Monday, October 26, 2009

No TV is fine, but what’s the price of milk?

It was amusing last week to watch the broadcast media jump all over Stephen Harper’s admission that he doesn’t watch Canadian news. They’ll gloss over stories such as mixed-messages on our post Afghanistan military presence or the government’s penchant for secrecy, but suggest that the PM doesn’t idolize Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson and they’re on it like a dog with a bone.

The fact is, and I rarely say this, but I’m actually with Harper on this one. I don’t watch Canadian news that much either. Rarely will I tune in to CBC’s The National, and I’ve never really watched CTV’s flagship broadcast. Every once and awhile I’ll flip on the local supper-hour news on CFTO, but usually it’s as background white noise as I do something else. And I’ve long since, with rare exception, foresworn the assorted political nerdfest shows (although for curiosity’s sake I’ll need to check out Evan Solomon’s new one). Party hacks shouting talking points (we’ll leave the irony unsaid) just doesn’t do it for me, being neither entertaining nor particularly informative.

That’s not to say I’m not informed on what’s going on in the land. I get a daily clippings package of stories of national and political interest, which I cull even further before reading. And with the Web, with Twitter and Facebook, I’m pointed to the stories that are of interest to me, saving me from having to sift through the stories I don’t want.

This is actually the news dissemination model of the future, and it’s a model mainstream media has had difficulty adjusting to: hyper-personal. People are still consuming news. But they’re consuming it differently, and through different sources. They’re getting it through aggregates and readers that just give them the news they’re interested in. The mainstream media is still the source, and that won’t change, but the way we access it has. Gone is the one-size fits all, here’s everything model. Media companies need to figure-out how to market that hyper-personal market to advertisers. The potential is there, and it is attractive for advertisers to be able to target specific groups, ie. political nerds, or Nascar fans. They just need to adjust their sales strategies.

Back to me and Harper, however. There is one rather serious drawback to this new model of news consumption that we’re engaging in (I’m assuming he is still getting Canadian news through some source or another, fingers crossed). By only getting the news we’re specifically interested in we’re missing out on quite a lot that, were we exposed to it, we would be interested in. We risk creation a generation of less informed, broadly-interested people.

Pick up the newspaper and skim the headlines and, while you won’t read it all, you’re bound to find a few stories that you wouldn’t have normally read but that you find enlightening and fascinating, exposing you to ideas and viewpoints you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Flying back from New York last week, having already watched the three episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Air Canada’s video on demand system, I watched a compilation of documentary reports from CBC’s The National. One was a day in the life of the Chief of Defence Staff, the other a piece on diamond mining in Zimbabwe. Both were very interesting, and both wouldn’t have hit my radar normally.

So, there are drawbacks to the fact Harper and I don’t watch much Canadian news. And while for me its an interesting philosophical conundrum, I’m a bit more concerned about what it means for the Prime Minister of Canada. For someone who has made so much about the fact Michael Ignatieff spent much of his professional career overseas, I wonder what his viewing habits say about Harper’s connection to what’s happening out there in Canada. For a PM particularly, your exposure to everyday life is minimal. The PMO is another bubble within the Ottawa bubble. You need to make a conscious effort to peer outside it.

So while the Canadian news is tedious, maybe giving a little time to Mansbridge every now and again would be a good idea for both of us. Perhaps the broadcast media could meet us half-way, and try to focus less on superficiality and pap. And no, making Peter deliver the news standing doesn’t help.

On a side note, it was disturbing that Harper said he watches American news instead. That seems to indicate his issue isn’t necessarily with broadcast news, but with the news of Canada. Hardly an encouraging attitude for a Prime Minister and it doesn’t speak well to his perspective and view of the country.

However, it may explain his unending focus on crime policy. If I watched no news but that out of Buffalo, I’d be scared for my life as well.

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Anonymous said...

I don't know if Mr.Harper really doesn't watch Canadian news. But I'm sure that he knows more what is going in our country than you and I watching the news on a nightly base.

Reid said...

Good blog post. The PM, regardless of Party affiliation, should not be getting his/her news from the media. I want my PM getting the news from internal government sources that are, hopefully, more accurate, and sans spin, than the MSM.

Loraine Lamontagne said...

Maybe he watches US news hoping he'll see himself on a broadcast. After all, why does he invest Canadian taxpayers' money to appear on TV news shows?

But I'm with you and Harper: I don't watch Canadian news - but I don't watch US news either. I prefer newspapers and magazines and the web.

Jeff said...

My point is about the diversity of news that he's exposed to.

I'm sure he gets the clipping package, and I'm sure his staff briefs him on the news of the day. But there are filters on each, and the topics are going to be narrowly confined to national political news that (his staff thinks) he needs to know... Read more. And while good staff wouldn't do this, it would be unsurprising if they didn't bring up stories he wouldn't like.

He has an obligation to break out of the bubble and get news from as many sources as possible, and be exposed to as many voices as possible. To learn that he is deliberately walling himself off is concerning.

Anonymous said...

Like I said sir I'm not sure if he listens or not to Canadian news. But it sounds a little bit when hockey players say that they don't read the papers,cause they don't want to see whats written about them.

But when you're the PM you become the news.For the majority of Canadians their days are from 8 am to 5pm and weekends and holidays off. He probably has countless meetings across the country and no doubt knows more what is going on in the country more so than some watching news. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it;)

rockfish said...

Why would he watch Canwest global, Rogers or read the Sun stuff? They're all bought and paid for, and what they're talking about tonight came from his talking points this morning. That's what it's like to have the new bottomless Can-Debt card. Fully covered by taxpayers, invested in the next crop of five-year olds who'll be paying for it and Harper's other sins until they hit middle age. Any day's a good day for a fly-down to Fox if he wants to bask in his own reflective glow...

lyrical said...

I guess the PM knows it's safe to watch American news channels - they rarely cover Canada.

TV, and local news in particular, still reaches the biggest audience. You probably know that for an electoral candidate, a TV ad is a better bang for your buck albeit the airtime is much more expensive than radio.

Even though that airtime is bought, mainstream TV outlets are often molded by the dictates of their ownership. This can lead to manipulation.

As for Twitter, it makes me jitter.