Five years of StephenTaylor.ca

It was five years ago today that I started this blog.  I started writing on this site as a tool to compliment my nomination campaign in Kingston prior to the 2004 general election.  I wasn’t successful in that nomination campaign as my blog at the time was read by a handful of people nationally rather than a handful of people locally.  But really, nominations are won by signing up new members and turning them out to the meeting.  Who knew? Oh, the things I’ve learned in the last five years!

This blog grew from that nomination battle to cover the Conservative leadership race, to three general elections, a number of by-elections and all of the drama in between.  Political blogging was a relatively new phenomenon five years ago and I was lucky to be an early adopter of a medium that would become useful in the 2006 election and a misplaced media obsession in 2008.  In late 2004, I put together a site called Blogging Tories that brought together like-minded bloggers to form a community around right-of-centre politics.  I remember that the earliest version of the blogroll had only five blogs on it! Now the blogroll spans 300 members and is read by tens of thousands of people daily.

As the practice of self-publishing continues and evolves into new formats beyond the blog into micro-blogging formats such as twitter, more people will become involved in the national political conversation.  Blogging has also evolved on different platforms such as Facebook with Facebook Notes and micro-blogging with Facebook status updates.  Politics is a social and new media has created the potential for the dialogue between political practitioners and political stakeholders to become a real two-way conversation rather than a disjointed series of action and reaction separated by long periods of time spanning from days to weeks.

I’ve enjoyed blogging as it provides an outlet for my views and lets me connect with Canadians who either share or don’t share my perspective.  I’ve met a lot of interesting people online and offline as a result of this blog and I’ve found that most have been sincere and genuine in their respective views on how to make Canada a better place for Canadians, no matter their prescription for that outcome.

I look forward to continuing our conversation.

Turnergate synopsis

It all started quite innocently enough. CPAC, the Canadian parliamentary channel which provides an incredible service to Canadians by providing a unbiased tracking of politicians on the campaign trail, was trailing Progressive Conservative-turned-broadcaster-turned-Conservative-turned-Independent-turned-Green tease-turned-Liberal MP Garth Turner door-to-door as part of a hustings profile they were making for the riding of Halton.

As I’ve alluded above, Turner is a controversial figure who has been forced to shop around for a party that would take him after – the governing Conservatives allege – he violated caucus confidentiality by posting private discussions on his blog. There is no doubt that Turner and his Halton seat are being specially targeted for re-capture by the Tories.

As part of the CPAC profile, reporter Martin Stringer followed Turner door-to-door to get a snapshot of the typical candidate experience. The report was produced, taped, cut and aired on CPAC a short while later. As it aired, conservative blogger Matt McGuire snipped the video from CPAC showing Turner trying to sell Dion’s Green Shift to a constituent. McGuire wanted to make the point that Turner lacked confidence in pushing the plan.

An eagle-eyed viewer of this video noticed something else, however. The random constituent that Turner was door-knocking was the son of Esther Shaye, Garth Turner’s right hand and current campaign manager. The viewer emailed popular Conservative blogger Steve Janke and Janke got to work.

This caused quite a stir in the blogosphere and enraged the good people of CPAC. This supposed random door-knocker was the “last person” CPAC wanted to film because they wanted to show a typical constituent, not someone with a direct or indirect involvement with the campaign. CPAC’s reputation was on the line. The cable network prides itself on telling the story as straight as it can and here was this photo-op that it presented as non-staged. Looking for answers, CPAC’s anchor Peter van Dusen caught up with Turner on the phone while he was campaigning and pressed him to explain himself and why his campaign set up CPAC.  Turner was taken by surprise and squirmed during the call as he was prompted to explain why his campaign offered a family member rather than a random sample for CPAC to film.

CBC reporter Susan Ormiston is tracking how the internet is shaping this election campaign and to her this story had relevance since Steve Janke busted Turner’s campaign.  Ormiston produced a story for The National and, to her credit, provided some balance not immediately apparent in the Conservative blogosphere: the Halton Conservative candidate took CPAC to a friend’s store.  As Garth Turner tried to explain himself on his blog he lashed out at Ormiston and the process by which she took to produce the story.  Ormiston hit back at Turner expressing that his accounting of the story’s production wasn’t accurate.

