Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Meet the Elites: The News Media.

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

It has always come as a surprise to us that the news media could think of themselves as one of society’s elites. (And just because Donald Trump says it, does not make it so.)

But there is a growing distrust of the news media that is hard to deny. We cannot speak as knowledgably of the American scene but the distrust in Canada is there for all to see. It is in the corporate dominance of English television by Bell, Rogers and Shaw, the weaseling of the Postmedia chain of newspapers, the omnipotence of Péladeau’s Quebecor newspapers and television network in Quebec and the steady dismantling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada that worries Canadians.

It seems a little out of touch for news people to consider themselves among the elite when already close to half their numbers are competing for work at call centres. And with Postmedia and its Sun newspapers acquisition already on the wrong side of bankruptcy, it looks like Chairman Paul Godfrey has received his last million-dollar bonus.

But the major concern with this media elitism was obvious many years ago when we were on a panel discussing the news media with among others the editor of the Ottawa Citizen. It was when we mentioned that the parliamentary Press Gallery reporters got their best leads from the reporter on the next bar stool, the editor got angry. What must have made him angrier is that the remark got good coverage in the Ottawa news media—including a Citizen reporter in the audience.

But this media elitism is obvious today when you check out the political discussion panels on television. They are mainly news media interviewing news media about what the politicians mean by what they are saying. They rarely seem to ask the politician.

It is also the source of the media problems that needs to be understood. When in the early 20th Century radio challenged print and magazines, print rose to the challenge and became more colorful and aggressive. When television came in the second half of the century, radio had to change and print media had to offer a more in-depth product.

It was the Internet and cell phones that joined the mix at the end of 20th Century that brought us to where we are today. Print has tried to adapt to the Internet and the various platforms but has still to arrive at the right formula. Radio has become an automobile and elevator background noise and the Internet has been swallowing more and more of the advertising dollars.

And where are our media elites? They are writing tweets and making video clips for YouTube. Being an elite in modern life is fleeting.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Tom Clark, we are going to miss you.

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

That has to be some kind of a make-up or lighting trick. How can Global Television’s Tom Clark look so young and yet admit to 40 years in broadcasting? When he announced his retirement on his New Year’s day West Block program, it came as a surprise.

But having been there for Tom’s remarkable career has always been a pleasure. His father, Joe Clark was a friend of ours. Joe was our predecessor as head of communications with the Ontario Liberals and proved to be an excellent mentor.

As a young reporter, Tom always had insight into the Liberal Party. In his lengthy career with John Bassett’s CFTO and the CTV network, Tom brought integrity and objectivity to the news. We can think back to one incident back in those early years where a fractious CBC news staff and CFTO news staff were fighting over first coverage of a story and we had to admire Tom’s ability to dance out of the way. He won both ways by staying free of the fray and getting the interview that the others were fighting over.

We can admit now that Tom was also an excellent choice as a trainer when we were teaching business people how to handle television interviews. Bringing in a guest journalist always gave the training authenticity and Tom was sympathetic to their problems and gave the business people good advice.

And few could blame him for walking out on CTV back when stalwart Lloyd Robertson retired and Tom was passed over for the promotion to lead anchor in favour of Lisa LaFlamme. Tom had travelled in too many war zones and the world’s trouble spots following the news to be set aside. His outstanding reporting from Washington alone had earned him the top spot.

Tom also did an excellent job with Global Television over the past seven years. His West Block show on Sunday was a must-watch. We should admit though that we never liked the Plane Talk episodes where he took politicians for a ride while the cameras rolled. Despite being ex-air force, we have never liked flying in anything smaller than a Boeing 747. The small plane proved distracting.

Tom Clark’s high-calibre brand of journalism will be missed.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Spreading stupid stuff on the Internet.

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

You have got to be kidding! Are there that many people who actually believe what they read on the Internet? As someone who was accessing databases on remote computers before the Internet became a reality, you learned to never accept any information without considering the source and why they posted the information. And if Donald Trump does not stop tweeting, someone should do him a favour and make the White House a ‘No Twit’ zone.

But what is really disturbing is that people are believing things like blogs. Blogs are not news. Blogs are, at best, opinions. The individuals who write in these personal spaces are sharing their opinion about their world. Whether our opinions are valid is for you to decide. There are no guarantees.

