Megalomedia - Wake up to your news

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Repetition = fact

Further to my post about the Globe's Gomery Report coverage (and tying in nicely with JK's CBC sources CBC post), check out the Globe's online "news" article about the report's release. This time, rather than an unflagged analysis piece, they've run an actual news story. Aside from the public record info (media lockup, quotes from the first report etc.) the only source is . . . the Globe and Mail's report on Monday. Oddly, while they attribute one round of speculation to that report, they also engage in some of their own unattributed, unflagged analysis:

The report is expected to call for better protection for whistle-blowers and tougher sanctions against federal officials who run afoul of the rules.
Nicely done. For the record, I'm also not sure about this argument:
The scandal ultimately triggered a confidence vote in the House of Commons. . .
But hey, let's focus on one thing at a time.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Megalomedia wins award, says Megalomedia

Check out this bizarre post from CBC News:

A top Liberal won't be running for the leadership of the federal party.

Frank McKenna, who resigned as Canadian ambassador to Washington last week, will not seek to replace Paul Martin, says CBC News.

Now before you go criticizing the CBC for using anonymous sources, I have to tell you that later in the story they attribute this bit of news to CBC reporter Jennifer Ditchburn. That's right. Ditchburn says her "best guess" is that McKenna isn't running because of personal reasons.

Can I suggest to CBC that they stop using themselves as sources for their stories? That's not journalism. That's making stuff up.

News v. Analysis

The Globe's top story today is a preview of the second Gomery report, due to be released to the government this week (when it will be properly released remains to be seen; does anyone remember the stink raised by Harper when Martin got a few hours' headstart on the first report?). My concern about the Globe article is that there is absolutely no attribution for what the report is "expected" to contain. There are quotes from Justice Gomery (taken from the hearings), quotes from the first report and recycled quotes/promises from the Tories. The only new quotes are from an inquiry spokesman who declines to give details and just says that the recommendations are very precise. I accept that an informed journalist can look at Gomery's first report, look at the testimony and extrapolate what will be in the second report. As a matter of fact, I've essentially done the same thing at work, where I've been so fortunate as to read about 90 per cent of the testimony and the entire first report myself. But I labelled my report "analysis" because that's what it is. The Globe should have done the same thing. This isn't news, Daniel Leblanc hasn't read the second report (or if he has, he should say so), this is analysis. It should be flagged as such.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Privatization of Stephen Harper

I'm not sure what to make of this bizarre Canadian Press story (that link is to the Globe and Mail version). It's a story about how some outlets got "the Harper story" - that is, his hospital visit last night - wrong. Some papers reported Harper had an athsma attack last night. He didn't. He's got a chest cold. Now, this isn't an issue of national importance, but it is the same syndrome the U.S. press was showing earlier this year. Better get it right than get it first. But instead of having that apologetic, correctional tone you would expect a "we got it wrong" story to have - the piece seems to blame Harper's staff for the mistake:

If Canadians are still getting used to the idea of Harper as prime minister following Monday's federal election, the intense media interest in this non-emergency hospital visit is likely a wake-up call for the designated leader himself. A local Ottawa Citizen reporter at the hospital on Thursday evening was told by Mr. Harper's staff: "This is a private matter. You shouldn't be here." By the next morning, Mr. Harper's team was more forthcoming. "I understand there have to be questions about the prime minister-designate that normally we would say: 'It's none of your business,"' said Ms. Stewart Olsen.
Say what? I mean, if your comment from Harper's staff at the hospital is "This is a private matter" and you take that to mean "Harper had an athsma attack" then you're the idiot, not the spokesperson you talked to. Furthermore, the second half of the story seems to be justification for getting the facts wrong in the first place. Why must we know how reportage on the private health matters of Canadian prime ministers differs from U.S. presidents? You were wrong. Admit you were wrong. Blame yourself. And move on. I know I have.

Big Brother v2.0

I'm not sure what's more troubling. This, or the fact that I'm not at all surprised.

Also...

This isn't precisely relevant to our mission, but after all the media attention that was spent on the infamous LIBERAL MOLE, it would amuse this humble correspondent greatly if Stephen Taylor's statement is true: that much of the damage was done by a Conservative staffer sitting and listening in the Starbucks outside Liberal HQ in Ottawa.

Seig Steve? WTF?

I feel more or less obliged to comment on the outrage that is percolating through some of Canada's right-wing blogosphere as a result of a little mix-up by the CBC on The National the other night. From the National Post:

The CBC has apologized to a viewer who complained that a news graphic appeared to juxtapose the name of the prime minister-designate with the German word "heil" -- a salute usually associated with Adolf Hitler. The graphic was flashed during Tuesday night's edition of The National. It appeared beneath a shot of a Stephen Harper election sign. In an e-mail to the viewer, the executive producer of The National explained the graphic was a freeze frame of typing intended to promote the show's "campaign confidential" segment. An editor chose to capture part of the word "their" for the graphic and with a cursor before the "r", it seemed to spell heil. "We sincerely apologize for that," the e-mail said.
The video itself is visible at the following link, although with commentary at both ends that's slightly partisan: click here. Now. This was a dumb, dumb, dumb mistake. The CBC should have caught it, and they didn't, and now they've got substantial egg on their face. But even if some random producer at the CBC had an anti-harper agenda (possible) and was willing to abuse his or her position to carry it out (much less likely), I find it unlikely in the extreme that this was intentional. But browse around the blogosphere and you'll find people willing to say just that. Critical thinking applies to the audience too. You call them on it, they apologize, and there's unfortunately not much else you can do. In my own experience, I once referred to Gloria Steinem as 'Gloria Steinman' in a piece I was editing. I messed up, the irony was enormous, but even the local feminist organization forgave me. To bastardizee Freud, sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

We're all going to be rich!