This story, of course, goes to credibility.  In the age of the blogosphere and pushback on unfair reporting, the mainstream media is now very sensitive to demands that their reports are unbiased and fair.  CPAC alleges that Turner manipulated what was supposed to be a typical day in the life of a candidate.  CBC alleges that Turner’s accounting of their process was untruthful.  If nothing else, this shows the MSM’s intent on showing their effort to fulfill their new contract the blogosphere to go that extra step to report accurately.  However, as far as credibility goes, Turner has run into trouble before with those that have cried foul to his recounting of events.  If he is re-elected, as the Canadian public we may have more opportunities of witnessing such incidents as they unfold on the national stage and within the blogosphere.

New website design

Well you may have noticed that things look a bit different around here. I’ve been toiling away over the past few days designing a new version of this blog to give it a more modern and polished look. Out of the online skill-set, Photoshop has been one that I’ve always wanted to master but it seemed daunting; the Adobe program is very powerful but has a steep learning curve. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing the necessary poking and prodding around and just recently have made the effort to get a decent handling of it.

Google reader and a number of RSS feeds have been a big help for learning from the pros. Go to http://del.icio.us/popular/css or http://del.icio.us/popular/photoshop and subscribe to the RSS feeds of the blogs that are regularly featured there. Picking up tips and tricks over time has been quite helpful at learning this facet of web design.

I’m going to be improving the functionality of this blog even further and new features are planned for the future. You’ll notice twitter implementation at the footer. I’m predicting that this webservice will start to make an impact in Canadian politics; twitter is already a hit south of the border. You can also sign up for my mailing list below and Canada’s original and most influential political blog aggregator can also be found at the bottom of the site. As for the main content of the blog, my writing will always be the central feature of this site. Hopefully the new design will complement it.

That’s my take. I’m interested in hearing yours. What do you think of the new design?

Full Comment

I started this blog in January of 2004 and it’s been a hobby that I’ve enjoyed immensely. The original purpose of putting permanence to my daily thoughts on Canadian politics was to support my somewhat ambitious bid to become the Conservative candidate in Kingston and the Islands. This blog served as a campaign tool to reach out to Conservative party members in that riding in order to do as any other hopeful politician would do: build a name, get out the vote.

In an unfortunate sense, the blog medium and its scope was national rather than local. I was writing about federal politics, the Conservative leadership race and my candidacy for nomination. I was using an axe where I needed a scalpel. As an early adopter of Canadian partisan blogging, I would say that the same effect would not occur today; one can effectively define a local niche while enunciating on federal politics because the vacuum of the new medium that existed has been effectively filled.

Yet, in perhaps its more critical sense, I see political blogging now as I did then. Blogging is an important outlet by which we, as stakeholders in our democracy, can discuss ideas of importance to us as a country, as members of various communities and as individuals. As someone with great admiration and support for the original Reform and Alliance movements, I can confidently say that our democracy is strengthened by the expression of a broad spectrum of ideas that come from individuals with diverse experiences. Blogging lowers the threshold of access to the forums of free expression in a true marketplace of ideas.

What used to be an effective tool of scoundrels who wished to twist this open system unfairly to their own view was to say that the views of others were unCanadian. This strikes personally and directly upon one’s sense of loyalties because if we are to consider what is paramount in our list of allegiances, most of us would consider family and country among the top two (some reasonable people would include God within their short list as well). At the root of family allegiance is consanguinity, but that to God and country is rooted in values. Most religionists and nationalists derive their loyalty from creed; while a familial bond can exist within both, it is the values of religion and state from which most people find their respective loyalty.

So therefore, we can look to first principles and determine that it is values that is fundamental to any attachment to a collective called Canada.

But yet, this collective is one of divergent values.

Some Canadians believe that Canada ought to fund universal, fully public access to healthcare while some believe that a private, free-to-choose, market-based system is better for themselves and Canada. Neither of these views is unCanadian.

