line
Nicole Maestri, Reuters

Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009 SAN FRANCISCO -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is now catering to its shoppers' needs from cradle to grave.

The world's largest retailer has introduced online sales of caskets, expanding a merchandise selection that spans engagement rings and baby gear to a new major milestone in its shoppers' lives.

Shoppers can choose from the Lady de Guadalupe steel casket for US$895 or a sienna bronze casket for US$2,899.00. spokesman Ravi Jariwala said it is selling the products as a "limited beta test" that launched within the last few weeks.

Wal-Mart has been revamping its merchandise selection in stores and online to expand into categories it believes have high potential for growth.

The funeral service industry generates US$11-billion in revenue a year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. In 2007, the association said the U.S. death rate was 8.0 people per thousand, and that is expected to rise to 9.3 people per thousand by the year 2020.

The caskets do not qualify for's free site-to-store shipping program, where shoppers can buy an item online and have it shipped to a local store for free.

Instead, the website says the caskets require freight delivery to the shopper's preferred address. The estimated shipping cost for the sienna bronze casket is US$99.

Competitor Costco Wholesale Corp already sells caskets online.

© Thomson Reuters 2009


B.C. police seek serial groin-kicker after series of attacks
"I just want to know what her problem is"
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LANGLEY, British Columbia -- Police in Langley are investigating after a woman kicked a man in the groin so hard he lost a testicle -- the latest in a series of similar assaults.

"I just want to know what her problem is," victim Anthony Clark, 22, said this week. "People like her shouldn't be on the streets."

Mr. Clark was walking in the Brookswood area of Langley in early September when he passed his assailant on the sidewalk.

"I was looking down and then I took a passing glance and saw her walk up to me," he said.

That's when the young woman inexplicably kicked him in the groin hard enough to send one of his testicles into his abdomen.

Mr. Clark said he wasn't aware of the severity of his injury until later that night when he "noticed something was missing."

He consulted his doctor and a specialist, both of whom believed his testicle could be brought down again with surgery.

It wasn't until he woke up afterwards that he discovered the doctors were wrong - the force of the assault had caused his testicle to rupture. It had to be removed and will be replaced by a prosthetic before Christmas.

"My doctors say I will still be able to have children," Mr. Clark said. "But at 22 that's not something I want a stranger, this woman, to decide."

Embarrassed by the situation, Mr. Clark didn't go to the police until nearly four weeks after the attack.

Constables have told him there have been three or four similar assaults on other men, Mr. Clark said.

Langley RCMP said they would like to speak to other victims, although there have been no official reported incidents, spokeswoman Const. Holly Marks said.

The suspect is described as a Caucasian woman, in her late teens or early 20s. She was between five-foot-five and five-foot-seven and 130 pounds with a slim build and brown hair.

Vancouver Province

Are you reading this while at work?

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post, "Meet Amy Derjue everybody the new cyber-slacking poster child!"

Lazy (expletive deleted).
Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for writing. Remember the gold old days when people burned company time chatting around the water cooler, coffee maker or photocopying machine? There was no paper or electronic trail unless, of course, you were stupid enough to expose yourself to the zerox.

What the article points out is an organization's serious failure to have policy guidelines for internet use during working hours. You might be interested in the following article.

Clare L. Pieuk

Mayor Thomas M. Menino's spokesman Dot Joyce said the city's chief information officer is drafting a new policy on city workers' social media usage. (Photo by John Wilcox)

Grow up, Twitter-happy hacks
By Margery Eagan
Boston Herald Columnist
Thursday, October 29, 2009

OK. Let he who’s never sent a personal e-mail from work cast the first twit. Or Tweet.

But grow up, Amy, Mac, “Mafia Wars” Dave and all you Facebook fanatics posting and boasting about your drinking plans and office capers on taxpayer time.

You’re not supposed to advertise you’re goofing off on public Web sites anybody can see.
You’re not supposed to goof off at all. It’s a horrible recession here, see? You’re a government worker. Too many people taxed to pay your salary aren’t working at all right now. They’re scared and struggling and desperate. And they don’t want to hear that Mac Daniel, while pulling in $93,000 at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, is fiddling with anagrams of his name.

Or that Councilor John Tobin’s $71,000-a-year assistant David Isberg wiles away the day playing “Mafia Wars” - and that Tobin thinks that’s dandy.

They don’t want to hear, ha, ha, ha, “20 minutes and I am OUT. Gone. No longer present. Do not contact unless you want to drink, shop, or watch sporting events.”

