Category Archives: Media

Gang, guns, drugs, crime – the Reality

Reality does not care what your ideology says is true, what you believe is true or what you want to be true; Reality does not care what we think; it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.

Your ideology may tell you that you should be driving a Lamborghini; you may believe you deserve to drive a Lamborghini; you may want to drive a Lamborghini; but none of that will change the reality that you drive a 1990 Honda Civic.

Should you think you are driving a Lamborghini, while driving your 1990 Honda Civic, drive very carefully – a Lamborghini should not be dinged or scratched up.

Tao of James

This quote from the Tao of James came to mind after having watched the TV news reports on first Abbotsford’s public forum on the state of crime within the city, focusing on the increasing gang presence, gun violence and property crime in the city; then the reports on Vancouver’s sixth shooting in six days.

While I cannot say what the final outcome will be or predict what actions may be taken as a result of these occurances, I can predict that the result will be to produce no discernable affects on the levels of gang activity, gun violence or property crime.

I make this statement because gang activity, gun violence and property crime are the consequences of choices we as a society have made and that these choices were based on “what your ideology says is true, what you believe is true or what you want to be true” and not upon the reality that was and is.

As if to highlight the difference between perception and reality the news report on the public uproar over gangs was followed by the report on the tragic deaths of the young couple who had just become engaged. While the perception maybe that the public needs be concerned about being gunned down in the streets the reality is that if you are an innocent bystander it is not guns you need to be watching out for but motor vehicles driven by drunk drivers or negligent drivers.

If we truly want to achieve significant and permanent reductions we need to examine the reality of gang activity, gun violence and property crime. This examination, if it is to have any value has to be done in the contest of “Reality does not care what we think; it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.”

But before examining the reality of the choices that were made by society that have produced gang activity, gun violence and property crime as consequences, I want to examine the hard reality of two of the popular myths cited as the “solution(s)” to gang activity, gun violence and property crime.

1. Change the laws and or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make it easy for police to lock up the criminals.

It is undeniable that the fact Canada is a country ruled by laws makes it a necessity for the police to act within those laws when dealing with criminals and crime. A consequence of the rule of law is that it is more complicated for the police to build a case against criminals that will stand up to the scrutiny of the court system without violating the law.

This does not automatically mean that there is something wrong with the laws and the courts system. Rather this is a price we pay for living in a country governed under the rule of law which has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect citizens against arbitrary treatment by the government.

It is important to keep in mind that any change to the laws or to our Rights and Freedoms affects not just the criminals but citizens as a whole.

Too many people dismiss this truth, this reality, with the statement ‘I am not a criminal so I do not need to worry about any changes’ without giving thought to the full and far reaching consequences changes in fact will have on them.

The real question they need to be asking themselves if they want to make changes to the laws and their Rights and Freedoms is how many Rights and Freedoms citizens are willing to personally give up? How authoritarian or oppressive a government are citizens willing to accept?

Are citizens willing to live under the current Chinese government? A government 10 times more oppressive and authoritarian? A government 100 times more oppressive and authoritarian?

The current Chinese government at its most forgiving locks up drug users for long prison terms; if the Chinese government is not in a kind mood it executes drug users. If a citizen deals drugs they are executed. Yet the Chinese continue to have drug dealing and drug use.

How much more oppressive and authoritarian would a government need to be to put an end to the sale and use of illegal drugs, 10 times, 100 times?

How many Rights and Freedoms will citizens surrender, how oppressive and authoritarian a government will citizens accept in order to reduce, not eliminate, drug activity?

That is a very slippery slope to start down and citizens would be wise to consult and listen to immigrants to Canada from countries formerly under Communist rule before they begin to surrender their Rights and Freedoms to a government.

2. Lock ‘em up!

Where? If one researches the capacity and current population of prisons one discovers that our prisons are full to overflowing. The reason that criminals who commit property crimes end up back on the streets time after time after time is so that there is room in the prison system to incarcerate criminals who commit or have committed violent crimes against people.

