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Radio Futures

November 22 2014 |

“It’s a podcast. It’s kind of like your radio show except people listen to it on purpose.”

– Jesse Brown, Canadaland, Episode 1

Yesterday, I argued that the success of Serial/StartUp/Radiotopia heralded the arrival of a new era of highly-produced, digital-only audio storytelling. Today I’d like to carry that line of thought to a new question:

What does this mean for radio?

For radio producers with a love of storytelling, I think this new era is largely good news. They have new ways of creating and distributing programs and reaching audiences who want to hear them. And the relationship between podcasters and audiences is, I’d argue, in some ways even MORE intimate than the one between radio presenters and audiences. Here’s Roman Mars, the producer of 99% Invisible, a show that started as a radio segment but today is a podcast-first production:

“If I were to just put a value proposition in terms of what I get back from a podcast in terms of financial or emotional rewards, I’d rather have 1 podcast listener than 10,000 radio listeners. They mean more. The show means more to them, and they mean more to the show, and it’s that connection that makes it all possible.”

How much does the show mean to listeners and listeners mean to the show? When Mars put out a Kickstarter to create 99% Invisible Season 3, he asked for $42,000 and was given more than four times that, getting $170,477. Through future campaigns he was able to get enough support to not only keep his own show going but to fund six other programs, as well. The latest campaign has raised over $620,000 and the network is adding three new shows, all highly produced with mixing, tape gathered in the field, music, and more.

And that’s not the only money out there. A lot of the “podcasts are back” story has focused on the profitability of  some of these new endeavours. The aforementioned Gimlet Media has raised over a million dollars from a combination of traditional investors, tech investors, and fans with a thousand dollars to spare.

That has got to look attractive to people with the skills to make high-quality productions (especially those who have been bothered by the time constraints imposed by radio broadcasts). Podcasts are no longer the world of motivated amateurs and talented talk producers. This is an alternative path for the best in the biz, and an ever-growing number of the best in the biz are taking it.

But what does that mean for traditional over-the-dial radio? Seth Godin has predicted that Bluetooth cars and data connections mean the end is nigh:

With so many podcasts, free downloads and Spotify stations to listen to, why? With traffic, weather and talking maps in your pocket, why wait for the announcer to get around to telling you what you need to know?

I think that is a serious question worth considering. More and more I find myself turning to my phone to find out what the forecast is, despite having the morning radio on. Apps like Waze and websites like DriveBC are slowly eliminating the need to find out about road closures elsewhere. I wouldn’t take it for granted that people will have any need for this sort of information from the radio in five or ten years.

So broadly speaking, here are the types of radio programs I think are the most at-risk:

1. Music programming (high risk)

2. National/international interest talk/current affairs (medium risk)

3. Local interest talk/current affairs (low risk)

1. Music radio is one that I think might still be working for now, but that I can easily imagine being replaced. Top 40, classic hits, any format easily replaced by an algorithm I just don’t see a long-term future for. When your major differentiator from Spotify is that you have local ads, I just don’t know.

2. The reason I think talk and current affairs programming aimed at national or international audiences is at medium risk is because they are still fairly robust, but I can imagine the rise of podcasts becoming an issue. Whereas before a strong arts program on CBC might be the only option for cultural talk, it is now up against work from BBC, NPR and any number of independent or semi-independent producers. A few years ago, fans of high-quality audio documentaries could only get them on the radio. Now I can go into iTunes and search for all sorts of material from around the world and on-demand. Just as more people are turning to Netflix instead of accepting whatever happens to be on TV, I think you’ll have more people choosing specific programming from their downloads queue rather than listening to whatever’s on Ideas. It may take a while, but it could happen.

3. Which isn’t to say there’s no future for traditional radio. There’s still lots of talent there and the traditional funding and distribution models are not dead, by any means. I also won’t take for granted that apps will replace radio as the medium of choice for getting information. Its tough to beat the simplicity of pressing a button and getting current news, information, roads, and weather while you about your morning routine, which is why I think local talk/current affairs is currently the most robust. The more local it is, the better, I think, because in a lot of cases the types of stories local programs cover are only going to be heard on local programming. Throw in the serendipity aspect of curated stories and the personal relationship you feel with a favorite host, and there’s a lot to be said for radio, particularly the local current affairs program.

Radio still has a lot to offer, particularly on a local level. But I do think a new era of disruption is coming, and that a successful podcast model will be a bigger challenge than TV or the earlier internet ever was. Radio is no longer the only game in town for the people who like to listen to audio or the people who like to create audio. More real-time information coming in the form of apps and notifications is another risk. What this all means for those of us still making radio, I think, is it’s time to figure out what can be offered by the radio-delivery model that can’t be duplicated elsewhere, while at the same time attempting to do what we can to be a part of the growing options for online audiences.

