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confluence, episode 22: trumped, part one

November 16 2016 |

Occasionally I send newsletters. This is one of them.

Hello,

If you are anything like me, you have spent a good part of the last week processing the presidential election trying to figure out what happened and why. Here are some of the pieces I am thinking about and that I will suggest are worth your time.

Read more →




Cohen

November 12 2016 |

“Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in”

Anthem

“Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed/ The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows”

– Everybody Knows

“I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?/Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet”

– Tower of Song

“I have to die a little/ Between each murderous thought/ And when I’m finished thinking/ I have to die a lot”

– Almost Like the Blues

“You want it darker/ We kill the flame”

– You Want It Darker




Some thoughts for Canadian media in the wake of President Donald Trump

November 9 2016 |

There are any number of post-US-election hot takes for you to digest right now, by people who were following the race far closer than me. The analyses of how Trump won, why, and who’s responsible are coming fast and furious.

One thing that I don’t think is controversial is this: he received a lot of coverage from the press.  From the New York Times in March, here’s the amount of free media coverage he received versus the other contenders for leadership of  the Republican and Democratic parties:

earned-bought-460

Whether that coverage was fair is debatable.

Some of his supporters might feel it was a relentless attack that mischaracterized the nature of his campaign and his appeal.

Some of his detractors might feel it was a free pass, normalizing bigotry and racism in favour of ratings.

But either way, Trump took up a lot of space, at the expense of other candidates, and a lot of time was focused some of his more… outrageous… talking points at the expense of other issues.

As you may or may not know, there is a Conservative Party leadership race underway right now. At the risk of drawing too many parallels to the Republicans, it is:

By the way, of the twelve people running, here’s the only one who’s received a national magazine cover:

kelli-leitch

And Kellie Leitch is making her way into Canadian headlines today thanks to a 3 am email reading:

“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president

It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.

It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada

It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values

I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites – that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.”

The temptation to go COULD A TRUMP CAMPAIGN SUCCEED IN CANADA? is strong and is already well underway. But I think some real thought needs to go into this, regardless of where you stand on the candidates or the issues.

Some questions for Canadian media going forward… and bearing in mind I’m not suggesting I have the answers:

  1. Is it appropriate to latch on to the most controversial/ear-catching statements a candidate makes? It may be interesting to talk about how, exactly, Leitch plans to screen every visitor to Canada for “values” but is the public being served if we do that at the expense of talking about… well, let’s be honest, have you even really heard much about what any of the other candidates are running on?
  2. A heck of a lot the coverage of the presidential election was about polls – who was appealing to who, how much any particular statement helped or hurt each candidate – and look what happened. I’m not suggesting throwing polls out. But maybe we’ve hit a point where the discussion can be more focused on other things, as well, rather than constant analysis of the reasons for numbers that ultimately might not even represent reality.
  3. How do we appropriately reflect the full spectrum of reality in our country? I am definitely down with trying to paint human portraits of people who we might not necessarily agree with, as so many tried to do with angry Trump voters spouting off racist, misogynistic language. What makes them feel this way? What are they like in their personal relationships? I believe in the value of humanity. But – and this is based on my own gut instinct, not any in-depth media analysis – it felt to me like there was a lot more effort placed on painting human portraits of the angry Trump supporters than there were on the worried Clinton supporters, the people backing Ted Cruz, the ones devoted to Sanders- or even the agnostic middle ground. They, too, are complete human beings with hopes, dreams, and struggles. On the surface it may be more interesting to try and answer the question how can anyone support a person calling for a ban on Muslims? but it may also be interesting to hear the very real human struggle of the people who are Muslim, too. At the very least, if you do one, do the other.
  4. That being said, things can go the other way. I’m listening to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who was in the U.S. during the election, talk to CBC about here questions after the election, particularly this one:

    “It was just this sense of we’re not being listened to, and we feel like this guy’s going to listen to us… it was more of a message of ‘I’m tired of my voice not being heard’. I think that there’s some congruency to the Brexit results, as well. The Brexit rhetoric sort of boiled down to two very polarized camps: it was either you’re a bleeding-heart leftist socialist for wanting to help these people, or you’re a racist for questioning how we integrate, how we successfully integrate newcomers into the country, and there was no sort of pragmatic middle ground.

