A review of media highs and lows during 2007
Welcome to the second and final part of my first annual media Year in Review, a far-from-comprehensive summary of the good, bad and downright foolish in the local media scene. This list is based strictly on personal opinion, and visitors are welcome to chime in with their own views in the comments section. Happy new year!
Best Breaking Story:
Congrats to Michael Connors of The NTV Evening Newshour for breaking the Hebron MOU story. It is probably the most important news hit of the year, from an economic development point of view.
Deanne Fleet of CBC Here & Now is the runner-up in this category for her story on the mentally ill gentleman who was tasered by the RCMP because he refused to be taken to the Waterford Hospital. Is this how we bring our mentally ill under control'? Complicating the story was the fact that the gentleman had a heart condition and could have been killed by the taser assault.
Most Exciting New Reporters:
Three Way Tie
This one goes to Christina Marshall and Zach Goudie of CBC, and Jodi Cooke of NTV.
Most improved newscast:
Here & Now
They continue to lag away behind the NTV Evening Newshour in the ratings, but the folks at Here & Now have not been sitting on their thumbs. Much effort has been invested in improving the newscast, and I have come to appreciate the live spot news reporting. I have also noticed that all of the top stories do not air in the first 10 minutes. Instead, the show is divided into 15 minutes segments, and a big story is usually used to open each segment. Watch it to see what I mean. My prediction is that the newscast will gradually climb in the ratings, though it is going to take some time to pull even close to NTV.
There are some decent photographers working in this town, but the consistently best work comes from Paul Daly of The Independent. He has a great eye for composition, is adept at working with people and knows exactly when to grab the pivotal moment. An excellent collection of Daly's photographs was released during 2007 in a book by Boulder Publications.
Best Newspaper Design:
Paul Daly's photography isn't the only reason The Independent looks so good. Credit also goes to designers John Andrews and Sarah Hansen, who do stunning layouts and understand the importance of playing the photos big.
Best Political Speech:
In conceding the defeat of his party and the loss of his own seat, Opposition Leader Gerry Reid gave what was probably his best speech ever. It was passionate, honest and relaxed (for a change). If only he had been this good during the debate or the entire election, for that matter.
Best Investigative Piece:
On February 24, Rob Antle of The Telegram presented a stellar piece in which he exposed the whole sordid history of the Internal Economy Commission. It was a clearly-presented, easy-to-understand account of how the spending scandal evolved and was ultimately exposed.
Best Newspaper Column:
On November 9 and 16, Ivan Morgan wrote a two-part piece in The Independent about nearly going blind from cataracts, and the subsequent operation. It was brilliant Proof that the best writing is borne of personal experience, and usually traumatic experience at that. He should submit this work for some awards. It will win.
Biggest Media Myth:
Elections are not about ideas or policies
Right after the 2007 provincial election, CBC reporter David Cochrane said the following on the Crosstalk radio program:
"A lot of people talk about elections being about ideas and policies and the reality is, it isn't. You've got the four-year gap between elections and that's when everyone talks about their policies and ideas. The 21 or whatever days of the campaign is about working the phones, finding out who may vote for you, identifying them and then getting them out on voting day. It is a mechanical exercise with the air war of the leaders traveling around to give you a little bit of a bounce. But it's an operational exercise more than a philosophical exercise."
I wrote an item about this which generated a lot of intelligent comment, and some readers agreed with Cochrane's thinking.
I chewed on Cochrane's argument for a while, but just couldn't swallow it. If elections are not about ideas, issues and policies, it is because reporters allow that to happen. If you are a party worker, then the campaign is indeed about working the phones and identifying the vote. But why should a reporter adopt this line of thinking?
During elections, people listen to the news with a heightened sense of interest, and they are extremely interested in issues. They are about to elect a new government, after all. They have an expectation and a right to hear about issues and ideas, not superficial coverage from the election bus.
I am unwavering on this point and will raise it again in the months ahead.
