Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dial 'M' for... Misleading

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but... man, it seems like I've been saying that a lot lately. Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but sometimes you offer some questionable conclusions.

I'm thinking specifically of your report yesterday, proclaiming -- I can only assume with true, diehard civic pride -- that Winnipeg successfully reclaimed its crown and walked tall as the Murder Capital of Canada in 2008.

Yeah! Woo! Party!

But, no, hang on a second here. Much as I adore our city's constant contendership for the Slurpee and Murder Capital crowns (because, admit it, it's nice to believe that we can win something), there's a lot about this declaration that I don't think I can fully endorse.

The first natural reaction is "why the hell are you guys reporting last year's statistics as news, it's like Halloween by now", but you have to play the cards you're dealt. It's attractive to suggest that Statistics Canada put out their Homicide in Canada 2008 report like it was a big deal, but the truth is that they just do crap like this for fun literally all the time. Every weekday they produce a whole bunch of news reports on various things that they were in no particular hurry to get done, a StatsCan function they like to call "The Daily" -- which is totally unreasonable, because what kind of 'daily' doesn't even publish on a Sunday? I know, right?

So, rather than treating it as any sort of major news story, Statistics Canada scheduled their big press release about last year's homicide statistics for the same release date as a report on railway carloading figures from a couple months ago, a study of the placement of hatchery chicks on farms, and a coast-to-coast headcount of pigs. You can see how important this is to them.

Late as the figures may seem, we get 'em when we get 'em, so that one's pretty much out of your hands. But then another, stranger question popped up: why is Winnipeg the "Murder Capital" if, according to Statistics Canada, the murder rate is highest in Abbotsford-Mission, BC?

The Winnipeg Sun took the uncharacteristically reserved tack of titling their article on the subject "Gang violence drives up homicide rates", but they're the Sun so who cares. The National Post offered no commentary and only put up the raw numbers, assumedly because everyone over there is too busy worrying about whether or not they'll still be employed on Monday. CBC News lists the ten largest cities as a sidebar but ignores them in the text proper, instead talking about provincial homicide rates and firearm use. And Global Winnipeg echoed the Free Press' "Murder Capital" declaration, but that's only because they just copied and pasted the Free Press article wholesale. Global, c'mon now. Honestly.

What's the deal? The deal is this: Statistics Canada grouped the areas studied by population, listing the cities larger than 500,000 people as one category and the cities between 100,000 and 500,000 as another. StatsCan gives no instructions or reasons to treat the categories as purposefully distinguished from one another out of any higher reason than organization, but members of our local media have apparently decided to run with the idea that the larger cities are the only ones worthy of being titled the Murder Capital.

So, "Winnipeg named 2008 murder capital", the Free Press (and Global) headline announces. Does this seem like a strange decision to anybody else? First, arbitrarily limiting the title of Murder Capital to "the country's 10 largest centres" not only discounts a lot of potential Murder Capitals, but discounts the majority of the nation's actual capitals. Second, it seems rather suspect to be announcing a city as the Murder Capital when it neither has the most murders by actual volume or by adjusted ratio. (If everyone starts rearranging the rules of the game to suit their own needs, it ultimately becomes another sales-dollars-versus-cups-sold kind of problem.) And, third, this seems like a lot of hoop-jumping to go through to declare Winnipeg the Murder Capital of Canada -- so why is it only our media outlets that are doing it? If everybody else in the country is content to give Abbotsford-Mission its time in the sun, why are we as a city trying to argue our way back to the top of a statistic that's not actually supposed to be considered a good thing?

So I can't say that I'm one-hundred per cent behind the reasoning applied here to declare us the Murder Capital. You know what, though? I'm still keeping it! I'm in total agreement with the outcome, but not with the way they arrived at it.

You see, Winnipeg is the Murder Capital of Canada; not because of any highfalutin' finagling with the relative population sizes, but because Abbotsford-Mission is two entirely different places and that is totally cheating. Abbotsford and Mission are two separate municipal entities with two separate governments, so treating them as a single statistical city is like talking about "Kitchener-Waterloo" or "Minneapolis-St. Paul" as individual places. It doesn't work like that, son! This ain't no handicap match! If somebody were compiling a list of places that "It's Worth The Trip To", do you think we'd get away with trying to sneak ourselves in as "Steinbach-Winnipeg"? Hell no we wouldn't!

So don't listen to any British Columbian con artists and their attempts to pull a fast one with regional mergers, folks; Winnipeg is once again the proud Murder Capital of Canada, and still the proud Slurpee Capital of the World, because that is just how we roll. Slurpees and Murder! Whoo! Good work, team!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On On7

Winnipeg Free Press, you know that I love you and I think that you're the best paper in town (for whatever that's worth), but sometimes you guys really do just make the dumbest decisions possible.