    “I think for us in Canada we have to be very careful to not fall into that same trap, for not having a place where we can talk about legitimate issues in a way that is positive for the growth of the country, that we don’t shy away from tough topics… because I feel like that was a big dynamic that happened down in the US, it happened in the UK, and I certainly don’t want to see it happen here.

    So how do we have those conversations, while keeping them grounded in reality? I think there’s a temptation, sometimes, to take some of the most polarizing voices on a controversial issue and pit them against each other, and act like that’s fair. My suspicion is there might be more value in renewing efforts to actually examine these debates in an informative way- one that treats all sides of an issue with respect, but doesn’t allow misinformation to go unchecked.

These aren’t opinions so much as sketches of questions floating through my mind. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Filed under: media | Discuss





McMansions aren’t for living in → 

November 3 2016 |

99% Invisible talks to Kate Wagner about just what it is about McMansions that is so grating. There’s a lot of reasons, but I found this one illuminating:

“According to Kate, the age of the McMansion saw the shift of the house from a place that we live in, potentially for the rest of our lives, to an asset that we are decidedly not supposed to live in forever.

“‘People started designing their houses with the notion of selling them in mind. Realtors would advise ‘oh, I wouldn’t buy or do this because then the house isn’t going to sell very well.’

‘So we sort of devised this culture where we thought about selling our houses before we spent one night in them.'”

When I was buying a house the focus seemed to be on potential resell value rather than, you know, what it would be like to actually live there.

Filed under: design





free speech activists

October 24 2016 |

As I’ve written before I am a fan of freedom of speech. However I also recognize the damage that can be done when that freedom is abused.

I am also aware of a strain of thought that posits, basically, if people don’t exercise freedom of speech then it doesn’t really exist. They praise those who test its limits by allowing us to re-affirm our collective belief in the need for this freedom.

For a variety of reasons over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about this argument and determined I don’t agree with it.

Apply the same logic to other values- rule of law, for example. We have rule of law because we believe it to be better than mob justice or allowing whoever happens to be in charge to arbitrarily determine the fate of those who are accused of committing a crime.

Does this mean we should thank and people who commit increasingly heinous crimes because they are testing how far we will let someone go while remaining committed to the belief in rule of law?  Should they be praised as “rule of law activists,” willing to push our boundaries? Does rule of law really exist if no one ever makes you use it?

While I do think it’s important to maintain freedom of speech to the fullest extent possible I don’t think it then follows that exercising that freedom is in and of itself a praiseworthy thing. And I’m putting this here as a reference point for the next time a free speech argument inevitably arises.




Radio and podcasts should be recognized as an art form → 

October 18 2016 |

Third Coast Festival has a manifesto:

“We’re calling for a Radio/Podcasting heading in the arts section — including listings of local events — but audio storytelling also demands more. We seek recognition of the Radio/Podcasting genre through thoughtful reviews, criticism, and a deeper examination of styles and trends. Press must move beyond listicles ad infinitum citing the top 10, 20 or 50 podcasts of the week, month, or year. That approach was okay a few years ago — when podcasts were a bit of a mystery — but now it’s time to actually consider the impact of audio storytelling.”

I visited England this year. You know what they had in the newspapers? Reviews of radio programs: Wimbledon coverage, documentaries, interviews.

This should be expanded.

See also.




facebook isn’t destroying journalism or reality (i think)

October 15 2016 |

Update: One month after I first wrote this I think I need to add an important caveat. While I think it’s still worth remembering and pointing out that people have always lived in different realities, it is also troubling that people are rejecting verifiable facts and embracing outright falsehoods. I’m not sure if this is true or not but it feels to me as if in the past people were ignorant about major issues because it wasn’t being reported on- it wasn’t easily accessible. Now, it is easily accessibly but people just don’t seem to care or no longer believe sources of facts. So this post still holds true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are some major problems with the way information is consumed and shared.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Once upon a time we all lived in the same world. We watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music, and, crucially, read the same newspapers.

We may have disagreed on some things but we were at least coming at it with the same baseline knowledge: whatever was in the news was what was going on in the world.

Today, we are splintered. No one watches TV news. People get their news from specialized sources with specific angles and Facebook algorithms send us into echo chambers where we only see things we agree with.

We may as well be living in different realities.

*  *  *

I’ve seen this same basic story told in many different ways. Sometimes people are mourning the death of capital-j Journalism as a time when the News was respected rather than ignored in favour of memes. Some people are mourning the death of a cohesive society altogether.

