So. Umm. Do you like. . . stuff?

Wow, slow news day.
Today’s post will be kind of short as a result, but tomorrow. . . Tomorrow I get to test out my new, bigger soapbox. If you haven’t gone to the Maisonneuve magazine website to sign up for Media Scout yet, DO IT NOW! Follow the link above, the signup link is on the left side of the page, below the magazine cover.
I’m not just whoring Media Scout because I’m going to be writing for it, it really is the premier media watchdog in this country.
So sign up now, I’ll wait. . .

Okay, here we go.

Look ma, no sources!
I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile and since today is a slow day, I’m going to do it now. The media’s fascination with Access to Information legislation seems to be growing, and with good reason. Getting access to internal government documents can equip journalists with a really valuable tool.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and too often, the documents become the story instead of supplementing it.
There’s an example of this in today’s Ottawa Citizen City section – David Pugliese’s story on National Defence’s quest for new office space. This story has been developing for awhile and the Citizen has done a good job of staying on it, so Pugliese’s story actually offers more context than the average ATI story, but it’s still indicative of the trend.
Pugliese leads with a DND report written in January 2004 that suggests Kanata as a prime location for the new DND HQ. However, he later contradicts this by citing another report obtained under ATI last week that said DND is looking for three main office locations, including one in Hull. That report was newer, so one could argue that it holds more sway than the Kanata report.
But in reality, both of these are just internal reports for consideration. The problem with Access requests is that the results are random memos and reports with no real explanation as to how they were received or processed.
Pugliese hints at this, when he quotes a DND source who says they are actually nowhere near deciding where to put the new HQ.
Too often, “reports” and “memos” are the only sources in these stories. The rush to get a scoop trumps the need to provide context and balance, and misleading or confusing stories are the result.

Tell me a story
I was at a media conference in Washington D.C. earlier this year, where Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie was one of the presenters. He made an interesting point about the reliance on familiar narratives in journalism. He used “designer drug” stories as an example, noting that pot, acid, e and now meth have all been reported on in the same manner, because the stories are easier to digest that way.
The coverage of the uprising in Uzbekistan reminds me of this same sort of thing. There you have two competing narratives and you can see the international press trying desperately to figure out if this is a Sri Lanka-esque Islamic uprising or a Georgian democratic revolution.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, but it’s easier to try and decide on an apt comparison.
The situation there is made worse by the fact that the Uzbek government has cracked down on foreign and independet media, so most reports are secondhand anyway.
It makes sense that journalists want to draw similarities to other events, such comparisons are a good way to help your reader understand what’s happening, but the media has a responsibility to ensure that they understand the situation themselves before trying to simplify it for readers.
Graeme Smith in the Globe does a great job underlining the complexity of the situation in his story today (filed from Moscow, oddly enough, I guess that’s as close as you can get these days). It’s here

That’s about it for today, though it’s worth noting that the Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias has started doing her own Media Blog. Thus far it seems to be focused more on U.S. television coverage of things, sprinkled with a few self-indulgent props to Star reporters and stories, but it’ll be interesting to see how a mainstream columnist takes on the Canadian media. You can bet some CanWest bashing isn’t too far off.


  1. speaking of “look ma, no sources,” Joe, what do you think of Newsweek’s recent ‘admission’ that they goofed on the whole story about American guards at Guantanamo Bay flushing a copy of the Qu’ran?

    i’m not a conspiracy-theory kind of guy — very often — but, really, who finds it surprising at all that no one in the Pentagon can confirm this politically damaging story? maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem a bit too convenient that this senior military officer can “no longer recall” or verify that story?

    worse yet, even if i’m overly-suspicious and the story was indeed false, its release led to riots in which 14 people were killed. Newsweek must have known how this story would be received by the Muslim world, and, if they didn’t, then they should really consider a new line of business. somehow, ‘we goofed’ or even ‘we sincerely regret…’ doesn’t make up for 14 deaths, and the thought that they might have jumped on this story without confirming it through other sources is mind-bogglingly irresponsible.

  2. Oh man, you know what’s awesome? The free market. It’s so free, and yet at the same time market-y.

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