Sunday, October 09, 2005

Contra Canadian Media

Prompted by an article in Maisonneuve, the story is circulating once again that the Canadian blogosphere is impotent, that it should be more like its American counterpart and break some big stories.

It all goes to foster the myth that we are somehow underdeveloped in Canada, that we would be so much better if only we were like the Americans. This is a constant theme in Canadian media, especially that which leans further to the right.

But it's based in bias and misperception. The supposed impotence of the Canadian blogosphere is more fiction than fact, created mostly as a result of Canadian journalists looking inward at themselves and their own impact in the blogosphere rather than looking outward at the larger impact Canadian bloggers actually are having.

So that's the discussion I have been having over the weekend on two Canadian media sites, Azerbic and Canadian Journalist.

I began with the former, writing as follows:
You must have been talking to Norman Spector - he trotted out pretty much the same argument at Northern Voice, the Canadian blogging conference, last year in Vancouver.

But I'll ask here what I asked then:

- why is the measure of impact the breaking of a major political scandal?

My measure is somewhat different. My own blog (which, I might add, ranks a lot higher than the 'major' Caanadian blogs you cite above, at least according to blog measurement services like Technorati, Feedster and PubSub) is not dedicated toward tearing things down, but rather, toward shaping something new.

The Canadian blogs I read (most of which also rank higher than obscure blogs like Wells and Coyne) are doing the same.

We are having an impact. But we don't define impact the way you do.

- why is the measure of impact measured by impact within the mainstream media community?

Read this again: "many of the most talked-about bloggers in Canada are mainstream media types such as Wells, Coyne (even though he doesn't blog) and me."

Talked about by whom? By (of course) each other. But if you cast your net wider, you will find, I am sure, many more talked-about Canadian blogs.

It seems to me that this supposed 'meekness' of Canadian bloggers is more a product of the Canadian media establishment than of any particular trend in the Canadian blogosphere.

Certainly, I can understand why the Canadian media would simply assume that its own writers must be the most important Canadians in the blogosphere - after all, it does have that 'huge' (and, I might add, monopolistic) media platform from which to establish a readership.

And I can see, given that they rarely venture outside their own sphere, and given that they simply do not cover the Canadian blogosphere beyond their own acquaintances, why they might think that they really are the Canadian blogosphere.

And, of course, it is in their interests to do so. What newspaper wants to admit that there is an equally viable - if less scandal-ridden - voice in Canadian media?

The Canadian media doesn't talk about the Canadian blogosphere. That's hardly the blogosphere's fault - it tells us much more about the nature of canadian media than it does about the Canadian blogosphere.

Venture outside the closed little media circle. Look at Canadian blogs, maybe those listed in Blogs Canada, maybe those you find via Google. Look at the pages and pages of solid Canadian content out there.

Why - it's a huge story and Canadian media is just missing it. If you went out there with an open mind and the question "how much of the internet is being built by Canadians?" or "how much new thinking (social networks, web 2.0, semantic web) is being driven by Canadians?" your discoveries will astonish you.

The Canadian blogosphere has much much better things to do than to cater to the latest fake news scandal trotted out by corporate spokespeaople pretending to be journalists. We have a future to build.

You're welcome to join us, if you can spare the time from your day job.
And a few minutes later I posted to Canadian Journalist an abbreviated version:

I know that the Canadian media deems itself to be the measure of impact in the blogosphere. But in this, it is mistaken.

Canadian bloggers have better things to do than to break fake scandals in the media. We will leave the senseless sensationalism to those who do it best.

The Canadian blogosphere (at least, that part of it not comprised of paid apologists for political factions) is mostly ignored by the Canadian media (who cling to the fantasy that their own blogs are the most important in the Canadian blogosphere).

But the fact that Candian bloggers are not covered in Canadian media tells us more about the nature of Canadian media than it does about the Canadian blogosphere (which is alive and well, thank you).

The Canadian blogosphere will do what it does best: advance new ways of thinking, build the internet, foster dialogue, and connect with people around the world.
I got a one-liner in response on Azerbic, but a detailed response on Canadian Journalist (which I won't quote here; please follow the link), prompting my additional comment:
You wrote,
Well, I guess it all depends on which parts of the blogosphere one is talking about. Many Canadian bloggers, particularly of the political type, seem to crave MSM recognition.
That's kind of like saying many Canadians, particularly the politicians, seem to crave media recognition.

What does not follow from such a statement, however, is a strong generalization about Canadians. Sure, we'd like to be noted for our work. But coverage in the paper isn't what gets us out of bed in the morning. And it isn't what defines whether we had a good day, a good career, a good life.

In the same way, Canadian bloggers, and the blogging community in general, measure success differently. Minimally, 'success' in a blog is attacting readers, being linked to from other blocks, maintaining a voice in one's community - speaking, connecting, interacting.