To give everyone a little break from election coverage, check out this story. It's a Vancouver Sun story headlined "Mysterious diamond causes excitement in B.C." And boy, are people excited. You see, a clear 0.8mm diamond (yes, the Sun decides that diamonds are now measured in millimetres, not carats) was found in a rock sample from Northern B.C. This is pretty exciting stuff because formerly all of Canada's diamonds (14 per cent of world supply, currently) are in the northern territories. But now, with diamonds in northern B.C. the economy is going to go through the roof! People will all flock to the province to mine the little jewels that are so obviously trapped in the...what's that Vancouver Sun? You SEVENTH paragraph has just informed me that the diamond from the rock sample is actually more likely from screen used to process a previous sample? Huh? That's right:

The report authors, a team of provincial, federal and University of B.C. researchers, speculate that the small, colourless stone may have been lodged in a rock screen during processing of a previous sample -- including samples belonging to a previous client of the processing lab.
The story does continue, with more muted excitement, that at least some of the other samples had "indicator minerals," usually present when diamonds are around. But, er, diamonds? Not so much. Oh, and as far as my headline for this post goes, we are all going to remain poor. Just thought you should know.

Making the call

I'm sure other people will have more on this soon, and I'm equally sure they'll be making valid points about responsibility and the fascination with getting stuff first as opposed to right, so i want to thank the good people at Global National for not jumping the gun. They waited approximately eight seconds before predicting a Conservative government, and their careful deliberations are, as always, a beacon for us all.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I'm not going to lie, I don't get it

So when the Globe (I can't find a link quickly) and CBC both dubbed their reality check segments "reality check," I chuckled. Sure two national media outlets had chosen the same name for a feature, but it's a pretty obvious one (as witnessed by the fact that the Conservatives use the same term). But seriously, can't we do better than this? Not only is the Globe stealing the idea of the issue-based vote selector (hardly a novel idea) but they're taking the "Voter Toolkit" name too? Here, since we're tossing links around, here's one for the Globe to try.

The Globe's Opinion - Front and Centre

Last week's Globe and Mail weekend edition led with a story I was pretty interested in. It was headlined "Who Is Stephen Harper" and I was pretty excited to read a profile piece of the Conservative leader. I read the first two paragraphs and then - BAM! - the third paragraph slapped me in the face:

Some time in early February, unless the plurality of you who now support him change your mind, Stephen Harper, at the age of 46, will become the 22nd prime minister of Canada.
Whaaaaaaa? I asked aloud. This doesn't sound like an objective piece of journalism at all. So I went back to the top of the story and checked out the byline: John Ibbitson. Now, of course, this all makes sense. John Ibbitson is a Globe columnist and he's not required to write objective pieces of journalism. But the reason I incorrectly assumed this was a news profile was because it was formatted like a straight news piece (I don't have a pic of the front page, but if someone does, please post it). No typical JI photo, nothing. Online, however, you see Ibbitson's mug at the top with a link to his "latest columns." So, if it's a column, why isn't it formatted like a column. And if it's a news piece, why does it say "Stephen Harper, at the age of 46, will become the 22nd prime minister of Canada?"

In Summation

Alan Bass, Chair of Journalism at Thompson Rivers University, nicely summarizes all of our election-coverage gripes in this commentary. He complains about polling, "Reality Checks" and CBC's anonymous source. He also offers solutions. It's a great read.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The appearance of conflict etc. etc. etc.

There's an oft-ignored rule in journalism that the appearance of conflict of interest is just as important (and potentially damaging) as actual conflict of interest. As most readers probably know, the Globe endorsed the Tories in an editorial that ran on Saturday. I've never liked newspapers endorsing candidates or parties; I think it skewers any hope for objective coverage, but it's one of those things that just seems to happen. Well, Marcus Gee, the editorial page editor, appeared on one of the Globe's interactive discussions yesterday - apparently I'm not the only one with concerns about what this means for objectivity. What gets me, however, is that the only defence for endorsing someone at all is that ""You will find that all the major papers will endorse one party or another in this campaign, as they do in every one. There's a long tradition of this, going right back to our founder, George Brown, in the 1800s." He goes on to say that the reporters strive to provide objective, unbiased coverage, but the fact is there are a lot more factors that demonstrate a newspaper's bias than just the reportage itself. Story selection, story placement, photo selection. . . all of these things can demonstrate bias and all of these things are decided by editorial staff. I've never liked endorsements in newspapers. Marcus Gee does little to change my mind.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Free Speech Suspended January 23

The CBC is reporting that the Canadian press will not be permitted to announce poll results in areas where polls remain open. This means that the press will not be allowed to announce Atlantic Canada's poll results across the country until the polls close in British Columbia. The press is also banned from reporting on poll results on the internet or on national television or radio until polls are closed across the country. The press took it upon themselves to take the publication ban to the Supreme Court, but they were shot down today. Personally, I don't see why it would be a problem to announce election results as they come in across the country. People get to see polls every day - why not let them see the big one? I feel a debate thread coming on...