There are Canadians that believe that Canada ought to fight for the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan while others say that Canada should not involve itself with the affairs of the Afghan people. Neither of these views is unCanadian.

Those that argue that private healthcare is “American-style” or that leaving Afghanistan is unCanadian are using our loyalties as leverage to support their views but they are being dishonest to our principle value which is open discussion and freely held positions on difficult issues.

I would argue that instead it is the prohibition of ideological diversity that is solely unCanadian, for the suppression of thought and the ability to express it within the context of the dynamic Canadian debate, is to remove the underlying value that is common among those which form the diversity of this country’s discussions. If we cannot freely consider all points in debate how does this fare for the legitimacy of our conclusions?

Most people would conclude that some positions are indefensible. While also inherently incongruent, the suppression of speech by a state defined by democratic debate is such a position. Despite this, I support the right of those that would wish to convince me otherwise, yet with their words rather than the state.

Update

I’ll risk a blog cliche here and apologize for not posting in the last week. Sometimes my “real life” work gets too demanding and the blog suffers. I’ll be posting a substantial post soon on an unexpected topic.

Yet I’ve still been doing some work online. I’ve been busy helping put together the Canadian Blog Awards, the new archiving aggregator for Blogging Tories and coding a new social networking political integration platform which I’ll start releasing in the next month.

For now, I’m off to Halifax today for the weekend for the Nova Scotia PC AGM. If you’re at any of the events this weekend, do say hello!

Lessons in New Media: Regretting the Error

This article is part of a series on blogging, political blogging and the evolution of news reporting.

Blogging continues to evolve as a medium where authors can engage in a variety of activities from finding communities of fellow hobbyists or of like-minded people, to bringing a more populist view and report of the news as it develops.

In the reporting of news, much like in traditional media, errors can and do occur. For anyone that chases a story where facts are raw, breaking and ever-changing, it is not unexpected that the reporter will have to amend an update for their viewers/listeners/readers. After all, that’s why these occurrences are sometimes called “late-breaking developments”.

At the extreme end of reporting is 24-hour cable news where journalists often cover an event live and from the scene as the news itself is unfolding. Not many reporters are savants and they do the best they can to report what facts they are aware of at the time, what is likely to be known shortly, and what the significance of these elements are to the broader picture. Often, reporters on the scene will deal with sources that may have special knowledge, but themselves may be ignorant to certain facts of which others could be aware. Of course, as this all burns in the crucible of the news event as it occurs, hopefully the truth can come out in its purest possible form at the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have news magazines which publish stories which have happened and which may have been concluded for weeks. A reader can get a great in-depth report of an event after it has unfolded by picking up a copy of Maclean’s, the Economist, or Time. Editors do not often publish corrections in this news medium because while the pressure of deadline is still there, it is entirely different; updating news consumers as to what is happening and now gives way to concerns of whether a story is still timely or relevant. Insignificant minutia (both accurate and inaccurate) are distilled away by the longer passage of time afforded to this medium.

In between these two poles we have the “6/11 o’clock news” and newspapers. Both media will more frequently provide corrections of their reporting when necessary, yet in comparison with cable news which corrects its errors in the context of news updates and reasonably passes off corrections as “the evolution of a story”, newspapers and nightly newscasts correct their errors as lapses in quality.

Blogging represents an interesting amalgam when reporting on ongoing and developing news stories. While most blogging exists in print (some of it is video- based with vlogging), the blogging medium sees its fair share of reporting that is more aligned with cable news than with news magazines when it comes to late-breaking developments and the unfolding of the broader news story. The “live print” of the blog medium can represent a departure from what is expected by consumers that read their news rather than watch it. While most live reporting is only ever watched as that (i.e. live), it is archived and can be played on future broadcasts. Yet, there is less of an expectation for formal correction as the reporter generally corrects live as they proceed with their report. Readers of newspapers and news magazines have traditionally expected to see corrections of erroneous reporting since the time-frame between publication and correction spans from the period of a day through a span of weeks.

As blogging represents an odd mix between being “live” and being expressed in print, consumers of traditional media can have mixed expectations as to what is acceptable when it comes to correcting errors in ongoing reporting.

