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Originally published on Tyler’s blog, Man Descending
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without Newspapers, or Newspapers without a Government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Thomas Jefferson, 1787
There’s an almost otherworldly idealism in the words of Thomas Jefferson quoted above. His sentiment smacks of an era now seemingly lost to history, when a democracy was not seen as merely a form of social organization that supported a free press, but indeed one that couldn’t exist without a free press. For Jefferson, press freedom was tantamount to political freedom, and all other aspirations of Modernist natural and universal philosophy- freedom of assembly, expression, and the freedom for each individual to self-fashion and chart his or her own path through history.
While Jefferson’s words in many ways today suggest a kind of Libertarian ideology- one where citizens, left to freely engage with one another may forge a more successful society than any government could provide, that is not the idea I hope to bring forth here. Rather, it is the spirit of the phrase I hope to draw out- the notion that a free press is nothing short of a properly filled out ballot on election day; a virtual public square made of pulp and ink rather than cobblestones and mortar. In light of this past weekend’s assault on free press and media democracy in Toronto, such a sentiment is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in the 18th Century.
With the outbreak of violent anti-G20 protests on Saturday, summed up in the image of a burning police car (suspect though that event may be, as Naomi Klein points out in this interview with Democracy Now!), came a rash of arrests over the course of the weekend. In the end, Toronto police had staked claim to the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, with over 900 individuals taken into police custody, a total that does not reflect the hundreds more who were detained for hours on end in Toronto streets without cause or explanation, many of whom had no relation to the protests whatsoever.
This morning Michael Koretzky of the Huffington Post released an article arguing that even if students have no intention of becoming journalists they should still work for their university or college newspaper.
Koretzky lists a number of invaluable career reasons why you should try to take on student press responsibilities. For one, you produce more portfolio work than you will in any other extracurricular activity. You’ll also learn to manage and work with people, meet tight deadlines, and manage a small business.
I spent a few years at The Peak, the student newspaper for Simon Fraser University, followed by a year-long term as President of the Canadian University Press, and I couldn’t agree more.
But beyond learning life-skills the most valuable thing you’ll gain is perspective on how difficult it can be to put together news for your community. While those of us not practicing journalism and managing a newsroom can lament the poor quality of journalism and nit pick the most trivial shit there are people who, for the most part, are honestly trying to do a good job.
Having that newsroom experience can help citizens better understand how to meaningfully contribute to quality journalism in their region, and perhaps having the increased sympathy and ability to relate from the audience will allow journalists to feel more confident in getting deeper into stories.
Arguably this is also a quality reason for increased media education in high school classrooms.
By Tyler Morgenstern
January in Canada consists of two main rituals: cold, dark mornings back at the office after an all-too-short winter vacation, and fighting a mighty turkey-and-booze hangover that you’ve been staving off for the better part of a month (usually by consuming more turkey and booze). Long story short, the ringing in of the New Year is typically concomitant with suffering the fallout of unheeded excess and a flippant attitude toward consequence.
This past January, one of Canada’s biggest media conglomerates, CanWest Global, woke up to its own staggering New Years hangover. Unlike the rest of us though, CanWest couldn’t just chase away a headache and a weak stomach with a fistful of ibuprofen and a hearty breakfast. They had bigger problems. Namely, teetering on the edge of collapse.
CanWest is one pillar in the Canadian media “triopoly,” a group of immense media conglomerates that provide our nation with the vast majority of its news and entertainment. CanWest, as of 2008, maintained control over a host of specialty cable TV channels such as the Food Network, HGTV, Fox Sports World, History Television, IFC Canada, National Geographic, the Showcase Network, and all Global television outlets. Add to this their newspaper empire made up of 13 major regional and national dailies such as the Calgary Herald, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post, and a stake in major online outlets like Canada.com, and you’ve got one seriously hearty diet.
For a while, the conglomeration strategy held up. CanWest, in stable economic times, happily chugged along, acquiring exclusive rights to broadcast popular American television programs, folding smaller outlets into their corporate structure, and cheerfully adhering to a very obvious pro-business bias, championed by the company’s owners, the Asper dynasty. But as any holiday reveller can attest, there’s only so much you can consume before your body decides to give out. And sure enough, after years of reckless acquisitions and mergers, and increasingly poor management practices (extravagant salaries for upper management while local newsrooms suffered), even through flagging economic conditions, CanWest found itself struggling to support its appetite. Call it the spins.
