We need more CBC and other “Shattered Mirror” Recommendations

Over the past 6 months I have contributed to a pretty important project which looks at the future of news in Canada. The end result is a report called The Shattered Mirror (no, not Black Mirror, my fellow Netflix-ers – like that, but actually not) published today by the Public Policy Forum. I am a Public Policy Forum Fellow and served as an adviser for this report.

There is a lot of information in this neat little 100 page goodie. So, here is my super speedy review from the digital perspective.

People like to consume news online. If someone is going to bother with civic journalism (and I hope they do!) they want to see it on their device. They want to know it is of high quality and they want to know it is up to date. We need this not just because there are some keeners who love them some politics, but because democracy depends on informed citizens. So, how do we make sure that happens? How do we make sure we’ve got a news media system that supports high quality civic journalism? Well, the report has a list of 12 recommendations but I want to focus in on a few that I think are particularly important for our digital new environment.

First, CBC needs love. The CBC is crucial to providing high quality civic journalism all across our big beautiful country. Recommendations 10, 11 and 12 are big players here. Let’s have a system where a CBC journalists’ main goal is to create awesome (I think informative and trustworthy and not fake are pretty awesome) content that matters to Canadians. Even if it is a relatively small group of them, you know, in small communities which exist all over this vast country of ours (read: number of eyeballs is not the most important metric of success). Beyond reaffirming inform as the imperative we should not have CBC clickbait. Replace advertising dollars so that we help digital grow in a way that is productive and useful. And, news content should (eventually) be accessible and usable by anyone but in particular small civic journalism shops/start ups such as non-profits. The recommendation is to use Creative Commons licensing (you’d have to say it was from CBC and not mash it up but you could make money from it, for example, by adding your own contextual info.). Together, these recommendations can help foster digital innovation while also ensuring there is a solid base layer of content that is trustworthy.

Second, research and innovation baby. I think digital innovation is a key way we solve problems like low quality content masquerading as accurate and getting lots of time at the top of timelines and search results (see my skillful avoidance of the term “fake news” there?). We need a fund to support digital innovation and that innovation should be able to respond to the needs of Canadians (which we can’t know without research!) – check out recommendations 5 and 9. Also, philanthropic organizations should be allowed to support civic journalism (Recommendation 3). There may not be huge amounts of cash but anyone who has ever tried to create a minimum viable product out in the start-up world knows that even a little can go a long way. And a little can help you make more.

Read the report here.

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Research Update 3: To the field!

I did it. This spring I went out and spoke to people. Real, actual, breathing human beings. In the flesh.

I am really interested in how people are (or are not) making use of social media tools in their everyday political lives. I am particularly interested in those politicos who can’t seem to get enough information about current affairs and always seem to be in the know – but – who are not professional political players. I am talking about opinion leaders. They are the ones always telling you about what the next important policy decision is, how Canada should be dealing with climate change, whether a gun registry is good or bad, etc..

So, this spring I left my cozy (read: overly hot and poorly ventilated) Oxford workspace and headed home. I traveled across Canada to speak to 23 opinion leaders from four different cities/areas: Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver/Victoria. Here are some things I learned:

  • Fieldwork is exhausting, possibly more exhausting than the other kind of work on fields I do (which is really saying something if you have ever played 80 minutes of rugby). I made the mistake of thinking, oh, my interviews should take about 1.5-2 hours, I’ll book off 2.25 hours and be fine. No. I needed 3 hours in the room and then a good long run (or Netflix marathon) to recuperate after each.
  • People like to tell stories, even when they have nothing to do with your questions. Some times these stories are really interesting. Some times you inadvertently find out that a person’s everyday political chat has been digital since the 80s and that your interviewee is part of a discussion group that transitioned from BBS to listserv to private Facebook group. Other times you learn a person recently lost their main weed supplier.
  • Prepare to be flexible. Times change right up to the last minute, technology fails right before you are about to start the interview, people just can’t wrap their head around what you are trying to get them to do – there are a lot of reasons to be very prepared for the interview to take a very different path than originally planned. Rather than an interview schedule and notes sheet I thought of the paper on my clipboard as a data container. The pages were partitioned according to the information I needed to gather so that if things went off track I knew exactly which holes I needed to go back and fill before time ran out.

With the interviews complete I am now diving into data analysis. I’ve got NVivo for Mac set up and the first of my interviews have been coded. The schedule is, of course, a bit of a mess at this point – but the initial themes are intriguing and everyday there is very tangible progress to be chronicled.

It is a very different feeling than days of familiarizing your self with the literature. It is exhilarating.

Interview Materials