Category Archives: CanWest

How to Spot a Good Journalist

It’s getting harder and harder, what with constant corporate media concentration, and corporatist convergence of messaging from right wing governments and their informal corporate media PR departments.

But everyone once in a while we see evidence that there is a growing number of journalists who exist with integrity and can demonstrate meaningful contribution to society:


Continue reading How to Spot a Good Journalist

What Does Post-Corporate Media Look Like?

I know you’re wondering. But it’s hard to imagine. Kind of like a fish imagining life without water. We’ve known corporate media for generations. Since the advent of psychology and marketing, the influence/manipulation of corporate media is ubiquitous. And not in a good way.

But let’s take a few moments to imagine the features of post-corporate media, where increasing the audience [by a variety of questionable, sensationalist means, sometimes] to increase ad revenue isn’t the goal.

Let’s start here with this:

Continue reading What Does Post-Corporate Media Look Like?

The Real Reason We Need to Get Rid of Corporate Media

Kamloops Daily News

While I’m also sad that the Kamloops Daily News is closing, I think Warren Kinsella is over-simplifying a few things [see below] with respect to how the media climate will be affected by the closing of this for-profit business, earning shareholder value by producing mass media content, while sometimes allowing its corporate revenue-generating employees to produce some adequate-to-good journalism.

Let’s explore all this:

Continue reading The Real Reason We Need to Get Rid of Corporate Media

Corporate Hypocrites Gone Wild: Syncrude Edition

Let’s say that you’re one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic crude and also Canada’s largest single-source producer of crude derived from oil sands.

Imagine that you are also  the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Alberta!  (“Psst, we’re working on being the biggest in all of the nation, baby. Don’t count us out yet!”)

Your tailing ponds are a great place for suicidal waterfowl to go to die, and those outstanding environmentalists at Sinopec  are one of your major share-holders.

How do you convey your misunderstood love and respect of Mother Earth to the public?

You go out and sponsor an “environmental gallery” at your local children’s museum, that’s how.

The newly coined Syncrude Environment Gallery, which opened last October, features interactive displays on a variety of environmental topics aimed at children, including shrinking sea ice, recycling, and a display on oilsands development in Alberta entitled, “history of a hot topic.”

At a price tag of $500K over 5 years? A pittance to don the veneer of a good corporate citizen.


Telus World of Science, Edmonton







“Why be an ordinary hypocrite, when you can be the best hypocrite?” – Syncrude

Syncrude is the latest in the line of corporate hypocrites to sponsor philanthropic/scientific venues that prove that irony is either entirely lost on corporate polluters, or is fully embraced.
Two other notable examples of blurring the line between utter branding psychopathy and altruism spring to mind:

  • Monsanto Insectarium (…which will probably be the only place you’ll ever get to see some of these insects after Monsanto is done eradicating them for good.)
  • Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (“I know! Let’s sponsor a fundraiser for all of the people out there who mysteriously contract cancer after living next to our infrastructure! Genius!”)

Time to sit and wait for Nestle to sponsor a water park or two in a developing nation.


Encouraging Early Political Engagement:

It is not an accident that I am a political junkie.

Even as a toddler, I was fed a steady diet of left-of-centre ideology, pro-union sentiments and anti-monarchist dogma. My mother, who was not overtly political, ensured I could recognize political leaders from around the world by sight before I could read, that I understood the vast differences between different types of political thought, and the inherent differences in Canadian political parties before I was school aged. During election season, she brought me with when she voted, and made sure that I was well aware that voting was a responsibility that we had as Canadians, and was something that was not an option. One of my earliest memories as a child is one of smearing mud on the back the giant brown and orange   “JIM FULTON, NDP” billboard in our yard when I was sent out to play while my infant brother napped. In a subsequent provincial election, the neighbours erected a massive Social Credit sign on their front lawn, and I was informed “SoCreds are evil. NDP is Good. SoCreds only work for big businesses. NDP is for the working class people…like us.” One might even say I was brainwashed.

