Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Old media, new media and the election

Over at my favorite blog, the Gazeteer posted last night on the impact of non-traditional media in this election.
Would the gap between the Liberals and NDP have been much greater without the role played by The Tyee and bloggers and other non-traditional media, he asks.
To which I commented:
"There was some excellent coverage from non-traditional media, for want of a better term, during the campaign - Holman, Tyee, here.
But would the gap have been much different without it? The results are close to identical to 2005, in terms of popular vote. The most significant change might be the emergence of a Conservative vote in some regions.
The mass news media has suffered audience declines in the last four years; non-traditional coverage has expanded. But I'm not sure of the influence of either at this point.
One factor, I'd argue, is a tendency to be non-inclusive in many non-traditional news/commentary sources. The argument starts based on shared assumptions. But often those assumptions are shared by a minority.
Not that they are necessarily wrong. But the majority are left out of the discussion. It's like forming a hiking club and announcing that the first walk will start at the 7,000-foot mark on Mt Robson."

It's an important discussion. Mainstream media or whatever you want to call them have great benefits. They provide a shared starting point for community discussion on an inclusive basis. People in Lillooet might not all love the Lillooet-Bridge River News. But when there's a controversy - like the one right now about proposed water meters - most people have read its coverage. They can develop opinions based on it and can do their own research and advance the discussion. (Today, more than ever.) Blogs don't offer that universal starting point that sees 80 per cent of the people in a community literally on the same page on Wednesday when the paper comes out.
That reach also imposes a discipline on writers or journalists or whatever you call them. When I wrote editorials long ago for the Red Deer Advocate - a fine newspaper - I knew that probably two-thirds of the people in that Central Alberta would at least glance at them. Retired farmers, rig workers, store owners, college instructors, car salesman. So if the editorial was to be persuasive, it had to start at a place where all of them could be comfortable and make an argument they could all consider seriously. Otherwise, what would be the point?

That, I think, is missing in the role non-traditional media play. They are mostly starting at a place that shuts a majority of the population out of the argument.
I'm not sure how that can change. One critical question is how you create a community that is broader than people who share beliefs about policy or politics, whether its geographic or occupation-based or.....


Bernard said...

The Yes campaign for STV completely dominated in the online world, but in the end it did not have a strong impact on the results of the vote

Anonymous said...

Today's corporate media is on the 'right' side... They cannot "create a community that is broader than people who share beliefs about policy or politics"... That is why they are failing - they have cut their own readership in half with their political stance.

I think there is a fairly convincing argument to be made that a more equitable level of corporate media coverage would have made a bigger difference in this election than the impact of non-traditional media.

The biggest impact though was the NDP's ineptitude... very frustrating to watch the BC progressives fail so completely when Obama had handed them such a great play book. I blame the leadership behind the leader, not the leader.

BC Liberals Suck said...

Blogging has been an interested evolution for me to be involved in. One of the biggest reasons I started was that there was no-where I could read the kind of critique and analysis I was longing to read. I also wanted to contextual my opinion and perspectives by linking to media stories, both mainstream and other that quickly disappear. My biggest blog, BC Liberals Suck, is certainly centred around that one, very clear idea. I think the BC Liberals suck. And through my blog posts, I explain why I think that and how I came to the conclusions I have. I also give voice to those who are rendered invisible by MSM.

I had a conversation with my smart Mom earlier and she hit the nail on the head very well. She realizes that it is younger people who have to get more interested and encouraged to get out and vote. It is opinion, but as a member a younger generation, with a lot of hits on my blog, the mainstream media is not really relevant to the majority of young people anymore, or older for that matter. Many of us mistrust it, understand it to be a politicized and biased vehicle, pretending to be something else.

Did my blog have any influence in this election? I like to think it might have given people some pause for thought, to see things in a different light, to read things they might not have otherwise. But realistically, I don't think it did. But what I do know is, I received increased traffic and thousands more hits during the run up to the election. People wanted to read more and came back.

I don't think bloggers, or alternative media shuts a majority of people out of the argument, I think it's quite the opposite. Mainstream media has so alienated people and speaks for so few of us now that they have become so exclusive people long for something else to fill the gap, something more participatory, someone else's perspectives, voice and opinions.

Paul, I hope you remember that you are part of the status quo, even though you blog and write on topics many of your brethren and editors ignore, you are still part of the mainstream media. As a boomer and a white middle-aged man and journalist you are used to defining the issues, roles, and voicing a definitive opinion that is agreeable to readers, much like yourself. It's hard for older generations to realize the world really is different now. And it's difficult for younger generations and more diverse individuals and groups to find any space, voice and identity for themselves. I think with a mixture of different types of media, this will become an easier mix over time, which will continue to open up many things and increase inclusion and voice for those who have interesting and valid perspectives. I look forward to the time when I can open a newspaper and not just see white, middle aged faces staring out at me. It's boring, stale and been done to death.

RossK said...

Not to argue against myself, but sometimes folks working in the 'traditional' media can do excellent, important work that, because it goes against conventional wisdom, never gets flung into the wurlitzer.

Work like this.


RossK said...


You make an important point.

I wonder, though, if one of the issues there, with respect to impact at least, was that it looked to be mostly an 'inside baseball' thing where each side was pretty much preaching to its own converted?


paul said...

I do accept that reality, BC Liberals Suck. I've benefited from demographics.
But the overwhelming majority of British Columbians don't think the BC Liberals suck.
The largest group this week didn't think the Liberals mattered enough to vote.
But almost half of those who did vote thought the Liberals were the best choice.
So the name BC Liberals Suck excludes some 75 per cent of people who might come across the site.
That's not good, I'd say. Why talk to the 25 per cent of people who are already onside? There is no progess there.
Valid perspectives count for nothing. The challenge is to build a consensus around those perspectives.
With considerable respect.