Filed under: radio

The Secret Life Of Passwords → 

November 21 2014 |

Ian Urbina:

“Passwords do more than protect data. They protect dreams, secrets, fears and even clues to troubled pasts, and for some, they serve as an everyday reminder of what matters most.”

What a brilliant idea for a story, and what great stories he found.


Small Achievements → 

November 21 2014 |

Longtime journalist Linden MacIntyre has some parting words for the CBC:

“As is often the case in times of existential crisis, it becomes a challenge for people running countries or institutions to project the kind of leadership that fosters confidence and morale – no troubled institution can survive without those two qualities. And so we have the understandable impulse to make small achievements seem large, and to go overboard in praising anything that seems to be successful.”

“When news comes up with a story that’s original, we tend to hype the originality regardless of the substance or significance of the story…

“The popularity of programs and personalities will be always be loudly hailed as evidence of institutional vitality, and never more than when that vitality is in question or illusory.”

I’d argue this is corporate culture generally- I’ve never worked anywhere that doesn’t want to hype its own success- but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Podcasts aren’t “back”, a new type of podcast has arrived

November 21 2014 |

Marco Arment challenges the “podcasts are back” narrative:

“What’s apparent from most of the recent podcast stories is that most of their reporters have talked to very few sources and either don’t listen to podcasts themselves or have just started. Most podcast listeners and producers know that the truth is much less interesting: podcasts started out as a niche interest almost a decade ago and have been growing slowly and steadily since. Over many years, growing slowly and steadily adds up.”

He goes on to theorize three reasons why the “podcasts are back” narrative is catching on:

“The most likely explanation of these “Podcasts are back!” stories is threefold:

  1. Serial, an offshoot of This American Life, got a ton of listeners quickly. But This American Life has been the biggest podcast in the world for most of the last decade, so a heavily promoted offshoot becoming very popular doesn’t indicate much about the market as a whole.
  2. “Gimlet Media, a podcast production startup, just raised a bunch of money from investors, publicized by their very popular StartUp podcast. StartUp became popular quickly not only because it’s very good, but also because it was started by a very well-known producer of very popular podcasts, including This American Life and Planet Money. Again, not a strong indicator of the overall market.
  3. Midroll, a big podcast ad broker, talks to the press a lot and has grown well recently. Selling podcast ads is a pain in the ass, producers love the idea of someone else taking care of it, there are very few ad brokers, and Midroll is probably the biggest. But that doesn’t mean there are suddenly far more listeners — it’s just easier to put ads in shows.”

I can’t speak to point three, but I think points one and two are true, and actually part of a larger point.

Podcasts aren’t back.

A new type of podcast has emerged.

The Netflix Production Era For Radio

As Arment says, both Serial and StartUp come from veteran producers of This American Life and Planet Money, two established and highly popular podcasts.

But in actuality, neither one of these shows is a podcast, any more than Breaking Bad was a hit series for Netflix. Sure, the show had a huge second life on Netflix, and even attracted fans who only watched it via streaming, but it was an AMC broadcast TV series first, created with commercial breaks and the one-hour format in mind. It was a hit TV show that people liked to watch on Netflix.

Similarly, This American Life is a radio show, stretched to and constrained by the time lengths dictated by the broadcast schedule. It is hugely popular as a podcast, but it found its primary success on radio. Planet Money is a little different, as a sort of radio/podcast hybrid, but its producers, as I understand it, still have to think about how stories they produce are going to fit in as segments on other NPR programs.

Neither Serial nor StartUp have any such constraints. You won’t hear either of them being beamed over the airwaves. Where This American Life and Planet Money are broadcast-plus-podcast shows, Serial and StartUp are podcast-only. To continue the analogy, they are House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. These are shows that require you to adopt new delivery services (podcasts and streaming video, respectively) in order to get in on the cultural conversation around them. That’s new.

It is true that neither Serial nor StartUp are the first podcast-only productions. They’ve been around (and successful) for years. Arment characterizes the field this way:

“There’s a lot of tech shows (and a lot of tech listeners), but most of the biggest are professionally produced public-radio shows released as podcasts, with other strong contingents in comedy, business, and religion, followed by a huge long tail of special interests with small but passionate audiences.”

I could be wrong, but from what I can tell the vast majority of podcast-only podcasts, the ones focused on tech, comedy, business, and religion, were and are talk heavy productions. One or two people with a microphone talking to each other or to guests or to just the audience. Some had studios or studio-quality mics, and more and more started getting proper editing done, but they are, at their core, talk shows.

This American Life is not a talk show. Planet Money is not a talk show. They have talk segments, but as a whole these are highly-produced story-based programs, with sound effects, musical scores, and documentary-style storytelling. To go back to the TV analogy, the professionally produced public-radio shows like these ones are network TV dramas and the tech, comedy, and business podcasts are YouTube channels. I’m not saying one is better than the other or that the people involved are more talented or legitimate in the traditional broadcast world, jus that the traditional broadcast world, of both TV and radio, had access to a certain level of quality that the internet-first content creators didn’t have.