Election Libel Watch

The Globe and Mail has reported that an NDP candidate has filed a complaint with Elections Canada against a Liberal candidate. The story is available on the front page of the Globe's Decision 2006 page. Now, a complaint with Elections Canada is apparently not public information. The Globe quotes a spokesperson in the story as saying that EC never confirms if it has a complaint. The Globe did get a copy of the complaint and quotes it extensively. You will notice that I have not described the allegation in the complaint. Nor have I linked to the story. KOB is our resident media law expert, and I'll let him look over the story before I link to anything libelous. Needless to say, the Globe better be sure the accusations are correct - the Liberal candidate has yet to be charged (the Globe actually points out that EC investigations sometimes take years). Look out for how different media cover this story and how extensively they quote the NDP candidate's letter. I'll link to what I can, when I can. Watch for updates. Update - 17:10 EST The CBC is reporting on the front page of their Canada Votes section that the Liberal Party has axed the Liberal candidate named in the NDP complaint. Their story quotes from the EC complaint letter, written by the NDP candidate as well. I'm still not linking to stories unless KOB reads them and finds they are not libelous. To the best of my knowledge, both these stories contain libel. Update - 17:20 EST Canada.com is also reporting that the Liberal candidate has been asked not to campaign as a Liberal any more and will be not be permitted to sit as part of the Liberal caucus if he wins his riding. The story is safer - not quoting directly from the EC complaint letter (perhaps CanWest doesn't have a copy) but it still paraphrases accusations from the NDP candidate. Update - 17:55 EST The Liberal Party press release is libel-proof (not surprisingly). It's as much information as this site can offer right now, but I am linking to publicly availably sources and not to the article itself, so I'm sure this won't be news to any of you.

Statement from the Liberal Party of Canada January 13, 2006 Ottawa - It came to our attention today through media reports that the NDP candidate in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Jeffery Hansen-Carlson had signed a sworn affidavit in respect of the conduct of the Liberal candidate in Abbotsford, David Oliver.

Subsequent to consultations with the National Campaign, Prime Minister Martin decided that it was in the best interests of the party that Mr. Oliver cease campaigning as a Liberal candidate and that he not sit in the Liberal Caucus should he be elected.

The Prime Minister has directed that the Liberal Party of Canada refund to Elections Canada any funds that will accrue to the Party under Elections Canada's $1.75 per vote party financing system as a result of any votes garnered by Mr. Oliver on January 23rd.

The National Liberal campaign will also recalculate its campaign spending on the basis of 307 candidates. In the interest of fairness, the Prime Minister has asked Mr. Oliver to no longer publicly identify himself as the Liberal candidate.

Finally, he has directed the British Columbia Liberal campaign to re-possess any Liberal party promotional material bearing Mr. Oliver's name.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sorry Globe, you're due

Well, we've tossed out mad props to the Globe on more than one occasion on this blog for their election coverage. It's time to take them down a few pegs. Like many media outlets, the Globe has been running a series of "reality check" articles during the election campaign (the CBC even uses the same name for theirs). They're interesting features that take a second look at campaign promises and stump speech claims (why such reportage can't be included in the hard news coverage is beyond me, I guess context is a special, election-only feature). Today's reality check, however, falls flat. Check it out here. Rather than refute or support the claims in the Liberal advertisements, they simply offer up the Tory rebuttal to each. Now, back in journalism school, oh so many moons ago, we were taught to cover all possible sides to every story. So why weren't the Tory rebuttals included in the original story? Were the Liberal claims presented unchallenged? Furthermore, how does offering the Tory spin constitute a reality check of any sort? Shouldn't a reality check consist of, I don't know, reality? Facts? Granted, many of these claims are subjective - there's no clear answer or conclusion - so then why label this a "reality" check. Election campaign allegations are often he-said, she-said affairs. It'd be nice if reportage elevated itself to a higher plain, but at the very least, call a spade a spade. This isn't a reality check, it's the spin cycle redux.