Dawn Steele said...

Good points about the shared understanding, Paul. My complaint is that the opportunity to make use of that shared understanding is almost totally wasted by the MSM.

What policy issues did they actually discuss in the recent campaign based on this shared understanding:

- Ray Lam's saucy underwear Facebook photos
- Carole James' photo with radio hosts in a 2010 T-shirt with a weird slogan nobody gets
- Kash Heed's campaign photo posing in his police uniform
- Van Dongen's need for speed
- Campbell's old DUI
- The price of beer
- Will the Canucks win
- Would Heed decriminalize pot
- Would the Greens legalize crack
- Campbell's patronizing remark to Carole James
- Bill Bennett's possibly racist reference to First Nations
- Mable Elmore's reference to zionism
- Some suburban Liberal's homophobic e-mail
- Whom the latest poll says we're favouring to win
- Who's backing whom to win
- Who will win where and by how much...

I get that talking amongst ourselves in silos is not healthy. But if the only way to have a plenary discussion is to endure this mind-numbing drivel... Really, I can't believe the level of our shared understanding is as low as the MSM make it out to be and I have to challenge that such discussions are any healthier.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that the left think that the MSM is far more “biased” than in reality it really is. Thus they counter with “alternative” media which does not even pretend to be non partisan. As Mr.Wilcocks indicates if the starting point is already left of center the “alternative” media ends up only preaching to the converted.

I also see some serious potential issues with MSM adversely affecting the left.. As an example Will McMartin’s “BC Economy” article in the Tyee correctly pointed out the NDP’s economic growth rates were on the surface quite comparable to the BC Liberals growth rates. Unfortunately McMartin failed to disclose how those growth rates compared to the rest of Canada at the time frame in question. This painted a much different picture where BC was close to last in economic growth under the NDP compared to other Provinces, hence the term “lost decade”. Conversely the BC Liberals growth rates compared to other Provinces is amongst the leading in Canada a point certainly worth mentioning. Throughout the election there were NDP candidates quoting McMartin’s article and in doing so they were often easily discredited and made to look foolish.

My other concern is that MSM attempts to hire professional reporters with an understanding and often education on the principles of fair and balanced reporting. Unfortunately with “alternative” media all too often it is finely crafted propaganda from someone with an axe to grind in a well presented “article” that often uses selectively choosen “facts” This only serves to further discredit the legitimacy of “alternative media”

Personally I think alternative media needs to develop a code of conduct. There is nothing wrong with being funded by labour organization nor is there anything wrong with writing partisan based op-ed’s or “articles” but a full disclosure would be helpful. I think people are willing to read the views of others; in fact I think many enjoy it; however to offer opinions disguised as being “facts” does a disservice to all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:03 AM said, "Personally I think alternative media needs to develop a code of conduct. There is nothing wrong with being funded by labour organization nor is there anything wrong with writing partisan based op-ed’s or “articles” but a full disclosure would be helpful. I think people are willing to read the views of others; in fact I think many enjoy it; however to offer opinions disguised as being “facts” does a disservice to all."
i think that the MSM should do the same. It would be interesting to know how much contact the publishers and editors of MSM have with the the government and esp. the premier. How much money does the gov't give to MSM to promote BC and keep the MSM alive? How much contact is there between the Political Affairs Branch of the Legislature and the MSM?
We could go on but it suffice to say that the MSM played a big role in getting the BC Liberals elected by having stories that avoid the issues and instead attack the NDP, e.g. the "Olympic girls t-shirt" stories rather than the cost the ROR's are going to cost ratepayers in BC.

Anonymous said...

(The alternative media) are mostly starting at a place that shuts a majority of the population out of the argument.

There is some truth to that, but the more pressing problem is that the Canwest/Global monopolized media, while it may not "shut the majority of the population out of the argument" does shape the agenda in a way that benefits their cronies in Victoria. And if you don't think the relationship between Canwest and the Liberal party of BC is an example of crony capitalism, give your head a shake.

Dawn Steele said...

Anon 8:03, your own example based on McMartin's piece illustrates that "bias" is often nothing more than choosing to drill down only so far as it takes to get the answer you want to support your own preconceptions so that you can dismiss the other guys as "foolish."

For example, a more objective analysis of the McMartin piece than you offered would have explained the extent to which BC's typical boom/bust resource-based economic cycle accounted for BC falling below the Canadian average in the 1990s (or noted that the same thing has just happened again under the Liberals in the recent downturn, despite the enormous stimulus still coming from Olympic projects.) It would also have addressed the extent to which BC, as a Pacific Rim state heaviy dependent on Asian trade, would have been expected to under-perform the rest of Canada during the Asian economic crisis of the 1990s.

It would have noted that in fact most of the major forces that shape BC's economy - interest rates, global trade, housing markets, world commodity prices - are completely outside the control of any BC government.

So no, bias is not something restricted to alternative media - it is everywhere. That's why diversity of media ownership is so important to a free and and competitive press, why an extraordinary concentration of ownership seriously affects the quality offered by BC's MSM, and why so many professional BC journalists in fact choose to give up a reliable and comfortable income to scrape by working outside the MSM.

RossK said...

In my opinion, the issue is NOT bias.

The issue is pretending NOT to be biased.

That is why I could not countenance an editorial from the Vancouver Sun supporting Gordon Campbell that did NOT mention that its parent company also donated $50,000 EXCLUSIVELY to Gordon Campbell in the last election cycle.