Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, January 30, 2006

Two and a Half Men

The good news is that I found time to read Paul Wells' 24,000 word post-mortem on the election campaign in Macleans in its entirety.

The bad news is what this implies:
a) I had to go see a doctor
b) I had to wait over an hour to see the doctor.

I don't know if it is because I didn't like the result of the election, or because I'm not a fan of horse-racy, war-rooming, gaffe-o-meter type coverage, or if it's because I'm not really that interested in getting to know the people behind the politics, or if it's because I already paid so much attention to the campaign, or if it's just that I was expecting too much, but it left me a bit underwhelmed.

Now don't get me wrong, I like the idea of having longer pieces in our magazines, and Wells is a great writer, and there is lots of insight into how the big parties run their campaigns, and it certainly beats the alternative reading material at your doctor's office (especially the rest of Maclean's), but still.

I found I was left with a lot of questions. If the media turned on Martin and the Liberals so much since last election, why did the McGill media study show they were just as hostile to the Liberals last time as they were this time? And was the pro-Conservative, anti-Liberal slant in the media really down to the Conservatives being friendlier to reporters?

If the Liberals' visits to B.C. were so troubled and their Western message ineffective, why was B.C. the only province where they gained in seats?

To what extent was the change in government just a reflection of voters' desire for change rather than evidence of a good Conservative campaign and a bad Liberal campaign?

What about the Bloc's unexpected decline vs. last time?

And who was that mysterious, unnamed party that over 650,00 Canadians made their first choice at the ballot box? On a proportional basis, their vote count would merit 1,080 words in a 24,000 word article recapping the election. Even allowing for the disproportional demands of the big man vs. big man narrative, some minimal coverage might have been expected.

I guess everyone's a critic, and Wells did state up front that in his mind the election was the story of two men, and I don't think I was in the target audience anyway, so my opinion may not count for much, but there you have it - at any rate, it passed the time while I was waiting. And on the plus side, at least it wasn't anything serious.

15 Comments:

  • The McGill studies count "negative mentions", IIRC, which are different than bias. Reporting a gaffe is a negative mention, no matter how neutral the tone.

    Likewise, mentions of AdScam are counted as negative, regardless of how newsworthy they might have been at the time.

    I've always found the McGill to be meaningly due to this factor.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 3:45 AM  

  • "Reporting a gaffe is a negative mention, no matter how neutral the tone."

    Actually that's not true, what the study measures is in fact the 'tone' of the article.

    Compare the gaffe-o-meter from last election to the one this time and them compare the media study results. The gaffe-o-meter results changed entirely, the media study results changed very little - they are measuring different things.

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:47 AM  

  • I've never read a book that answered all my questions about the topic. The last time I expected a book to answer all my questions, I was five. Is this the first long article you've read without a crayon in your hand? If so, congratulations.

    And if you think I was arguing that bad press brought the Liberals down, instead of quoting some Liberals who were eager to scapegoat; or that I was arguing that the Conservatives were "friendlier to reporters" (I would certainly be the first reporter in Ottawa to make that astonishing claim), then I'm sorry I wasn't clearer.

    As for proportional representation in journalism, what an exciting idea. Next time I'll give every riding in Canada precisely 78 words. Because that's how you do journalism, isn't it.

    By Anonymous Paul Wells, at 8:59 AM  

  • Wow, that was surprisingly petty.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 9:17 AM  

  • No Kevin, there's nothing surprising about it.

    He has one of the best blogs in Canada and is a great commentator, but he's rather short-tempered about any sort of criticism he receives on other blogs. I've seen it several times and was actually thinking about it this morning as I was looking for a copy of Macleans in a local store.

    I guess I can understand that it might be annoying when amateurs (like us) act like we have a special right to critique him. But I don't think he needs to be such a weenie about it.

    By Blogger Andrew Spicer, at 9:27 AM  

  • No need to be personal, I was just expressing my reaction.