If we want to start locking up people who steel our stuff, we are going to have to free or not lock up people who are attacking us. People who attack our stuff or people who attack us; which type of criminal do you want to have incarcerated? Which type of criminal do you want sharing the street with you?

If society wants to start locking up all the property criminals we must undertake a large, sustained prison building program that will add billions of dollars to our tax bills. Canada will also have to fund the billions of dollars required to staff and run these new prisons.

Are Canadians willing to accept the large yearly tax increases needed to fund the growth in prisons and prisoners? If we want to pay for the increase in incarceration through service cuts we are looking at reducing medical funding in Canada by billions of dollars a year. Medical funding because it is the one program area with sufficient funds to cover the increased costs of incarcerating people.

Are you as a Canadian willing to give up Health Care as we know it in order to be able to incarcerate a growing number of fellow Canadian citizens?

In Canada we currently incarcerate 102 people per 100,000 citizens. In the USA they incarcerate 724 people per 100,000 citizens, seven times our rate of incarceration.

In which country do you feel safer?

An examination of the USA crime statistics in relation to incarceration statistics reveals that the ideological belief that increasing incarceration means decreasing crime is a fallacy.

Attempting to use incarceration as an indirect answer to social problems will inflict a serious financial burden on Canada while failing to achieve the desired results.

In examining the reality of these two popular myths, so often cited as the “solution(s)” to gang activity, gun violence and property crime, we can see that not only is the cost to society and our Rights and Freedoms unacceptable but that the evidence shows they do not produce the desired outcomes.

The reality of gang activity, gun violence and property crime is that they are the consequences of choices society has made.

These choices were made based on what peoples ideology said was true, what people believed to be true or what people wanted to be true.

However, reality does not care what we think; it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.

When you make choices that are based on what we think is true rather than what IS true, the statistical probability that the results of those choices will be the outcome we want approximates zero.

What realities need to be understood and acknowledged in making decisions about dealing with gangs, guns and property crime?

That the illegal drug trade, while a criminal activity, is first and foremost a business and in analyzing and evaluating the illegal drug trade we need to do it in the context of a business.

The illegal drug business is feral capitalism, capitalism that is not controlled by the rule of law. Gangs are the corporations, the corporate structure, of this business. The gun violence, the assaults and killings are the result of competition for market share and profits between the corporations.

Examine the history of the railroads and other large organizations in the 19th century western United States. Until the rule of law slowly took hold large companies and organizations literally waged war against any they viewed as competitors or perceived as threats to the best interests of the companies and organizations.

Interestingly one of the future scenarios postulated in Science Fiction is a future where corporations are the true power and rulers of the planet and engage in various levels and types of warfare against each other.

It is important to understand that, whatever else it may be, the illegal drug trade is a business with gangs being its corporations/corporate structure if one is to be able to decide what actions to take and to be able to predict the consequences and outcomes of any action or actions.

As a business the drug trade is driven by profits (revenue minus expenses) and subject to the laws of supply and demand.

In this light one can see that the existence and profits of the business are solidly anchored in the price of the product and the fact that the price is extremely elastic means the business will thrive. This elasticity of price is a result of a basic level of demand that is not sensitive to or driven by price.

An addict will not stop using because the price doubles. There is a certain level X which they need to consume/use. If the price of their drug of choice doubles their reaction is not to decrease usage from level X but to double the activity they engage in to fund their drug use at level X.

It is in this manner that an action by authorities reducing the supply of drugs available increases the price and thus increases the addicts ‘work’ (or money earning) activity. When that ‘work’ activity is crime, successful police actions that directly reduce the supply of drugs have the indirect affect of increasing the amount of drug related crime.

The more important point to consider about such an elastic price is the effect it has on profit. As a business the drug trade is driven by profit. If the drug business was not profitable it would not exist.

One needs look no further than the legal drug business for evidence of this. With advances in genetic knowledge there was a period were a large number of new, small biotech drug companies were started to produce products using theses advances. These new companies raised millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars through stock sales.

When the products failed to materialize or were not as profitable as predicted or proved to costly to produce these biotech companies went out of business. Without profits the companies had no way to fund their operations and so, once they had spent the funds raised through stock offerings they ceased to exist.