A blog post both represents a record of what’s been said and an ongoing dynamic report of what’s happening. To differentiate between other forms of printed media, errors can be edited off of a blog as if they had never been made at all. Indeed, this can be an easier task than a newspapers publisher recovering every print copy of his/her publication and burning them. So, when an error is made while blogging, is it always entirely appropriate to excise the inaccuracies when they are made?

First, it should be noted that corrections should always be made when errors come to a blogger’s attention. But, is it appropriate to remove the record of the error if by doing so we have the sole benefit of providing accuracy of our facts? Other forms of media do not have such a luxury and the journalistic standard has always been to note the error since it cannot be recovered. Since blogging allows a sort of historical correction that is not afforded to traditional media, is it appropriate to do such a blunt correction rather than letting the record of the error stand while providing a correction?

The blogging convention that has developed among those that participate in the medium has been to, except in rare circumstances, let the record of the error stand while pointing future readers in the direction of the correct information.

One can accomplish this in a number of ways. When a blogger wishes to correct the record of fact, while at the same time maintaining the historical record of the story as it was reported and as it developed, the blogger should return to the offending statement/paragraph and provide a reference to where one can find the correct information. For example, one might create a link to the update “see update” or if not linking the update, simply refer to the update that the reader should be able to find below “see update 3/19/2007, 3:21pm”. Another option that further emphasizes the error, maintains a record of it, is the use of HTML (<strike></strike>) to strike-through the text, just like this. This option can fail, however, as certain blog aggregators and RSS readers strip all HTML tags from the text (and therefore the record of correction as well).

The final and least preferred corrective option is to delete the entire post. While this is not faithful to the record of reporting, it can be a easy face-saving measure for some. When considering this option, consider that making errors in the ongoing coverage of developing events is to be expected even if unfortunate. Readers should be able to follow the progression of your reporting as it happens to understand how the unfolding of the story unfolded itself. Letting the error stand (but correcting the information) is also a good self-corrective measure as the consequences of errors retain their cost to and effect on the author.

To my recollection, I have only ever deleted one post instead of letting the record of my error stand while pointing readers in the direction of the correct information. At other rare instances long ago, in the interests of the truth, rather than the truth and the record, I have made factual edits to longer than short-standing sentences or paragraphs.

I regret the error.

Thoughts about the Pakistan story

Often when writing this blog I try and wear two hats: one of a reporter and one of a conservative critic. If I get whiff of a good story, I’ll do my best to investigate and be first to put it out there for public consumption. As an advocate of blogging as a new reporting medium, I will say that I am thrilled when I see big stories break on blogs before the so-called mainstream media goes to air/print.

Last night, I received word from someone that works in media that a press release from the High Commissioner was just starting to hit the email boxes of fellow reporters in Ottawa. As I’m not usually on the press contact list of most organizations, I called the Pakistani High Commission to confirm the story. They referred me to the press officer who had already gone home for the evening. Likely expecting a number of media calls that evening, the commission passed on the officer’s home number which I called. When speaking with the press officer, I only inquired as to whether a statement or release had been authored concerning “Mr. Dion’s remarks on Pakistan and NATO” and requested that a copy be emailed to me. They informed me that they had in fact just penned a release and that they would email me a copy.

Some people have emailed me with concerns that by calling the High Commission, I brought attention to a news story of which they would have otherwise not been aware. This is laughable and quite insulting to the professionalism of diplomatic staff whose job it is is to track the host country’s political scene in order to report developments which concern their government. Stephane Dion’s statements regarding NATO and possible “forces” being introduced into Pakistan were already published in the Ottawa Citizen and I’m quite certain that the diplomatic staff reads the papers (and watches the news. The story was on both Mike Duffy and Newman last night). I did nothing to suggest to the Pakistani High Commission that Mr. Dion’s statements were inappropriate; I simply expressed to them that I wanted to be cc’d on the release that they were only starting to send out.