    Obviously not every question can be addressed, and I appreciate that, even with the expanded length, what had to be excluded dwarfed what could be included, but at the same time, some articles address more of my questions than others and I was disappointed that some of the questions I found most intriguing (what dragged down the Bloc, why did B.C. buck the trend in the rest of the country, what is behind the media's continued megative tone towards the Liberals, was the difference in the campaigns really a deciding factor) weren't considered.

    Also, maybe I misread, but it did seem to me that a lot of print was dedicated to the Conservative plan to 'manage' the media and to avoid being hostile, which was contrasted with Liberals who were getting angry and scapegoating the media. I was left with the impression that this contributed to the success of the Conservatives.

    Finally, it sounds silly, but political journalism is proportional, to an extent. For example, your piece spent the most time on the Conservatives, then the Liberals, then the NDP and then the Bloc. I doubt it was coincidence that this was the same order as the number of votes received and I suspect that if the NDP had received the most votes, your article would have spent more time on them.

    Similarly, the McGill media study trakcs the number of stories about each party and this too follows (roughly) the order of votes received.

    Clearly, this has to be balanced against the damands of the narrative of each particular story (as I acknowledged), but I don't think it is so unreasonable that if an article is billed as telling the untold story of the election campaign, it might spare a sentence or two for a party which received two thirds of a million votes despite its own story remaining completely untold by the media.

    It's just my opinion, nothing personal. Besides, sitting and waiting to see a doctor probably isn't the best circumstance to put you in the mind to view things favourably.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:36 AM  

  • I wonder if that was the first temper tantrum that Paul Wells threw without a crayon in his hand.

    If so, congratulations to him!

    He hasn't expected a book to answer all his questions since he was five; I don't expect reactions that childish out of anyone over the age of five. Yikes.

    By Blogger Simon, at 1:39 PM  

  • For the record, the Liberals picked up a seat in Saskatchewan.

    Goodale was the only Liberal in 2004 but in 2006 he won as well as Gary Merasty.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 4:04 PM  

  • Good point Bailey, I forgot about Merasty. Although his 83 vote victory seemed like it was down to local factors and the change in the Liberal vote in Saskatchewan (-4.8%) was more consistent with the national trend than in B.C. where Liberal support only dropped 1%.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:45 PM  

  • Lucky you said Wells is a great writer. I wonder what his reaction would have been if you said he was merely an adequate writer?

    Weenie indeed!

    By Blogger Zip, at 4:57 PM  

  • What kind of doctor would have a recent Macleans in his waiting room?Most doctor's offices are museums for Macleans and Canadian Living . Oh ya Readers Digest also.

    By Blogger Toom witha Vu, at 10:52 AM  

  • It was a walk-in clinic. But yes, I was pleasantly surprised to see a magazine of such recent vintage on offer.

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:51 PM  

  • Finally, it sounds silly, but political journalism is proportional, to an extent. For example, your piece spent the most time on the Conservatives, then the Liberals, then the NDP and then the Bloc. I doubt it was coincidence that this was the same order as the number of votes received and I suspect that if the NDP had received the most votes, your article would have spent more time on them.

    Similarly, the McGill media study trakcs the number of stories about each party and this too follows (roughly) the order of votes received.


    Declan, please tell me that you aren't blaming the media for the order in which the parties succeeded in the election.

    Maybe if the NDP... you know... appealed to more people they would get more votes.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 9:45 AM  

  • Matt: Declan complained that Wells' article didn't mention the Green Party and Wells replied with "As for proportional representation in journalism, what an exciting idea. Next time I'll give every riding in Canada precisely 78 words. Because that's how you do journalism, isn't it."

    That's why Declan wrote the passage you responded to. It's pretty clear that he was suggesting the coverage follows the votes.

    By Blogger Andrew Spicer, at 10:30 AM  

  • Yes, that is right. Thanks for clarifying, Andrew.

    By Blogger Declan, at 3:50 PM  

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