That changed for television creators with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and I’d argue that’s changing for radio creators with the success of Serial and StartUp (and the entire 99% Invisible/Radiotopia network). Suddenly the broadcast world is no longer the only game in town. In the past, people who wanted to make high-quality productions had to get funding from and fit into the traditional system. Now, a new model is being carved that allows certain people to circumvent that by going the digital-only route. At the moment it helps if you are Kevin Spacey or one of the producers of This American Life but the point is this: people like Kevin Spacey and producers of This American Life are actively choosing the digital-only release as the best venue for their creative efforts. These are the best in the business and they are choosing to leave the old business model behind. Instead, Radiotopia is crowdfunding hundreds of thousands on Kickstarter and Gimlet is raising over a million in funding from investors and listeners.

Podcasts have been around for years, yes. But not these sorts of podcasts. Not with this sort of money. That’s what’s new here. And I find it very interesting.

So what does this mean for radio? I published my thoughts on this over here.

Filed under: radio

Northern Swagger → 

November 20 2014 |

John Backhouse, mayor of Prince George from 1986 to 1996 has weighed in on the “Is Prince George north?” debate:

Put this into the context of when the slogan was first introduced. In 1967 the city was slowly recovering from a very tough recession. The self respect of the city was low, what we needed was a slogan that said not just what we were at the time but reflected where we were going.

“Was it a little arrogant? Probably yes – we needed some “swagger.” When I introduced myself as the Mayor of PG, BC’s Northern Capital at the Premier’s Conference in February 1987, Premier Van der Zalm said, ” I wondered when that might come up” – he liked it!

“Many of my colleagues gave me a bad time about it, however they knew that Prince George was, and is, the service centre for many northern industries, it’s a transportation, health, educational, financial and government centre. That is the role of a “Capital”.

“Edmonton does use the term north, as in the “Gateway to the North” that doesn’t appear to have held back the development of that city. Senior representatives of companies such as FMC and Costco among many other investors never mentioned our slogan as a detriment to them locating here and the University of Northern British Columbia was widely accepted as an appropriate name.

“I have seen a number of organizations proudly indicate that PG has four seasons – one of them is winter – cold and snow! It’s a reality, it’s often a wonderland and provides great recreational opportunities. Market the city and the region for the huge advantages it has and promote pride in the role PG plays in northern development.

On the other side, I received this email from CBC listener Roman Muntener today, as well:

“As an old marketing guy I was annoyed by the use of the word “North” all over the place when I arrived in Prince George from Switzerland. I found that every second business used the term in one way or another for their business name – where is the imagination?

“As for Prince George (and branding in general) just leave it alone – taglines are at best short lived anyway at best and nondescript and downright wrong in many cases. Branding a product or municipality doesn’t need a tag – better leave it away all together!”

You can get Prince George bus routes on Google Maps now

November 20 2014 |

YOUGUYSYOUGUYS this is seriously so exciting.

This morning I took the bus so I could get my winter tires down to the bike shop and I discovered this little message on the Prince George Transit website.

transit preview

So I did and holeeeee cow what an improvement.

transit new

For someone who’s long lamented the complicated nature of the previous system (if you haven’t experienced the process of trying to map a trip, here’s what the schedule looks like), this is a breath of fresh air. Strip it down: I’m here, I want to there, and this is when I want to leave. Thank you!

But wait, there’s more! As I was experimenting with this I noticed that it was automatically detecting potential addresses. I don’t need to know where Canadian Tire is, I just need to say I want to go to Canadian Tire in Prince George.

transit 1


And then I noticed where they were getting those address from… “powered by Google.” Could it be?

transit maps


YES. You can now get bus routes for Prince George (and, presumably, everywhere else serviced by BC Transit) in Google Maps now. I kid you not, I have been requesting this feature since 2009.

BC Transit is asking for feedback on their beta system and I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so excited that we’ve got a system that actually works. My biggest complaint about the bus system has long been that the process of mapping out a route is just so complicated that anyone with a choice would never use it.

This plus the fairly active Twitter account issuing alerts and answering questions should make things a lot more usable, at least for people who are technically savvy.

Since they want feedback, here are my two asks:

Those are little things, though, in what is a hugely positive step forward for BC Transit and, I hope, the number of people who feel comfortable using the bus system in Prince George. Kudos.


Filed under: transit

Why BuzzFeed Doesn’t Do Clickbait → 

November 20 2014 |

Ben Smith:

“If your goal — as is ours at BuzzFeed — is to deliver the reader something so new, funny, revelatory, or delightful that they feel compelled to share it, you have to do work that delivers on the headline’s promise, and more. This is a very high bar. It’s one thing to enjoy reading something, and quite another to make the active choice to share it with your friends. This is a core fact of sharing and the social web of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms.