I believe that I was the first to publish the release. Minutes later on his blog, David Akin published it too. My blog beat the CP wire by an hour on a breaking news story. The story’s value was “very high” as Canada has important security interests in central Asia and that a man seeking the office of the Prime Minister had apparently taken a new track on proposed Canadian foreign policy. While I may have been first to break news of the release, it is unfair to say that the mainstream media was negligent or uninterested in reporting on the story. After I posted on the story last night, I benefited from discussions with one of Ottawa bureau chiefs and two other Ottawa reporters. To Peter Mansbridge’s credit, the CBC anchor used a scheduled Mansbridge One-on-One taping the same day to press Dion (and hard) on his statement and to ask him about Pakistan’s condemnation of Dion’s remarks.

As for the partisan statements that I made on this blog concerning the release: I do believe in what I wrote. In fact, much of it mirrors and complements what I have previously said. I think that Canadians should set a very high standard for their applicants to executive and legislative powers, especially when it comes to matters of national defense and foreign policy.

As for Conservatives “taking advantage” of Mr. Dion’s statements or positions? This does nothing to hurt foreign relations as Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister and such high level diplomatic/military transactions cross his desk and not that of Mr. Dion. Despite this, it is the responsible duty of our party-based political system to discuss/debate and sometimes ridicule the positions of opponents. As Canadians, we charge our elected representatives with pursing our interests and those of Canada, and anything less than challenging a new proposed track on foreign policy would be irresponsible and a betrayal to our principles of informed debate, the foundation of our democracy. Parties are the method by which discussion is focused and made effective. Rather than having 308 independent and non-cohesive message tracks, we more effectively debate a handful at a time. It is the duty of parties to propose new ideas and the duty of other parties to put those ideas through the test of intense debate.

The Conservatives can hardly be blamed for both debating what appeared to be Mr. Dion’s divergent foreign policy proposal, and they cannot be blamed for taking the Liberal leader at his literal word. Now Mr. Dion has said that he means “diplomacy” and not “force” even though he called for considering “NATO forces” in Pakistan. Either one of two things then happened. Mr. Dion either realized the faults of his proposal and climbed down in the face of being battered on an already weak file of his. Or the Liberal leader misspoke, which is known to happen. However, misinterpreting Dion’s intent based on his words has really only been known to happen in English. Is it possible that Mr. Dion made a gaffe in French about an issue that was on the top of his mind (he had just come back from his first trip to Afghanistan)? It’s possible, but its not probable. I believe that Mr. Dion was proposing a new track even if it’s a proposal for others to help develop his ideas. And in this, I honestly believe that this is where one of Mr. Dion’s political faults lies; he takes an academic approach which is better suited to the safe environment of a “what-if” university seminar. Such an environment is the incubator to under-developed ideas and untested policy proposals. The national stage is no place to “spitball” ideas.

Some will say that they’ve found it refreshing to hear a Canadian politician “tell it like it is on Pakistan” and “say what we’ve all been thinking”. Pakistan has been a laggard when it comes to taking care of the radical elements in its western province. Like most Canadians, I am concerned about our inability to address this problem directly. Yet, Pakistan is a sovereign country that has the jurisdiction over its own security. Most Canadians would agree that the only scenarios that would allow military presence within Pakistan’s borders would be either with the permission of the Pakistani government, or with a broad international consensus to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government is not about to allow any western nation to put our soldiers on the ground there (this is a well known sentiment of the Musharraf government – so it is surprising that Mr. Dion suggested this). Further, the UN is not on the verge on granting any military the authority to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Mr. Dion’s statements were ill-conceived and more theoretical than practical in nature.

For Canadian security in central Asia, Pakistan needs a stable administration. If it’s democratic, all the better. But, the “nuance” here is that if Western troops go in, it’ll tip the population of Pakistan away from Musharraf, and away from Bhutto’s PPP and towards radical elements. Having Americans in Saudi Arabia supposedly radicalized Osama bin Laden against the West, so suggesting something half-baked (but on the very surface, quite logical until you dig deeper) is irresponsible of Dion and especially for a man who is supposedly advised on these matters. As a privy counselor, former member of cabinet and leader of the Opposition, Dion receives security briefings. Since Pakistan stability is a key buttress against the whole of central Asia collapsing, Dion made an unfortunate error in making such a weakly-considered statement as the Pakistani media picked up comments from the Canadian opposition leader, named him as the likely winner of the future election and claim that his policy musings will be the Canadian agenda in a matter of weeks or months.

