Campaign video wars begin

Mike Duffy appears in a campaign-style video, personalized and emailed to prospective supporters.
Conservative Senator Mike Duffy appears in a campaign-style video, personalized and emailed to prospective supporters.

In mid-September, I found a message from the Conservative Party of Canada in my email inbox. The sender was identified as “Mike Duffy” — yes, that one. The subject line — “Let’s talk about moving Canada forward” — was followed by a brief text message that introduced a personalized video extolling the virtues of Stephen Harper’s government and asking for my participation in determining its new priorities.

I first met Duffy in June of 1974, when he was one of the “boys on the bus,” covering the campaign that produced Pierre Trudeau’s third mandate. Over the intervening years, I’ve seen him at work at various political conventions and on other campaign trails. But we’ve rarely spoken and I’d be shocked if he actually remembered me. So when the former TV journalist-cum-senator looks into the camera and says “Hey Larry, it’s the old Duff,” I credit the sophisticated production prowess and messaging capability of the Conservative Party, rather than the TV host-cum-senator-cum pitchman’s memory.

All politics aside, the federal Conservatives have become masters of new communication tools. This is not a new development; they’ve long been extremely media savvy. I recall covering Reform party events in the 1990s in which party organizers (and those they hired) proved themselves to be technology wizards in deploying the latest big screens and high-tech gadgets to assist in the business of their meetings and conventions. The same was true as the party morphed into the Canadian Alliance and then the Conservative Party of Canada. The Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, by comparison, just didn’t operate at the same level of sophistication when it came to use of technology.

I suspect the difference is a function of two factors: the money the Tories have been able to amass through donations, and the armies of technology sophisticates the party attracts through its centre-right ties to business.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff spent part of the past summer recording his own video messages (with production values considerably higher than the disastrous video message to Canadians by Stéphane Dion late last fall). Ignatieff’s spots are already on the air, with the Liberals seemingly determined to force a general election yet this fall.

Leave it to national CBC funnyman Rick Mercer to provide an “outtake” (below) of one of the Ignatieff TV spots.

The Taliban, the Globe and the Emmy

Less than a generation ago, Canadian newspapers considered the National Newspaper Awards, sponsored by the Canadian Newspaper Association, to be the holy grail of peer recognition for outstanding journalism. Sure, there were the annual Michener Awards for meritorious public service journalism and Canadians occasionally won Pulitzer Prizes (winners include the likes of novelists Ernest Hemingway, Carol Shields and news photographer Paul Watson). But the NNAs were the mainstay of year-to-year bragging rights when it came to public and industry recognition of significant journalistic accomplishment. In some respects, they still are.

Reporter Graeme Smith introduces the Talking to the Taliban series on the Globe and Mail's website.
Reporter Graeme Smith introduces the Talking to the Taliban series on the Globe and Mail's website.

The Globe and Mail, however, has raised the bar once again. Last night’s win at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards is an extraordinary accomplishment for reporter Graeme Smith, multimedia producer Jayson Taylor and interactive designer Chris Manza. The Emmy recognizes the Globe’s landmark Talking to the Taliban project in the category of New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming: Current News Coverage. Talking to the Taliban had already won an Online Journalism Award for best investigative piece by a large website, an Editor and Publisher (“EPpy”) online journalism award, and an NNA in the best multimedia feature category.

The Globe beat out entries from the New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters for the Emmy honour; the award was accepted at New York’s Lincoln Center ceremony by Smith, who expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to work for a Canadian news organization that could compete with the world’s best.

In winning the Emmy — an award most widely known as one that honours television arts and sciences — the Globe has emphatically underscored the reality of what used to be called “convergence” in days when the notion of legacy media delivering information through a variety of platforms was considered novel or prescient.

The Globe’s story on its Emmy honour is here; it properly acknowledges the work of a large team of journalists in bringing the project to fruition, including foreign editor Stephen Northfield. One name notably absent from the list of contributors is that of Christine Diemert, the former managing editor of who was sent packing earlier this year and who fairly quickly found work at Diemert put hundreds of hours into the Taliban project, and no doubt is taking some quiet personal satisfaction in the accomplishment.

Update: The Waterloo Region Record followed up with its own story on Sept. 23. Smith is a native of New Hamburg, Ont.

Ontario Morning visits London

Ontario Morning host Wei Chen interviews a guest during the show's visit to London.
Ontario Morning host Wei Chen interviews a guest during the show's visit to London.

CBC Radio’s regional morning show Ontario Morning made a rare field trip to London this morning, escaping the confines of the studios at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto to get out among its listeners. The occasion: this year’s Doors Open London, a weekend of opportunity for those interested in seeing behind the doors and walls of some of the city’s most interesting edifices.

I’ve been a stalwart Ontario Morning listener for many years, because I believe the program does what more media organizations should be doing: journalling the distinctive cultural and political landscape that is Ontario, beyond the shortsighted vistas of Greater Toronto.

