Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Uninformed

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 13, 2005

At the Northern Voice blogging conference Globe and Mail columnist Norman Spector declared that Canada's blogging community is underdeveloped. As Peter Tupper summarizes, Canadian bloggers have not exercised the political muscle demonstrated by their American counterparts, and Iran's community of 70,000 or more blogs makes ours seem small.

Well I wonder about that. Leaving aside the fact that Iran's population is twice that of Canada, it seems to me that Canada has a substantial blogging population. Where are they? At Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad. Swallowed by (and generally counted with) their counterparts to the south. Which makes sense; Iranians have a unique language and Farsi blogs make for easy counting.

So how does Canada compare? Well, let's consider that Blogs Canada now counts more than 10,000 blogs. And if Blogs Canada misses even half of Canadian blogs (or if the number of active Farsi blogs is overstated) then blogging activity in the two countries is comparable. And I'm sure it does; the first result on Google for 'Canadian blog', The Last Minute, is nowhere to be found, and if I had the time to struggle through Blogs Canada's ridiculous navigation I'm sure I could find many more not listed than listed.

What about the second point, political influence? Well, it's true that no journalists or politicians in Canada (that we know of) have taken the long walk in the snow as a result of a blogging campaign (possibly because they self-immolate before we get the chance). But that does not mean there is a dearth of political blogging in this country. Again referring to the incomplete listings at Blogs Canada, we find 102 blogs listed under Politics - Left and another 121 under Politics - Right. This in addition to the 239 listed under Politics - General.

That's 462 in all, and if we consider that the United States is roughly ten times the population, that would be equivalent to 4,500 political blogs down south. Americans may be more or less vocal politically, but the Canadian participation rate is certainly comparable.

So let me put it that when Norman Spector says the Canadian blogging community is "underdeveloped," he is full of crap. As I commented at the forum, and as I reiterate here, the Canadian blogging community is at least as developed as anywhere else in theworld, and in some ways more so.

Far more interesting than whether Norman Spector is full of crap is the question of why he would make such a statement.

So we turn to the question of political influence. Now of course political influence in this country is exerted in a manner very different from the loud, brash and often self-congratulatory voice we hear in the U.S. But even so, we would be hard pressed to identify any significant infleunce at all on the ebb and flow of Canadian politics. There may be 462 voices, but they are as voices in the wilderness, scarce heard beyond their own microcommunity.

Here's Spector's explanation: "the weakness of Canadian conservatism -- a coalition united principally in opposition to lefties and Liberals -- explains the failure of Canadian bloggers to strike any significant blows against mainstream media."

As for the left, "Targeting the U.S., and particularly its current President, is an easy way for lefty intellectuals to burnish radical credentials without jeopardizing Canada Council grant applications, CBC appearances, or the prospect of the Order of Canada."

I'll come back to the conservative bloggers in a moment. Let's consider his statement about left wing blogs. Again, looking at those listed as 'left' by Blogs Canada, we find many posts discussing, no, not U.S. politics, but Canadian. Warren Kinsella leads with items on the death of a Canadian white supremicist and a book about Canadian Conservative corruption. Revolutionary Moderation covers the Gomery Commission. Officially Unofficial open's with Tyrone Warner's CTV coverage of blogging. Ride Macedon discusses Canada's position on the Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Should I go on? Need I go on? The fact is, Canadian left wing bloggers do cover Canadian politics; the assertion that they focus their attentions south of the border is out-and-out false. No, it's not that the left wing bloggers are ignoring Canada, it's that the left wing bloggers are being ignored.

Ask yourself - how does Spector measure influence? How, indeed, do you get influence? At the conference, Spector explained it this way: bloggers are not making their way into the coverage provided by traditional media. In his article cited above this view is reinforced: "The National Post recently described an exchange between Warren Kinsella, the self-described Liberal 'Prince of Darkness,' and three columnists who also blog (myself included) as "the most memorable battle in the history of the Canadian blogosphere." This suggests that Canadian bloggers have few achievements to boast of."

Again, we return to the same theme, don't we? The Canadian left blogosphere is not influential because it is ignored by the media. Well, isn't that handy for the Canadian media!

Let's go back to the right wing side of things now. Blogging's best hope in Canada, writes Spector, comes from this direction. "Since most journalists hew to the left, the blog challenge -- if it comes -- will emerge from the right, as in the United States." In a column chock-full of whoppers, this is the biggest. One wonders what Spector has been reading if he considers Canadian media to be left wing. Perhaps Spector hasn't read the National Post or the Western Report recently. Or perhaps he doesn't notice that the staunchly pro-business Globe and Mail contains his own frothings. The Vancouver Sun? Shrill in its hatred of the New Democrats. Meanwhile, here in Atlantic Canada we yearn under the cold hand of the Irvings.

The reason the press doesn't cover the right wing blogosphere is that it already has enough right wing content - content that is in general more subtle and less vile than found online. In this, at least, Spector is correct: "amongst conservatives, you'll find a fair degree of despair bordering on loathing for Canada... Some conservatives, particularly those in the anti-abortion movement, are incapable of compromise -- the essence of politics--and give up completely." Not the best fare for newspapers wanting people to pick up the next edition to see what happens next.

But it's deeper than that, even.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to establish a clearly Canadian political voice from the left (not that we are short of such voices, but I believe I have something unique to add to the mix). To cast a light on the left not normally found in the caricatures offered by the media. To be insightful and enlightened, offering a twenty-first century version of thought I sometimes think of as 'new democracy' (more on that in another post).

But as I ramped up my blog and considered the topics I want to cover, I realized how badly informed I had become. Not for lack of interest, not for lack of involvement - I certainly rank amoung the more politically-minded of Canadians, have run for office twice, write routinely to the newspaper (and am much less frequently published), follow the news, keep myself informed. Or, at least, try.

But the Canadian media has, for the most part, taken itself out of the picture. Almost the entire Canadian press is blocked behind subscriptions or registration screens, its content inaccessible to the average reader, links to articles rendered useless. I used to lisetn to CBC radio online until it switched to a proprietary Microsoft format; now I listen to WNYC even though its coverage of Canada is minimal. CTV has virtually no web presence.

Well, OK then, I could buy the local newspaper, right? And in fact I do, but our paper has the sadly common characteristic of leaving me less informed that I was when I started. And it's not just the lunatic ramblings of Brian Lee Crowley or the kneejerk conservatism of Norbert Cunningham, but the 'news' articles that report things that contradict things I know to be true, that I have seen with my own eyes.

No, the state of affairs in Canada right now is that, even if I wanted to I could not become well-informed on any subject of importance. The state of affairs is that we are being fed a steady diet of pap, lies and propaganda. The state of affairs is that our national press is under lock and key, not open for examination and criticism by the wider blogosphere, not willing to consider any opinion that does not kowtow to its sacred cows beyond a few token (and notably shrill) voices like Jim Stanford, Namoi Klein, and David Suzuki.

Has the blogosphere had an impact in Canada? How would we know? The fact is - we wouldn't. And that's why we have to listen to shysters like Norman Spector claim that there is no Canadian blogosphere, claim that we're "underdeveloped", claim that we have no influence. And the average Canadian has no means of knowing though our one-owner one-outlet corporate media that the exact opposite is the case.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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