When I was in grade 4, I engaged in fisticuffs on the school bus with a boy from down the street. Ryan was a year older, and his parents were self employed. There was some sort of provincial election brewing, and Ryan’s parents had a megalith of a Social Credit sign on the corner of the lawn. I informed Ryan that his family was clearly batting for the wrong political team, and that, people who voted SoCred were evil and sucked. Ryan retaliated, informing me that only losers would vote NDP. We wound up smacking the hell out of each other with math books, and were sent up to sit in the front of the bus for the remainder of the year.

Why are my memories of a blue collar, slightly pinko childhood in Northern BC in the 1980’s relevant now?

As Manitoba (where I am a home owner and my children go to school) creeps ever closer to the October 4th provincial election, there has been an onslaught of automated calls to our residence, glad-handling politicians standing on my doorstep, reams of glossy campaign fliers from the Conservative, NDP and Liberal parties festooning my mailbox. Most of the propaganda is of the usual variety: health care funding/cuts, taxation increases/cuts, infrastructure, aboriginal issues, education. Bored to tears of watching the Three Stooges bonk one another on the head on the local news, I was pleased to notice something that was out of the realm of the usual regurgitation. It was a large 1/4 page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press, advertising a website: The tag line? “When You Vote on October 4…Bring Your Child.” On it, a man voting at a booth, with children surrounding him. Under the picture, it read “It is never too early to learn about democracy.” Finally! A government campaign that I could relate to!

A quick visit to the CitizenNext website shows that someone in the employ of the government put some thought into the program. There are games and puzzles for kids to enjoy while passively learning about democracy. There are voter pledge cards, which can be personalized and printed off for the child, and a sticker that they can finish it off with only when they go to the booth with you to vote.  They list books to read to children about democracy and politics. While I’ve seen previous campaigns that were targeted at educators, this one is targeted at parents. The gist is that declining voter numbers can be traced back to parental apathy, and that by acting now, we can turn the tide in a decade or two, by educating our children now. The site also shares a number of simple ways to foster engagement early:

Ideas for raising kids to be engaged citizens:

Talk about it – Let your kids know why you think it’s important to vote. Even very young kids can understand the idea of selecting a leader. Engage older children in a discussion about political issues that are important to you or that come up in the news. Encourage your kids to express their own opinions and ideas.

Vote at home – Introduce the concept of voting by holding simple votes on household issues. It could be as simple as voting on what to prepare for a special meal.

Bring your child with you when you vote – Children are welcome at voting stations. Show your kids what voting looks like.

Visit our Game area – For games and activities related to citizenship and voting.

Take older kids to a live debate or watch one on TV – Discuss the points the candidates make and ask your kids for their views.

Point to resources on the Web – There are many excellent websites devoted to encouraging youth to participate in the election process.

All of the people that I know, who are avid political enthusiasts and are active politically, have at least one parent that downloaded some sort of passion or duty into them. When reading biographies of politicians, they often come from what seems to be dynasties: generations of people who catch the bug, and can’t shake it. What concerns me about this campaign, which I believe is a fantastic start, is that it misses the mark. People who care already do this with their kids. They are having these discussions. They’re involving their charges. They’re taking their progeny to the booth. The problem is that people who are already apathetic are not going to pick up the glossy half page flier in the mail and suddenly feel inspired to a) leave the house and vote and b) have deep and meaningful conversation with their children about the importance of voting.

I give the Manitoba Government an “A” for effort, but remain skeptical of the impact that this will have long term.

In the meantime, my daughters both have “I VOTED – CITIZENNEXT.CA” stickers on their coats, because they joined me at the advance polls over the weekend. I can only hope someone else sees the round little reminder on their coats as they scamper by, and  suddenly feels compelled to put an X in the box on October 4th, possibly with their child in attendance.

How I Expect Journalists to Behave During #Elxn41

The short answer is: just as they are. I think they’re doing a great job, especially with the kind of contempt Harper has shown them for years.

By the way, #Elxn41 is the Twitter hashtag for Canada’s 41st general election. It is an exciting time as Twitter is redefining the relationships between estates. Candidates, citizens and the media are being forced to redefine their relationship with each other.

