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.
Yesterday, Green Party leader Elizabeth May learned the news that she will not be featured in the leader’s debate broadcast on the Canadian television networks. The arrangement by May of former Liberal MP Blair Wilson to form a Green caucus of one was risky given his infraction of section 83 of the Canada Elections Act. The Green Party argued that they met the same standard set by Deborah Grey of the Reform Party which allowed Preston Manning to join the leader’s debate in 1993. Differences that I would underline is that Wilson was elected as a Liberal while Grey was elected as a Reform MP and that the Reform party opposed all other parties while the Green Party supports the Liberals.
I was on TVOntario last night on a tech-politics panel with Dr. Greg Elmer, Warren Kinsella, Kady O’Malley and Andrew Rasiej of TechPresident.com (formerly of the Howard Dean 2004 campaign). My friend Kady and I dusted it up a bit when the topic of the mainstream media came up. I argued that social and new media is creating accessible tools to reject the purpose of a gatekeeping middleman between stakeholders in a democracy and the politicians that speak to them. I have my own experiences with this as the unaccountable and unelected Parliametary Press Gallery – the media guild that reins supreme over Parliament – used the state to enforce its monopoly over news as it relates to politicians on Parliament Hill. I noted at the time that it is disturbing in a democracy when those that fought for press freedoms become the gatekeepers to access. These are the same folks that bellyached when Stephen Harper made them sign up for a list for his own press conference and the same group admit journalists that write questions for MPs with the rare occasion to compel a former Prime Minister to answer partisan questions under oath.
The tools of new media that we discussed on the panel create the possibility of reducing one of the burdens that necessitate the organization of news producers and reporters into a corporation. Digital video cameras are becoming ubiquitous these days as anyone with $150 and a YouTube account can capture news in video format. Sites like Ustream.tv even allow “citizen journalists” like myself to interview the likes of Preston Manning or John Tory live online while visitors submit their questions. However, the wiser minds of the Parliamentary Press Gallery would disagree and as its President Richard Brennan told the Hill Times,
“They will be ejected and if they continue, they’ll be prohibited from coming into the main block, particularly here, I should say, the Foyer of the House. You’re not to use anything collected in the Foyer of the House, be it video or voice that could be used in some kind of a nefarious way. That’s what these guys want to do. They want to collect tape, video, voice, people making mistakes or saying something that’s not exactly correct, they want to use it for some kind of an attack ad. That’s what we’re afraid of. They’re not supposed to be here anyway. They’re not members of the Press Gallery. This area is for the members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery or visiting media only.”
As Dr. Greg Elmer stated on the program last night, capturing these sorts of moments is good for democracy because it increases the accountability of politicians. But the unaccountable PPG has their territory and this group will protect their turf if it means eroding the principles of free press and institutional transparency.
What stands between Elizabeth May and a debate (Stephane Dion has agreed to debate her) is the mainstream media. This elite cadre of corporate (CTV, Canwest) and public (CBC) interests seems to have shut out May and the 4.6% of Canada that voted for her party during the last election. But, this is their right. They are not obligated to broadcast any political debate by law and they can set the ground rules. CBC could invite me to debate Jack Layton and there are no election laws or rules that govern this (of course, this would be a bad decision for CBC).
Why not use the tools that promise to bring populism to the media? We can make the broad scope of media available (blogs, television, radio etc.) “mainstream”. Though they were broadcast on television networks, Youtube and Facebook sponsored debates in the primary cycle of the 2008 Presidential race in the US and MySpace will sponsor one or more presidential debates between Obama and McCain. As Clay Shirky writes in his book, Here Comes Everybody, the advent of user-generated content has the potential of doing to journalism as a professional class that which movable type did to the few elites known as scribes that copied books by hand. Scribes used to have an honoured and privileged position in society, but when the printing press was invented, the cost of printing books plummeted and society’s literacy rates increased. New media has the potential of tearing down the barriers set up by elite gatekeepers in the mainstream media. The tools of web 2.0 restrict May’s ability to debate by only those that would agree to debate her (now the singular limitation but one that she would face on television as well).
Elizabeth May should challenge the federal party leaders to debate via ustream.tv. The live debate (and subsequent video produced) would be easily embedded on blogs, on the Green Party websites, on other party websites and even on Blogging Tories. Democracy is literally the power and strength of the people and by its very definition, does not integrate the concept of an elite class. The internet has bandwidth in abundance and is not a scarce resource like the bands owned by corporate and public media. Further, the internet has the advantage that it is accessible to whomever would access it, whether a voter in Yellowknife or an absentee voter on the Yellow river in China. As stakeholders in democracy, we could choose (or choose not to participate) by extending the discussion online via twitter, blogs and other forms of social media. As site owners, if we opt not to feature May’s debate, there are many others that would.
In an evolving media ecosystem, the MSM may not be entirely replaced but perhaps the word “mainstream” will be redefined. No longer will the coverage and restriction of coverage be decided by elites that were the only ones capable of organizing and controlling vast networks of satellites and cable to distribute information. The network of media distribution and production is available to the people and as a nascent party, Elizabeth May should take advantage.
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.