“The best way to ensure your readers won’t choose to share a story or a post is to trick them. “

We can debate all day on whether or not BuzzFeed actually delivers on the promises it puts in its headlines, but the goal stated here is laudable: headlines that reflect what’s actually in the article, instead of an eye-catching question1“Is your toast trying to kill you?” that deliberately mislead. Especially important when you consider how much headlines shape our understanding of a topic.

   [ + ]

1.“Is your toast trying to kill you?”

“This weekend is gonna be the physical shits” → 

November 20 2014 |

Wow. So a CBC Saskatchewan host mentioned it was going to be going up to -1, which she suggested was “nice”, prompting this two-minute tirade from a caller against the weather, the province, and, of course, CBC itself.

The only thing really surprising about this is that it’s making the rounds publicly. As anyone who’s ever checked the answering machine in a CBC office can likely tell you, this sort of vitriol over something so small is not all that uncommon.

“A bit like porridge” → 

November 20 2014 |

As a follow-up to realtor Dean Birks suggesting the word “north” should be abandoned by the people and promoters of Prince George, we had a discussion about it with him on CBC. We also had Ken Coates, founding vice-president of UNBC and author of The Forgotten North: A History of Canada’s Provincial Norths on to defend the designation.

“‘Central,’ to my eye is kind of a name that’s kind of a bit like porridge. Maybe it’s kind of good for you but it’s not very exciting. And I actually think, quite frankly, if we tried to promote the University of Central-something British Columbia we wouldn’t have attracted anywhere near as many people. The north has a distinct character, it covers the entire northern part of the province, it actually is the definition of the region itself, it’s how the north sees itself.”

I tend to agree. Even if people are avoiding Prince George because it’s in the north, well, fine. I mean, if they don’t want to move north because it’s cold and it snows, it’s probably best they don’t show up because, well, it’s cold and it snows. And “north” does sound a whole lot better to me than “central interior.”

Full discussion worth listening to.

Prince George might be undermining itself with this one weird word → 

November 20 2014 |

Dean Birks:

“That word (or its variation) is “Northern” or “North”. I’m not sure when this word started to creep in and entered almost all of our efforts in the marketing or description of Prince George but it’s really not the truth… Located at N53 54’ on the globe we are basically on the same parallel as Edmonton, Saskatoon, Kingscourt Ireland and Manchester England. When you look up the promotion or description of these cities no where do they describe themselves as Northern or in the North.”

So why does it matter?

“For the past year during the course of my career I have asked when talking to people in other major centers like Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa  and  from out of country if they had a choice to live in the South, Central or North of somewhere what would they choose, given no more explanation than just that. The choice is almost always South and Central and rarely North.”

Every once in a while at CBC, I’ll get an angry email from somebody in Dawson Creek or Smithers telling me that Prince George is not really “north” and we should stop saying we are. It never occurred to me that abandoning the word might be good marketing.

The Kind of, Sort of Era → 

November 20 2014 |

Steven Kurutz:

“I’ve sort of noticed something about the way we speak, and I wonder if you’ve sort of noticed it, too. Let me kind of explain. It’s about sort of, and its twin, kind of, and how these adverbial downtoners, as the British grammarian Sir Randolph Quirk calls them, have totally, completely, 100 percent taken over casual speech.

“Kinda, sorta.”

Kind of interesting. Sort of.

Why do British singers sing with American accents? → 

November 20 2014 |

The Globe and Mail:

“In his blog entry, the linguist David Crystal explains that key identifying features of a regional accent tend to disappear when singing: the intonation (as a melody replaces it), vowel length (for many syllables are elongated) and the vocal cadence. Crystal goes on to say that vowel quality is also often affected, “especially in classical singing, where vowels are articulated with greater openness than in everyday speech.”

I’ve often wondered this. Glad to finally get an answer (there’s more to it than what’s above, click through for the full thing). On another note, I’m enjoying the Globe’s Canada Q&A series.

About peak beard…

November 19 2014 |

Stop judging my facial hair…

I’ve had a beard in one form or another for most of my adult life. It started as what is now an era-unfortunate goatee– my late high school photos place me firmly in the early 2000s– but since then, it’s been primarily some version of the face-covering version, ranging in length from the stubble on my about page to the fuller winter version in my avatar photo. Occassionally on an extended vacation I’ve gone for a bushier length, but wasn’t a big fan. For most of the past decade I’ve been able to happily move through life without giving this much thought, but over the course of the last year or so the bearded male has become subject to intense media scrutiny.

If there was a flashpoint moment, it would be this NY Post article from Februrary titled “Hipster Wannabes Get Facial Hair Transplants.”

“Stubble-challenged guys are forking over up to $8,500 for the beard-boosting procedure, which has spiked in popularity in recent months, plastic surgeons told The Post.

“Brooklyn is probably the nucleus of the trend, it’s the hipster ‘look’ guys want. If you have a spotty beard, and you let it grow out, it looks sloppy, ” said Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a Midtown-based plastic surgeon.

