Thursday, February 8, 2007

Year-round media coverage

What might we expect if we have VFM at UBC again next year? I’m willing to sponsor it again, and preliminary conversations indicate some AMS interest in a second year of VFM, with modifications to be determined. So in my next few posts I’ll speculate on how the behaviour of various participants (media, voters, electoral candidates) may evolve, and on some VFM system design changes we could consider.

Many observers (including The Ubyssey) have recommended broadening the scope of voter-funded media to extend beyond the election period, perhaps covering AMS issues year-round. I agree. I had wanted to launch the VFM contest in September 2006, but it took time to work out all the implementation details. I’m glad we launched it anyway though, because we learned a lot that will help us make it more successful next year.

The January 2007 VFM implementation generated new insights into AMS policy issues, candidate platforms, experience, and qualifications. Judging from the still-low turnout, these insights did not spread to many voters, but at least those who were paying attention (candidates, media and some others) benefited, which should be healthy for the AMS. The critical comparisons of media quality were enlightening, especially (I hope) for journalism students.

While year-round coverage may be ideal, it will take a few months to assess the results of January 2007, decide whether to do VFM again and if so how. So suppose it gets launched in September 2007. How will that earlier start change things?

Let’s suppose that other aspects of the contest are as before, so the media contest will be judged by voters in January 2008, with $8000 in prizes awarded. The media will have to decide how to allocate their effort through time. Will voters remember enough to reward them in January for what they did in September? Probably some media will cover AMS issues throughout the fall, while others may enter later and just cover the election. This should lighten the over-concentration of all VFM effort on the election that we saw last month, so electoral candidates should find it less fatiguing.

Most important, a September launch will give the media a much better opportunity to build voter awareness, of their coverage and of the VFM system. They can do this even before the contest begins, investing in their name brand reputation. Voters might also appreciate expanded media coverage of departmental student elections.

Next I plan a couple of posts on what elements make up a successful media group.

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