Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Liberal Party is foolishly retreating from social media and blogging

I was disappointed to learn several weeks ago that the Liberal Party of Canada is retreating from its position as one of the early leaders in Canada in recognizing the importance of blogging, social media and citizen journalism to open and fair political debate.

The uproar and bad publicity that ensued when the news broke publicly that the party will not offer media accreditation to bloggers at its upcoming biennial convention was predictable and entirely avoidable, and sends a horrible signal for a party that supposedly hopes to usher in a new era of openness and transparency, beginning with this conference in January.

Liberals an early pioneer

I think some background is on order, because this short-sighted decision by the Liberal Party is all the sadder given our role as an early pioneer in this space. To my knowledge, the LPC was the first major Canadian political party to accredit bloggers to a convention at its 2006 leadership convention, thanks to the efforts of then LPC staffer Tait Simpson and others within the party.

A number of Liberal bloggers, including myself, were issued media accreditation and traveled to Montreal (at our own expense) to cover what (for me at least, as a Stephane Dion supporter) was a pretty remarkable weekend. And it wasn’t just Liberal bloggers. Conservatives such as Stephen Taylor and Tasha Kheiriddin were accredited, as were non-partisans such as Scott Tribe. Scott would later join the Liberal Party, due in part to his experience that weekend.

The blogger accreditation experience was repeated at the 2009 convention in Vancouver. I attended that one as a paying delegate (I wanted to vote for one member, one vote) but a number of Liberal bloggers were issued blogger/media accreditation, as were non-Liberals, such as (usually NDP supportive) blogger John Baglow, aka Dr. Dawg. Bloggers were also accredited to the Canada at 150 policy weekend in Montreal.

The Conservatives followed-up on this successful experience by offering blogger accreditation to their last two conventions, an offer I took them up on earlier this year. I don’t know if the NDP has a similar policy (Halifax was a little far for me to go) but I’d be surprised if they didn’t, and I hope to find out when their leadership convention happens next year.

What is blogger accreditation?

Obviously, you can’t just walk into a political convention and start blogging. You need some form of credentials. You need to be an elected delegate, ex-officio delegate or observer, all three categories which require payment of up to $1100. The other way to attend is a member of the press which, naturally, involves no cost. Organizations generally want people to report on their events. Media generally get a lower level of access (some sessions and events may be off limits), and access to filing facilities and space in the keynote hall to cover the event. Think the press box at a sporting event.

There are different ways to handle blogger accreditation. The simplest is just to issue media credentials. But some parties like to keep bloggers and media separate. At past events the Liberals had a separate filing room for bloggers, and gave WiFi access to bloggers that (I believe) wasn’t provided to media.

I attended the Conservative convention in Ottawa this summer as a blogger, and there it was a little simpler, with no division from the regular media. I shared their filing room and keynote riser, and paid (the convention centre) for WiFi access as they did (or didn’t if they didn’t want to).

Basically, blogger accreditation gets you in the door. Additional support may be offered, but at its basic level that’s all that is expected and required, besides maybe a power bar here or there.

The Liberal position, and why it’s wrong

I learned a few weeks ago the party was retreating from their previous policy and would not be offering media accreditation to bloggers in January. Their position is as follows: we’ll grant you media accreditation if you have ties to traditional media. For example, I could attempt to make a case based on my occasional scribbling for Macleans and the National Post. Otherwise, you need to be either a paying delegate or observer. The observer fee, by the way, is $1100.

Now, this isn’t a huge issue for me personally as I’ve already decided to attend as a delegate. I want voting rights because there are a number of important issues to be decided (ie. No to primaries). Also, the party has said they will provide some support to bloggers that get their foot in the door, offering a dedicated riser in the keynote hall, for example.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a foolish decision. For a party that prides itself on its openness -- we spent half of the last campaign bragging about how open we are and how closed Conservative campaign events are -- its simply baffling. We should want people to attend and write about our discussions, be they Liberal bloggers or bloggers of any stripe.

Why are they ending blogger accreditation? I can only speculate. I believe part of it is money, but that’s foolish. First of all, admitting bloggers isn’t an out of pocket expense for the party. We don’t need a filing room or a supply of soft drinks, just let us in the door and maybe give us a table and chairs at the back of the hall. You could argue lost revenue, but let’s be serious. No independent or third-party blogger is going to pay $1100 to come to our little conference, so you were never getting that revenue anyway. Maybe a few Liberals would opt to go the free blogger route instead of being a paying delegate, but with delegate fees at $400 for Victory Fund members you’re talking a few grand in foregone revenue at the most. Is that really worth the bad publicity we’re getting?