In the final quarter of 2008, the company posted a $3.7 billion debt and a $33 million loss. In the following year, CanWest cut over 1000 jobs, and scaled back local operations significantly, funnelling news through a predominantly national and standardized lens, and seriously undercutting the availability of local news. In the first three months of 2009 alone, CanWest and the other major Canadian media conglomerates, CTV Globemedia, Torstar, and Quebecor, collectively cut approximately 1300 jobs, again drastically slashing the number of skilled journalists on the ground, working to tell the stories of our communities. Thanks to the appetite of conglomerates like CanWest, Canada is now struggling through waning local representation, and more standardized wire-style information. CanWest’s glut has become all of our burden to bear.
Clearly, this is more than an economic or corporate issue. This is a matter of CanWest, and the other Canadian majors, through conglomeration, making a move to become national agenda-setters on key policy issues. This is about cannibalizing as many media outlets as possible to expand the corporate bottom line (backfire!), with the ultimate consequence of radically hindering diversity and democratic debate in the Canadian media. This is about people, ideas, and power as much as it is about money. For example, in December 2001, the Aspers announced that all CanWest newspapers would contain “national editorials:” standardized critical commentary coming from a single source, with a stated pro-business, pro-Israel stance. Workers at the Montreal Gazette issued an open letter to the company decrying the decision and published it online. CanWest papers ignored the story. The journalists were ordered to shut down the website on threat of termination of employment, and were put under a gag order, which was then extended to all CanWest print and broadcast newsrooms in Canada.
CanWest used to be our country’s largest media company- one of our most powerful means of knowing and understanding this world- and they have outwardly muzzled their journalists, hindered free speech, and gagged an entire system of national communication to advance their own economic and ideological agendas.
Luckily, it seems karma does have some bearing on giants. On January 8th, 2010, CanWest, in an attempt to save its newspapers, put the entire division into Chapter 11. For many, this seemed like a boon. Maybe if CanWest was forced to give up its hold on some of its subsidiaries, we could have more diverse television offerings and maybe even competitive local dailies in major Canadian cities! A novel concept if ever there was one!
Unfortunately, the reality that has emerged doesn’t quite sync up with this potential. Who has come to the aid of CanWest but Shaw Cable. In addition to being one of the Canada’s four major Internet service providers, Shaw carries 10 specialty TV stations, 3 CBC affiliate stations, 2 pay TV stations, 53 radio stations, controls Star Choice satellite TV, and like the company it’s now helping to revive, has been little help in creating a competitive, diverse communication industry in Canada. In many regions, Shaw carries local television programming, for which they receive tax-payer funding. Shaw, however, has a nasty habit of turning community TV stations into corporate outlets for their own programming and promotional content, all while keeping the money Canadians are paying to them for the production and carriage of local content.
To get their papers out of hock, CanWest has decided to sell off every single one of its TV stations and specialty channels to Shaw, in a deal worth an estimated $2 billion. This is a supremely lousy idea. Such a deal effectively gives Shaw vertical control over a large chunk of the television industry in Canada. They now have their fingers in the production, distribution, and carriage pies. In 1948, deals like this were outlawed in the United States under a ruling known as the Paramount Decree, which forbid motion picture companies from vertically integrating. That is, no longer could a production studio also own a distribution company and an exhibition branch. It was baldly obvious, even mid-century, that such a structure chokes out competition, gives a single company undue authority to overcharge their patrons for basic services, and drastically reduces the quality of content being produced.
And yet here we are, more than 60 years later: a company struggling to stay afloat thanks to a binge model of growth is saved by another company that will now own the means of content production, and the very cables that carry that content into our homes; as I said before, a supremely lousy idea.
These kinds of mergers are precisely the impetus for the media democratization movement, which emerged in the United States in the 1990s to stem the tide of corporate conglomeration in the media industry. Today, independent, non-commercial, and citizen-sourced media is showing us how corporate coverage often frays at the edges, and provides only a cursory examination of what’s happening in the world. Diversity can be structurally integrated into a given media system. It is not the fever dream of a bunch of goofy leftists who like to get together and brandy about terms like “corporatism” and “control.” The oligopolistic organization of our media system is the consequence of a policy choice to allow such an arrangement to proliferate. By the same token, then, we can choose to place value on diversity, richness, depth, and discursive variety over corporate bottom lines.
It’s high time we set a richer media table in Canada; one that celebrates community voices, innovation, and creativity, and refuses to allow a single lens to become the dominant cultural viewpoint. Let’s wade our way out of the major media hangover, and do our very best not to fall back into it. From here on in, sensible bites from a diverse menu of unique offerings.
