Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is the Vancouver contest political/municipal enough?

These two comments on my August 25 post are worth quoting and following up in a new thread:

Chris said...
The results are turning more into a popularity contest then a reasonable measure of political blogs in Vancouver. Half of the blogs on the list have little or no political content, especially Vancouver municipal political content.

As much as I like Miss 604's blog, I can't remember the last time she wrote about anything regarding politics in Vancouver. The closest thing I can think of was a discussion of the smoking ban.

Same goes for Vancity Buzz.

The Vancouver Observer, Price Tags, and Paul Hilsdon have minimal municipal political content

Bill Tieleman and Walter Schultz focus provincial politics.

A general Vancouver blog like Beyond Robson or Metroblogging Vancouver has more political content then most of the blogs on the list.

August 25, 2008 2:41 PM

Raul (hummingbird604) said...
I am the newest addition to the roster, for which I'm grateful. As for political content, I would ask one question and point out to one thing.

1) Is the contest purely for political blogs? That wasn't my understanding.

2) I am in no way, shape or form justifying my blog or my inclusion in the ballot, but I do write about Vancouver's public policy issues, particularly environmental policy.

I think that having a variety of blogs allows for the experiment to take place. As a social scientist myself, I can see how the experiment is developing and I'm curious to see the outcome.

August 26, 2008 6:59 PM

Thanks Chris and Raul for taking up this important question. I agree with most of the points you made.

Two weeks ago I invited Beyond Robson to enter the contest, and we’re just sorting out who on their end should approve the entry and receive any award payments. Once that’s done I plan to invite Vancouver Metblogs, which seems to have a similar structure of platform provider aggregating independent bloggers.

The contest is designed to empower Vancouver voters to fund whatever they think serves their interests. My expectation is that they will want to support bloggers that give insight on municipal politics and policies, so I call it the “Vancouver Election Blog Contest”. But to keep this process democratic, the contest administrator should not impose that view by restricting entry to political blogs. This is partly to prevent political control by the adminstrator, and partly to keep the door open to other possible community benefits – e.g. see Will VFM Provide Consumer Info?

Here’s a relevant section of the contest terms:
We refer to contestants as “media” or “bloggers” and call this a blog contest based on what we think contestants will do, but we do not actually require contestants to act like media or be bloggers. This contest is designed to benefit the voting community, and many types of benefit are possible. We think contestants will win votes by providing such benefits as blogs, websites, newspapers and broadcasts giving insight on Vancouver civic issues, especially those decided by vote.

Likewise the question of regional focus (municipal, greater metropolitan, provincial) is left to the voters. Vancouver issues overlap so much with regional and provincial (transportation, education, environment, crime, you name it) that I wouldn’t know how to draw a dividing line. Right after the municipal election in November, I plan to morph it into a B.C. political blog contest and promote it to bloggers and voters province-wide, as a run-up to the B.C. election next May.

When assessing contest voter tendencies, it’s helpful to look not only at the current week’s ranking on the ballot, but also at the cumulative awards won so far. Current rankings fluctuate depending on who posted about the contest recently. The leader in cumulative awards is The Tyee, with serious in-depth coverage of politics and policy. And speaking of policy, some contestants may not discuss Vancouver’s election specifically, but give voters valuable insight into municipal issues, e.g. Price Tags on urban planning and Paul Hillsdon on transportation.

Nonetheless, Chris’s point that the voting results are like a popularity contest is still something to worry about. Marketing is not my forte. My main promotion strategy for attracting people to vote is to depend on the contestants to publicize it in their blogs. Most of them have mentioned it once or twice, but that’s about it. So we may not have expanded the voter pool much beyond the bloggers themselves and their friends. As a result, many of the votes may reflect loyalty to friends rather than the broader public interest. To some extent such biases cancel each other out, but I think some flavour of a popularity contest remains.

Part of the problem is the limited award pool. $300 a week is not much to support independent political media for a city the size of Vancouver. Bloggers may not find it worthwhile to promote their entries for a few extra dollars. So this may change in future if we can attract more funding.