UPDATE: David Cochrane sent me a reminder that he added a clarification to the original blog post referenced above. In fairness, I will include it here:
"As a quick point of clarification Geoff . . . I wasn't saying what election campaigns SHOULD be. I was saying what they are.
"As the old saying goes, amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logisitcs. That is what elections are for the parties seeking office. It is not a three-week window to debate ideas. It is a three week window to identify potential supporters and find a way to get them to their local polling station.
"That is what I was referring to. Elections are not a clash of ideas. They are a clash of political machines."
Biggest Missed Story:
Spending by District
Perhaps as a consequence of the above-stated way of thinking, one of the more significant stories during the provincial election went completely unreported in the mainstream media. When PC candidate Dennis Normore told voters that they would lose out if they didn't elect someone to sit on the government side, Danny Williams chastised Normore and said he wouldn't stand for such threats.
"There's not a question of any district paying at all for not being a government seat," he said, and later: "It hasn't been the pattern or the policy of this government to punish districts."
This would have been a great time for reporters to get off the campaign bus and do a bit of research. Those who had would have caught Williams in a big lie. Inexplicably, none did. However, blogger Wallace McLean (who works with the federal Liberals) did some number crunching by sifting through the provincial government website and extracting figures from announcements under the Provincial Roads Improvement Program.
The graphic below, for the year 2006, pretty much sets the pattern for roads spending since Williams came to power. Go to McLean's Labradore blog to view the rest.
I am not suggesting that the Liberals were innocent of similar favoritism when they were in power (this might be worth some research as well). Nor have I double-checked McLean's numbers (though he does claim to have sources listed for each of his data points). What I am saying is, an important topic the punishment of districts for the way they vote was raised by a Tory candidate, the premier subsequently denied it, but there was no follow-up.
Top three hosts:
John Furlong, Randy Simms and Krysta Rudofsky
Several years ago, I wrote that John Murphy was the best host of the Fisheries Broadcast since Jim Wellman. Murphy, now retired, has been supplanted by John Furlong, who has impressed me with his willingness to ask the tough questions that must be addressed if the fishery is to survive. I also like his wry sense of humour. If you listen to the Broadcast, you will know what I mean.
As the mayor of Mount Pearl and the host of Open Line, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Randy Simms to preside objectively over a range of issues, from snow clearing to municipal budgets to amalgamation to ticketing householders. However, he is pulling it off, perhaps because his role is to be more provocative than objective. Some might think he is in a conflict but, as long as his other interests are disclosed, I have no real problem with it. Cases like this where the perceived conflict is not financial should be judged on a case by case basis. Yes, a city mayor hosting an open line show is a situation open to abuse, but thus far I haven't heard any such abuse from Simms. He doesn't push any overt agenda, is not afraid to play devil's advocate against callers he may actually agree with and most importantly is highly entertaining. Bottom line: I think it safe to say that Simms is his own man'.
As the host of CBC's Living NL, Krysta Rudofsky positively shines. She has a strong TV persona, looks great on camera and seems to have a bottomless well of energy (it isn't easy to host a 30-minute show every day). She is still evolving in her role as the weatherperson on Here & Now (as if she wasn't busy enough) but has the potential to excel in this role as well.
Best Arts/Entertainment Publication:
There's a lot of competition in this category, but I've got to give it to The Scope for figuring out who their audience is, then delivering exactly what they want to read. This publication is just over a year old, but has already built a loyal base of readers and advertisers. More on The Scope in 2008 (plus an update on how Current is doing).
Best Political Commentator:
Craig Westcott needs no introduction to anyone who is tuned in' to local media. His weekly commentaries on CBC Radio, along with his editorials in The Business Post, are always brutally frank and highly entertaining. Westcott's caustic opinions have not won him many friends in the corridors of power, as you can see in this post.
Best Media Web Site:
I intend to write a full blogpost in the near future, in which I write reviews of all the local media web sites. That's when I'll announce my favorites.