Dion, of course has the right to make such statements however inappropriate they may be. But it is the duty of partisans of all stripes to put his ideas through the machinations of public debate in order for Canadians to be best served.

Republican story from ’72

Take a look at the following video from CBS’ evening news from 1972. There should be a few interesting elements for any viewer, no matter their political leanings.

First, we notice that the topic of election strategy has always been good fodder for news reporters. Often, the horse race and how it’s run can be more compelling than the policies or platforms forwarded by the candidates.

Of course, there is also the gem of a Dan Rather piece from 1972. Rather’s thesis on the Republicans this time? That they’ve set up a front operation for show. The purpose? To demonstrate that Nixon isn’t running too hard for re-election. Possible, I suppose. After all, news media was hardly as ubiquitous in those days and perhaps such deliberate steps were taken to fool Rather. But, thankfully, he’s not fooled.

Next, at the RNC, envelope cutters are opening cheques from a quarter of a million people for $2.5 million. The ‘grassroots’ ma ‘n pa cheques that come in is a strategy employed by today’s Conservative Party in Canada. The direct mail lists and personal greetings customized by computer based on issue is interesting and it’s fascinating to know the sophistication of the operation involving these tools back to 1972. Some American politicians still bank heavily on direct mail appeals. Once, when describing blogging to a senior republican, I told him it was like the next version of direct mail. Thankfully, he didn’t press me further on the comparison, but I felt that the generational analogy was cogent enough, if on some levels not at all.

Next, in the report we see, by today’s standards, laughable privacy concerns which may well have enraged people watching Rather back in ’72. A ‘computer’ stores the names of mail-order Idaho steak customers? Most definitely a frightful thought to more than a few back in the early 70s.

Robert Odell Jr. is interviewed and describes these methods as the way of the future for campaign finance, and while we can forgive him for not foreseeing the netroots appeals of Howard Dean and those that would follow in the use of blogs and social media in this first decade of the 21st century, Odell could be a certified futurist.

We then see an obligatory note to show that the broad ma ‘n pa appeal isn’t exactly perfect yet as ‘fat cats’ still pay hundreds of dollars for Nixon fundraising dinners.

And then those that went home early will be sorely disappointed as we see a chance interview between Dan Rather and a 21-year old Karl Rove who holds up a bumper sticker for the GOP reading Generation of Peace. At the time of the interview, Rove was charged with “embarrassing pundits” and to help the Republican Party appeal to youth. It’s interesting to see how small a family of political operatives can exist, even in countries like the US.

All in all, a fascinating story about the ‘future’ of political financing from direct mail, to personalized letters aimed at specific constituents based on targeted issues. One wonders how the current cutting-edge methods of voter identification, fundraising and media balancing will be viewed 35 years from now.

Defining the blogging medium

Last night, I had the opportunity to be an invited guest speaker at Third Monday, a monthly gathering of PR and government relations professionals on the topics of blogging, politics, and the emergence of social media as media. It was an enjoyable experience as I met some of Ottawa’s top thinkers in the marketing of products and ideas.

Immediately, I was able to appreciate the depth of knowledge that the attendees had in blogging and other forms of social media. After our preliminary chat and before I took the stage, I knew that the crowd was past the stage of explaining “a blog, or web-log is a form of website authored by an individual or group that writes on topics in reverse chronological order”. This was refreshing to know, as I knew that we’d be able to get past the technicalities of the medium and discuss the social, legal and ethical implications of writing a blog.

I have raised open questions in the past about a blog’s role in cataloging one’s observation of events. Specifically, how does one define blogs as media? One observer noted that unlike airwaves, the resources of the Internet and the delivery of information is not limited in a sense that a government body ought to license or regulate its use. Of course, in Canada, we tend to suffer over-regulation as the rule so it was interesting to consider the dissemination of media via the internet as an unregulated resource. However, some in this country would advocate for regulation of media, not because of the scarcity of the resource, but for control of content.

