Au Courant stinks

Martine and I just watched the first episode of the new CBC NewsWorld show, Au Courant. That’s the thirty-minute weekly English TV show about what’s going on in French Canada, the one that has seen some controversy over the choice of Mitsou as the host.

I thought it was a tempest in a teapot — just a couple of Quebecois journalists who take themselves too seriously taking this small matter too seriously. After all, it’s not supposed to be a news show, or even a serious current events show. I figured it would be a puff show, focusing on cultural this and that, and poking fun at all those silly little things that divide this country.

Then we watched the show. Or to be precise, we watched half the show before we gave up.

It was unspeakably bad. Downright ghastly.

Mitsou, bless her, gives it a good try, but she just doesn’t read or speak well. Her intonation and enunciation are way off. Her expressions and gestures are what you’d expect from the host of a children’s show. Clearly, she got the job because she’s a pretty face and a former pop star who people in English Canada might actually remember. If there had been auditions, she wouldn’t have made the first cut.

But I won’t put all the blame on Mitsou. In fact, the show is bad from stem to stern, from top to bottom and from inside out. The production values are terrible, with some interviewees sounding like they’re talking from the far end of a long metal tube. The editing is awful, and the stories are badly conceived and poorly produced.

They seem to be rushing through everything. The segment on Quebec’s so-called "star system" left me baffled and uninformed. The best they could do for French Canada outside of Quebec was a happy-go-lucky quickie on video lottery terminals in Manitoba — the menus are going bilingual! Then there was something about a fire chief in western Quebec who doesn’t speak French but apparently it’s not a problem. Or something.

Sadly, this much-hyped Anglo outreach is a dead duck. It looks and feels no better than something slapped together by a bunch of high-school kids.

When it comes to telling English Canada about French Canada, Au Courant can’t touch C’est La Vie, the thirty-minute radio show on CBC Radio 1 (88.5 FM in Montreal, Fridays at 11:30 A.M.). That show is fun, insightful, sometimes a bit silly, always informative, and never cloying or embarrassing. Why couldn’t the producers of Au Courant take a few hints from the radio people?

Bad rollovers

While we’re on the topic of bad Web typography, let me take a moment to complain about bad link styles.

It is possible, using CSS, to design a wide variety of typographical effects when it comes to Web links and what happens when the cursor rolls over them (referred to as a "rollover effect"). You can make it so the color changes, the font changes, underlines appear or disappear, bold is applied, or Italics, or a change in font face, among other things. While there may be some design advantages to using these effect (usability, aesthetics, etc.) please use good judgement when doing so. In particular, I advise strongly against making rollover effects that in any way changes the size or weight of the text characters.

For example, a color change, underline, or background color change does not affect the size or weight. Font changes, or the addition or removal of bold or Italics, do.

The problem with character size changes on rollovers is that when the effect occurs, everything under those characters is displaced, which can be a jarring and unattractive visual effect. It is annoying and amateurish, so don’t do it.

Below is an example from, taken from a page where they discuss the Iberian wine appellation of Valdepeñas. Note how rolling over a link causes the link text to switch to Italics, which causes an ugly ripple effect on the rest of the text. I gladly recommend wine from Valdepeñas, but this rollover effect is awful.

bad effect

Ugly Web Typography

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of articles on the Web using an unusual format when putting things in quotation marks. The quotation opens with a pair of a grave accents (like this: “) and closes with a pair of apostrophes (like this: ”). Below is an example from, with the quotation marks put in red (my modification). (Full article here, if you’re interested.)

odd quotation marks

I only find this on Web sites for large publications, such as Bloomberg. Smaller publications and blogs use the expected standard quotation marks.

But why? Why would these publications use this more cumbersome punctuation over regular quotation marks?

I’m speculating, but I suspect is has something to do with needing to clearly define the beginning and end of a quotation — not for the sake of the reader, but for some other, more technical reason.

In printed typography, the beginning and end of quotations are marked with curly quotes (also known as smart quotes). Curly quotes curl towards the text “like this”. However, Web browsers don’t easily handle curly quotes. For example, if you cut and paste directly from MS Word into a Web form or editor, it will either convert curly quotes (or apostrophes) into straight quotes "like this", or it will generate a character identification error like this .

Or it might work correctly. It depends on several factors, such as the form or editor being used, the Web browser being used, and the declarations at the beginning of the HTML file. You can understand why large publications would want to go around this issue by creating a new standard.

But again, why? Why do they need to have their quotations machine-understandable? Or am I going in a completely wrong direction with this inquiry?

I wonder about this because typography makes up a small but significant part of my life — or at least my work — and because I am naturally curious about these things. This accent-and-apostrphe  solution probably works, but it is ugly to the eye. So what pressing behind-the-scenes technical need do these publishers have that trumps typography?


I’m home, sick with a sore throat and flu-like symptoms. M stopped by a few minutes ago bearing comforts, including Chinese Ganmaoling tablets.

The information sheet inside the package of tablets was written in Chinese, with the following English translation:

“Ganmaog”, a most effeotine preparotion for thetroatment of common cold and infhienza, is extrocted from selected Chinese medicincl herbs by means of scieritfic method.

The chiclactions of these medicinal ingredients If “Ganmaoing” are antpyretic, antidotd ond antipniogistic, The antipyretic efficiencies, is affording instantancous rellef witl, effecis remardcbly marveious ctinical obsotvattoa hos proved that “Ganmaoiing” is excellent in cure and prcvention common cold and influenza It is affording instantaneous rellef witl, effecis rernarlccdly ofdifferent degrees during the onset of this dtsease Usually, a dosage of four tabtets cam effectively pet under control If an symptoms. Owing to jls auick action and absense of ondesir-able.side effects. both doctors and patiends prefer to use this remedy

Por aoult fout tabsets each.three times daily, Double bosage in severe cases.

As a patriotic Quebecer, I should report this to the Office québécois de la langue français, due to the lack of a French translation. In this case, however, I think the OLF would be relieved.