There is a particularly vibrant media democratization community taking shape in Vancouver that coalesces once a year around an event called Media Democracy Day. Held annually since 2001, MDD unites citizens, artists, policy makers, academics, students, and educators in a dynamic and vibrant dialogue on the state of the Canadian media system. Built on a spirit of inquiry and policy analysis, MDD has also become a way to celebrate those creating their own messages and images, providing us all a richer vision of the lives and cultures we’re living. By providing an exhibition space for local, alternative, non-commercial, and public service media producers, panel rooms for critical discussion, and workshops that empower citizens with a knowledge of how to create their own cogent responses to their culture, Media Democracy Day seeks to give life to its three-fold mandate: Question. Create. Transform.
Media Democracy Day Vancouver 2010 will be held November 6 at the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Library (350 West Georgia Street), and will run from 12 PM-5PM. Admission is free, and the entire event is open to the public. For more information and updates, you can follow what we’re up to online:
[Originally published on Tyler’s blog, Man Descending]
Freshies Kat, Steve, and Amanda will be hitting up Vancouver Change Camp this Saturday, June 12, and proposing a discussion that will help inform a Fresh Media Summer Series of networking events and information sessions. If you’re around and interested, you can sign up for Change Camp and join us, or read more about Change Camp here!
Here’s what we’re proposing:
Freshening up Canadian Media
Media makers are beginning to use social media to draw out more stories and information, looking to crowd-source knowledge from the people formally known as the “audience.” Fresh Media, a project of OpenMedia.ca, is looking for input on how we can bring more media innovation, participatory quality journalism, and new forms of artistic expression to Vancouver and Canada. This session will help inform a series of networking events to take place later this summer aimed at bringing media makers, technologists, and citizens together to re-invent our media system. What can we as citizens could do to remake media, support independent media, and further develop participatory quality journalism? How can we stop approaching social media and investigative journalism as being at odds with one another, and instead help enable media makers to use social media as a way to collect citizen input in their work? How can we enable and empower independent media makers to take center stage in our media ecology.
Proposed by Fresh Media (firstname.lastname@example.org //www.freshmedia.me// , //www.openmedia.ca//)
Our first event on October 24th was an amazing success with a packed house and more inspiring workshops, art pieces, panels, live feeds, and interactive celebrations of media than we could have imagined! Took photos while at the event and want to share them with us? Post them to our open Fresh Media Flickr group HERE.
Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more event debriefs — in the meantime, feel free to follow event photos on our Flickr pool and discussions about the event on Twitter and Facebook.
We deeply thank everyone who took time out of their Saturday to come and make this event such an unforgettable success!
A hybrid conference about how Social Media has Transformed the Olympic Story
Join Fresh Media and W2 at the W2 Culture + Media House on Monday, Feb 22 starting at 2pm for an afternoon of intellectual dialogue on the impact social media has had on the stories surrounding the Olympic games. The Winter Olympics and Paralympics are expected to draw 3 billion television and 70 million website viewers worldwide and will generate more wireless and social media-based content than any previous Olympics.
With this explosion of citizen-generated media tools in the hands of Olympic fans and foes, as well as pervasive reporting by new media journalists and bloggers, will social media have its journalistic coming-out party this February?
The conference features a keynote from Andy Miah, author of ‘Genetically Modified Athletes’ (2004) and ‘A Digital Olympics: Digital Games, Ethics & Cultures’ (The MIT Press, 2010), and panels with senior journalists and industry watchers from the USA, UK, Canada, and elsewhere. An afternoon unconference program provides open space for participant led-workshops with an added emphasis on practice and a summary of the first Olympic week. The conference also brings people face-to-face for networking and sharing tips on theory, practice, legal and operations. W2 will webstream to reach viewers outside Vancouver. The day wraps with a Cinq à Sept reception and evening party with Vancouver artists and DJs.
Sure to sell-out, registration is free for Full Media Access passholders for the W2 Culture + Media House and involves a two-tiered paying system for others. This event is co-hosted by Fresh Media and W2.
A live interactive online national video conversation with media innovators, technologists, artists, citizens and the online community at Fresh Media - a celebration of innovation and independent media, and a re-imagining of media and journalism. More details
As part of the lead up to Fresh Media we’ll hold a live interactive interview with the world renowned Don Tapscott. The conversation with Don will start at today at 5:10 EST
You can participate at 5:10EST via web video or online chat by visiting: http://multivsp.com/freshmedia
About Don Tapscott:
Don is the author of thirteen widely read books about information technology in business and society, most recently Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World (October 2008). The book is the sequel to Growing Up Digital (1998), which established him as one of the leading thinkers about the Net Generation. Immediately prior to this, Don wrote, with co-author Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2006). Wikinomics was an international bestseller. More at: http://dontapscott.com/contact-don/
We’ll talk about the future of media, the recent net neutrality decision and more…