Thursday, May 25, 2006

Harper and the NewsHawks

Stephen Harper is having another tiff with the Ottawa news establishment. Harper is a testy fellow and the supposedly level-headed advisors he keeps on his team don't seem to be able to rein him in and tell him when his arse is a star. The Conservatives would like to 'manage' the news, and only deal with reporters they like. They take this position so they won't have to answer any of those nasty questions they don't have satisfactory answers for.

I'd like the news types to be just as obnoxious, prying, irreverent and nosy as they can be. When they do this, they serve my interest and not the interest of the party in power. The Conservatives are starting to lose sight of the requirements of the job. They thought they had a clear view when they were in opposition, but now.... well now Stephen Harper has had a taste of the absolute power that has accumulated in the office of the Prime Minister of Canada over the years. Instead of divesting himself of some of the perks and tools gathered by previous Prime Ministers, he is starting to lay about him and smite those evil-doers, especially those nasty noos-hawks!

I'm not sure where the Harperites think Canadians are going to learn what the government is up to if he and his minions won't talk to the news types. I've got a flash for them, if the Conservatives keep it up, they just may piss the newsies off so much that they really buckle down and start doing their jobs - digging, measuring, counting, relating, analyzing and arriving at conclusions. It is only by speaking to the news people that the Conservatives get to put their colour on events. Ottawa leaks like a sieve and there isn't anything Stephen Harper can do to stop that. People talk because people love to talk. They do so dearly love relating secrets to admiring audiences, and the newsies are going to continue to milk out the gossip, innuendo and facts - it's just that the Harperites won't get to put their spin on the ball.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cliche Ranting

I'm not sure about the inner workings of camera angles, interview techniques and the like because I only experience them from the audience's point of view. Still, the cliches are a bit wearisome. CBC and CTV each have their own and some they share.

Whenever CBC wants to set up a First Nations story, they feature the sound of a bunch of guys sitting around banging a drum and chanting a song in some Indian language. Always the same guys, the same drum, the same song. It's been done so much it's as racist as some 1950s cartoon about Injuns. It's in their tape library and has obviously been digitized for easy addition to the front of each First Nations story.

Another cliche is the reporter's desperate insistence on embarrassing the protagonist of a story by calling them a 'hero'. Listen there cub reporters, if you find your line of questioning is making your interview subject very uncomfortable - why push it? It's bad manners and the audience doesn't like it any more than the victim.

If there is any chance to obtain a tear drop from a man, it's editorial gold isn't it? The camera will stay focused ten inches from the victim's face until the sheer pressure causes them to break down. "Tears! I got tears! This is gonna be a lead I tell ya - male tears!" It is demeaning to the victim and the technique is transparent to the audience. It also shows you don't give a rat's ass about the subject at all.

The audience can always tell when the subject of the story has been co-opted to 'sell' the story. The subject is shown doing something ultra important at their desk, or taking an important phone call, self-consciously not looking at the camera; or else they walk the same twenty feet outside their place of work or down the hallway, so the camera can establish the subject as a sympathetic figure for the audience. The self-conscious victim has obviously been told that despite the hackneyed nature of the shot, it will play well on the noooooz. They never know what to do with their hands it seems.

So much for technique. Recently there has been a downhill slide in erudition. Reporters are ignorant. Proudly, admittedly, unabashedly, unrepentantly ignorant. They now profess not to be able to pronounce common English words, and they totally mangle French pronunciations. "Southern" is not pronounced south-ern it's suthern. I E R endings in French are pronounced eeyay. A foyer is pronounced fwah-yay, not foy-er. A foy-er is what a Newfoundland fire department responds to. This is pretty basic stuff for a Canadian reporter. It's hard enough to get a spot on the roster, why would a news agency hire an ignoramus? Maybe they are doing it by design? I hope not.

A fisher is a small brown animal in the mustelid family, related to weasels and martins. Most CBC types have never actually seen one, so perhaps they could be forgiven for their confusion...
If the CBC wants to be the Canadian broadcaster, then they should reflect the values of all Canadians, not just the vegetarian, far-left, gun-hating, pacifist, politically correct intelligentsia. Consider this - your budget comes from the taxpayer, and if you annoy the taxpayers enough, they'll write their members of parliament, who don't like you anyway. Try just reporting the news instead of shaping public opinion.

So what about the CTV? CTV are so cheap they re-issue the same news multiple times in the course of two days. We hear a news article on the national news, then it's repeated on the local late evening news, then it's reported on the national morning news, and finally on the local noon news. Mostly it wasn't very good or newsy the first time. What makes it really an egregious offence is to then repeat the same damn performance six to eight months later, in the hope that the audience has forgotten the item.

Global TV are in there fighting for a spot between the two major broadcasters. To that end, their local news and weather coverage isn't bad at all, and they seem to leave the right-wing politics out of their news. Where they really shine is in covering local sports. Way to go guys.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not So Jolly Old England

"In the event of an emergency, peel and fry onions. It will not improve the situation, but it will smell good and those present will know that someone is in charge who knows what's important."

I wrote that on the cover page for my examination on Disaster Scenarios at the Senior Leadership Academy. It so enraged the examiners they graded my paper zero. It was a good paper, I thought.

I believe something is wrong in Great Britain. I stumbled over this news article by Philip Johnson of the Telegraph News. It links to the text of the bill. I googled, and found articles in Express and Star, BBC News and Guardian Unlimited, which are all UK-based news organs.