Global Attack

In early December, residents of Richmond, British Columbia, began receiving pamphlets in their mail from Conservative candidate Rob Anders. This shouldn't have been newsworthy, except that Rob Anders is not the Conservative candidate in Richmond, B.C. In fact, he's the candidate for Calgary North West. The CTV election blog covered the beginning of that story here. Two days ago, Global News in Calgary found the story (even though it's a month old) and went to Anders' campaign office. He wasn't there, so the reporter asked a volunteer if he was in British Columbia. "British Columbia?" she questioned. "He's not in British Columbia." Global, better late than never, wondered where Anders was. They called the Conservative Party and found out he was in B.C. helping out with a fellow Conservative candidate's campaign (hopefully not Derek Zeisman's). So they went back to his campaign office and asked the same volunteer if she had any more news about the candidate's whereabouts. "He's in B.C." she gleefully proclaimed. The reporter was stunned. It's too bad Global jumped on this story so late, but I like the aggressiveness with which they are pursuing it. There is no news about this on the Global site, or the Calgary Herald site, that I could find and a "Rob Anders" search on Canada.com gets me nothing. If anyone finds a clip of this Global story, please let me know. Global also had a story about a public health forum held in Calgary to which representatives of all parties were invited. Rob Anders was replaced by one of those plastic bird toys that rocks back and forth until it gains enough momentum to take a sip of water from a cup placed in front of it and then goes back to rocking back and forth until it gets enough momentum to...well, you get the picture. Global should be commended for holding Anders accountable, especially in Calgary. Conservatives hold all of Calgary's seats and the other parties have pretty much given up (the Liberal candidate don't even have signs made, as I mentioned earlier). But the electorate should know who cares about them and who is off parading around in British Columbia. In a culture of resignation, it's great to see Global standing up for Calgarians.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Soldiers with guns? In our cities? D'oh.

Well apparently all it really took was a Mike Duffy hissy fit and the Liberal forehead-smacking has begun. That's right, the man who during Pierre Trudeau's funeral reminded Margaret Trudeau it was the day of her dead son's birthday sending her into a fit of tears, has raised his Blackberry in the air and called for journalists of the world to unite. With that said I would agree with KOB, that Duffy did the right thing and continued to hammer the issue - it's definitly nice to see on occasion. The story now is out there and will most likely be until the end of the election - the veterans are pissed and Lord knows they can really get their fist-shaking heard in the media. However, sadly this is probably the most front page coverage any defence issue will likely receive. Before this, the top coverage of defence in the election has been Harper's policy, which grabbed a front on New Year's Eve in the Citizen, a brief spate about arctic sovereignty and that's about it, with nay a mention in the debates. However, outside of the election sphere there certainly are some issues in this field that could get some attention: 1.) Afghanistan: We are sending 2,000 soldiers to the region in a couple months without any electoral debate. For the last several months the only stories about this region were about how dangerous a mission this will be. However, British papers are reporting that the British officials are unsure of continuing their presence. Likewise with Denmark and Australia, and the Americans are pulling troops out and moving them to Iraq. On top of that Chief of Defence Staff Hillier, of "murderers and scumbags" fame, has led a buying spree for said mission, thus far speeding up the process to spend $234 million on new equipment. Does anyone really know what our politicians are saying about any of this? 2.) The replacement of the Hercules aircraft which is supposed to start at the end of January. What's important about this? The plan is valued at $4.6 billion and it's rumoured the contract specs have been written so specific to only allow one plane to enter competition. David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen has done a nice job here, Michael Den Tandt in the Globe as well, oh and check out Frank Magazine too. The list goes on. But I guess what I'm saying is that rather than reporters simply focussing on whether politician A would have sent troops to Iraq three years ago or are enlisting martial law, perhaps it's time to look beyond this and talk about what the Canadian military is currently doing and what should be changed.

Vive la Revolution 5 - Dekes

Hello hello, Well I've been in fact hiding in a bunker up until now, mainly because I am intimidated by Joe. However, despite this fear I have now decided to throw my hat into the fray that has become Megalomedia. Thank you Joe for this opportunity As far as background is concerned, I currently reside in Ottawa and I am also a journalism graduate at Carleton. I have a taste for politics, especially those south of the border, as well as a taste for Canadian military rations. On top of that, I'm an on-again off-again media monitor and also a senior writer for an independent Canadian military magazine. Cheers.

Suspension of belief

One of the most common deflecting tactics used by interviewees when trying to deflect attention away from something they don't want to talk about is expressing disbelief that journalists are talking about W when X, Y and Z are SO much more important, and why don't we talk about what people want to hear about, hmm? Sometimes they might have a point - particularly in elections, journalists can focus on some odd issues (take a bow, Jack Layton's moustache) that seem divergent from the central issues of the day. But it's unfortunate, in principle, for journalists to be scorned for doing their jobs - in this case, asking questions about things people would rather not discuss. Which is whyI was glad I was watching Countdown after the French-language debates, when host Mike Duffy laid into Liberal spokesman John Duffy for trying to deflect questions over a Liberal ad accusing the Tories of wanting to put Canadian soldiers "with guns" into the streets of Canadian cities. The ad in question has been pulled from the Liberal site, but is featured in a link on the right side here. (Look for the 'Liberal attack ad about Harper and military presence'; can't lnik directly to Javascript) And here is the Duffy v. Duffy clip: here. You can draw your own conclusions about the ad and the commentary. But a tip of KOB's hat to Mike Duffy for refusing to back down. *tip*

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rumours of the Liberals' Demise are Greatly Unattributed