“[Clients] want full beards because it’s a masculine look. Beards are an important male identifier,” he added.”

Well, damn. What was once just hair on my face had turned into a must-have fashion accessory. For hipsters. With nothing better to spend $8,500 on. This is probably the closest I got to shaving my beard off. But then I figured that would be a sort of facial gentrification, letting them come in and jack up the price of my beard while lowering its cultural cachet. So I held firm.

March, the Globe and Mail stepped in to defend me with “What a beard really says about a man“:

“‘It’s about authenticity. The beard is a guy’s way to show the world his most real self,’ Pryce says, adding that, in recessionary times, it is also a no-cost style statement. ‘A beard,’ he notes, ‘is the cheapest, most authentic accessory a man can have.'”

Exactly. Cheap and easy.

Then, in April another blow. A new study, finding the more beards were out there in the world (say, because hipsters had paid $8,500 to get one), the less fashionable they are. CBC characterized the study with the headline “Beards are sexier when they’re uncommon,”while the Guardian declared “Fashion-conscious men warned we may have reached ‘peak beard’,” continuing a theme they started in 2013 with the question “Have we reached peak beard?

Well, now I was stuck. If I had wanted to shave the beard I’d missed the window, because I’d simply be doing so at the behest of media warnings that beards had jumped the shark.

Or had they?

Facial hair is back in style in boardrooms” declares the New York Times this month.

“As a new generation of men rises into positions of power in the workplace — helping to relax standards for what constitutes executive style — beards and even Hercule Poirot-esque waxed mustaches are becoming more common in the office.”

Well, great. Wait…

“Mr. Rosenfeld also sees facial hair as more than just a fashion statement or even something beyond an expression of masculinity or sexuality — especially in the workplace. It can help some workers feel more comfortable.

“Facial hair might give someone a cover if he’s more introverted, or he can grow a beard to put on a better face if, for example, he has pockmarks,” he said. “It’s no different than a woman putting on makeup.'”

The psychological profiles continue.

For the record, this is why I grew a beard: a. I like not having to shave every day and b. I think it look pretty OK.

This is my methodology for maintaing it.

            1. Keep the neck even with regular shaves with a razor

            2. Trim it every one to four weeks, depending on how long you’re wanting to go

            3. If you’re going for a lengthier beard, trim the moustache every one-two weeks

I look forward to the day I can do this without so much media scrutiny.1Yes, my tongue is firmly in cheek here.2Mostly.

   [ + ]

1.Yes, my tongue is firmly in cheek here.

This Jaden and Willow Smith interview is my favourite thing right now → 

November 18 2014 |

Will Smith has given us so much. From classic rap hits to ironically classic rap hits to a well-aged sitcom to blockbuster movies. And now, his greatest gift of all: his children. An interview with Jaden and Willow Smith (aged 16 and 14) in the New York Times magazine is making the rounds, full of classic exchanges like this one:

“JADEN: Kids who go to normal school are so teenagery, so angsty.

“WILLOW: They never want to do anything, they’re so tired.

“JADEN: You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up? I still haven’t been to driver’s ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can’t see how driver’s ed is really helping them out.

“WILLOW: I went to school for one year. It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, “Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.” But it was the worst experience because I was depressed.”

As someone who’ve been following both Jaden and Willow on Twitter for a while, nothing about this comes as a shock. The surrealness on display here is either 100% authentic or one of the greatest performance art pieces of all time. Either way, they are currently my favourite teenage celebrities.

Prince George’s new council priorities: snow removal, infrastructure… but not downtown

November 18 2014 |

Who says nothing good comes of reading the comments? In the comments of 250 News, regular user Eagle One has parsed some interesting numbers for us. They took a look at the Prince Free Press survey sent out out to all the candidates, in particular the section where the candidates were asked to rank the importance of 13 issues.

“If one is to take the ranking selected by each council elect and total for the council as a whole each issue can rank from a low of 13 (meaning the number one priority of all in council) to a high of 104 (meaning it was the lowest priority of every councilor). Of course Susan Scott went rouge and selected three #1 priorities and no #4 and #8 priority, bringing into question her math skills… so I rounded up all her selections by one to factor for the discrepancy.”

The list is as follows, ordered from most important to least:

Eagle One also adds this observation:

“the only two councilors to get elected by the majority of voters Skakun and Krause each had nearly polar opposite rankings… meaning potentially that the voters in PG actually voted strategically, rather than through a partisan lens”

I’d also note that for the most part, this list is fairly in-line with Lyn Hall’s personal list. He put infrastructure at number 4 and safety at number 1, swapping with the consensus. He ranked transit at number 9, rather than the consensus of 5, and downtown at number 8, instead of last. Other than that, his list is within 3 point of the consensus.

