“You know that Bourque guy who has that breaking news site with all the gossip from this place?” asks Tall.
“Yeah, what about him?” replies Small.
“I hear he has some art on display over at the Chateau Laurier, and he’s into racecar driving and screenplay writing, and all sorts of stuff,” says Tall.
“Pretty mysterious guy, alright,” says Small, using his straw to fish a chunk of ice from his ‘girlie’ umbrella drink.
Had someone been eavesdropping on my recent hour-long conversation with Pierre Bourque of Bourque Newswatch (www.bourque.com), this is how it may have ultimately been written up on his “Heard at Hy’s” gossip page. With over 5,000 people reportedly checking out this new feature every day, the corporate, media, and political power players in this country are paying attention to Ottawa-based Internet journalist, Pierre Bourque, whether they want to admit to it or not.
Bourque’s website is the Canadian media equivalent of Paris Hilton: Everyone checks him out, but very few are willing to admit that they do. In fact, so many people are apparently busy “not” checking out Bourque’s site that he says he’s averaging more than 3.3 million readers per month.
One person who claims he’s “not a big user of Mr. Bourque’s website” is Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief, Edward Greenspon. An e-mail from his office does, however, serve to draw my attention to the fact that the Globe and Mail website, with its hundreds of pages, boasts 2 million unique hits each month.
When a lone guy with a one-page site can go head-to-head with one of Canada’s largest national dailies, it makes it pretty difficult to ignore the power of Bourque and his chosen medium.
Tim Powers—Vice President of Ottawa-based Summa Communications—calls Bourque “an entrepreneur, advocate and e-journalism pioneer...much like the news barons of old, without the paper. Pierre's site is well-read by opinion leaders, business and political types around the country. He has legitimacy. The medium is not an impediment, but rather an accepted reality. We have recommended that some of our clients advertise on the site. Quite a few have and found the exposure to be valuable. People are now of the view if it is not on the internet it is not valid--a significant change in the public psyche in the last five years.”
Other players -- from Winnipeg radio host and columnist, Charles Adler, to Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic, Stockwell Day -- admit to dropping by Bourque’s site several times a day, in search of up-to-the-minute breaking news items, easy access to important links, and the latest buzz. When traditional media types contact him to get the scoop on an original story posted on his site, he just tells them to “stay tuned”. In the battle for readership between traditional and new media, he isn’t making any concessions.
Parliament Hill doesn’t tend to serve up many of the “sex and power”, Clinton/Lewinsky types of scandals in which Bourque’s American counterpart—Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report—gets to indulge, because let’s face it, the average Canadian Member of Parliament has about as much power and sex appeal as the guy dancing around in a chicken suit outside your local KFC (and at least Mr. Cluck is actually around during the week). However, this doesn’t stop Bourque from injecting a little fun into the Hill scene.
Talking about the “Heard at Hy’s” feature launched this fall, Bourque says, “Hy’s is where all the politicians, lobbyists, and power-players go to get things done. They’re there to see and be seen. But people seem to get engrossed in their conversations and forget that they’re in a restaurant and that others can be listening.” Those listeners often include Bourque’s “Hy’s Spies”.
He says he has been approached by traditional media types to give up details as to the identities of people featured in “Hy’s”, but tells them that it’s “none of their business.” While Bourque acknowledges that political types are generally pretty thick-skinned, he says he doesn’t set out to ruin someone’s life, and steers clear of things that are outright malicious and not in the public interest. Given that we’re in an age when the journalistic ‘Book of Ethics’ seems to have been reduced to a pamphlet, it’s ironic that the envelope-pushing, online renegade would be the one to hoist the bar a bit.
The 46-year old Bourque says he started his website in 1998 when he was working as a columnist for various publications, including the Hill Times. His original intent was to use it as a way to organize his huge collection of online bookmarks and also to maintain an active dialogue with his readers. One Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter reminded me that Bourque co-authored a book about the Internet in the early 90s, way back before it became a mainstream phenomenon. But when asked whether he foresaw the Internet Explosion in some kind of an epiphany, Bourque says, “No. If I did, I would have gobbled up all the dot-com domain names.”
Since the site’s inception, Bourque has broken various original stories -- most of them true (like when Jean Charest, was leaving Parliament to go to Quebec and take on the leadership of the provincial Liberals) -- and the very odd one that’s totally bogus, but apparently way too believable. One such incident has landed Bourque spot number 42 on the online “Museum of Hoaxes” list of “Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time”.
On the morning of April 1, 2002, Bourque posted an announcement on his site that then-Finance Minister, Paul Martin, was blowing off politics to breed “prize Charolais cattle and handsome Fawn Runner ducks” in some backwater Quebec town. Within a few hours, Bourque had received an avalanche of more than 5,000 emails from around the world. Everyone from the Prime Minister’s Office staff to business leaders wanted to know what was going on. The joke sank the Loonie to its lowest level in a month. The guy who gets up at the crack of dawn, checks his emails on his Blackberry while walking his Yellow Lab, and sometimes even works in his underwear, was causing a whole lot of Bay Street and Wall Street executives to soil theirs.
One comment that’s often made in reference to Pierre Bourque is that he’s a pretty mysterious character--sort of a cross between Howard Hughes and the “Dell Dude”. What many people don’t know is that he was a municipal councilor in Ottawa; ran for federal office in 1993 (and he says he might again someday); was a speed-demon on the Formula 3000 racing circuit; has six screenplays currently in circulation in Hollywood (one which he describes as a ‘slasher’ flick); is married with two children, ages three and one month; and he’s an artist whose work is currently on display in three North American galleries.
While the website is Bourque’s main business (in his words, the commercial component consists of “delivering audiences” to advertisers), his passion is his art. Not surprisingly, that too can be found online at www.pierrebourque.com. A student at the Ottawa School of Art in the 80s, Bourque’s oil-on-canvas paintings are bold and vividly-coloured. Chilling whites and blues capture the impact of the cool outdoors, while fiery reds and bright shades of yellow and orange convey the warmth of indoor scenes.
Vincent Fortier of the Galerie D’Art Vincent at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier, one of the galleries currently showing Bourque’s work, describes Bourque’s style as “expressionist”--a style of art in which the intention of the artist is to describe his inner state and not to reproduce the subject accurately. To that end, Bourque admits that he takes a mental picture of scenes in his head, which he later reproduces from a combination of memory and a rough charcoal sketch taken at the scene.
Bourque says that he’s inspired by the life journeys of other artists, and is currently reading a book about American abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock. “I think it’s interesting to see how someone’s life influences their art. To see what they’ve been through inspires me,” says Bourque. Known as an intense maverick who pushed limits and shattered conventions in the art world, Pollock followed his passions and trusted his own vision in the face of harsh criticism. Much the same can also be said of Pierre Bourque. “It doesn’t really matter to me what other people think,” says Bourque. “I just do my own thing because I feel compelled to do it, despite the vagaries of the market or what people might say--good or bad.”
Bourque’s vision includes breaking into new galleries with his art, and also seeing through a major new development with respect to his news site within the next six months. Of course, I was curious about the intricate details of his plans. His not-so-shocking response: “Stay tuned!”