Twitter is the catalyst for this democratization of relationships away from strict one-way broadcasting. In the previous two elections it was the existence of blogs, then Facebook that allowed electrons to play an unpredictable hand in the campaigns.

The last few days has seen a number of self-reflexive tweets from mostly journalists discussing/engaging on how the current dynamic exists.

Before examining all this, let me just say a couple things:

  1. Without journalists doing good work, editorialists like me would have very little to go on beyond primary source documents/spin from political actors. So thanks for your work!
  2. With the demise of the CanWest management junta I have noticed a marked increase in the breadth and quality of analysis and political coverage in both the former CanWest properties and their competitors. This is no small element in what I find to be a democratic rebirth of our nation.

So there are a few events that are worth exploring to illuminate Twitter’s role in how politics is in flux.

One of Canada’s journalistic treasures, Terry Milewski has been trying to get a straight answer from Harper on why his Vancouver South candidate got an endorsement from a man linked to the Air India bombing. The party line is that she didn’t know who he was. The Twitterverse has interpreted that as that she’s either lying or incompetent since the person is of some significant notoriety. Milewski explains how at a recent Conservative party rally, the crowd shouted/cheered/clapped/chanted down his attempt to ask Harper a follow-up question, one of only five Harper deigns to receive each day. You can view video of the questioning here.

The analysis here is that outside of traditional media production channels [TV, radio, newspaper articles/stories] journalists are living their vocation live, in real time, in Twitter. Since the Conservative party candidates rarely show up to debates or all-candidates meetings, or take many/any questions, the journalists are left to comment on the process of the campaign. And they do it live.

I think the Conservatives realized years ago that it is better to say nothing or not show up to meetings/debates than to have the general public learn of all their policy ideas. Really, over 60% of Canadians vote against them. Why bother thinking the majority would be in favour of their ideas.

I’m not a very good journalist. If I worked as a journalist I would consider not attending Conservative party campaign events because of the party’s contempt for democracy: 5 questions each day, keeping reporters caged away behind fences, refusing to let candidates show up for debates. If the party is going to be weak on policy and undermine democratic elements of election campaigns, maybe journalists should boycott those events.

But that’s not what journalists ought to do. They need to show up, even if they are going to be used, manipulated, derided, neglected and spun. They’re bright people. They should be able to endure all that.

And in the event of an absence of policy to report on, the journalists can report on how the campaign is going and their experiences if they’re newsworthy, which the Conservatives would still prefer instead of pushing policy.

Here’s how real journalists explored these issues, instead of a boycott, focusing mostly on David Akin as the hub of conversation. For the most part, the tweets speak for themselves.

In reply to the quite reasonable suggestion that journalists protest their dismissive treatment, Akin suggests few would care. Maybe political wonks would, which is a happily increasing number.

Few would care, I’m afraid. RT @jkoblovsky: there’s a story on how the press has been treated through CPC campaign. Use your journo skills to protest. – David Akin

Akin on the role of questioning politicians:

I’m for free speech. Free speech includes reporters — national, local, alternative, I don’t care — asking questions. In 06, Martin shut us down. Harper has always done so .. – David Akin

Regarding the crowd shouting down Milewski:

All the more disappointing to hear PMO staffer Plouffe egging crowd on to drown out journalists as his last job was as a CBC journalist! – David Akin

Regarding whether Harper has had any positive media coverage, Akin questions whether that should even be a premise:

Was there a reason it should have been otherwise? MT @nspector4: don’t think Harper has had 1 day of positive media coverage – David Akin

When Chantal Hebert wrote about how this election has seemed to be about nothing, she may have been talking about how Harper called this an unnecessary election [after all, he was fired by parliament to set it off, so I can understand how he feels it is unnecessary] and how the Conservatives have a mostly substance-free campaign, and how the result may not end up being the status quo, but a profound shift in the balance of power in the House of Commons. Akin agreed.