But meanwhile there’s a lot we can do. A few days ago I finally learned how to mask the ballot’s super-long URL, so now I can encourage bloggers to link to the new short URL: A ballot link that stays near the top of a blog, like those at Vancouver Manifesto and UBC Insider, would bring multiple benefits: more voting support for that contestant, knowledge of other blogs for their readers, and a broader voter base for the contest. So it’s not just a selfish plug. Better still, bloggers can recommend other contestants they consider particularly worthy, as Miss604 did in this post.

BTW I’m writing a paper on the overall rationale and strategy for voter funded media – download the latest draft “How to Create Public Interest Media in Your Democratic Community” at

I welcome more comments on all this!


Vancity Buzz said...

Chris and you have brought up a good point. As a new blog just finding its voice in the Vancouver blogosphere Vancity Buzz will attempt to bring more attention to the civic election. Just check out this post one of our bloggers Urban Dweller.

Now this process can't be complete without comments and suggestions from our readers. We take the comments very seriously (if warranted) and look to them to expand our knowledge as there are many knowledgeable individuals who bring about a different view point. Those view points can enlighten or clarify issues.

We will follow the civic election very closely and ensure the people know whats at stake.

(apologies for grammatical or spelling errors in advance)

ross said...

I read a lot of the blogs mentioned. Vancity Buzz does talk about municipal matters. Mainly development oriented. They do seem to geniunely care about the city.

They also talk about provincial politics.

Hummingbird is a great addition to the list.

Raul (hummingbird604) said...

Thanks Mark for opening up this forum for debate. My most recent post (where I voice my frustration with the lack of interest of Twitter users on Vancouver's politics - Twitter is the micro-blogging platform we use) is precisely focused on local action and local politics. I wrote a draft of that post even before I was invited to join the roster, so I can confidently say that my writing that post was not influenced by my inclusion in the roster.

I know most of the blogs that are included in the roster. Miss604 has traditionally focused on Vancouver and it's what people call a hyper local blog, because of the Vancouver-centric nature of her posts. Vancouver MetBlogs and Beyond Robson are also long time reads of mine, as are Price Tags and Paul Hillsdon.

I have also been following the content of recent blogs such as VanCity Buzz, who have been highlighting local issues. One particular element I've liked is their "focus on small business" series, as I am a firm believer that we should support those small firms.

I am very honored and humbled when I hear such nice comments (thanks Ross and everyone who has given positive feedback!)

If I may be so bold as to suggest this, you may want to join Twitter. It's been a great platform for me to disseminate what I'm writing about to a broader audience. It may also help you disseminate the experiment itself.

One other element. In my case, my blog is personal. Earlier this year, I asked whether I should be writing more Vancouver-centric posts, and I
promised I would but I've been somewhat remiss. I'm planning to go back to those kind of YVR-centric posts, not because of a popularity contest but because I love the city that I've called home for the past decade.

Charles Menzies said...

There is a range of types of commentary. The blog I write is focused on public education. This means that sometimes it's about voting politics, but a lot of time it's about the politics of education.

During municipal elections in Vancouver most people forget about education issues. Aside from the Vancouver Sun education reporter's blog (which is a relatively new thing) I think it would be fair to say that my blog, In Support of Public Education, is one of the rare few that focuses on education. Not for everyone, but an often ignored issue.

I would love to see the day that we could run school board elections on a different cycle than city council. Then we would get the people who care about education involved and also education wouldn't be obscured by the glitz of the so-called more important city council.

The Vancouver Observer said...

For the record, The Vancouver Observer is packed with content on municipal politics. In the last week, in depth profiles of Vision Vancouver city council candidates Heather Deal, David Eby and Andrea Reimer. And, a profile of Frances Bula and how her writing fits into the picture. Photographic coverage of the Vision Vancouver vote today. And coming next week, profiles of three NPA city council candidates will be appearing. There has been ongoing coverage of the mayoral campaign, and The Vancouver Observer has upcoming interviews with NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner and Vision Vancouver candidate Gregor Robertson. On a shoestring, we can only do so much. Would like to do more. And have gotten so energized by the small winnings from this contest. Cheers!