Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can we trust media that put their own self interest above the public interest?

It was interesting to go through this past election scare and watching it unfold in the mainstream media. I tend to rely on the National Post and the Globe and Mail for my online consumption. For television, I tend to put on CBC news world on low volume in the background while I am on the computer or doing chores around the house. If there is a breaking story of interest, I turn up the volume, and then I go to the National Post or the Globe and Mail for the real story. If the story elicits an opinion from me, I sit down and bang out a blog post. Sometimes I let a news story linger for a few days before I chronicle my opinion. Often times, I will be watching a live speech or live coverage of question period and bang out my opinion as it happens.

I watched Iggy’s speech live when he pronounced he would no longer support the government. I posted Call Their Bluff within moments of the speech being over, which basically said they can’t possibly win, this does not make any sense, they have to be bluffing. I didn’t need to send that to an editor for revision, or go through bureaucracy; I just pumped it out at 11:05am pacific time. It was online before Iggy was done taking questions. If you are an opinion reporter at the Globe or Post, you can logically come to the same conclusion as the blogger without ever reading the blog. But once it is out there, it is popping up on blackberries across the country. At which point when the paid opinionist gets his piece approved by his editor and posted, that conclusion he reached as been in circulation for hours.

This is not intended as an attack on the media, because I rely on the National Media to break news stories which I then view and compile my opinion. I’m not a beat writer on the street chasing stories. I watch the news, filter it, think about it, and communicate how I feel about it. I don’t want to undermine the media because we all need them to continue to exist. I also buy and read newspapers, and I am a frequent visitor to their websites, running up their hit totals which allows them to charge money for businesses to advertise where I am viewing. I buy my golf balls at Perfect Lies in North Vancouver because they advertise on the TEAM 1040 that I listen to on my way to work. As a consumer I choose to consume what I consume from businesses who advertise with media outlets that I enjoy reading. It is just me doing my part to support the media outlets that I rely on for information. The next time I need a hotel, I will look for a Marriot because they advertise with the National Post.

And yet, the main stream media model currently in place appears to be broken because they are hemorrhaging money and losing their audience. In response, the media is evolving into new mediums, such as live opinion writing online by columnists that used to have the whole day to meet a deadline for tomorrow. People who want to read the news want to read breaking news as it happens. The Internets are making the printed product yesterdays news. The business is evolving, and they need to properly monetize the new mediums. But there is another complicating factor, people like me. People who write their opinion on websites. I don’t get paid to do this. There are no advertisements on my page and nobody pays me to write my opinion. I post links to websites that I use all the time, because they don’t make me pay so it is my way of paying it forward.

I have a full time job, I blog before work or after work. People who are employed have a limited amount of time to consume the news, and suddenly the mainstream news outlets are losing viewers to blogs. As a blogger, I can track my view counts. I know how many people are reading individual posts, and there is a big variance in hit count. I wrote a short piece “Are Harper and Pelosi new best friends?” which got over 1000 hits. It was a short piece that simply asked why the hell she seemed so happy. Then I write a long piece that I crafted over a number of days about Libertarianism, and it got less than 100 hits. One piece was long, cleverly crafted, I thought about it over several days, while the other was just a quick hit, why was she so happy. I can write 1500 words on the problems in Somalia that gets 50 hits, but if I write a post titled “Obama the Marxist” and write 100 words of nonsense, I’d get thousands of hits. I have posted that Obama is a Marxist in the past, but that's because I believe it. If my site were monetized and I followed the path of greatest hits because it was my livelihood, I wouldn’t write the best most well thought story, I’d just constantly post whatever gets hits.

Which then gets me back to this past election. The pundits at the National Post were saying that an election doesn’t make any sense, but “pay per view” pundits from struggling news outlets were saying that an election was imminent, and I even read that a Quebec paper was getting its election team mobilized under the pretense that it was going to happen. During an election, more people pay attention to the news and watch the news, be it at CBC, the National Post, or their local news outlet. Suddenly the media is representing their own interests above the public interest. This did not happen at the Post because they are in better fiscal shape and don’t need an election to make money. But other outlets put their own interests above the public interests, and the public did not want an election.

I am closing in on 1000 words, so let me whittle this down to my final conclusion. Can you trust news outlets that put their interests above the public good? The National Post embraced the public interest and called the Liberal bluff, but others were touting an election for their own benefit. I’m not sure that I have a solution to the problem outlined above, other than read the National Post if you want to read the story the way it is. There is a link to them on my website. What do we do as citizens, as bloggers, to eliminate the problem of self interest being put above the public good? I don’t know that I know the answer, but it is a question that I would like to see asked.

“I just don't trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die.”

Mr. Garrison, South Park (referring to women and their periods)


  1. I hear you on the post length. There seems to be an inverse relationship between number of words and number of readers. As my girlfriend says, no one wants to read anything long, don't take it personally.
    As for the press, well, to be expected, they need to promote their product. I dread the day the papers pull up stakes, because there won't be content to read and blog about anymore.

  2. The challenge is to make your point in fewer words.

  3. I guess there is just no going back... Thanks MTV

  4. Personally I blame Twitter. I refuse to "tweet" because I don't want to be forced to stop writing when I have something to say.

  5. Twitter... I must be too old, I just don't get it. Signed up, and tweeted. Some random guy started following my tweets. He still follows me, and I haven't tweeted in 8 weeks. Just don't get it. So I write a 140 character tweet, now what? Not going to tweet everything I do, be a pain to load up Twitter every moment.

    A Gen Xer like me often finds himself thinking Gen Y was thus named because you go 'Why?' all the time watching them do their thing