Of course, who knows? This is a list that chose 13 things and asked potential candidates to rank them. Being 13 doesn’t mean they don’t care at all… or it could mean they don’t care at all. But it’s an interesting lens to view things through, at least until we get a better sense of how the next four years will play out.

Prince George and Terrace Narrowly Meet United Nations Target for Women in Politics, Other Northern Cities Fall Short

November 17 2014 |

During one of my interviews with Shari Green, a Prince George councillour from 2008-2011 and mayor from 2011-2014, I asked her about the number of men she was working with. We had both noticed the same trend.

“There had been three women [on council], when I was elected there was two, and when I became the mayor there was one,” she told me.

“I want the best person in each and every seat,” she emphasized, “[but] there’s no question that you want to have some diverse opinion and perspectives and life experiences around the table to help make that debate more robust and well-rounded.”

Green didn’t run for re-election, and her replacement, Lyn Hall, is a male. On the other hand, there are now three new female faces at the council table.  Anecdotally, I also noticed a few other female leaders from across northern B.C. either did not run again or were defeated, so I decided to delve into the numbers a little bit.

Prince George

Out of 25 candidates for council, six were women, or 24%. Five men and three women were elected, making for a 37.5% female council. The United Nations puts 30% as the benchmark for female representation, so we’re doing OK there, even when you add a male mayor and our female representation falls to 33%.

50% of the women who ran were elected, compared to a 20% of the men. Had men and women been elected at rates equal to the the percentage who ran, there would have been only one or two women. On the other hand, if men and women ran and were elected at rates that represented the actual population of Prince George, we would have had 19 women running and at least four women in government.

Other Northern B.C. Cities

Prince George has the best gender representation out of the six cities in northern B.C. Elsewhere people elect one mayor and six councillours. Fort St John, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel all elected just one woman each, Dawson Creek elected two, and Terrace elected three, including their mayor. This means Terrace is the only other city in the north to meet the 30% benchmark.

Here’s the gender breakdown of candidates for city council in northern B.C. cities:

CityMale Candidates (elected)Female Candidates (elected)
Prince George19 (5)6 (3)
Quesnel7 (5)3 (1)
Fort St John9 (6)3 (0)
Dawson Creek7 (4)5 (2)
Prince Rupert6 (5)3 (1)
Terrace7(4)4 (2)
Total55 (29)24 (9)

On the mayor’s side, Fort St John acclaimed Lori Ackerman while Dawson Creek acclaimed Dale Bumstead. Terrace and Quesnel each had one male and one female mayoral candidate, with the female winning in Terrace and the male winning in Quesnel. There were three male and one female mayoral candidate in Prince Rupert, and a male won. Add in Prince George’s two male mayoral candidates and you have 8 male and 4 female mayoral candidates.

That means in northern B.C.’s six largest cities we had 63 men and 28 women running for office- a ratio of over 2:1.


Mayors in Northern B.C.

I also decided to take a look at the leadership of 31 communities in northern British Columbia, going as far south as Quesnel and Wells. You can look at the data here.

The gender composition of northern B.C. mayors did not change much. Going into the election, there were 20 male mayors compared to 11 female ones, and after the election we have 21 male mayors compared to 10 female ones.

pieChart_jpg (1)

Incumbents and Acclamation

Out of 11 female incumbents, eight chose to run again. Of those eight, six were re-elected. The two who were defeated were replaced by a man.

Out of 20 male incumbents, 14 chose to run again. Of those 14, 10 were re-elected. Of the four who were defeated, two were replaced be men and two were replaced by women.

I also note that of the 10 women who were elected to the mayor’s chair, four were acclaimed, while only seven of the 21 men went unchallenged.

When I break those numbers down into percentages, no great differences emerge. 70% of male candidates ran for re-election, compared to 72% for women. 71% of male incumbents were re-elected compared to 75% of re-elected female incumbents. 33% of the male victors were acclaimed compared to 40% of the female ones. With such a small data set, these are pretty small differences.

Gender Composition of Candidates

The major difference once again comes down to the people putting their names forward for election.

In sheer numbers, there were a total of 22 female candidates and 38 male candidates.

Going further, out of the 31 communities I looked at, only 4 did not have a male candidate, compared to 11 with no female candidate. That means in over one-third of the communities surveyed, there were no women running for the office of mayor.

Out of the 16 communities with both male and female candidates, men were elected 10 times, while women were elected 6 times, meaning in instances where there were both male and female candidates, the men were 1.6 times more likely to elected. Again, in such a small data set that number is interesting, but not particularly statistically valid.


This isn’t a incredibly in-depth overview. This is just something quick and dirty I made up to satisfy my own curiousity.

That said, there are a couple of small things that stand out to me.

First, while it is slight, male mayoral candidates were a bit more likely to be elected. As I said, out of 16 communities with male and female candidates, men were 1.6 times more likely to get be voted in. Looking at different numbers, 55% of the men who ran for mayor were elected, while only 45% of the women were. But again, this is an extremely small data set. This could be completely blown away by taking into account past elections or more communities.