But what of “blogs”? I’ve come to the realization over the past few weeks (and indeed years) that blogging is simply a tool, or the method by which one’s ideas can be disseminated. A “blogger” ought not to represent a certain class of individual with categorical privileges, rights and restrictions. Like the pen, microphone, or typewriter, a blog is simply the tool. The blogger is the reporter.

And of the question of whether or not blogging is journalistic? Last night I was asked if what I do is journalism in any sense. To a degree, I would muse that I am an observer and reporter of news events. Journalists in the mainstream media are employed by companies that are owned by large media organizations (like Rogers or Bell) or powerful teachers unions. Of course, a reporter’s loyalty ought to be only to the truth. I believe that what I do is truth mixed with my own sincere opinion. Then again, some journalists are also analysts or columnists and base their views on what they perceive to be true. They have their partisan preferences and are paid to provide opinion. Certainly that opinion has been focused through a lens of experience unique to the individual.

Am I a journalist, reporter, or columnist? Some may say that I should not be considered a journalist since I have my own agenda. One CBC journalist once complained to me that I don’t declare my biases up front (I think this was derived from a similar charge that I had leveled at him seconds before). “It’s right there at the top of the page — Conservative Party of Canada Pundit”, I explained. I was astonished to hear the CBC journo dismissively grunted that “it’s not enough”. To distill what I do to its base elements, at the end of the day I’m just some guy with an internet connection, opinions and $20 a month to spend on website hosting. However, in a political climate bent on accountability, transparency and high ethical standards (and a country where one could do a Historica minute on our proud regulatory traditions), must I consider following a certain code of conduct? Legally, as long as I don’t write hate or indefensible libel against an individual or group, I believe that I’m entitled to speak as I wish; I certainly do not hold any elected office and am not accountable to anybody but myself. Ethically, however, as part ‘shoestring’ media, I believe that I ought to conform to a certain ethical standard. I hope that I’ve had some degree of success in adhering to it.

I suppose after speaking to a room full of lobbyists, individuals that navigate the ethical and legal complexities defined and redefined by Ottawa, these thoughts tend to come to the fore rather than reside nebulously at the back of one’s mind. If one is to assume that this blog has some measure of influence over its readers and if one were to further assume that many of those readers are policy makers and journalists, does these considerations pose certain ethical dilemmas given certain scenarios? I’ve always stated that my blog has been successful in most part because of my readers. As my audience has grown, more and more people send me interesting ideas and items for my consideration. Of course, some of this material comes from political parties (including anti-Dion Liberals), some comes from the media itself (if it’s too ‘raw for prime-time’). Most of the rest of it comes from everyday Canadians that send in interesting observations. However, at Third Monday, the general question came up asking if I could be sent propaganda by interest groups? Could this information influence me? For example, could someone from the oil and gas send me information to muddy the waters on climate change? Of course they could. However, I would never write anything contrary to my own opinion and I try to verify all facts to a certain degree of confidence. I’m also faithful to my sources and would never reveal who has sent me information.

One certainty exists in a media climate that is constantly changing: our views of media are undefined and may never be. A blog is simply a medium, as I’ve stated above. However, I’m certain that some in the MSM would say that blogging has had the effect of admitting pedestrians into a noble profession. Indeed, the cost of blogging is virtually nil; one only needs to go to the public library to publish one’s thoughts to the world. Blogging has also been a boon to democratic participation as one can participate in formative policy based debate with other citizens as frequently or an infrequently as they wish. Democratically, a citizen is not simply reduced to a voter anymore. I do, however, believe that the evolving definition of journalist ought not to be confused by the medium. At one time even television reporters had to fight for access. Blogging may lower the threshold to participation; however the blogosphere can also be viewed as the best crucible in which those that ought to be read, will be and those that don’t, will figuratively burn away. Thankfully, the internet is the closest medium that we have that approaches an unlimited information resource. Let’s hope that nobody ever tries to regulate it, for we should all have access.