I had this discussion several times (to no avail) with editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon when I was a page editor on the night news desk at The Globe and Mail. The Globe, which possesses the capacity to produce up to 10 distinct editions across the country each day, is content to distribute its GTA edition, printed in Mississauga and containing the early Toronto pages, to subscribers from Guelph to Kitchener-Waterloo, through to London and on to Windsor. As a result, readers in those cities get basically the same content, usually consisting of two pages midway through the paper’s A section, as do readers in the GTA — columns and stories derived from the (mostly) Toronto police, politics, education and urban culture beats. With minimal effort, I told Greenspon, those pages — in the Ontario region beyond the GTA — could be converted to “Ontario” pages that would gather in the most important developments of the day from the great rural-urban mix from Windsor to Guelph. It’s home to more people than live in all of Atlantic Canada, billions of dollars in annual research budgets, and a key piston in the country’s economic engine. Alas, I never did manage to sell him on the idea.

Unfortunately, the CBC gives residents of Southwestern Ontario similar treatment in the late afternoon, when it sends the signal of its Toronto-centric Here And Now, hosted by Matt Galloway, to transmitters through the region. Some of the discussion on that program is all but irrelevent to anyone beyond the sightlines from the CN Tower’s observation deck.

All of which makes Ontario Morning, with its strong provincial emphasis and regional correspondents, a unique and valuable pleasure.

Kudos to Globe for North Korea series

Inside a North Korean train car, shot by Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail. Gallagher is a freelancer based in China.
Inside a North Korean train car, shot by Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail. Gallagher is a freelancer based in China.

I’m finding the current series of articles, diary entries, photographs and video clips by Globe and Mail foreign correspondent Mark MacKinnon and freelance photographer Sean Gallagher on life in North Korea absolutely fascinating. It’s undercover reporting at its finest — illuminating, revealing, well-written and robustly illustrated.

I had the pleasure of getting to known MacKinnon on the days, during my tenure at the Globe, when I acted as a substitute assistant foreign editor. He was always a pleasure to deal with and his prose was unfailingly well-crafted and accessible. At that time, he was stationed in Jerusalem; he had earlier served as the newspaper’s correspondent in Moscow. MacKinnon is currently The Globe’s eyes and ears in Beijing.

I plan to make the series compulsory reading for my journalism classes this week. In addition to discussions about the qualities of feature writing, the series will undoubtedly provoke debate about journalism ethics, especially the uses and abuses of deception.

Watch for the MacKinnon-Gallagher series on the list of this year’s National Newspaper Awards nominations, as well as various online journalism competitions.

In defence of security updates

Users of self-hosted WordPress blogs, like this one, should be aware that a worm is making its way through WordPress sites that haven’t been updated with the latest security releases. A more detailed explanation from WordPress is here. If you use WordPress, make sure you’re running version 2.8.4.

Thanks to University of Wisconsin journalism professor Kathleen Culver for the timely alert.

Liquidity in textbook form

Last weekend, when I asked my daughter-in-law about her new job, she tossed back a term I hadn’t heard before: “liquid textbooks.” The more she talked about it, the more I was intrigued.

I was very happy for her on a personal level, of course. Kathleen Schreurs graduated in spring with a master’s degree in information studies from the University of Toronto and had spent the summer looking for meaningful work. Last month, Symtext Corp., a startup in the heart of Toronto, brought her on board as its content and project manager.

Illustration by Symtext Corp.
Illustration by Symtext Corp.

But I was curious about how the concept of “liquidity” — a common term in physics, chemistry and finance — could be applied to postsecondary curricula. It turns out that liquid textbooks are fluid, living instructional materials capable of being even more dynamic than those custom-built course books cobbled together by professors for students and sold in institutional bookstores. The contents of a liquid textbook might consist of a wide variety of digital assets: chapters from a host of traditional textbooks, podcasts, audio, video, photographs and the like, augmented by materials authored or collected by the instructor. As a journalism prof, I’m intrigued by the possibility of altering the contents of my course materials on the fly: If a federal election is called this fall, for example, I’d be able to “pour” a series of new materials in my liquid textbook and extract less relevant segments. If a major news story breaks, I could make similar changes. Students gain access to the textbook through their local LMS (learning management suite), campus bookstore or as a standalone product.

It’s a compelling concept, especially for those of us who teach journalism, where the instructional tools and curriculum are in large measure the panoply of events that occur around us each day. The notion of a “textbook” that would consist of such a wide range of materials and that could be altered on the fly offers some interesting new possibilities. I plan to keep this option in the back of my mind as I work with my students through the coming semester.

Update: Retired educator Paul C, over at the highly rated Quoteflections site, draws our attention (thanks, Paul) to a popular rant by Seth Godin on textbooks. Indeed, liquidity in instructional materials goes a long way to addressing many of Godin’s concerns.