The Globe and Mail reported this morning that many Liberal candidates have already conceded defeat and that staffers are feeling out new jobs even before the election comes to a close. The story, titled: "Liberals quietly consider the possibility of defeat," is available here. The story quotes a litany of anonymous sources, only one of which actually confirms the story's headline ("The national campaign is not doing anything for us"). For a contest, guess in which paragraph the first attributed source appears. If you guessed 21, you win! (There are 28 paragraphs in the online story). This story should not have any unattributed quotes, or quotes attributed to "senior Liberal officials." Both writers (Jane Taber and Bill Curry) are senior political writers for the Globe and should know better than to allow Liberal candidates to comment anonymously on the campaign. In my mind, there are two reasons why a Liberal candidate would talk in such low regard of their own campaign. The first is they are honestly disappointed with a poorly-run campaign. The second is, they may be in ridings the Liberals have no hope in winning and have offered no logistical support to (the Liberal candidate in my Calgary riding doesn't even have campaign signs - he rents those big neon-lettered signs you see advertising minor league hockey registration). A less-likely reason may be that the candidates are not Paul Martin's fans and want to sandbag the campaign in order to oust Martin as leader and replace him with someone they support. I don't know if these "senior Liberals" have dishonest motives. But unless we are told who these sources are, readers can't make that judgment. If this story is going to make the Liberal campaign suffer, perhaps we should know why.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fun With the Sun

I confess, I haven't been reading the Sun too much for election coverage. It seems, however, that Calgary Sun editors have had one poll too many...

Press Play

It has been said on this site before, but I think it must be said again: The Globe and Mail is really leading the press pack in terms of election coverage. At 10 a.m. EST, on their website, they are offering up their reporters for live interviews with Globe readers. The Washington Post also has live discussions every day with reporters, though the New York Times, despite its transparency issues, has yet to join the fray. The CanWest chain of newspapers is also behind in this regard. I want to point out something Jane Taber, a senior Globe and Mail political writer had to say in this morning's discussion. I have quoted the question and answer below. The emphasis is mine.

Cherolyn Knapp, Ottawa: In a couple of recent CBC Radio One news stories, I have noticed that the coverage of Harper was much more sympathetic than usual. The reporters commented on the fact that while he was reading to school children and serving coffee at Tim Horton's on campaign stops, he appeared much more comfortable and at ease with people. Has there really been a shift in Harper's interpersonal comfort level or is the media just being more kind to him? Does Harper have the personality of a leader? I am not a Conservative supporter, but I was interested in the effect these news stories have on the public perception of Harper as more of a human being (and therefore a potentially stronger leader). Jane Taber: Ms. Knapp: Good observation. I think that Mr. Harper is more comfortable, especially now that the Conservatives have well-formed policies. In the last election, the PC party and Alliance had just merged, and had no policies. This was a huge problem for the new party because Canadians were suspicious to a certain extent and had no idea what this new party stood for. Mr. Harper is a policy wonk, and loves to talk about issues. In this election, he's been able to do all that, and very well, I would argue. The Tories have grabbed the agenda by making daily policy announcements early in the morning when the Liberals, it seems, are still getting out of bed. The media's perception has shifted as well, I would argue. I think that watching Mr. Harper and his troops in action for the past year, as well as covering the Conservatives policy conference last March in Montreal, have given reporters something to write about rather than simply focusing on personality and conflict. And there is now a comfort level, similar to that the Liberals have always enjoyed with the media, with the Conservatives. The Harper Tories were forever accusing the media of bias, now the Liberals are accusing us of that. You can't win! I don't know what effect the news stories have on the campaign. I think, though, that it's important for Canadians to know not only the policies of a leader but the personalities of the leader.
The italicized portion of Taber's remarks is interesting. First, she says "The Tories have grabbed the agenda (I think she means headlines...) by making policy announcements early in the morning." Certainly, making policy announcements early in the day will garner more media attention because the story will play out over a longer press cycle than a story released in the afternoon. Also, if one party releases a policy statement in the morning, and another party issues a policy announcement on the same topic in the afternoon, the second party will be "on their heels," and "responding to" the first party's policy even if it's just a matter of scheduling. It is odd, however, to see a senior writer acknowledge this so openly. Perhaps the press should focus more on analyzing and reporting on issues, rather than their timing, or how other parties "respond" to these announcements. Further, she says the Conservatives are enjoying a "level of comfort" with the media. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. I don't necessarily think a political party should have a "level of comfort" with the press. Nor do I think the press should be adversarial. Just objective, or as close to that as possible. This brings us back to the question of the "back story" of a campaign the press seems to want to cling to. Perhaps the press should focus on the parties issues, not on how well they play the media.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Megalomedia first!

See, all good media should state up front when they make errors, and post these in a noticeable place. It's just the rigth thing to do. The fact that this error belongs to Jacques in no way is a reason for me to correct it publicly. The piece he was referring to below was written by Chris Dornan, not Chris Waddell. Anyhow, the piece follows, and then a few thoughts.

