Or maybe you’re doing a breathtakingly crappy job – updated

Introducing Globe and Mail columnist and CTV host Jane Taber on a CBC panel today, Sunday Edition host Michael Enright said the following:

michael_enright-csShe is often accused by Tories of being a Liberal, and by Liberals of being a Tory, which means she is doing her job.

This canard is so common among journalists as to qualify as hackneyed. If both sides in a dispute criticize you, you much be striking the right balance. But there is an obvious alternative explanation: You could be doing such a crappy job that all sides find something to attack in your work.

Let me be clear that Contrarian is not offering a criticism of Ms. Taber, but of the smug imperviousness to criticism that pervades journalism.

A journalist friend responds:

The quote is glib, for sure. But if it’s accurate – that is, if Mr E. or the producer who wrote the script could actually attribute it to Grit & Tory sources – there’s the possible corollary that politicians from at least two parties assume that critical reportage or comment can only be partisan and not disinterested.

Good point. Politicians, take heed. But as for journalists, it’s a dangerous conceit to mark criticism as evidence of a job well done. It can be that. It can be the opposite.

Moral panic: computer memory is bad for you! – rebuttal

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, whose interview on Spark was the subject of a somewhat testy post on Contrarian yesterday, has returned fire.

I saw your blog entry on my interview with CBC and my book “Delete”. From your entry it is obvious that you have not read the book. [True.] That’s perfectly fine – except that you then move to render a flawed judgment on the book.

Viktor Mayer-SchönbergerTo start with, the example that I used in the interview is not about photographic memory, but about a biological condition of a very small number of people who cannot forget – or at least remember a great deal more than average humans. Photographic memory is very different – and susceptible to Dan Schacter’s “seven sins of memory”.

Contrary to what you seem to insinuate I have not blamed Google for Andrew Feldmar’s difficulties; rather I used his case to highlight the fact that with the help of the digital tools that surround us institutions and organizations can now – at very low cost – store and retrieve massive amounts of information about others. In the informational privacy literature this has been well described as potentially leading to power imbalances, which it is argued ought to worry us.

However, in my book – as well as in the interview! – I make clear that my major concern has to do with how humans perceive time, and place information in a temporal context; it is this central element, linked to research of cognitive psychologists that your blog entry misses.

Thus, your judgment that I am guilty of category error is simply incorrect – especially since the central message of the book is emphatically not that technology is to blame, or could provide a simple solution, but that changes in human behavior facilitated by information economics and technological change have made us forget remembering, and that it will take us humans to reset this balance.

In the spirit of fact-based discussion, perhaps you might be even interested in reading the book?

It’s true that I did not read the book, nor did I purport to have done so. My post explicitly responded to the interview, and mentioned the book only by way of introductory credentials.

I hope people will listen to the interview or download it; encouraging readers to do so was one purpose of the post. They can judge for themselves. To my ear, on two careful listenings, there was a clear tone of alarmed hand-wringing about a technological process that has got out of control. It strikes me as a subtle variant of the “Internet pedophiles will ensnare your kids” stories so favored by newspapers.

The ever tactful Nora Young also responded:

Nora Yound 1 s ccI think new technologies of communication do change the way we think, remember, and relate to one another.  I suppose I’m a McLuhanite in that sense.  I would say the same about the move from oral to written communication, for instance, so I don’t think it’s really uncharacteristic for Spark, or indeed, part of a moral panic.  More than that, though, what I love about Spark is that it’s an opportunity to air provocative ideas about technology, and hopefully inspire debate and dialogue, of which your post is an excellent example.

Contrarian weather forecast

Let the blogosphere note that on Friday morning, contrarian bet a friend that Hurricane Bill would not rank among the 10 highest wind speeds recorded in Nova Scotia in 2009. As of this morning, the bet is looking pretty safe.

Environment Canada and the CBC  need to realize that the shrill, cover-your-ass forecasts they adopted in the wake Hurricane Juan are just as dangerous as under-predicting. EC and CBC cry wolf so often, and so predictably, citizens simply tune them out.

This is a topic contrarian will return to. Reader comments welcome.

Local lapses in CBC Radio’s iPhone app explained

sScreenshot - iconsThis month, Apple approved a free CBC Radio app that offers yet another reason to own an iPhone. It will prove a boon to radio listeners not tied to their radios all day.

The CBC Radio app will give iPhone or iPod users live audio streams from of Radio 1, 2, and 3 (the corp’s net-based, indy-oriented network). It will let users listen in any time zone, so when Atlantic Canadians miss a national program, they have four chances to catch up.

sScreenshot - network menuWant to listen to a local show in real time? Pick it off the station menu (below left), our use the “find-your-location” feature.

It also offers archived episodes of many CBC Radio shows. Miss an episode of Spark (currently contrarian‘s favorite CBC program)? It’s there on your phone, on demand, whenever you want it.

You can do most of these things on the CBC website, too, but the iPhone app interface is so much cleaner and easier to navigate than the website, many listeners will reach for the phone.

sScreenshot - station menuAs initially released, the program has a few startling lapses. There are no Maritime locations listed on the Radio One station menu, and the find-your-location function directs Nova Scotiams to Ottawa or Goose Bay, of all places.

It turns out that CBC is in the process of converting all its streaming audio feeds from Windows Media to MP3 format. (That’s a good thing; the CBC’s streaming audio files have tended to be balky.)

Jonathan Carrigan, the CBC’s  Product Development Manager for Digital Programming & Business Development, says the missing stations will be added as soon as their streams are converted to MP3. This will require one ore more upgrades to the app, and these will be coming “very soon,” he says. Once the audio stream conversions are complete, Carrigan promises more upgrades, and more features.

Bloggers put media’s copycon coverage to shame

CopyCon Ministers - cropped

Why is Canada’s news media doing such a shoddy job covering the copyright consultations now taking place in select cities across part of Canada?

At the heart of the consultations on planned changes Canada’s copyright law lies a fundamental question: Should the law protect authors of creative work, or corporate intermediaries who traditionally profited from the massive effort formerly required to reproduce and distribute them?

Thanks to digital technology, the cost of copying and distributing works is rapidly approaching zero. Naturally, those who once profited from copying and distributing creative works are frantically trying to stem the flow of creative works, advocating ever-lengthening copyright protection,  and mandatory enforcement of consumer-hostile technologies that prevent all copying, legal or otherwise. In many cases, they have co-opted creator organizations to their cause.

Not surprisingly, news organizations tend to view this question through the lens of corporate intermediaries. With exceptions, they frame the debate in terms University of Ottawa law professor Jeremy De Beer describes as, “the caricature of toiling creators vs. freeloading pirates.”

Continue reading Bloggers put media’s copycon coverage to shame