Clearly the continued existence of the illegal drug trade as we know it is contingent on the existence of profits.

In fact, from the legal business world we know that the more profitable a business is the more companies and people want to get in on the business and obtain a share of the wealth.

The elasticity of the price of the product ensures the illegal drug business thrives, is highly profitable and constantly attracting new companies (gangs) and people.

This ability to attract new employees is critical to the continuation of the business since legal authorities and inter-corporate competition (gangland killings) result in a constant attrition of companies and employees.

The extremely high wages and profits of the business, with what this wealth will buy and the economic reality so many, not only in foreign countries but in Canada, face ensures an effectively bottomless labour pool.

In pursuing policies that transfer more and more wealth to the wealthy; policies that remove or negatively impact opportunities for people to get ahead (e.g. skyrocketing tuition fees); stopping the funding for social programs that help people to survive (affordable housing programs); basing government policy priority on policies that benefit the wealthy and corporations rather than those most vulnerable and in need; continuing to allow Canadian society to become more and more economically unfair and unbalanced; society has ensured a large, ready and growing labour pool for the illegal drug business.

The same conditions that assure a ready labour supply also create drug use to escape or cope with the harsh realities of life for so many. Thus creating demand and contributing to the profitability and growth of the illegal drug business.

There was recently a story on the television news about a 60 year old woman whose Employment Insurance benefits were about to run out. A situation many are facing and will face in the near future after Mr. Harper’s out-of-touch with the economical realities for non-wealthy Canadians and cynically pointless extension of EI for five weeks.

This woman is facing the real prospect of finding herself homeless and using a shopping cart to carry what meagre possessions she manages to retain. Regardless of the effect that this television exposure may have for this woman, the harsh reality is that a growing number of Canadians are finding and will find themselves facing this same predicament. Indeed people who have lost jobs due to the economic slowdown are already ending up on the streets homeless.

She also found herself depending on the food bank for her meagre food supplies

Think about it. Facing homelessness, families with kids, facing the loss of house or vehicle, unemployed with growing numbers of unemployed workers, unable to afford food or basic necessities etc.; your life falling apart around you – what would you do to survive? What will/would you do to survive when the economic downturn puts you in this type of position?

Not only has the consequences of economic and social policy choices resulted in a large and ready labour supply for the illegal drug business, but those economic and social policy choices are putting many Canadians in this recession in a position where survival may force them to consider or choose employment in the illegal drug business to survive.

The removal of an employee in the drug business thus has no real effect because there is a large pool of people to draw on to replace any losses. If the police could go out and round up all the drug dealers it would have no long term effect as they would simply be replaced, with in hours and days, from this large and currently growing labour pool.

As a business profit is what drives the illegal drug trade. Profit is revenue minus expenses in this business as in all businesses. Since the business is run on a cash flow basis profit in this business is not subject to any fancy accounting tricks or manipulation.

Fortunately for the ability of the business to survive and to prosper the high elasticity of the price ensures the ability of revenue to increase sufficiently and quickly enough to not only to cover expenses but to ensure the high wages and profit margins remain.

Thus any losses or costs inflicted by authorities on the business are covered by price increases. The price elasticity also allows for the covering of costs (e.g. bribes) that serve to facilitate the smooth functioning of the business. The ‘companies’ and people in the illegal drug business can raise funds to spend on new employees and equipment faster and more readily than can the authorities.

While additional spending by law enforcement must be funded by new taxes or service cuts by the government. Another harsh reality – citizens are not prepared to pay higher taxes or suffer service cuts at high enough levels to out spend, and thus produce significant positive results.

The elasticity of the price for illegal drugs results in a revenue flow sufficient to cover expenses and maintain high wages and profits, ensuring a supply sufficient to meet the basic demand X. A supply beyond X generates higher profit margins. These realities make the business very profitable to incredibly profitable.

The advantages and benefits of price elasticity depend on a minimal level of demand X that is not negatively impacted by price increases. Addiction and its reality is a major component in the profitability of the illegal drug business because it ensures this minimal level of demand X.