Globe & Mail, A9 Dec. 23, 2005 by CHRISTOPHER DORNAN How far would you go to get people to vote? How far would you go to get people to pay attention to your election coverage? Actually paying them, remember, is illegal in the first instance and bad business practice in the second.

For example, would you be any more interested in this column if you didn't know who wrote it? What if the little mug shot of me in the upper left-hand corner had a black band across the eyes with a byline crediting a "mystery" contributor? Would that make it more alluring than the dull truth of knowing it's just me, some guy you don't know from Adam? CBC's The National is running a regular feature, "Campaign Confidential," in which the identity of the commentator is artfully shrouded. This person could be a former party strategist, a former cabinet minister, or indeed more than one person. A skilled actor you only hear and never see reads the column in the gravelly voice of someone who's seen it all. The identity of the mystery columnist, we are promised, will be revealed to us on election night.

I dare say that won't be the most important thing revealed to us on election night, but so what? There's nothing wrong with trying everything you can think of to get folks mulling over the important business of how they want to be governed. Messy as it is, democracy is pretty simple. It means the people get to choose. If the people elect not to choose -- if they sit at home on their hands on election night, not even motivated enough to register a protest vote -- what then? On a good day, you can convince yourself that a lack of interest in federal politics is a backhanded compliment, a sign of complacency.

Sure, whatever party happens to be in power is infuriating, but the public judges (correctly) that the country works well enough -- better than almost anywhere else -- so what difference does it make who's in charge? But if you care at all about Canadian democracy, election day is not a good day to trot out that rationalization. The fact that fewer and fewer percentages of people vote is troublesome because, bottom line, the thing that makes Canada work so well is the number of people who believe in it.

So, it is not simply incumbent upon the media to cover the election conscientiously, it is their civic duty to encourage interest in the coverage of the election. In their own way, all of the media outlets do so. You don't think the staff members at Dose, the youth daily, aren't thinking hard about how to cover this campaign in a way that will get their supposedly uninterested readers interested while at the same time getting more readers? Let's be honest. It costs the news media a lot of money to cover an election and they have no choice about it. For once, their financial interests are perfectly coincident with their public responsibility: They need to get you interested so that you watch their newscast or buy their newspaper.

So let's cut them some slack if they resort to a gimmick or two.

The National, for instance, is gimmick central. They have their "Campaign Confidential" mystery contributor. They have a bit called "Taxi Chat," in which they put someone running for office behind the wheel of a cab and record the exchange between pol and passengers.

(I notice they haven't tried this late at night, when the bars empty and the people in the back seat are groping one another.) They're also trying comedy -- or what passes for "comedy" in the upper boardrooms of the CBC news division. A Winnipeg outfit called the Content Factory has had a run at animating portraits of former prime ministers bickering with one another about the campaign. Chuckle quotient? Not so much.

Speaking of ideas that would have been best left on the cutting-room floor, lately they've wheeled out comic Sean Cullen in a segment called "I'm glad you asked," in which he answers -- or, rather, makes fun of -- viewers' election queries. Sean Cullen has many talents as a performer. This, unfortunately, is not one of them.

But hey, at least the CBC is trying. You can't fault them for it. If we had an electorate that didn't need a cattle prod to go to the polls, none of the media would have to try so hard.

Christopher Dornan is the director of the Carleton University school of journalism and communication.

Is it the media's duty to encourage people to vote? I really don't know. But Campaign Confidential is the wrong way to go about engaging interest. By describing this person as something of an election expert, the CBC is basically telling you that this person's insights are useful and valuable. And these reports aren't exactly politically neutral. The last one, on western alienation, was rather noticeably anti-Liberal, which would be acceptable if the audience knew who was speaking and this person's general political affiliations. In short, if they had the context in which to place them. Pretend CC is one of Preston Manning, Joe Clark, Shiela Copps, or Warren Kinsella. Which of the four would you trust the most? I'll bet a lot of people have a lot of different answers. And if one of them was telling me something, I'd bloody well want to know which one it was before I decided how much to trust what they had to say. If CC was merely reporting verifiable facts, anonymously, then that would be one thing. But opinions on the campaign and how it's playing out? While the CBC should try to make the campaign interesting to its viewers, broadcasting unvarnished opinion without attribution could do more than encourage them to vote, despite the pooh-poohing Mr. Dornan offers. It could sway the way a person votes. And that is not under any circumstances what the media is supposed to do.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Can you keep a secret?