It is like in the early newspapers. In North America, many newspapers were created to support a political party or the objectives of a community of interest. Even today, we have large dailies with political opinions. We even have radio and television networks that do not keep their political bias out of their news articles and programming.

Even when a large and relatively respected news organization is behind an article on their web site, it does not mean that the writer is not letting personal bias paint the story.

There is also the reader’s bias. Years ago, an older gentleman was asking me about something he read in his daily newspaper. It only made sense when he produced the original item. It was discovered that he was reading the Letters-to-the-Editor, thinking they were news items.

But nobody wants to see an Internet that is rigidly controlled and edited. They might try to do that in some totalitarian regimes but our communities are far better off with a free and open Internet. We might need some parental controls on it but any limitations will be at the cost of our freedoms.

We are entitled to read the differing opinions and to make up our own minds as to what is of interest and what we believe. And just because some of us will not waste our time on Facebook or Twitter, it does not mean we do not understand the social media. What people need to do is always question the source of information. There are many sources that want to manipulate for their reasons—not ours.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The slippery slide to sophistry.

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Not all communications from readers are complimentary. There was a reader the other day who accused us of the dastardly use of comma splices. It was only by Googling ‘comma splice’ that we found out the nature of the problem. It seems we were being pilloried for using commas where you really need a colon or semi-colon.

The specific complaint was about our comments on a television interview with Conrad Black. As you might know, Lord ‘Cross-the-Pond’ has a penchant for ‘veddy-veddy’ correct grammar. He acts like he was the guy who taught the late Henry Fowler ‘Modern English Usage.’

But what the former newspaper publisher does not understand is that there is no standard for English in Canada. And there is ample evidence of the disarray this has caused. It used to be that Canadian Press would try to help news editors but fewer newspapers subscribe to Canadian Press services today. Periodically University English Departments try to do something but nobody appears very interested.

And from once being the bulwark of English language pronunciation in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation seems to have surrendered to Americanized mumbling. (We actually woke up the wife the other evening by shouting: “Did you hear what Peter Mansbridge just said?

“So, what,” she mumbled and went back to sleep. It was some minor mispronunciation that you might have expected from an American announcer but never from the CBC’s lead guy.)

But who cares. The only reason you want to have a standard is so that people can understand each other. Americans figured that out years ago and decided they did not want to be understood. Never, ever try to get into an argument with an Alabaman and a Bostonian at the same time. It will drive you nuts!

Even the English stopped talking the same language many years ago; after giving the world a common language for science and international air travel. English was the ideal alternative to Esperanto.

Anyone who relies just on their computer’s spell check operation is very foolish. And, by the way, anyone who chooses to capriciously argue the case is guilty of sophistry.

But we responded to our critic with an appropriate ‘mia culpa.’ We told him that we really do try to edit our work, though not always successfully. We had looked at the original copy of the Conrad Black piece and felt embarrassed by the colons and semi-colons that were used. It was as though Conrad had written it himself. So, we followed normal newspaper practice today and changed them all to commas.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Ten reasons to support first-past-the-post voting.

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

This is an updated version of the paper of the same name from the Democracy Papers of 2007. With the special committee of the house of commons due to report soon on their findings, it is something the committee needs to consider.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20? If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, with today’s Internet voting, it is simple and inexpensive to have a run-off election among the leading candidates.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions. An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person, your MP or MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters if he or she wants to be re-elected.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept). To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters. Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters over the years. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses. The record of our politicians is there for us to examine. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?


Copyright 2007, 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Rethinking political communication.

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Read something the other day that said young people ignore political pamphlets. What was new about this puzzled us. If it looks like a political pamphlet, it deserves to be ignored. We have been redesigning and creating new forms of communication for politicians for many years. Communications have to be written for the audience, not the subject.

Brochures are the fun and creative side of politics. Once many years ago a friend was studying a new brochure we had created and he said, “This looks like it is selling hamburgers.” Everyone loved that brochure, but the hamburger lost.

It was about the same time as another designer friend put together a brochure for a chap who was running in Toronto’s Greenwood riding. The obvious occurred to him and he portrayed the candidate as a modern Robin Hood. The candidate was offended by the suggestion and killed the idea. He lost the election so there was no way to tell if Robin Hood would have won.