Consider the grocery business. One can change the types of food one buys but one can reduce the amount of food one eats only to a certain level. One needs a certain amount of food to live. You could say that people are addicted to food. As a food addict one must have that certain level X.

At this basic survival level a person must do whatever is necessary to obtain that level of product (food). Food bank, charity or steal; legal or illegal you must eat or die. Thus while the individual companies such as Price Smart may or may not continue to exist, the grocery business will continue because a certain level of its product is needed with people paying whatever the price is.

Would you sit there and starve or would you commit whatever level of property crime was required to satisfy your need? If it was not for the existence of food banks and other free/charitable sources of food how high a crime level would the need for people to somehow obtain the money to pay for food result in?

The reality is that for someone in their addiction, the need for a certain minimal level of their drug of choice is effectively no different than our need as human beings for food. This results in a minimum level X past which the demand for illegal drugs will not drop regardless of price, fuelling the drug business.

What can we conclude, keeping in mind the realities of the drug business, about the choices we face in dealing with this issue?

1. Although the idea of changing the laws and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make it easy for police to lock up the criminals sounds tempting, the level of our rights and freedoms needed to be surrendered and the level of government authoritarianism and repression necessary to have a significant effect on the illegal drug business make this option unacceptable and highly risky.

2. The cost if society imprisoned everyone people want to lock up is prohibitive. We currently lack the prison capacity to lock up these numbers of people and developing the capacity will be very expensive requiring extreme tax increases or program reductions to cover the billions of dollars of yearly costs associated with this approach.

3. Evidence makes it clear that using this approach (incarceration) to addressing a social issue is unlikely to produce the results desired. Additionally, at some point the prisoners will return to society with their personal issues unaddressed.

4. The price elasticity of the product (drugs) essentially guarantees high profits and wages for those in the drug trade.

5. A consequence of the social and economic policy choices made has resulted in the large labour pool needed to sustain the illegal drug business even with its high attrition rates.

6. Successes by authorities have little actual effect on the illegal drug business and can often have negative and/or undesirable effects or outcomes.

7. That the illegal drug business has far more ability to undertake new spending than society, giving them the ability to counter additional spending by authorities.

8. Society lacks the money and financial resources to attempt to buy a solution.

9. We need to think, determine and plan based on reality; rather than on ideology, belief or what we want to be true.

What actions would be effective?

The key to putting an end to the illegal drug business is through the vulnerability of any business – profit. If it is not making a profit a business goes out of business.

The fastest way to do this is through an attack on the price elasticity of the product. As long as the illegal drug business can charge all the market will bear it will have high profits and wages and survive. By rendering the product price non-elastic and reducing the price past the point at which profits and high wages can be made this non-profitability will result in bankruptcy and the end of the illegal drug business.

Despite being the most rational and an approach with a host of social benefits that out weigh the social costs this approach is highly unlikely to be used because it runs directly into what people’s ideology says is true, what people believe is true and what people want to be true.

This results in the approach being attacked not on its merits or the reality of the situation but on the basis of what people, for whatever reason, think is true.

Until such time as the costs and consequences reach a level where people are forced to abandon what they think they know and examine reality not as they think it is but as it is, taking the elasticity out of the product by the legalization of illegal drugs will not occur.

This leaves us with a long term and a longer term approach.

Without workers no business can continue to exist. This is the reasoning behind strike action by employees; the employees walk out and without the ability to replace the employees the business cannot operate.

By undertaking economic and social policies that help people succeed you will start to reduce the labour pool available to the illegal drug business. No longer having an unlimited labour pool means that, given the high attrition rate of employees, the illegal drug business would lack the employees to function.

It is only in the long term that this approach is viable and stands a limited chance for success. It would require a major commitment to economic and social policies that result in people having hope for their future. People must begin to believe that they can get ahead, that once again people can buy a house and have a family rather than expecting to have to always rent, never being able to save and always being one pay cheque away from homelessness. It would also require a change away from the GREED society where success and status can be measured in your Mercedes or Porsche.