Another excuse I’ve heard is that they could be inundated with a flood of bloggers seeking to cover the conference. First of all, so what? I’d think more coverage would be a good thing. Second, I doubt it. Maybe 10 were accredited in 2006, and probably a little less in 2009. I was the only non-Conservative blogger I know of accredited to their convention this year; if there were Conservative non-delegate bloggers they (unsurprisingly) weren’t hanging-out in the press area.

And third, that’s a simple enough issue to deal with. Put a cap on the number of bloggers you can accommodate and set up an application process. The Conservatives, for example, asked me about my posting frequency and traffic statistics. Screening of this sort is normal and expected; it’s part of the job of a media relations staffer. “It’s too hard” is frankly a pretty weak cop-out for not doing what should be a basic part of the job.

Sending the entirely wrong message

Blogging and social media are increasingly recognized as part of the political debate. More and more people are supplementing their news intake by reading bloggers across the spectrum that write in shared areas of interest. In a fragmented media world, social media is another important way to get your message out, which is why it has been embraced by all the parties.

That’s why it’s foolish for the Liberals to retrench and turn their backs on social media, whatever the reason. The fact that the Conservatives are now more open and accessible on this front should give every serious-minded Liberal pause, if they can take their partisan blinders off for five minutes. Myself and other Liberal bloggers, most of whom it should be noted are paying delegates, tried to overturn this policy weeks ago. Our arguments, and warnings of the inevitable fallout, fell on deaf ears.

If all this talk of building an open and accessible party is real and not just empty platitudes, the Liberal Party should either put up or shut up. Our doors are either open, or they’re not.

UPDATE: Now that he has blogged on it, I can say that it was Steve V that first learned of this policy shift. He has now shared his thoughts.

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Jennifer Smith said...

This is extremely disappointing. I used to work with Garth Turner, and for all his many (many) flaws, he was a true champion of the blogger. I'll never forget the Dion event Garth arranged in Halton where they not only accepted bloggers but treated us better than even the traditional media. We got our own room, and they actually gave us 15-20 minutes exclusive access to Dion to ask him questions before the big speech. Amazing.

Anyway, I certainly hope the Liberals aren't trying to emulate the Conservatives with their iron grip on message control, hoping their success will somehow rub off. If we end up beating them by becoming just like them, I want no part of it.

Kirbycairo said...

I have a fear that Jennifer's concern is exactly what is going on. The Liberals taught the Conservatives to abuse the system, and now the student is becoming the teacher, showing them not to bother with an atmosphere of openness and that the more you more you control the system the better off you will be.

It is deeply disappointing. I hate conservatives but I naively thought when they came to power they would actually be more open and accountable (and naivety is not something of which I am normally accused). Now I think I have naively believed that the Liberals, pushed to the wall, would look to genuine reforms for an improvement in the political culture. I suspect that I am wrong, and the Liberals are going to go in the exact opposite direction. And if Mulcair wins the NDP leadership, I suspect things will go the same in that neighbourhood.


Anonymous said...

Canada is now a fascist, dictatorship regime, the next to go will be the internet. Harper hates it when, all his dirty tactics and lies are made public.

Dictators by personality, are paranoid and must control absolutely everything they can get their hands on. Even the Canadian Wheat Board.

The media is Harper's propaganda machine. Canada has become, a cesspool of corruption, because of Harper. He is the worst, most evil P.M....in Canadian history.

Gordon Campbell is Harper's favorite henchman. Campbell was supposed to be Liberal. However, he works for Harper. Between that pair of monsters, they totally destroyed BC. Pity, Campbell didn't come back to BC, to pick up his OBC. He missed our welcome party we had planned for him.

So Harper's and his Conservatives dirty tactics, and the thieving of our tax dollars. He certainly is losing ground.

Herr Harper's negligence towards the F.N. People all across Canada, he should be forced to resign. That tiny wee F.N. baby girl died from pure negligence of Harper's health care for the F.N. Harper has not one saving grace, he is pure evil.

The Liberals being candy asses and not standing up to Harper, are absolutely useless. However, in BC the Liberals are actually Conservatives. Perhaps that's why the Federal Liberals are siding with the Federal Conservatives.

I am waiting to see, how the NDP will fare. I will move over to them, or to an independent.

Shame on the Federal Liberals, for stooping to Harper and his Conservatives level.

Gyor said...

I have seen no hint of that with Mulcair, do you have anything to back that up?

Kirbycairo said...

No hard evidence, Gyor. That is why I said "I suspect." My impression of him is that hee is a rather abrasive, hyper-partisan type of guy. He doesn't seem like much of a bridge-builder. (But that is only my impression and others may have a different impression) And the roots of Harper's evil and the Liberals failure has been, in large part, an overly partisan point of view.