But these two examples are probably what give political pamphlets a bad name. Too many of them do look alike and most are very badly written—not because of the inept writer but because of the candidate’s interference. The other problem is that the central campaign always provides cheap formats with the leader already in it. Not much thought is wasted in adding in the local candidate.

The best advice we can give anyone writing a political brochure is to get the campaign manager to give you a couple poll lists that will give you a balanced sample of the riding. Now take something to hand out, even just the candidate’s card, go knock on some of those doors and listen carefully. When you are ready to write the brochure a few days later, you will have a much better idea of what people want to know about the candidate.

One time we found out that nobody trusted the various candidates but the voters liked our candidate’s dog. We featured the dog on all the literature and the dog won handily.

And it has been a very, very long time since we last designed a two-fold, two-sided eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet that would fit in a business envelope. Sure it is cheap, but what is the point if nobody opens it?

You have to catch the attention, you have to have it relate to the familiar, you have to make a statement and if you do not, nobody is interested.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Enquiring Canadian minds want to know.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

As a youngster in public relations, we used to reassure clients that people would read anything by pointing out that a million Americans bought the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer each week. Today that trashy publication is down to about half that circulation but it is finding a new digital life under the management of American Media Inc. (AMI). It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry when learning that an AMI executive responsible for the National Enquirer is now coming onto the board of Canada’s largest print media organization Postmedia.

The American is going to have to be a wonder worker to help stem the red ink in Paul Godfrey’s media empire. It seems that about once a week, we get a telemarketer calling to plead with us to subscribe to the National Post. Nobody appears to care though if we read the local Sun Media paper, also owned by Postmedia.

It seems that the American hedge funds that really own Postmedia are starting to realize that Paul Godfrey is not a miracle worker and they will never get all their money back. New Jersey-based Chatham Asset Management and fellow hedge fund Goldentree Asset Management have gone their separate ways in making anything out of Postmedia. Goldentree has put its larger share up for sale.

This is counter to Chatham’s converting about half its outstanding debt to about one-third of the equity in the Canadian media company. Since they are also major equity owners in AMI, they have put AMI executive David Pecker on the Postmedia board.

Pecker has been with AMI for a reported 17 years. During that time, he has been chairman, president and CEO. By taking the National Enquirer into the digital world, he has turned the company around and opened substantial new revenue streams for the tabloid.

The only evidence of his appointment to Postmedia’s board so far is the further decimation of Postmedia staff with an announcement by Postmedia that remaining staff are being offered buyouts to reduce staff by another 20 per cent. After the layoffs of earlier this year and the consolidation of news rooms, it is a wonder that there are staff left to lose.

But the good news for Paul Godfrey is that he gave himself a raise of some $400,000 to an annual salary of $1,700,000. Have you seen the new National Post Enquirer yet?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Election day is not a holiday.

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

One of the objectives of the current special parliamentary committee on electoral reform in Canada is to look at ways of encouraging more people to vote. To-date they have considered suggestions of everything from paying people to vote to making it law. Some American companies considering the importance of the upcoming federal election in the United States are even giving their employees the day off to vote.

But what everyone is doing is looking at the question of how to increase voting turnout through the wrong end of the telescope. The problem is with the politicians. They are lazy, inexpert and making the wrong assumptions before any election even gets off the ground.

If companies really wanted to help turn out the vote, they would give employees wanting to help their political parties the day off to work for their party to get out the vote. It is of no concern of the company which party but having employees who care makes it all worthwhile.

Political parties throughout North America have been on a steady downward spiral for the past quarter century. From the time that Jean Chrétien trashed his Red Book of promises in taking power in 1993, the Liberal Party of Canada headed downhill. In the same way, the Conservative Party of Canada became Stephen Harper’s personal instrument and forgot about the future.

And if no American politico is not now aware of the desperate need for America to reform its political primary system, they have been in a coma for the past year.

Political parties in North America have been taking a bad rap for the past 150 years. They are the unappreciated engine of the political process of the country. As corrupt as they might have been in the past, they work hard to reflect current morals. They are the public—some living in the past, some looking to the future. They generate politicians, good and bad, they deal in process and political possibilities.