Reporting on the backstory of a campaign can be interesting for readers, but, as Joe has said below, it becomes troublesome when the periphery of a campaign takes over from the issues. Fundamentally, it is the job of the press to perform a public service. In the case of election coverage, it is up to journalists to provide the public with the information they need to make an informed decision on January 23. Hence the problem with covering the campaign as opposed to covering the issues. Despite CBC offering mostly exceptional coverage of policy issues during this election campaign, the national broadcaster falls alarmingly short in one important aspect. It's called Campaign Confidential and it's totally against professional standards of journalism. Here is how the CBC describes Campaign Confidential:

Campaign Confidential is a diary, really, by a writer who is no stranger to political campaigns in this country. For now, the author will remain anonymous, but rest assured she or he is a political pro, a veteran of more than a quarter-century of elections, leadership races and conventions. We've asked for a brief twice-weekly note of insider perspective. After you've seen a few editions of Campaign Confidential, you may want to take a guess at who our diarist is. Be patient; there's a long way to go before election night, when you'll find out for sure who it is.
If you haven't heard of Campaign Confidential, here's how it works. Twice weekly, the anonymous writer posts to this site. On The National, the CBC's nightly newscast, a reporter reads the email to the viewing audience, protecting the anonymity of the source. Reporters should rarely use anonymous sources. They allow individuals to speak on an issue without being held accountable to their actions. If a source asks a reporter to be anonymous, the reporter should be certain that the request for anonymity is valid. For example, a source should be granted anonymity if they are providing facts in the public interest and disclosure of the source of those facts could be of great personal detriment to the source. If a source knows that a politician has ties to organized crime, and reveals this information, the criminal organization could seek retribution by causing bodily harm to the source. The source should remain anonymous. But allowing sources to speak opinion of any kind behind the curtain of anonymity does not serve the public. CBC is allowing an anonymous source to comment on the election and, perhaps, influence voters without revealing their identity. The source could be Scott Reid, a senior political advisor to Paul Martin. It could be Warren Kinsella, a writer, political pundit and former aide to Jean Chretien. Or, it could just be a CBC reporter going undercover. Regardless, the CBC is allowing a political insider to opine on the election without revealing any potential bias. Of course, the CBC says they will reveal the source on election night, but by then the damage could have already been done. More on CBC's Campaign Confidential Carleton University journalism professor Chris Waddell (and a good friend of mine), wrote about the Campaign Confidential in a Globe and Mail Media Watch column a few weeks ago, but sadly, it's not available online any more. If anyone can find a PDF of that Globe article, please email me.

Update

Chris Dornan actually wrote the Media Watch piece on CBC's Campaign Confidential. King of Bastards has posted it above. More sources on this can be found at Antonia Zerbisias' TorStar blog, or on Fine Young Journalist.

This just in: Layton likes his moustache

I've been tempted many times over the past few weeks to talk about election coverage. In my mind, there is no better opportunity for the media, as the Guardians of Democracy(TM), to step up to the plate and do a real public service. Every day, there is a myriad of policy announcements and spending promises made by party leaders. On a more regional level, each and every candidate tries to position themselves as the best choice for the voters. It's damn near impossible for one person to sort their way through the tsunami of information (it's been more than a year, we can use that again, right?) and people turn to the media to help make sense of it all. Which is why this story angers me. Now, to be fair, I feel sort of bad picking on the Globe here, because by and large, I think they do a pretty good job of campaign coverage - particularly on their website (the CBC also does fairly well). But since the Globe is the only paper that appears on my doorstep in the morning (full disclosure of bias alert), here we are. This is the Globe's lead "Liberal" story (their lead "Tory" story is here; to see how they placed the two, click here). Of all the things Martin said yesterday, the best nugget they mine is that he's happy with his campaign. Stop the presses. Does the average voter really care how Martin feels about his campaign? Is it important information to have when deciding how to cast a vote? What about his education policy, can we get more information on that? How does he skirt jurisdiction issues with the provinces? What's the justification for selecting only the first and fourth years of a degree program? Does this discriminate against three-year degree students? Why does Quebec have a separate arrangement? There are a lot of "interesting" things that happen during a campaign. But few if any of them really matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is policy. As the Tories and Liberals drift closer to each other ideologically, Canadians have to dig deeper into their policy announcements to find out what differences actually exist (ps. there are differences, and pretty significant ones, but they aren't necessarily easy to spot). The media are supposed to represent the average citizen's interests. They are supposed to be our eyes, ears and filters and equip us with the tools we need to make decisions. Too often, they act as part of the system instead, giving interesting insider looks at the campaign but not delivering any real substance. The Globe article is not the only example of this, nor is it the best. But it's something we all need to be aware of.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Media Dig Themselves Out of a Hole

I'm sure you've all heard about a little mistake almost all media outlets made on Tuesday when they announced 12 miners trapped in a Virginia mine were found alive. Instead, only one survived. Today, the media has come out in full force to defend themselves. This isn't a Canadian-centric story and doesn't deserve much play on this site, but I thought I should link some sources for those of you who want to find out more about the media covering themselves. CBS news has a typical "seriously, it wasn't our fault" article. There are countless like this one, but this example has a great photo at the top, so I included it. The New York Times has a good article about how other media outlets dealt with an erroneous story. Apparently, the correct story broke after most papers went to print. Note: This story does a poor job of mentioning that the New York Times did not stop the presses (unlike the LA Times and the New York Post) and instead ran with the incorrect, positive story, delivering it in print, on the web and in electronic newsletters. The story was made right early yesterday morning on the web, but readers were not alerted to it until this morning's paper and electronic newsletters. Jay Rosen has some good commentary on the PressThink blog (he doesn't have permalink, so you may have to scroll down if he's posted again.) Update: As Jay Rosen himself has posted in these comments, I'm a moron and didn't scroll down far enough when I tried to find a permalink. Click here for his commentary (sorry Jay!). Regret the Error has a good timeline on how this story developed. The site also links to an Editor and Publisher blog, but I'll let you find that from the RTE site. More than anything, this story shows how different outlets deal with making a mistake. The NYT/NYP example shows that even in the same city, one paper managed to find their mistake and correct it (at great expense - they had to get the delivery crews to replace 43,000 already-delivered papers, according to the NYT). Other papers, especially the NYT, really dropped the ball. But, then again, it's been kind of a bad week for the NYT... Update This is the best Canadian angle I could find on this story. The Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and National post all ran with the second, incorrect AP wire story. Another drawback to continually allowing wire copy to replace actual reporting, though I'm not sure it would have helped in this case. The CBC did send a reporter (or hired freelance, I'm not sure) to Virginia, and had accurate information on CBC Radio and Newsworld.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A-Polling