JimBobby said...

Still no reversal (or "clarification")? Sheesh! I guess "renewal" has a different meaning at LPC headquarters than amongst the gen pop. Sort of like the CPC has redefined accountability, honesty & transparency. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

JimBobby said...


Cherniak tweets that bloggers can now apply for accreditation.

Jeff said...


Jason didn't read the fine-print. I don't see a policy change at all. Here's a link: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=b71b47a81da6e7d67dc2f2074&id=84e8cfb957&e=385daf5b13

Jeff said...

And here's a link that may actually work: http://bit.ly/t5A37b

JimBobby said...

Yeah... you're right. They're not allowing independent journos or bloggers w/o a MSM backer. In other words, they're still dumbasses.

Austin said...

I don't understand...

From my POV, why would you want any yahoo to come by and misrepresent what is going on and distract from the focus of the convention? Does anyone truly believe that in this politicized climate, that dissemination of false information is not going to be used as a weapon?

You want to have accredited bloggers because you want to ensure they actually have some credentials aside from being armchair critics, don't you? It also means they are culpable for whatever they write.

It doesn't stop anyone from blogging as members or delegates, does it?

This is being spun out of control and you guys are being caught up in it.

Please explain.

Jeff said...

Hi Austin,

I'm arguing in favour of a system of accreditation, not admitting everyone with a Livejournal or MySpace pace.

At the past two Liberal conventions, bloggers were accredited under a screening system, with a cap on the number that could be accredited, with applicants evaluated based on criteria such as posting frequency, coverage area, traffic, seriousness, and so on.

This was the system used previously, and used by other parties for their conventions (I was accredited to the Conservative convention, for example) and it worked well. Each time it was a positive experience that got the word out about the events to a wider audience.

The party has chosen to abandon that accreditation system for this convention, for reasons on which I can only speculate.

Austin said...

Hi Jeff,

The question in my mind then is for those who choose to attend the convention as a non-member or a non-delegate, what is the underlying motivation? Hell, they could even pretend to go as a member and avoid the $1100 fee.

If people have media accreditation, then it seems to me that they must possess some level of impartiality, a level of "journalism" that is recognized by a professional organization, and it doesn't matter which one it may be and where the political stripes lie.

The rest? If they are unaffiliated professionals, then it seems that they should in principle be able to write off the $1100 price tag. Otherwise it is a filter for armchair critics. Besides, I'm sure there are enough CPC blogger shills who are earning enough money to attend these things if they so wanted. And I'm sure they can contact the mother ship to get these fees paid for on their behalf.

Unfortunately, the honest bloggers are the ones left out.

But you know what? I think people like you are a rarity. And again, given the Orwellian climate created by the CPC, such things are important to consider.

Just my humble opinion.

kcm said...

While i support your call for better access Jeff, it is not the only issue of fairness and accountability that needs addressing at this convention.
You've stated you're going as a delegate specifically to vote against primaries. I can't afford to go, yet i get no say. Why not allow OMOV to rule here. No offense but you don't rep me as a delegate. Apologies if you have addressed this issue elsewhere.
Ken Cunningham

kcm said...

While i support your call for better access Jeff, it is not the only issue of fairness and accountability that needs addressing at this convention.
You've stated you're going as a delegate specifically to vote against primaries. I can't afford to go, yet i get no say. Why not allow OMOV to rule here. No offense but you don't rep me as a delegate. Apologies if you have addressed this issue elsewhere.
Ken Cunningham

Jeff said...


I think these are two separate issues, and both of then are important. I agree with the unfairness of the delegated system. That's one reason why I also went as a paying delegate, and not a free blogger, to the Vancouver convention: I wanted to be able to vote for the one member, one vote leadership system. A great system that I'd like to give a try for the next leadership, I digress. I would like to see the same weighted OMOV system extended to cover constitutional reforms as well. Unfortunately, that's not on the agenda at the moment. I believe there will be an amendment voted on in Ottawa though to expand OMOV to future policy resolutions and elections for party office (president, membership secretary, policy chair, etc.) Not sure why the proposal doesn't include constitutional reforms too. Perhaps that can be amended. But we're moving in the right direction, I believe.


I don't think someone could pretend to be a member and avoid the $1100. The only way to pay less (if you're not media) is to be an elected delegate. Otherwise, even non-member delegates pay the $1100 if they want to go.

On the wider issue, it's always been a handful of bloggers only that were accredited at past conventions. It's really a small issue in terms of people. What worries me more is the message about inclusivity, and about citizen journalism, that this policy sends.