That’s a post from City Hall cyberslacker Amy Derjue, who sounds like lots of fun, fun, fun. “Dear beer-loving peeps,” she asks, “I just paid damn near $12 for a six-pack of Post Road Pumpkin Ale. Did I get screwed?”

I don’t know about them, Amy. But you should be in a bit of a jam right now.

It’s not, like, high school, like, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” - like some big inside joke.

Maybe we can’t blame Amy for napping through City Council meetings, even when her boss is Man about Back Bay Michael Ross, dapper City Council president. But please don’t tell the world you “do (your) best work when I have a pant-soilingly close deadline.”

Amy, you’re supposed to be doing your best work. Period.

Let me not be too holier than thou here.

Going to Junior’s baseball game when you say you’re getting a root canal? Sneaking into CVS on the way to a sales call? All of the above is stealing company time.

Most of us in the Dreaded Private Sector have done it at one time or another. Bless Me Father, for I , too, have sinned. But the difference between these Facebookers and the CVS sneakers I know?

Public vs. private. Flush times vs. I’m just grateful to have a job. Plus, it’s not an everyday deal, or something they feel proud of. And they sure don’t post pictures of themselves goofing off on the Internet to show how cool they are.

Be honest, do you Tweet, post on Facebook during work hours:
Only when the boss isn’t around?
All the time, it gets me through the day?
Hardly ever, with all the layoffs I’m doing 2 jobs?
No, but how do you start?
No, but colleagues do and it’s unfair? - a must read!

Dear Clare,

Thanks in large part to your generous links and support, Bulletproof’s visitors have tripled in number and the variety of our content has continued to expand since we re-launched Bulletproof Blog ( a year ago. In order to better organize and provide our content to you, we’ve spent the past few weeks revamping the site’s appearance and functionality. By clicking the link above, you see the results. Among the many improvements are:
New Channels: You can now quickly find the most up to date information on the topics that matter to you;
Improved Features: Additional weekly Features covering topics ranging from litigation to digital media to crisis communications;
Custom RSS: Enhanced abilities to receive and tailor Bulletproof updates using RSS feeds and emails – on the go, when and where you need them;
Enhanced Conversation: New and improved commenting systems that enable you to join and help shape the conversation surrounding the most pressing matters facing companies, individuals, and countries today;
Easy Share Options: Simple options to add relevant quotes from Bulletproof posts directly to your own blog; and
Access Counselors: Easy-to-find links to connect with Levick counselors.
It’s all about helping you cut through the clutter and get to the most useful information as quickly as possible. As communications challenges grow more complex and more integral to business strategy with each passing day, Bulletproof Blog is constantly evolving to better help you and your readers meet the needs of a world in which news cycles are measured in seconds and threats to brand reputation lurk around every corner.
I invite you to explore our new features – and please feel free to offer your feedback on how the redesign has impacted your Bulletproof Blog experience.

Katie Burton

Katherine Burton
Levick Strategic Communications, LLC
1900 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 973-1301 (Fax)

Dear Katie,
Thank you for contacting us with an update on We highly recommend the site to our readers. Of particular interest is the Six@Six: 6 Tips for Building Communities of Support on Facebook, as well as, The Bulletproof Interview series something our politicians would do well to read.
If you're not already familiar with Harvard University's Berkman Centre for Internet & Society we strongly suggest it's well worth a visit.
Our October 22, 2009 article, "It began with an anonymous, nasty e-mail!" explains how we stumbled upon the Centre quite by accident. The work it's doing on cyber law in the digital age is nothing short of leading edge.
Clare L. Pieuk

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet Amy Derjue everybody the new cyber-slacking poster child!

HARD AT WORK? Amy Derjue (above), and other City Hall employees spent word time chatting with friends and posting personal stories on social networking websites a Herald investigation reveals. (Photo by John Wilcox)
Hacks hooked on Facebook
Some spend workday on social sites
By Jessica Heslam and Dave Wedge
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bored Boston government workers are goofing off on Facebook and other popular social networking sites on taxpayer time, boasting of napping during meetings, playing “Mafia Wars,” creating anagrams of their names and planning Halloween costumes.

The poster girl for the on-the-clock cyber-slacking is Amy Derjue, who earns $39,000 a year as Boston City Council President Michael Ross’ communications director.

The former Boston magazine blogger regularly updates her personal status on Facebook and Twitter throughout the work day, brazenly joking to her online pals about snoozing at a hearing, writing snarky comments about the reality TV show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” opining on an article about Boston being one of the best cities to meet guys and babbling about her Halloween wig.

“Amy Derjue is going to sit in the Council meeting and nap,” she wrote on Facebook at 11:49 a.m. last Wednesday. The next day, she spent the morning complaining about her chilly City Hall cubicle on Twitter. “Somebody bring me a hot coffee and fluffy sweater, please,” she wrote at 9:32 a.m.