Agree. Hebert: “An election that has seemed to be about nothing may result in the biggest shift in the federal tectonic plates in two decades.” – David Akin

This agreement does not translate into journalists withholding their services because of an empty campaign, but keenly analyzing the implications of how the campaign is rolling out: something they could not do if they boycott the campaign itself.

Maclean’s Andrew Coyne empathized with the Conservative campaign’s neglect of journalists turning into overt manipulation with a couple comments with that reasonable suggestion that journalists not take manipulation anymore:

@davidakin Seems to me there’s a point at which gallery have to refuse to allow themselves to be used this way, isn’t there? – Andrew Coyne

@davidakin I sympathize with their situation. But we’re now beyond limiting qu’ns, to using media as props for applause lines. – Andrew Coyne

Akin replied with the kind of price that good journalists pay, as opposed to gutless lackeys who are preferred by slippery politicians:

@acoyne Harper PMO has used us props for applause lines for 5 yrs. Tonight was just an exceptional example. – David Akin

In a related crucible of politician-journalist-citizen relationship evolution, Akin retweeted a Ralph Goodale tweet:

RT @RalphGoodale: It’s troubling that Mr Layton is prep’d to compromise Cda’s constitution in effort to get separatist votes for NDP – David Akin

Personally, I am tired of Conservative politicians, and now Liberal politicians, misrepresenting our constitution to undermine a party’s surge. But then, spin is spin. We parse spin. And here is Akin’s response to the some meta-spin critique about whether it is fine for journalists to retweet what politicians tweet:

So journos shouldn’t quote pols in print/TV stories? RT @Albertaardvark: . More troubling: Media RT’ing party candidates tweets. – David Akin

There is nothing troubling about journalists retweeting politicians. Journalists exist as objects of credibility. Exploring their communications to discover bias is more complicated than tracking one-off retweets. It takes concerted study over time to spot journalist bias. And accusations of bias need to be well-founded before being bandied about.

Ultimately, through all these examples of the changing nature of political discourse, I’ll leave the final word to Akin on what we all truly expect, or should be expecting, from the talented journalists monitoring our democracy. In response to Andrew Coyne’s suggestion that the media gallery not tolerate manipulation by the campaign,

@acoyne As frustrating as it is for the individual journo: I believe readers/viewers expect us to keep showing up … – David Akin

And we do.

And when they take one on the chin for doing their job, we should appreciate them more.

And one way to appreciate them is to follow them in Twitter; that also helps you engage in politics more effectively. David Akin has a list of most of the best Canadian journalists in Twitter. Pay attention because as politicians are slow to figure out how to include social media in their public lives, the good journalists are figuring out how the overall relationship is changing. And they discuss how that change is happening while they live it. It’s all very post-modern. Or is it post-post-modern?

And as citizens, we need to recalibrate how we relate to politicians and the media. Twitter can help, but we need to do our part.

Terrorism + Child Abuse Joke = National Post

What do obsessive coverage of terrorism and a joke about how to beat children have in common?

As it turns out, it’s today’s National Post.

Firstly, everything in the first 5 pages was devoted to the terror suspect arrests, except for one article stoking the idea of staying in Afghanistan, so that’s related.

5 pages.


Obsess much, National Post? Yes, is the answer, in case you didn’t know.

Secondly, this Twitter “cleverness” on page B2:

@NPsteve: Never strike a child! Wait patiently until they’re 18 and then give them the beating of their life.

Once upon a time, an insensitive relative forwarded to me one of those annoying chain emails that longed for the good old days. It was full of cliches and goofy things as well as some bits from the past that lots of people have happily not carried forward.

Some memories in that email were benign:

Remember “when a quarter was a decent allowance?” and “laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes and towels hidden inside the box?”

Some things were to leave in the past:

Remember when “All your male teachers wore neckties and female teachers had their hair done every day and wore high heels?”

Then it continued:

When being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited the student at home?

Then it had an iconic 1950s photo of a dad spanking his son spread over his knees.

Basically we were in fear for our lives, but it wasn’t because of drive-by shootings, drugs, gangs, etc. Our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat!