The longer tem approach is to attack the demand side. If there was no demand there would be no illegal drug business.

This approach requires a two prong attack.

In the longest term we need to invest in prevention programs and to raise healthy children who do not need illegal drugs to have fun or to deal with trauma (sexual abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse) or other personal/mental issues.

In the longer term we have to make the required investment in recovery/wellness infrastructure and support programs for the addicted. In reducing the number of people suffering from addiction we reduce demand.

This approach requires patience as it will take time. During this process we will have to deal and live with the gang activity, gun violence or property crime that results from the illegal drug business.

There are no fast, easy or cheap solutions to the illegal drug business. In seeking to address this business and its associated problems it is imperative that we understand and acknowledge that: Reality does not care what your ideology says is true, what you believe is true or what you want to be true; Reality does not care what we think, it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.

If we do not do this we will continue doing the same old, same old and getting the same results – increasing gang activity, gun violence and property crime.

One last bit of uncomfortable reality about the illegal drug business to think about and ponder upon: the negative economic consequences that would/will result from an end to the illegal drug business.

The illegal drug business does not exist in a separate economy; it is part of the BC and the Canadian economy as is the rest of the underground economy. Money from the underground economy does not stay in the underground economy but enters the overall economy via a number of ways such as the purchase of goods or money laundering.

With estimates of the value of the marijuana crop ranging up to 8 Billion dollars marijuana is the leading agricultural industry in BC. With the downturn in forestry marijuana may well be the largest industry in terms of revenue.

With the majority of the crop exported it is BC’s leading export.

While not nearly as large as BC Bud, the rest of the illegal drug business none-the-less is a significant part of the BC economy.

What makes this business of even more economic significance currently is that, similarly to alcohol, the business is basically recession proof. Indeed evidence is that during the economic tough times such as recession the consumption of alcohol, and by inference illegal drugs, increases.

The economic reality in BC is that the illegal drug business contributes to the BC economy to a significant degree. Once these monies begin to circulate in the overall BC economy there is no way to separate them out from more legitimate business funds. Since the monies generated by the illegal drug business enter the overall BC economy all residents of BC benefit economically and financially from the illegal drug business.

Denial will not change the fact that all BC residents benefit financially from the drug business, whether directly or indirectly.

That BC is doing better fiscally in the current worldwide economic meltdown partially flows from the large cash infusion from the illegal drug business.

Illegal drugs have become an integral part of the BC economy and if the illegal drug trade and its cash flow were to disappear tomorrow the BC economy would suffer painful consequences; sliding into deep recession or perhaps tipping over into depression.

An uncomfortable reality or truth, but then reality does not care about how we feel or our comfort levels, it simply is.

We can create any mental mirages we choose to fit guns, gangs and violence into what our ideology says is true, what we want to believe is true or what we want to be true; Reality does not care what we think; it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.

Until we are willing to deal with that reality, we will simply keep on doing what we have been doing and getting the same results we have been getting; which, while a very human behaviour, is fruitless insanity.

Media changes a MUST.

I solidly agree with Mark Latham’s conclusion that currently media is failing miserably at asking the questions and providing information which the public needs to make informed decisions; failing to lead debate and discussion on important local, provincial, national and societal issues; being more focused on the comics (style) than stimulating debate and discussion (substance).

Indeed, I have expressed my opinions on these failings to the local publishers and editors as well as to the CEO of the corporations owning the Abbotsford newspapers.

However I think his concept of creating another government bureaucracy to address this pressing and important problem/issue is based too much on “thinking within the box”.

Given the effect that the internet is having on information dissemination, the rapid technological changes (pod/web casts, digital recording and editing etc) and the current operational and fiscal realities of print and broadcast media I think that the media is in such a state flux, even chaos, that “thinking outside the box” is where the best solution or solutions will be found.

Rather than seeking to find and impose “the” solution I would argue that the best approach would be to encourage experimentation.

In that regard I would like to draw attention to the current inform the public/ask the questions/raise the issues/wide open debate/readership inclusive/it is about content media experiment taking place in Abbotsford, BC.