Second, and this is one I feel pretty comfortable with, there is a noticeable difference between the number of men and women running for election, period. British Columbia is very close to a 50-50 split between men and women, and that holds for the communities surveyed here. And yet at a Prince George council level we have men running at over four times the rate of women and on the council level for major cities and the mayoral level across the north, we have men running for election at roughly twice the rate as women.

On a representative level, we’re doing OK when you use the U.N. targets of 30%. 33% of Prince George’s local government is female, and 32% of northern B.C. mayors are female. But as we saw with our last council, it’s very easy to fall short of those numbers. Other northern B.C. cities already are. I’d argue that if meeting these minimums is a goal, the best way to ensure we keep reaching it is finding out what can be done to invite more women to run for office.

One final point I’d make is that I haven’t seen much talk about gender composition at all. I’d guess that if these numbers were reversed, and we had elected a female mayor and five female councillours, and that northern B.C. suddenly had twice as many female mayors as male mayors, more people would be taking notice.


I just found this research from the Canadian Women Voters Congress breaking down local election candidates across the province. The trend of more men than women running holds:

“Out of 423 individuals running for mayor, only about a quarter (24 percent) are women.

“Several PhD students at the University of British Columbia have collected and analyzed the data on the numbers of women candidates running in the upcoming municipal elections. Grace Lore, PhD candidate in political science, found that in almost half (47 percent) of BC municipalities, there are no women running for mayor, and in only 15 municipalities (less than 9 percent) are there two or more women candidates for mayor.

“City council candidate numbers are similarly asymmetric. Lore found that only 88 out of 287 (30 percent) candidates for city council in BC’s ten largest municipalities are women. In the 2014 provincial election more women ran for both the NDP (38%) and the Liberals (35%) than are now running for council in most major cities in British Columbia.”

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Filed under: politics, Prince George | Discuss

Congratulations, Losers

November 16 2014 |

It’s the day after election day. Congratulations are going out to all the winners – the new and returning mayors, councillours, and school board trustees.

This post is for the losers.

I know many of you have already made your statements, gracious and congratulatory, but I can’t imagine it doesn’t hurt. You don’t show it, but you’re wondering what went wrong. Where you might have done better.

I don’t have the answer for you. But I want to say thanks. Not just thanks for trying, but thanks for trying knowing full well you could lose. In some cases, maybe knowing full well you would lose.

This isn’t a presidential race. Losing doesn’t mean you get a book deal and a lucrative speaking tour. This isn’t the federal election where when you fail to become Prime Minister you get to be the leader of the Official Opposition. There’s no shadow cabinet posting for you. You’re done. You’re out.

For some of you, you’re out of the job you’ve been doing for the last three years. Maybe even six or nine years. You’ve been working long hours, often unpaid, to try to accomplish your goals. You’ve gotten angry letters from your fellow citizens. You’ve dealt with media calls whenever anything went wrong. You tried to balance friends and family and let’s not forget your real job because most of the time being in local government is a part-time gig.

Regardless of whether you were an incumbent or a newcomer, the last few weeks have been a grind. You’ve had to fill out candidate profiles, and official forms, and go to debates, and candi-dating and public events and I’m sure more than once you’ve wished you could just stay at home, just tonight, instead of going out to shake more hands and smile. I can’t even imagine the number of unpaid hours that have gone into these campaigns. Not to mention money. Your money. Money you earned and saved and spent, and all so you could lose.

Well, it’s over now, and you’re going to have to go back to civilian life. Maybe it’s a relief, but there’s no doubt some disappointment there, as well. “You gave it your best,” people will say. “But my best wasn’t good enough,” you may think to yourself. That’s probably how I would feel.

But you know what? Your best was good enough. Actually, your best was absolutely necessary. This is a democracy. And for all its flaws, it’s still a lot better than a lot of the alternatives. But a democracy absolutely does not function unless we have people willing to put their names forward to try and steer the whole thing. And a democracy isn’t a democracy at all unless some people wind up not getting enough votes. That’s just people showing up to take power. By showing up alongside them, you made them work for it. They had to convince people to vote for them, because you were trying to convince them otherwise. You made that happen. No one else did. There are hundreds, thousands of people in your community who didn’t even bother to vote. You did them one better. You are one of the few who was willing to put yourself out there for democracy, even if it meant it mind end like this, with you losing.

So thank you. Thank you for trying and thank you for engaging. Maybe I wanted you to lose, maybe I wanted you to win, maybe I was barely aware you existed. It doesn’t matter. I’m glad you showed up. I’m glad you tried. Thank you.


Filed under: politics

Please stop making the following arguments about fluoride

November 16 2014 |

There are valid arguments on both sides of the fluoride debate. These aren’t them.