You asked,
And what, pray tell, does it say about the media?
It tells us that Canadian media isn't interested in covering the blogosphere, much less understanding it, unless it is on terms set out by Canadian media, specifically, that Canadian media sets the agenda regarding what's important, that writers from Canadian media constitute the parts of the blogosphere worth covering, and that anything that would threaten or undermine the central role or interests of Canadian media is ignored.

You commented,
Which are all good things, but the purpose of the article -- and by extension, my post -- was to examine why the Canadian blogosphere hasn't produced a major story yet.
By 'major story' you no doubt mean 'story covered by Canadian media' as opposed to, say, 'story that is major'. Because there have been major stories in the Canadian blogosphere, and their lack of coverage in Canadian media does not make them less major.

Social networking and Web 2.0, for example, is a major story, and at the centre of Web 2.0 is Flickr, the company founded by and brought to prominance by the blogosphere. Maybe I'm missing something (and with most of Canadian media buried behind subscription or registration walls, it's pretty easy) but this whole Web 2.0 thing seems to have escaped Canadian media.

Or how about Bill C-60, which is the closest thing there is to front page news in Canada's blogosphere - see Google blogsearch - and aside from Michael Geist, is back page stuff in the traditional media - see Google news search.

Now I admit, neither of them is of the 'minister resigns in scandal' story, the sort of bread-and-circuses coverage of political affairs that keeps Canadian newsreaders distracted while the country is sold to corporate interests (one of which is represented by Canadian media).

You ask,
And while I'm at it, what is your basis for making this truculent statement? "... who cling to the fantasy that their own blogs are the most important in the Canadian blogosphere."
This: "many of the most talked-about bloggers in Canada are mainstream media types such as Wells, Coyne (even though he doesn't blog) and me."

And, in turn, the blogsphere rankings of those 'most talked about' blogs. Azerbic, 148 sites linking, ranked 11,766. Coyne, 354 sites, ranked too low to to rank. Wells, 251 sites, ranked 28,224.

As compared to, say, Canadian bloggers such as Tim Bray, 1,346 sites ,ranked 3,743. Or Dave Pollard, 924 sites, ranked 2,304. or Cory Doctorow, with 16,627 sites, ranked 107.

When is the last time we say Bray, Pollard or Doctorow (to name only three) in Canadian media?

My own view is that the Canadian media does not know, much less engage with, the blogosphere. It defines itself as something apart, walling itself off, defining its own agenda. That it would recognize a 'major story' unless it was in a press release, or at best, leaked by a player in the interminable Martin-Chretien faction feud. That it is owned by, and advances the interests of, its corporate ownership.
This drew another response (see the same link as before), prompting my third comment:
The core of your argument lies here:
I would say vast swaths of the Canadian news media don't have a clue about the blogosphere, but there is a longstanding problem of technophobia amongs journos. If the media does set its own agenda, why is that a problem? It should be driven by the blogosphere? Again, mini-blogospheres -- along with other online communities of interest -- tend to be organized around narrow topics. The journalist's role is to determine when that being discussed by the few is interesting and important to the many.
And let me even accept that as a premise.

Then it is my observation that what the journalists are determining to be important in the blogsophere is... themselves.

Your response characterizes other topics (ie., those not about journalists and their areas of interest) as 'technology', 'narrow topics', covered by 'mini-blogospheres'.

But the empirical evidence regarding what is important in the Canadian blogosphere suggests something different. That what people are reading, linking to and talking about is not what the journalists are talking about.

A subtext of your argument lies here:
It wasn't a strong generalization about Canadians. It was a comment about the section of the Canadian blogosphere I know best -- the political bloggers.
That may be, but the language you use doesn't support that. Consider how you started your article:
Canuck bloggers not breaking many stories... attempts to answer why Canuck bloggers haven't generated a shockwave of a scoop
These are statements about the 'Canadian blogosphere' and not some segment of it. That's why I interpreted them as such.

And that's why I reacted as I did - because it amounts to implying that the 'Canadian blogosphere' just is that segment that writes about political themes, and not least, Canadian media and its opinions.
So that's where it stands now.

The Canadian media interprets the blogosphere (and for that matter, most of everything else in Canada) through its own lens.

Part of this lens is directed toward protecting and enhancing its position as the unofficial 'official voice' of Canadians, telling us what we think is important. Which means, minimally, that the most important things Canadians must be reading are things written by - who else - the Canadian media. Things that are not a part of that constitute 'narrow topics', 'interest groups', and the like.

The other part of it is that the Canadian media is not a neutral observer. The rise of the web in general and the blogosphere in particular serves to undercut the management of the news that has characterized Canadian media for decades, a management that massages what we read in order to represent corporate interests in a favorable light, and popular interests as narrow' and 'trivial'.

1 comment:

I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.