In previous posts, this site has been very critical of polls conducted on behalf of major news organizations. They offer an easy way out of actual reportage - media outlets just ask some people what they think and publish the results. During an election, polling is inescapable - people want to know what the next government could look like before the vote. These polls document opinion where opinion should be documented (lack of context and other previously noted problems aside). But today's National Post takes polling to a new level. Instead of trying to document opinion, the Post asks Ipsos Reid to ask Torontonians to explain an increase in gun violence. Seventy-six per cent of them think it's because judges are too lenient with sentencing. Well, is it true? Do those who commit offenses with firearms receive unreasonably light offenses? What's the length of the average sentence for a gun crime? When these people are released from prison, what is the re-offend rate? What is the current rate of gun crime in Canada? Why doesn't this story answer any of these questions? More troubling is this quote:

Eighty-nine per cent of Toronto residents polled blamed gangs for the shootings that have made gun crime a top issue in the federal election campaign while 78% cited drugs and drug trafficking. In contrast, far fewer respondents pointed to social issues as the cause of increased violence. Less than half said poverty was a major cause of gun crime, while 31% blamed a lack of affordable housing, 45% cited inadequate funding for recreation programs and 49% listed youth unemployment.
Well? What percentage of gun crimes in Toronto were gang-related? What percentage involved drugs and drug trafficking? Is there someone out there - I don't know, a criminal sociologist of some kind - who could speak to the second half of the above quote? This story is troubling because it proports to explain gun violence in Toronto through the opinions of people obviously still shaken from the Boxing Day shooting that took the life of 15-year-old Jane Creba. Perhaps the Post could have actually reported on this issue instead of outsourcing their job to Ispos Reid. More About Polling This story shows how detrimental polling can be to journalism. It is certainly the media outlets who are to blame, not the polling companies. A former employee of a prominent polling company spoke to a journalism class at Carleton University last year (I will not name the employee, polling company or class because the event was an informal conversation) told students that he found the media's obsession with polls to be amazing. His company, he said, once released a poll that discovered that a majority of Canadians believed Elvis was still alive. A major newspaper, the identity of which would reveal the source, published the story on the front page. The former employee laughed about how easy it was to get his polling company's name on the front page of the newspaper. In my communications position, I also receive solicitations from polling companies. The latest was a survey a polling company would conduct on co-educational schools compared to single-sex schools. The promotional materials (which included a poll the school had to submit to its constituents) promised the results to be released in the spring, combined with a public relations campaign (implemented by a partner PR firm associated with the polling company) to guarantee media coverage during the admissions season of independent and private schools across the country. Pay attention to news stories in March. You will see stories that suggest, based on a poll conducted by a major polling firm, that co-educational schools out-perform single-sex schools. And my bosses will rejoice.

Viva la Revolution 4 - Shotgun

First of all, I'd like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to post on Joe's blog. I mean, I'd like to thank God for having Joe invite me to post on his blog. Thanks, God/Joe. You guys are great. To disclose what is needed to be disclosed: I'm a journalism graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa currently working in communications at a private school in Calgary, Alta. It's about as fun as it sounds. I'm also slowly getting motivated to start freelancing, so perhaps you'll see my byline around if you live out west. Unlike the King of Bastards, I will disclose my name. Noble, perhaps, but foolish. -Jacques Krzepkowski

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Vive la Revolution 3 - Rise of the Bastard

'Sup all. Most of you who recognize the name will know me already, but for those of you who don't, let me tell you a little about myself. I'm a science and politics geek, work in the generic 'media' field and probably am or will be the resident "expert" on idiocy in science and health coverage, in addition to my occasional forays into more generic idiocy. Some day I may lose my job or work for someone who is cool with my expressing opinions on the media, but until then you won't get my name and I'm sure the people who know it won't divulge it (looking at you, Runs-With-Bees).

Viva la Revolution 2 - Expansion Day

Salut mes amis, Just a quick note to let you know that I've invited a few more bloggers to work on this site while we work at setting up responsiblepress.org. Hopefully over the next few days you'll see introductory posts from them, then the blogging can begin. Thanks for hanging around, things will pick up soon, I promise.