If you turn on the television late at night and catch the evening news you might catch a story about how a regular citizen, perhaps your neighbour, your mailman, or your teacher has broken the latest news through their blog. (“blog” is short for “web log” — a sort of personal online diary of events arranged in reverse chronological order). Now, if you turn on your cable news station at anytime of the day, tune into podcasts or if you actually know what a “blog” is, you already know the news. While Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson tell you “and that’s the kind of day it’s been”, indeed, the sun has already set on this format of news.
For those of you just catching up, this election has been set by the pulse of blogs. For those of you who have been following the blogs for your election coverage, we’ve been glad to have you along for the ride. For those of you who are still trying to sound out the word and wonder if “the trend” is anymore than disgruntled teenagers talking about how the world sucks and how they like to cut themselves, it’s time to catch up.
Indeed, all three federalist parties in Canada during this election missed the boat on blogs. The Liberal Party mustered up perhaps the best effort in Scott Feschuck’s inane attempt to channel what people think blogs are (see above) as opposed to how blogs can be used effectively to convey breaking news, eyewitness reports and in some cases, brilliant editorial opinion. The Conservatives launched a noble effort which faced criticism in the early days for being too much like a press release. The NDP though has been on record saying that since blogs didn’t have an effect in the 2004 election, they likely would not have an effect during the current election. While all the Liberals and the Conservatives tried to hop on the blog bandwagon, they did so in a way that they tried to capture the trend instead of use it to its full capacity.
The media, however, has perhaps been the most ignorant of the use of blogs and what they truly represent. While the CBC Newsworld anchor turns it over to the knockoff “inside the blogs” segment to find out what Larry in Flin Flon thinks about the handgun ban (he thinks “it sucks”), your friendly neighbourhood blogger is calling his sources, digging through government documents online and is rounding out his story through tips left by email and via his comments section. CTV.ca and CTV Newsnet have been exceptions to the rule, however. Their electionblog section and Mike Duffy’s sourcing of blogs has been admirable.
Indeed, bloggers have broken countless news stories during this election. Weeks before Christmas, Steve Janke, Matt Braaten and I were digging through forensic financial data from the markets, receiving tips from concerned brokers and were tapping our contacts at the Western Standard, CTV, and the Globe and Mail for leads and information that was “too raw for primetime”. We broke the income trust scandal on our blogs and were aghast when the CBC gave a summary view of the story and called it an exclusive.
Other stories broken by bloggers during this election include the potential truth behind the international spat orchestrated by Paul Martin, Ralph Goodale’s request for a sole-source contract for Earnscliffe, Ralph Goodale’s faxscam, David Smith’s Abotech affair, and Tony Valeri’s land dealings among others.
How did the bloggers do it? After all, many of them haven’t graduated from journalism school, most do not have the resources to follow the various leader’s tours for $1500 a day. How do they do it?
A good political blogger has sources like any other journalist, sources in each party, sources in various news organizations and sources at the local coffee shop. It is quite ignorant to think that bloggers do not have the know-how to make a phone call, the talent to follow up with an email or the ability to set up a meeting or an interview.
This is why I read with not much astonishment that Blogging Tories, as a group, has been forwarded to Elections Canada. My lack of astonishment doesn’t reside in the fact that the group that I co-founded has been libeled; my lack of astonishment is a function of the ignorant parties involved in the persecution of bloggers.
Canada’s election watchdog received a complaint yesterday from a disaffected party member who claims the Tories tried to sway political opinion in cyberspace in the leadup to, and during, the election by setting up the popular “Blogging Tories” website.
This accusation is untrue. The Conservative Party of Canada had no involvement in setting up Blogging Tories. Blogging Tories was founded on December 28th, 2004 by Craig Smith and me. This can be easily verified.
The site appears to be a coalition of like-minded individuals who have met in cyberspace to share their political opinions and express their frustrations with Paul Martin’s Liberals.
Appears to be? Please, you obviously didn’t spend 10 seconds looking at the site. Anybody with two brain cells to rub together would conclude that we are a group of like-minded individuals.
But a Victoria man, Eugene Parks, and Toronto Tory dissident Carole Jamieson allege the venture may be in contravention of the Elections Act and thirdparty financing laws. They say it may have unduly influenced the election coverage and potentially the outcome of this campaign.”
Canwest is quoting a random man from Victoria and a “Tory dissident”? So much for reliable sources. Are we in violation of the Elections Act and thirdparty financing laws? Blogging Tories has no official (read: legal) affiliation with the Conservative Party of Canada. Certainly there are members who hold membership in the party (like me), there are even some candidates from the Conservative Party running for election who are listed in our blogroll. However, Blogging Tories is actually quite a cheap operation to run. It’s hosted for about $16 US per month (that’s right: conservative-ideologues. Canadian friends of Stephen Harper. Running a website. Hosted in the US). The domain registration was about $30 Canadian and lasts the whole year.
In fact, I swear, under the penalty of perjury, that I have not received any financial compensation from the Conservative Party of Canada regarding the website “BloggingTories.ca” or “StephenTaylor.ca” nor have I been promised financial compensation by the Conservative Party of Canada in the future for my work on these two websites.
Am I volunteering for the party? I am under no obligation to the party for volunteering. I would certainly like to see Stephen Harper become the next Prime Minister of Canada, however, I have not been recruited for a volunteer role. To the extent that my blog and Blogging Tories breaks news that helps Stephen Harper become Prime Minister, I suppose I am volunteering in that sense. However, one should note that the finacial investment in Blogging Tories during the writ period has cost less than a good pair of walking shoes that a typical volunteer might buy to go door-knocking in a local riding.
Parks said he was approached by senior Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy in December 2005 after a Tory caucus retreat in British Columbia and asked to head what he described as a preelection initiative on behalf of the party. “At the time I was somewhat willing, but my loyalty to the Conservative Party was somewhat shaky,” he said.
Blogging Tories was up and running (and taking off) in late December 2004 (see above).
Third-party election financing laws state that it is illegal for a group to spend more than $150,000 during an election period related to a general election. It can also spend no more than $3,000 of that money “to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in a given electoral district.”
I wish I had that kind of money! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an independent graduate student studying biochemistry at Queen’s University. If I had $3,000 to spend on promoting the Tories, I’d be more likely to spend it on food and rent instead of accumulating debt.
The law also says that the third party cannot bypass the spending restrictions by “splitting itself into two or more third parties.”
At it’s core, Blogging Tories is a list of links to conservative-minded blogs and an aggregation of entries from these blogs. These blogs do not contribute exclusively to Blogging Tories nor is there any financial obligations between Blogging Tories and the blogs that appear on the blogroll. Blogging Tories is certainly not a venture of the Conservative Party of Canada. Most bloggers that are associated with Blogging Tories have registered for free blogs at blogger.com.
I believe that blogging is perhaps one of the greatest things to happen to democracy. Often, blogging is free if you set up with a host like blogger.com, but blogging is certainly affordable to even the poorest members of mainstream society. Blogging allows the average citizen’s voice to be heard and Blogging Tories enables this for less than the price of a cup of coffee per day. Blogging is market-based reporting and punditry; the success of a blogger is correlated to the strength of their writing and ability to break news. If your national newspaper put together a story on Blogging Tories (without calling it’s founders as sources) then that is just another hill over which the sun will set on the and old and arid landscape that is the mainstream media, Carol Jamison and those that refuse to embrace or understand how blogs are the new tool for bringing free speech and democracy to the average citizen for little to no cost.
UPDATE: To the Liberal Party, who wishes to grab onto these false allegations and report them to smear Stephen Harper: the sun will soon set for you too.