A brief background: Abbotsford has two chain owned local papers; a third paper, The Post, was started up with much more open and interesting editorial content than either of the two long established chain papers; The Post was bought out by Canwest Global, owners of the Abbotsford Times, who proceeded to gut all the editorial content and turn it into a entertainment insert – managing to turn what had been interesting reading into boring entertainment pabulum.

In October of 2008 AT (Abbotsford Today) was launched at The four columnists dropped from the pages of the Post became columnists for the new AT. While originally envisioned as strictly an online publication Abbotsford Today currently publishes a monthly print news-magazine edition supported by local advertisers and reader subscriptions.

I state upfront that I know the people involved in putting AT together. I was a booster and supporter of AT’s editor when he was involved in founding The Post. I enthusiastically cheered the people involved on when AT was merely a glint in their eyes. Not because they were friends but because Abbotsford so badly needed an open and free news/opinion/issues media voice. And if this experiment was successful it could be adapted to and implemented in other local (even provincial or national) markets.

There are several things I particularly liked about this model.

It reminds me of the local paper I grew up reading. Local ownership so policy is set locally; reader subscriptions mean that content has to be of interest to the readers, the paper is not just the wrapping for flyer delivery; the end user (the reader) evaluates the content and its usefulness or interest and expresses that by subscribing or not subscribing; local businesses/advertisers get to participate and express their support/thoughts thru the purchase or non-purchase of advertising.

The major web presence means timely presentation of the news and breaking stories/issues. It also allows more reader participation – letters to the editor, stories, comment and all the space needed for reader writings. It allows more content since it is not limited to X number of pages.

The model is flexible, adaptable and evolving. Given the state of flux, chaos and change media is in at this time these characteristics are needed if we are to arrive at a product that delivers the information and content that readers not only want but need.

It is this state of flux, chaos and change media is currently in that has me favouring an approach to encourage experimentation and diversity rather than trying to find and impose “the” solution. Let market forces, the public and readers evaluate and judge the models. Then we can adapt and spread the models tested and appropriate to the media market.

It would be nice if there was a pool of money that could be used to provide seed funding for experiments such as Abbotsford Today and I would certainly encourage and support the establishment of such a fund.

Ultimately it comes down to the readers judgment as to the value of the media being offered to them. Which reminds me – I need to write a cheque and send in my subscription to Abbotsford Today.