But we survived because their love was greater than the threat.

Whatever that means.

Didn’t that feel good, just to go back and say, ‘Yeah, I remember that’?

Not really, no.

So then today we got to read Steve Murray’s Twitter post included in the print edition of the National Post about not beating children, I suppose because maybe that’s bad?, but waiting until they’re adults so you can give them the beating of their lives.

I have a really good sense of humour. Honestly. But what kind of person finds that funny?

I see that there is “humour” in that, but it is not acceptable humour. The legions of children who grew up with mild to severe beatings probably don’t find that funny. But maybe their parents do, which is maybe why it’s in the paper.

But really, it’s right down there with “Did you hear the one about the female circumcision patient?”

But one thing I learned is that the people who run the National Post believe their readership will find that joke funny. They might be right or wrong about that. Who knows.

But if they’re right, I’m not happy about it.

And now that the CanWest papers are now Postmedia, I’m looking for examples of corporate branding and marketing posture that make the new owners different from the Aspers’ biases and idiosyncrasies.

So far, the National Post continues to be sad.

And the pattern of 5 front pages on terrorism with a “joke” later on about how to beat kids seems to fit a disturbing pattern.

More Bad News for Dreams of Solid Journalism

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the importance of supporting and encouraging community papers, even in this electronic era with the ascendance of ambient media.

But today we’ve seen another fail in the possibility of quality community journalism in BC with the announcement of another shakeout in community papers in BC. Black Press just bought out Glacier Media’s 11 papers and they’ll close the 4 that happen to compete with Black papers in Nelson, PR, 100 Mile and Quesnel.

The performance of its remaining publications should get stronger as the economy improves.

via CBC News – Media – 4 B.C. newspapers shutting down.

I’d venture to say that the performance of Black’s 4 papers that suddenly lose competition will get stronger very soon!

So what’s the prognosis? Continue reading More Bad News for Dreams of Solid Journalism

More Despinning the Spin and Chill Around Israel

Ten points to Mark Hasiuk for not just agreeing with my perspective on the chill and spin involved with Libby Davies and Israel. The ten points go for calling out corporate media as dropping its diligence in reporting on that and two other stories. Nothing new with that trend, but one thing refreshing about this is that he writes at the Vancouver Courier, a CanWest paper, a chain owned by the Israeli-government-supporting Asper family. Refreshing words here:

Beware of what you read. Don’t believe all you hear. The mainstream media is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

via Three so-called news stories expose media mindlessness.

And despite the Asper family’s financial troubles now perhaps allowing commentary that crosses corporate ideology, the Courier has in the past run pieces critical of corporate media and other CanWest properties even. So when some clear thinking shows up, it needs to be called out.

Globe and Mail’s Irony: Calling The Yes Men Cynical

The Globe and Mail‘s editorial yesterday calling the Yes Men cynical is a classic example of psychological projection, calling another group cynical when corporate media today cannot likely be any more cynical.

The entire editorial is below, but here are ten comments about how deluded the editorial department at the Globe and Mail is.

