What if the middle man disappeared? (Or picked his battles)

What if the middle man disappeared? (Or picked his battles)

How people get their news is changing, which changes how the news is made. I’m not sure anyone really knows where it’s going (and I’m sure I don’t). But here’s a path I wonder about sometimes, that Darren just reminded me of by mentioning “churnalism” — a derogatory term for practice of rewriting press releases and calling it news. To be clear, I’m not saying I hope this is where we’re heading, I’m musing out loud about something I find partly ominous. I also see it as a possibility if certain existing traits of the current news environment thrive and outcompete others. Follow your own news What if mainstream media organizations gave up on covering anything that came written well in a press release? As in, if there’s enough in the release that “churnalism” could be practiced, it just isn’t. The public would still get the information that’s available from the big institutional sources of news by signing up to those institution’s feeds. Instead of reporters tasked with checking whether there’s anything new from the Delta Police or Vancouver Coastal Health, the people who want to know what those bodies have to say pull the information in themselves. Aggregators would emerge (probably from the news media and elsewhere) to curate feeds for people who aren’t interested in doing that themselves. This is something we already see, a bit. Celebrities talking directly to fans via social media to bypass critical coverage. PR people with more followers than the reporters they pitch. What, role, then, would journalists play? One possible path (and my hope, in this thought-experiment) is that by curbing...
Canada’s beef-is-safe campaign, circa 2003

Canada’s beef-is-safe campaign, circa 2003

The main purpose of this post is to put up a neat graph from my Masters thesis project seven years ago, mostly because I want to refer to it elsewhere. Please read on for the backstory, or if you are interested in political rhetoric about science (or to see a pic of Jean Chretien gnawing on beef). My thesis was on risk communication, using mad cow disease as a case study. I looked at the language and sources used in news articles to discuss the safety of Canadian beef after Canada’s first mad cow was found in May 2003. I remember that day vividly. It was my first summer at CBC, and I was interning at Quirks & Quarks in Toronto. As soon as the news broke across the wires, producers from The Current in the next room were buzzing about what to put on tomorrow’s show. Quirks, a weekly show, was deciding what people would want to know by Saturday about it. As It Happens was also chasing experts on the topic. The name on everyone’s lips was Dr. Neil Cashman, a Canadian neuroscientist who specializes in prion diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. As the summer progressed, BSE remained a major national story, mostly because the U.S. had banned Canadian beef, leaving cattle producers without a major source of income. There was a huge SARS benefit concert in Toronto that summer, but I remember dubbing it “Beef-stock” because of the amount of Canadian beef promotion, including a city block-long aisle of BBQ. I wrote about it at the time: Veteran comedians...
First author, no comment

First author, no comment

Q: When is the lead author of a paper published in Science not allowed to comment on the subject? A: When she works for Canada’s federal government. In this case, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). It is not a new phenomenon that Canada’s federal scientists are prevented from talking about their taxpayer-funded work. Margaret Munro, the science reporter for Postmedia News, wrote a news story last year that pushed this practice into the public eye, prompting coverage by other media outlets (including the CBC), and an opinion piece in the journal Nature calling for change. From Munro’s story: The documents say the “new” rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply to not only to contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago. But, even if it’s not new, I still think its worth noting when it happens. In this case, the scientist was the first author of study on Fraser River sockeye that provides a new piece to the puzzle of their declining numbers. (CBC story.) Researchers took tissue samples from migrating sockeye salmon, and tagged the fish to see which ones survived to spawn. They found a pattern. The ones with a certain set of active genes were more likely to die before the spawning grounds. The researchers said it looked like the genes were responding to a viral infection — as in the fish that were dying had caught a virus out at sea. The journal’s embargoed release sent to media around the world told reporters to contact DFO communications to reach the lead and...
Enough for the new year

Enough for the new year

It seems fashionable to be talking about intentions rather than resolutions, and I’m not fully sure where these ones fit. But here’s a little of where I’m heading in the next year, and some blogs I’m finding inspiring on that front. While this isn’t about journalism or science, I am posting here because I do think these relate directly to living better with a smaller footprint. Have more space And by this I mean, have less stuff. There are a lot of reasons for this, here are two. I pay a substantial chunk of my income toward mortgage on my Vancouver home. It’s a condo, but of ample size, and I want it to feel ample to us. Does x piece of stuff really deserve a square foot in a housing market where each square foot runs $300 to $400? (As much as I like numbers, I don’t actually calculate each belonging’s owed rent, but it is a way to think about it.) The other reason is less practical, but just as important. When I’m travelling, I really enjoy how everything that makes it in the backpack really deserves to be there. (It fits, looks good, works, whatever.) I’m not going to reduce my belongings to a backpack, but I’d rather feel that way looking around my home. Lately, I’ve found Vancouver blogger Minimalist Mom inspiring on this topic, and I still think about some lessons learned from the Clean Bin Project people. Cook more We already cook, and eat out seldom, but I’d like to have less stress around getting home from work and wondering what’s for dinner…without...