New Ideas for the New Year, 2009 (
Idea #2: Voter-funded Media
Mark Latham wants readers to control the purse strings.
For a former financial executive, Mark Latham doesn’t have a whole lot of faith in the invisible hand’s power to give us the news we need.
Who can blame him? Two companies control half ( of the country’s daily newspapers. Both plan big layoffs and one of the two, CanWest, is in 10-figure debt . South of the border, the company that owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune has declared bankruptcy (
And even before the economy went into the tank, media critics (( accused the industry of prioritizing financial over journalistic considerations.
But Latham believes he has developed a model that will increase the media’s public accountability while creating additional revenue.
“I don’t think you can get good enough media for free,” the founder of told the Tyee. “But the way you design the way media get revenue will affect the information you get.”
Voter-funded media ( evolved from Latham’s earlier work on corporate governance and is based on the simple premise that money persuades. Allow the public to make media funding decisions and news organizations will become more accountable to readers, rather than the advertisers or government who currently control the purse strings. The result, according to Latham, should be a knock-on effect leading to a better-informed electorate, better elected officials and better public policy.
Anyone could vote online to decide which news outlets should get a portion of a designated pool of public money. In theory, the funding model would free news organizations from the thrall of corporate advertisers while avoiding the risk of government control. But that doesn’t mean Latham wants to do away altogether with the dominant free-market system or the more traditional kind of public funding that keeps the CBC going. Instead, he sees voter-funded media as a third option that would foster greater media diversity.
Latham has tested his idea at UBC and Langara College during student election campaigns, in Vancouver during the six months leading up to last month’s municipal vote and now, province-wide ahead of the May election. Though he has struggled to attract and retain regular voters, he said he has been pleased with the wisdom of those who have participated. (Full disclosure: The Tyee finished tops in the Vancouver Election Blog contest ( It initially encouraged readers to vote for it but ceased the practice several months before election day.)
Not so fast
Some media experts are sceptical.
Ross Howard, a journalism instructor at Vancouver’s Langara College, readily admits there are problems with Canadian media. They don’t question society deeply enough, they don’t cover the media well, there is too much corporate concentration and journalists working for major companies are sometimes “inhibited or self-censoring.”
But he worries the public could value entertainment over the need for a watchdog and imagines a scenario where “52,000 teenage boys would all get online and vote for Monster Truck Magazine.”
Latham argues that even individuals who spend their time and money on infotainment may rationally decide to allot public funds to a service they recognize as essential, even if they only use it for 15 minutes right before an election.
“The value of media is not measured by the amount of time you spend watching it,” Latham said.
Stephen Ward, the former director of UBC’s School of Journalism who is now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, likes the idea of public input into the distribution of media funding, but also worries about the outcome of a “popularity contest.” What’s more, he wonders if voting on the finished product might not mean the evaluation is coming too late.
“It’s too based on what people have already done or are doing when, in fact, we know that one of the things wrong with our journalism is that we don’t do stories about many, many stories in many, many parts of the world,” he said. “So how does that get onto the agenda?”
Latham admits there will be growing pains but believes time will allow media organizations to develop a track record that will let the public vote accordingly. He argues readers may reward an initially unpopular editorial stance five years down the line.
“After it’s been running for a while, I think what you’ll see happen is new media will grow that are serving this source of revenue and they will build reputations that will appeal to the voters so that they’ll get more revenue,” he said.
For a few dollars more
The source of the money for voters to distribute could pose another challenge.
“The idea is the funding should ideally come from that voting community if that voting community has a pool of funds, whether it’s corporate funds or tax funds,” according to Latham. “It would be in the interests of the members of that community to fund a blog ranking because they’ll get better information for their voters.”
But Kathleen Cross, a lecturer in communications at Simon Fraser University, believes Latham will have a hard time convincing people the media require more public funds.
She thinks objections are likely from both the public and those within the media industry concerned, perhaps mistakenly, that such funds will translate into government control.
“There’s a lot of resistance to channelling public funds into something that supposedly doesn’t have accountability,” she said. “When you look at the kind of critiques of the CBC in the last 10 to 15 years, it would be even more so with this kind of a system.”
And yet, media subsidies are not uncommon in Europe where Cross says a number of countries tax commercial media revenues and redirect the money to organizations that do not rely on advertising.
The CBC aside, Canada has some modest federal subsidies of its own, such as the Canada Magazine Fund, which promotes Canadian content and the Publications Assistance Program, which provides postal discounts for magazines and non-daily newspapers.
Howard would like to see such subsidies increase “massively” and thinks it would be useful to see federal funding agencies test Latham’s idea for a year without actually disbursing funds.
“I’d like to at least see if, through a website, you can test this proposition that Canadians will repeatedly vote in favour of what they like in the way of media and that when you total it up, it won’t all just be entertainment media,” he said.
Tomorrow the world
Despite her reservations, Cross called Latham’s idea “bold” and said it could serve as a partial antidote to the advertising-based system, which often produces coverage that is “problematic and unrepresentative.”
Ward points to the year-old ProPublica, funded by an American private foundation and specializing in investigative reporting, or the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which gives money to approved projects, as other ways of promoting alternative journalism. He doesn’t want to discourage creative ideas but suggests Latham’s model needs some restructuring.
Latham is the first to acknowledge voter-funded media is a work in progress. Right now, his primary focus is creating a new website, or “building a better mousetrap” as he puts it, in the hopes of adding to the disappointing 450 voters who participated in his first large-scale trial.
But the fact that voter-funded media is still very much at the experimental stage isn’t keeping Latham from dreaming big.
He envisions a system where each country, province, municipality and its corporate stockholders, labour unions and professional associations could weigh in.
“The idea is to have a blog ranking and competition — a separate competition — for every voting community in the world.”