We cannot have organized, national politicians without their handmaidens in the political parties. We need the workers, the strategists, the sign holders, the leaders, the door knockers and the challengers. Political parties must be allowed to grow and replenish.

Yet we encourage the destroyers. Harper is gone but Trudeau has taken the Liberal Party, shaken it like a rag doll and let the insiders fall out. Trump has driven a disillusioned Republican Party to perdition. It will take years to rebuild. Maybe it will be better for it. All political parties need to rebuild themselves. They do not belong to the politicians. They belong to their nation.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Lessons from the world of twits.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

The first question for today: ‘Is there life after Twitter?’ Front-page news the other day at the Toronto Star was that columnist Paul Wells is boycotting Twitter. It is a form of protest. He will forego his 30 tweets per day and his 60,000 followers until Twitter gets its censorship problems corrected to Mr. Wells’ satisfaction.

So welcome to the real world Mr. Wells. Welcome to the Twitter-free universe. This is your chance to get a life. You can walk around your city with your head held high—no longer myopically peering at your smart phone. You no longer even need that weather app; you can look up at the sky. And you can look at the world around you.

You could even be ahead of that guy Trump in the U.S. He has far more followers of his twits than you. He is a braggart and a buffoon and he entertains. Just wait for his reaction in November when he finds there is no app that will get those Twitterites to follow him to the polls.

A few years ago a grandson convinced us to give Twitter another trial. He said that all writers have to promote themselves on Twitter. That was not true. Twitter proves to be a colossal waste of time. If every Twitterite took that time to read a few good books, they would have something interesting to talk about. They would know more about their world. They would know more about people and how they live.

We spent many years of being an early adopter of things technical. The first home computers, the radio telephone in the car before the concept of cells was developed. Boy, did we have the gadgets—usually at excessive cost and then the analysis, report and rejection.

Social media has done almost as much for the Internet as pornography. Both build users. They both repel. Social media is intrusive, dangerous, exploitive, vulgar and eventually nauseating—come to think of it, so is pornography.

So good on you Paul Wells. You might have done the deed for your own purposes but you could be helping free the slaves of social media. Think of all those young people learning to interact properly with their peers instead of sexting. Think of the exercise our youth will get as they go out to explore their neighbourhood without the life-line of a smart phone. They will be the ones looking around them in wonder. They might be seeing their real world for the first time.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The Division of Ignorance.

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

If you are black, is that license to call people racist because they are white? It seems the editors of the Toronto Star have stopped thinking when they accept op-eds from writers who just want to create racial strife. Desmond Cole, a regular contributor to the Toronto Star said in a September 15 op-ed article that “Suspicion of all immigrants who are not white, or not members of the former British Empire, is a Canadian value.”

Mr. Cole insults all Canadians who happen to be white and the Toronto Star should be embarrassed. Cole uses a speech by Sir John A. Macdonald as support for his thesis and says the fact that it was 150 years ago is irrelevant.

And it is obvious that Mr. Cole has no idea of the wide differences today between British and Canadian values. Canada has grown in many ways over the past 150 years. As mentioned recently in one of our commentaries, our Canadian values are constantly changing—we hope for the better.

Of course people such as MP Kelly Leitch do not help just because she might think bigotry plays well with some of her voters. Leitch has been severely criticized within her own political party for her proposals and her chances of winning her party’s leadership have fallen from slim to zero.

But the comments of writers such as Mr. Cole and the disruptive antics of an organization such as Black Lives Matter do not help matters either. They can cause embarrassment for the black community.

Nor are Mr. Cole’s opinions on Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples germane. When he takes the time to see how attitudes have changed across Canada over the years and the extensive efforts of Canadians to atone for past mistakes, maybe then he can comment. To suggest that Canadians practice a forgetfulness of past indignities is not only wrong but displays an ignorance that is hard to take.

Another grievous error in Mr. Cole’s comments is his scurrilous attack on the North-West Mounted Police, its successor Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the spin-off Canadian Border Services Agency. Nobody believes that these forces are paragons but they certainly do not deserve to be described as being “steeped in centuries of racism, colonialism and white supremacy.”

It seems to this writer that Mr. Cole welcomes divisive comments by politicians as a way to keep his own cultural war going.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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