For those who don't want to read these news articles or the text of the Bill, it seems that the Labour government of Tony Blair, which has already gagged and emasculated the House of Lords are now about to pass this bill which is designed to enable members of Cabinet to "amend, repeal and replace" any legislation without a vote by parliament. This gem is called the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and it is supposedly drafted to enable cabinet ministers to fast track legislation in aid of businesses. It will apparently make Britain more agile in the business world. It allows members of cabinet to create new criminal offences. It allows the government to amend this bill. That's right, it's self-amending, so once passed, it can be amended to become anything the government wants.

This seems to be the Labour government's Enabling Act. It will certainly make the British government agile and effective, but how will this effect Britons? They are already one of the most spied upon nations, with surveillance cameras everywhere. They have extensive anti-terrorism legislation that confers extraordinary powers of search and seizure. They are about to bring in national identity cards. All these bits and pieces are troubling individually. Taken as a group, they turn Great Britain from one of the world's leaders, a bastion of freedom and light, into another totalitarian regime.

This legislation is being poorly covered by the news people. In Canada, it hasn't raised a ripple, and not much in Britain either. It is the job of the news to educate and inform the populace and they aren't doing that. The legislation title "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill" seems purposely boring. The British should be out in the streets. They should be writing their members of parliament with an avalanche of mail, but they aren't. This legislation has been around, moving slowly through parliament for a year. It should be a common subject of discussion, but it isn't. The Nooz isn't doing it's job.

In other nooz, Brittany Spears is still pregnant and Brigitte Bare-dot would like Canadians to be kinder to small fuzzy animals.

Generally, government shouldn't be too effective. They become dangerous if they're capable. Remember, if the government doesn't fear you, then you will fear the government.

Somebody should be peeling onions and warming up the frying pan.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


She's gone to her reward. You're purchasing a home. This car has been pre-enjoyed. You've all heard the terms. They are often used to disguise the truth, or to put things in a better light. They are semi-factual. That is, they bear a relation to the facts, as coloured by the seller.

I heard on the nooz the other day that they're closing down some hospital beds to save money. It's such a common expression I've head hospital staff say, "oh they're closing down a few beds".

No, they fuckin aren't!

Nobody is going to come by and remove a hospital bed, wheel it down the hall and put it away in a storage closet - and how would that save money if they did? Hospital beds are expensive pieces of equipment that cost as much as a used car. Sticking it somewhere where it's unavailable would be idiocy. When your granny needs a hip replacement, they tell you she can't have one and she'll have to go on the waiting list "until a bed becomes available". Huh? The wards are all still there. The floors are still all open. The beds, equipment and monitors are all still there. Sure, here and there you'll see a ward turned into office space, but mostly all the spaces, beds and equipment are still there, still waiting for granny. What's missing?

Ah, I see you there now. You've arrived at the obvious conclusion and are just waiting politely for me and my rhetoric to catch up. To close a bed is a euphemism for staff and service reduction. It means that instead of twenty-eight surgeons, there will only be twenty-seven. Instead of fifteen anesthetists, there will only be fourteen. Instead of sixteen lab technicians there will only be fifteen plus four hours of overtime. Instead of forty-two nurses, there will be forty. It means that instead of having enough staff and services to care for six hundred and ninety patients, they've reduced staff so that they can only take care of six hundred and eighty-eight patients. So, they've closed two beds. They have reduced staff and services to the point that two more people won't get cared for. When they call the floor and say, "hey, can you take another patient?", the nurse says no, not unless someone pays overtime. They don't have the staff. Granny can wait.

I suppose what I'd like the nooz geeks to do is once in a while, to spend a minute and explain the shorthand expressions such as "closing a bed". They should use the language to make the facts clear, not obfuscate them.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


These are my thoughts and I am responsible for them. Nothing about my education or experience equips me to snipe at the news and journalists except that I am, like you, an often disappointed consumer of the news. I listen to the radio, watch television, read professional journals, magazines and newspapers and I subscribe to e-mailed discussion lists. For instant, up to the minute news I tune in the radio or check out an internet source such as Google or Yahoo.

Journalism is one of the 'professions' and has a special place in western society. Journalists are accorded extra respect and often operate from a seat of privilege not available to non-journalists. They also have extra responsibilities....

Journalists should operate from a factual platform and they should report facts. They should spell and pronounce proper names correctly, be able to tell North from East and fish from fowl. For the most part, journalists should hold themselves apart from the politics and loyalties in events and report what they see and hear. This is not always possible and reporters are often co-opted by the news policies of the organizations they serve, but so far as is possible the journalist should be an observer and an honest reporter of events, not a participant.

I don't mean that journalists should be dispassionate machines. Sometimes they
must act, to save a life or prevent an injury. This is understood, and any journalist who opts to keep on filming and talking when they could save the life of a non-combatant, - should be beaten. Journalists don't operate from the same ethic as the zoologist, who refuses to interfere in the life and death of animals because 'it's nature's way'. They operate from within species boundaries and are therefore obligated to protect members of their own species when possible. It's a part of being human. There is one caveat. Once the journalist has acted, they become a participant, not a reporter, and they should stop reporting. It's over. Where did I get these rules and opinions? I made 'em up. If you don't like them, invent your own, or take a journalism degree. So let's face it, every journalist can't be IF Stone or Seymour Hersh - still they should merit being welcomed by parents as potential members of the family.

Television has changed everything about journalism, and now the internet is changing it again. The News is no longer. Now it's a caricature.

The Nooz.