  1. We live in a post-modern world, if not a post-post-modern world. Corporate media is modernist by design; its paradigm is authoritatively objective, one-way, profit-driven, broadcast and top-down. That sounds pretty jaded to me. The Yes Men can only be seen as jaded because they no longer recognize the primacy of modernist corporate media as being much of a useful force in society unless it is subverted and manipulated.
  2. Since the medium is the message, increasing proportions of the population are rejecting the message of corporate media’s medium.
  3. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are not anomalies today, but they do threaten corporate media’s monopoly over news/truth/opinion. In fact, just today someone’s again writing about how newspapers could even have a future!
  4. The Globe and Mail got quite badly punked by the Yes Men in Copenhagen in December, as did all other corporate media. In fact, much corporate media in Canada showed themselves with their pants down when they recently reported the death of Gordon Lightfoot while he listened to it all on the radio while in his dentist’s chair. Fact-check much?
  5. Suggesting the Yes Men are the actual threat to the believability of all forms of communication is laughable since corporate mainstream media are constantly guilty of suppressing critically important news while promoting their neoliberal politics and politicians while marketing sensationalism for maximizing their corporate profit.
  6. Suggesting that all forms of communication are threatened by the Yes Men is itself sensationalist, reactionary and further proof that the editorial staff doesn’t really get post-modernism in media…but then how could they, they are the established paradigm.
  7. The first half of the editorial describes the Yes Men antics, thereby demonstrating the potency of their brand of satire with free publicity.
  8. While the Globe editors are correct in describing satire as a “legitimate form of comment,” their demand that there be “sufficient warning for the public” indicates a few things. The Globe editors didn’t get the joke in Copenhagen and feel embarrassed. They think the public is too stupid to get ironic messages. Again, see The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Those in the public who are duped need to learn the lesson that we should question information authorities and verify sources, then compare stated messages with confirmed messages. Then we need to evaluate in our own minds what policies ought to be. This is the point of satire, which the Globe editors are clearly missing.
  9. Their example about no one ever showing up for real free concerts in Missoula is a small risk to society as a whole that is being constantly misinformed by corporate media neglecting its investigatory role.
  10. I refuse to allow the Globe editorial staff to be the ones to inspire me to ask the question of whether anyone believes a message. Corporate media is so compromised when it comes to truth, they have very little standing to even pose that question. That they end their editorial with it, with presumably a straight face, is laughable.
  11. A bonus comment: ultimately, I hope I am being duped by an editorial that is actually ironic in itself. That perhaps the Globe actually welcomes the antics of the Yes Men and their disciples and have written this editorial in an attempt to mock their own paradigm. If so, I will gladly tip my hat to them. But I’m not holding my breath.
May 23, 2010

Say no to the jaded world view of the Yes Men

From Monday’s Globe and Mail

Their ilk threatens the believability of all forms of communications.

Gresham’s Law holds that devalued money eventually drives out good money. The more inferior currency floating around, the harder it is for people to believe in the real thing. The same goes for the news.

Last week, a widely circulated news release claimed, “Shell halts Nigerian offshore drilling in visionary new remediation plan.” The document carried a Shell logo at the top and was distributed via a legitimate-looking website. At the bottom was a media-relations contact number (answered by a real person) and all the standard legal boilerplate. The message: After the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, Shell was halting all its drilling operations in the Niger River delta and embarking on an $8-billion environmental rehabilitation program.

It was, of course, entirely bogus.

A group calling itself the Nigerian Justice League later claimed credit for the ruse, saying they drew their inspiration from the Yes Men, a group of anti-corporate pranksters familiar to Canadians. In December, before the Copenhagen climate change summit, the Yes Men produced a realistic-looking press release purportedly from federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, claiming Canada was adopting strict carbon-emissions targets and donating $13-billion to Africa. It was accompanied by a fake Wall Street Journal article, a fake endorsement from a Ugandan politician and, later, a fake retraction by Mr. Prentice. All this to draw attention to what the Yes Men considered Canada’s lack of commitment on climate change.

Both pranks got enough press coverage to be considered successes by the perpetrators. With the Yes Men now drawing eager imitators, we’ll likely be seeing much more of this sort of thing. And that’s bad news for everyone.

Satire is a legitimate form of comment. But it requires a deft hand; and sufficient warning for the public to get the joke. A recent prank in Missoula, Montana, falsely promoted a free thank-you concert being staged by Smurfit-Stone, a container company, and Macy’s department store, two firms that recently shut operations in the city. But to what greater purpose? It had no discernible impact on the corporations in question. And if Missoula ever hosts a free concert in the future, no one will show up.

The jaded world view of the Yes Men and copycat pranksters threatens the believability of all forms of communications. It could eventually undermine the very kinds of positive achievements the activists claim to demand.

Consider the historic truce last week between environmental groups and the Canadian forestry industry on logging practices. It seems such a surprising and radical departure from both sides’ normal behaviour, after years of animosity, that it might easily be considered a prank. In fact it is very good news. But will anyone believe it?