Press shuts down blogger

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down the street to Parliament Hill to cover the budget for my blog and for Blogging Tories. You can see the product of that effort here, here, here, and here. I have a Hill pass that indicates that I have been pre-screened by security and allows me access to a variety of places in the Parliamentary district. While hovering on the periphery of a budget-day scrum with Jack Layton, I was spotted by Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette. She scolded me and expressed to this lowly blogger that he wasn’t allowed to scrum with Layton. Largely ignoring her, I continued to mind my own business and started to needlessly check my camera settings. Thompson alerted Parliamentary Press Gallery President Richard Brennan to my presence and minutes later, security asked me to leave the foyer area.

I left the hallway outside of the foyer and walked over to the railway room to interview some ‘stakeholders’ of the budget. This went off without incident and during that time, I cheerfully chatted with some reporters that were in the same room.

Having completed my interviews with the stakeholders, I left and headed on over to the Rotunda where I had a friendly chat with Jack Layton. Elizabeth May and her assistant were also hanging around chatting when I saw Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc walk by. Having heard that his party was the lone opposition party supporting the budget, I asked him for an interview. He agreed. After the interview something ugly happened.

An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received “complaints” about me. “Thompson?” I inquired. “Complaints”, he seemed to acknowledge. I pointed out that we were currently in the Rotunda of Parliament and that my pass allowed me to be there. “But you have a camera” he informed me. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament.

Unbelievable!

Yes, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with no powers granted to it by constitution or statute, used security to remove somebody who had the right to be present on the Hill granted to him by the Speaker of the House.

A similar incident happened recently when two female staffers from the Conservative Resource Group were similarly removed from the Hill by security when the Liberals complained to the Gallery.

After the incident, the Prime Ministers office called the sergeant-at-arms (who works on behalf of the Speaker on Hill security) and was told that the Gallery and Liberals were wrong to ask for the ouster of the CRG staff from Dion scrums (and scrums in general).

Of course, this brings up a few questions. If security on the Hill is the responsibility of the Speaker, and if I have been granted access to most non-privileged areas of the Hill by the Speaker, what authority does an official of the PPG have in calling in the guard to have me removed from perhaps the most public area of the Hill? Elizabeth May was also present in the Rotunda, yet she is not an elected member, nor is she associated with an elected party in Parliament. She has also been granted security clearance to the Hill by the Speaker. So, is it the camera? What is so offensive about my camera? Since I am cleared to be present on the Hill, is it because I haven’t been cleared to use one of the Press Guild’s many tools? Would May be ejected by the Gallery if she was in possession of a camera? What if I am invited by a politician to use my camera on the Hill? Is this forbidden? Was this interview with Jack Layton in the NDP leader’s office violating some unwritten rule of the media powers that be? Does the CRG/Dion Hill incident (and the aftermath) set a precedent for my presence (with camera) on the Hill? Again, why does the power reside in a largely unelected, unaccountable body of Parliament that is not defined by statute? I’ve made a sport out of taking on institutions with artificial and inflated senses of entitlement, maybe the Press Gallery is next.

Or, you may ask, why don’t I just suck it up and join this all-powerful guild as some of the friendlier gallery-folk have suggested? I’ve always been unsure about this move as I am a declared partisan, yet I am not employed by the Conservative Party. Still, should partisan media exist? Should it be allowed? Since this blog is de facto media and it already operates in a partisan manner, should the CRTC or Elizabeth Thompson shut it down? Frankly, I can understand reasons against ‘official’ recognition of my media status in the Parliamentary precinct. After all, couldn’t I flood Conservatives with long and friendly press conference questions to waste time? (yes). Would I? (no). Would I sell out my media brethren and sign up for ‘the list’? (yes).

But then again, the game is changing and bloggers are becoming a new category in a variety of forums they intersect. Will the next evolutionary phase be a smooth one or will it require direct action?

As the concept of “press” is being redefined to include bloggers, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that some of the “officials” that are trampling on our rights include members of the “dead tree” division of the guild we wish to complement.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that I am ineligible for membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery because I am not employed as a journalist by any organization. Do you think that the evolution of media and reporting should change some of the traditions and practices on parliament hill?