Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vancouver media/blogs: Which should we vote for?

I recently created this ballot for ranking media/blogs that cover Vancouver municipal issues. As the info page explains, it's a test implementation of voter-funded media. If the voting system seems to be working, I plan to fund periodic awards for the top-ranked media/blogs.

The ballot question is:
“Which media/blogs should Vancouver voters reward with a few hundred dollars?”

I’d like to kick off a discussion of what qualities we should look for in media/blogs for this purpose. I’ll abbreviate “media/blogs” to just “blogs” since that seems to be the dominant medium in the low-stakes contests I’ve funded so far, e.g. at UBC. But in principle, voters might support contestants providing any type of broad public benefit.

Knowing little of Vancouver issues and blogs, I browsed around and found these nine to start off the ranking, in a mostly random order:

#1: Bill Tieleman
#2: Public Eye Online
#3: City States
#4: Walter Schultz
#5: Vancouver Kid
#6: The Vancouver Manifesto
#7: Stephen Rees
#8: Paul Hillsdon
#9: David Eby

I'll re-order the list in response to votes, add suggested blogs to the list, and when we get more than 10 I plan to create an optionally-viewable page 2 for ranks 11 through 20.

I have much more confidence in Vancouver voters’ “wisdom of crowds” than in my one brain. But I’d like to offer some ideas for what blog features and qualities we could encourage, to help us vote in the November election and hold our leaders accountable.

1. Focus on Vancouver municipal issues & electoral candidates:
While all the above nine cover some Vancouver issues, several of them range well beyond this city to other municipalities, provincial politics etc. It would be great if people create blogs that summarize and link to insightful Vancouver coverage from many sources.

2. Responsiveness to this contest:
If we vote a few hundred dollars to a blog, will that make any difference? Some of the above nine are professionals who might not respond to this low-profile low-stakes contest. Nothing wrong with being a professional – indeed, a long-run goal of voter-media is to support professional journalists. But for now, if they give us the same information benefit regardless of our votes here, maybe we should fund “smaller” independents instead. If any professionals do create new content for this contest though, then let’s reward them.

3. Variety:
There is no single ideal blog for a democratic community. That’s why I typically sponsor awards to the top five to eight places in voter-media contests. Some writers have expertise in a few specific areas. Some may provide depth of analysis, some are better at summarizing, and others are just brilliant at making fun of people. ;-) And since no one can be perfectly objective, we need to hear different political perspectives. The value of each contestant should be judged in the context of what the other media are already providing. What does each one add to the total?

Your thoughts on all this?


Mark Latham said...

I got some helpful comments yesterday via the ballot:

“You have just selected people who either specialize in transportation, strongly criticize the local and provincial government or have some strong political affiliation. However, you have neglected to include any of the local blogs that write commentary on Vancouver issues in general. It would be helpful to the voter to know what strategy you used to create this sample. For the sake of it, I would really like to include local commenters on Vancouver issues (like Rebecca Bollwitt, Unless personal blogs are not encouraged. But that wouldn't be the case as Rees', Hillsdon's are primarily personal/transportation blogs, Tieleman's is personal/commentary.”

I’m taking a broad view of what blogs should be included here, and letting the voters sort them out by voting some up and some down. I looked at, saw some Vancouver political content, so added it to the ballot. At that moment I was revising the entire ranking, so put in the middle (#6) of the 11 blogs. This was probably too generous, but I was happy to get the first suggestion from a voter, and figured the ranking would be corrected by future votes.

Later that day, these two comments came in:

“ miss 604 is not a political blog”


I likewise added Price Tags and bear604. I already had votes coming in on the new ranking, so had to add them at the bottom of the list, to avoid confusing myself at this early stage of system development.

It’s true that most of Miss 604’s content is not political. The guiding principle I propose is expressed in the ballot question “Which media/blogs should Vancouver voters reward with a few hundred dollars?” That’s not much money, so voters should allocate it to just a few blogs that give the maximum benefit to the broad Vancouver public. My theory is that Vancouverites will get the biggest bang for the buck from blogs that give voters insight into city government – policy issues and electoral candidates, especially in this election year.

I face several tradeoffs in deciding which blogs to add. Contest voters’ time is valuable and limited, so I’d better not clutter the ballot with every blog under the sun. But I want this to be democratic not autocratic, so I have to avoid censorship. I plan to manage this dilemma by creating an optional second page to the ballot. The first page will just show the top 10 or so blogs. Those who want to vote on ranks 11 and above can click on a link to do so. When I revise the rankings based on votes received, the lowest blog or two from page 1 may change places with the best from page 2.

Anonymous said...

Ursa Minor is the bastard child or Hunter S. Thompson and James Carville. How did he get on the list?

Chris said...

I can't remember the last time Walter covered anything about civic politics on his blog. Other then his community centre work, it's all provincial.

Mark Latham said...

Ursa Minor was suggested by a voter and has some Vancouver policy content, so I added it.

Walter Schultz blogged about civic politics in February 2008.

It's up to contest voters to decide where in the ranking these blogs belong. If we get more blogs, the lower ranked ones will probably end up on ballot page 2 when I create it.

sean orr said...

Beyond Robson and Metblogs should be on there. Public Eye is probably the most in depth local/provincial blog in the city.