I have a tough time mourning this because I have spent my entire adult life in the internet age. I can’t say with absolute confidence that things aren’t worse now than they were back then, but I suspect they are not.

I think, for example, of a recent story where a woman was saying there was no racism in America until Obama was elected. This could be used as exhibit A in a series of stories about how we are living in different realities.

Clearly she is being fed this information by some right-wing site attempting to blame all the ills of the world on Democrats rather than a good old-fashioned centrist news source- right?

Except consider how she got here: she would have spent all of her time pre-2008 being completely unaware of racism. All those years of everyone watching the same nightly news and somehow she missed this. Only now has she become aware that racism exists in America. She may be upset about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and think it stupid, but she is aware of it. Unlike every other similar movement that preceded it.

Closer to home, here in Canada, most Canadians spent their time being completely unaware of residential schools. You want different realities? How about one where you could read the papers and watch the nightly news and not be aware of a cultural genocide taking place in your own country?

*  *  *

These are the sorts of things I ask whenever I read someone mourning for a better-informed, bygone era.

How much journalism was there about Indigenous rights against major infrastructure in the 70s?

How well-examined was policing against people of colour?

How many voices from women, transgender, Muslim people were being heard in media?

I suspect people weren’t better informed in previous times. My guess is the threshold for being well-informed was just lower.




Indigenous Canadians and the bus plunge

September 8 2016 |

Earlier today I wrote about a question I’ve had for a while: does revealing a tragedy has occurred to an indigenous person make people care more, or less, about the problem?

Unbeknownst to me, that question was being answered by Neil Macdonald in a column entitled, “Why clicking on this story about Indigenous people matters.

The whole thing is worth reading, but the key revelation for me is what he calls the “Bus Plunge”:

“In choosing stories and laying out pages at newspapers decades ago, I quickly learned that one dead Canadian anywhere (even more so, a white Canadian), equalled two or three dead Americans, which in turn equalled 10 or 15 Brits or West Europeans, which in turn equalled 30 or 40 dead East Europeans, who were probably white and maybe even Christian, but came from unpronounceable places, and so forth.

“At the very end of the list were Africans, or, say, Bangladeshis. They had to perish in very large numbers indeed to merit any notice.

“Then there was the Bus Plunge. The Bus Plunge was usually a two-paragraph brief from somewhere in the Third World where a bus (or train or ferry or any other contrivance) crashed or plunged or exploded, killing a lot of people. The Bus Plunge was terribly useful; it could be used to plug last-minute holes that resulted from poor layout measurements.

“I’m not saying Indigenous issues are a Bus Plunge. But Indigenous people, I’m afraid, haven’t rated very highly on that unspoken hierarchy. Canadians evidently do not consider Indigenous people proximate — and the less proximate the subject, the more indifferent the audience.”

He backs this up by looking at the number of clicks stories about Indigenous people get versus other stories.

The conclusion:  in cold, hard numbers, it seems people will pay more attention to the line “missing woman” than “missing indigenous woman”.

Filed under: journalism, media





missing (indigenous) woman

September 8 2016 |

When you’re writing news, you want to lead with the strongest line possible.

For radio, that means you want the first sentence to grab the ear and make the listener care.

Online, that means you want a headline that will cause people to click and read on.

So here’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Does the word “Indigenous” (or “Aboriginal” or “First Nation”) make people care more… or less?

If you hear or read, “a thirty-year-old woman has gone missing” does that jar you more, or less, than hearing, “a thirty-year-old  Indigenous woman has gone missing”?

I honestly have no idea how the average person would respond.

On the one hand, hearing that the woman is Indigenous ties the story into a larger, ongoing narrative about missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.

On the other hand, maybe it makes it easier to externalize the story into a part of a problem that is big, but not surprising.

Like yeah, it sucks that there’s people being killed with bullets in the Middle East. But somehow it doesn’t shock us as much as hearing about it happening in Paris.

I suspect there’s a certain portion of the population who hears the word “Indigenous” and, even if they care, tunes out just a little because they are so used to hearing about bad things happening to Indigenous people.

I’d like to imagine that it doesn’t matter. That people would care equally, regardless of identity or race.

But I doubt it.

So how do you lead the story?

Filed under: journalism, media





“If you’re not thinking about sound design, why isn’t the story just a print piece?”

August 28 2016 |

– Mira Burt-Wintonick




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