I did a story about fluoride, and I’ve done some coverage of the fluoride referendum in Prince George, so as a result I’ve been getting Tweets/comments/emails about fluoride, largely from anti-fluoride people. As an adult who brushes his teeth, whether fluoride stays or goes has no effect on me personally, but I do have trouble with some of the talking points I keep seeing. So please, if you are going to argue against fluoride, don’t use the following:

I’m mostly reacting to anti-fluoride arguments because they are the ones who contact me the most. In the interest of fairness, here are some of the more frequent pro-fluoride arguments that also don’t work:

It’s fascinating to me that despite huge amounts of consensus in the scientific and medical communities that fluoridating community drinking water is safe and beneficial, this continues to be such a controversial issue. It says a lot about the degree to which people trust- or don’t trust- medical and scientific experts.

I do think there are valid arguments to be made on the anti-fluoride side, just as I think there a valid arguments from the pro-fluoride side, as well. I think we would have a much better and more informed discussion if we eliminated all of the arguments outlined above.

To that end, I’m hopeful that if/when fluoride is removed from Prince George’s drinking water some sort of study is taken up to the measure the effects on overall population health, dental and otherwise, so we can have more data to increase our understanding of fluoridated waters benefits and drawbacks.


Filed under: misc

Outsiders, Twitter, and a Left-Wing Swing: Early reaction to City of Prince George election results

November 16 2014 |

So here we are. The new mayor of Prince George is Lyn Hall. Incumbents Briank Skakun, Murray Krause, Albert Koehler, and Frank Everitt are in. So are newcomers Jillian Merrick, Terri McConnachie, and Susan Scott. Cameron Stolz and Dave Wilbur, both multi-term incumbents, are out. You had to place eighth to get elected, Wilbur was tenth and Stolz was twelfth, so there were a couple other upstarts who fared better than them.

I’m calling it mixed results for democracy. On the one hand, yay! Record turnout. On the other hand, 34.3% sets the record for turnout? I’m guessing that puts us somewhere in the middle of the pack.

That said, as Neil Godbout points out, your vote mattered. Shari Green won the last election with 6,969 votes. Don Zurowski lost this one with 8,850. If you want to look at things this way, that means this is a more representative victory for Lyn Hall, because more people actually voted for him. Still, his 10,463 means he is now mayor with only about 18% of the eligible population voting for him.

Neil has some other good insights, which I encourage you to read over on the Citizen site. Here’s a few of my thoughts to go along with them:

Filed under: Prince George

Last Minute Election Guide 2014

November 15 2014 |

Yes, that’s today. If you are in B.C. you will be electing a new mayor and a new council for the next four years, up from the previous three. In Prince George, we’ll also be holding a non-binding referendum on whether to continue putting fluoride in our water as we have for the last 59 years, or remove it.

I’ve been flogging this pretty hard, but here’s one last round-up of some of the resources available.
Who Do I Vote For?

And if that’s not enough lots of other media coverage for the election, too:

How do I feel about fluoride?

I don’t know how you feel about fluoride. I did do a story on the history of the fluoride debate, which has been going on for a long time and at one point involved Communists. You can listen to it here and read more about it here.

Interestingly enough, both the Globe and Mail and the FiveThirtyEight (a new statistics-based news site led by the guy who accurately predicted the presidential elections early on using, well, statistics) did write-ups on fluoride this week, as well. The conclusion, in both cases, was there might be some room for new research but the bulk of evidence is fluoride is a low-cost way to improve public health, and most of what you hear about it being unsafe is based on weak data, a bad understanding of science, or both.

Here is an interview with the “keep fluoride” side. They are represented by the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Health, the Chief Dental Officer with Health Canada, and the manager of dental health programs for Northern Health.

Here is an interview with the “remove fluoride” side. They are represented by the owner of a health foods, vitamins, and book store.

How Do I Vote?

You don’t need to pre-register. You just show up with a few things to identify you. What you need are two things that will prove who you are and that you live in Prince George. Here is the full list. If you don’t have two things, you can make a solemn declaration. Doesn’t that sound fun? A solemn declaration.

Where Do I Vote?

There is free transit in Prince George to help you get to voting stations. You can vote from 8 am to 8 pm at the following places:

Why Should I Vote?

Four years is a pretty long time, in politics. The people who come into power will make decisions about how much money we spend on roads, bike lanes, which parks get maintained, whether you will have to pay for a dangerous dog based on breed, whether and how much you’ll have to pay to park downtown, what happens with snow removal, how many new subdivisions we build and where, whether we spend money on a Performing Arts Centre or hockey arenas or something else or nothing at all. They’ll be the face of the city on a national and international stage. You don’t notice it, probably, but they affect a lot.

I’ll leave you with a Facebook status from a friend of mine:

“Dear Canadian friends! At this very moment, half of the world are fighting to death just to achieve the right of voting. You have it for granted, please move your butt and use it! Even if none of the available options ‘exactly’ represents you.

“An immigrant!”


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