Another workday posting was a link to a cartoon “menstrual flow chart,” to which she commented, “Look at the uterus. It is so cute.” And she was apparently eager to punch out that day, writing at 4:40 p.m.: “20 minutes and I am OUT. Gone. No longer present. Do not contact unless you want to drink, shop, or watch sporting events.”

Other Facebook junkies include:

• Mac Daniel, the $93,000-a-year communications director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, posted an item on Facebook during one apparently lazy summer workday that showed his name as an anagram for “I’m a candle.” Other workday musings included a YouTube video of comedian Louis C.K. and rants about the World Series and GOP Rep. Joe Wilson - who famously shouted “You lie” to President Obama during a speech.

• City Councilor John Tobin’s $71,000-a-year administrative assistant David Isberg plays a Web-based game called “Mafia Wars” almost daily on Facebook during regular work hours.

• Johanna Sena, a $49,000-a-year community liaison for Ross, bantered with Derjue on Facebook about prescription drugs and coffee one recent morning, and their cold office another day. “I say we plot to steal (co-worker) Julie’s portable heater,” Sena typed to Derjue.

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said city computers and equipment are for work purposes only.

Ross said one of the reasons he hired Derjue was to “broaden” his social networking and develop a personality for his office.

“I like what Amy’s doing,” said Ross, adding he encourages Derjue to use Facebook and Twitter to spread his message to constituents. “It’s not so that she’s fritting away her time. . . . She doesn’t have time to waste.”

Tobin defended Isberg’s Facebook usage, saying his staff doesn’t work a “typical 9-to-5 day.”

“The thing I’m most upset about is all this time playing ‘Mafia Wars’ and he hasn’t come close to the top 10 in scoring,” Tobin cracked.

Daniel, meanwhile, said MCCA policy allows for some personal usage but acknowledged, “In general, technology should be used for MCCA-related business.”

Some employees also may be violating laws that bar public employees from engaging in politics on the job. Isberg, for example, posted an ad for a Mike Capuano for Senate campaign event in West Roxbury Thursday afternoon

Thumbs down!

Facebook users stir up a ruckus over latest redesign
The popular social networking site recently redesigned its news feed. And that's made a lot of Facebook users very, very angry.
By Matthew Shaer
October 27, 2009
Thousands of Facebook users are giving the thumbs down to a recent redesign. (Newscom)

On Friday, Facebook rolled out a minor redesign of its status feed, which allows users to toggle between two filtering options. As we noted at the time, the new “Live Feed” is like an open faucet – the status updates, photos, and links come spilling out at a rapid clip. The “News Feed,” on the other hand, chews through information posted by your friends and family, and spits out only the stuff Facebook thinks you’ll find interesting.

“Some of you may ask why we are changing the home page again,” Facebook staffer Raylene Yung noted in a post on the Facebook blog. “Like you, we know it can be disruptive when things are moved around, but we hope that these changes make Facebook a more valuable experience for you. We put a lot of thought into all the changes we make to the site and do a lot of testing before releasing anything.”

Yung obviously knew that not everyone would love the changes. But we wonder if Facebook staffers anticipated how vociferous the opposition would get. Less than a week after the news feed redesign, hundreds of thousands of users have taken to Twitter, the blogs, and their own Facebook feeds to protest the recent changes.

Meanwhile, Facebook groups such as “Change Facebook back to normal” and “Members want the old Facebook format back” have watched their numbers swell above the one million user mark. “I read a news article that said fb changed it due to ‘user feedback.’ I am member #1,227,578 of this group so I do not believe users want this,” a member of the first group wrote today. “I know I don’t. At least give us an option between what we had and this.”

Much of the criticism of the redesign has centered on the functionality of the new filtering options. Writing in the comments section of this blog, for instance, one reader noted the following:

I’d rather look for myself to figure out what I might enjoy, rather than them deciding for me. The Live [F]eed for some odd reason chooses to publish every random detail that my friends change or do on their profile which I really don’t care about and didn’t have to see before. Why should I care that one of my friends is now friends with a person I don’t even know? I don’t know. Facebook and its blatant disregard for what its users want astounds me.

Of course Facebook redesigns aren’t exactly infrequent. (Among the most recent updates is Facebook Lite, a pared-down interface aimed at social networking newbies.) And with every new redesign comes a raft of new complaints. In fact, the irascible nature of Facebook users is so well known that a couple jokers have even started a group called “I AUTOMATICALLY HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK HOME PAGE.” It has close to 20,000 members.