And Free Press subscribers, today was a special day: the very last day that a Sunday paper, one of the seven days in your seven-day subscription (or one of the two weekend days in your weekend subscription), was delivered directly to your home at the price you'd already paid for it. I hope you enjoyed it appropriately!

Next Saturday will mark the launch of the Free Press' combined "Weekend Edition", because I know everybody in the city has been clamoring and champing at the bit to read the Faith section on a Saturday. Then, the Sunday immediately following that will see the launch of an entirely different product -- "On7", the Free Press' new branded tabloid that can only be procured by going out and purchasing it for an extra dollar (or dollar-fifty; apparently they still haven't decided) somewhere else.

Now, follow this logic. According to the official reasoning posted above, the reason that the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday Edition has to be cancelled now is because twenty-four years ago Sunday shopping didn't take off like they thought it would. (No, seriously.) So now as a result they're cancelling the Sunday edition entirely, instead replacing it with a new paper that you can only acquire during your... Sunday shopping... that you don't actually do... because if you did go out shopping on Sundays in the first place, they would still be publishing a Sunday Free Press.

If this train of reasoning doesn't make sense to you, you obviously don't run a newspaper.

Similarly, it makes complete sense to them but not to you or I when the publisher of the paper announces that daily subscribers "will not have any price increase". (At least, not this year.) Really, Bob? Because I could have sworn that paying a flat rate for seven of a given item, and then paying that same flat rate for six of that same item, means that the price for each item increases. I mean, I don't run a newspaper or anything, so I can see how the math might be open to interpretation, but I'm pretty confident that I've crunched the numbers properly here.

Who, if anybody, actually believes that this additional paper at an additional cost with no option for home delivery is a good idea? General readers and subscribers reacted strongly in opposition to the move, forcing a rash of comment deletions on the Free Press website, and the expected cutbacks of worker shifts have the unions complaining as well. But didn't they hear about Bob Cox's anecdotal evidence that carriers are looking forward to the day off? You guys don't want to work on Sundays! Who are you going to believe, yourselves or him?

Honestly, I can see where FP Newspapers Income Fund is coming from here, but I really do think that they've completely bungled this situation. If they had just said "times are tough, we're scaling back to six days" and left it at that, they would have had everybody's sympathy. Times are tough! It's a rough time for journalism. And if they'd said "we're altering the Sunday paper to try and readjust for the future, so please enjoy our newly retooled 'On7' each week at no additional cost", they may have seen small pockets of criticism but most folks would still have been willing to put up with it. Heck, they might even have come to like it! But cancelling the subscriber copy of the Sunday paper and immediately replacing it with some light-and-fluffy rag that A) you have to pay additional money for and B) you have to go find for yourself -- well. Maybe not owning a newspaper means that I don't understand marketing, either.

And just as I don't understand the thought processes behind their strategy, I really, really don't understand what this Sunday tabloid is supposed to accomplish in the current market. The promise is for "breaking news, sports and entertainment", which I could have sworn already appeared in the Free Press as is. Is On7 supposed to provide more local content, like the Canstar community papers? You guys own the Canstar community papers. Is it supposed to appeal to younger audiences with local entertainment and alternative news coverage, like Uptown? You guys own Uptown! What are you worried about, the Winnipeg Sun? Ha! The Sun doesn't even have enough people to generate local content the rest of the week, let alone focus any of their efforts on Sundays. What are they going to do, tell the Canadian Press wire to step up their game for the weekends?

But, you know what they say -- when life gives you shit, you make shit-ade. The Free Press' promotional department has been trying valiantly to drum up excitement for this oncoming new paper, which is no mean task when the paper was only admitting to "considering" the change two weeks ago. So if you were leafing through Uptown or The Tab this past Thursday, I'm sure you ran into this full-page spot:

Yeah, uh. Thrilling.

My favourite part is that they attached the new product's opening promotional efforts to a Winnipeg entity that's suffering from unpopular management decisions, struggling to produce any worthwhile results, and facing record lows of audience support. Sounds like an apt connection to me!

There's also a Manitoba Moose-themed advertisement now floating around on city buses, with the same general template motif (translucent black bar, two-word phrase -- in this case "PUCK DROPS" -- and underwhelming orange seven logo) superimposed over the hockey player. I saw it on Friday on my way home from work, but didn't happen to get a picture because that darn bus seemed to have somewhere to be. It did get me thinking about the marketing campaign, though; they may have felt that its simplicity is core to its appeal, or they may have just thrown it together because they had like zero time to prepare it, but what I noticed first and foremost about its simple layout is how easily it could lend itself to mischief and tomfoolery. And I am a man who loves, loves his mischief and tomfoolery.

So I thought, if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the local example they went with, what other ideas must they have rejected during the initial phases? I've taken the liberty of slapping a few examples together.

All the best, Winnipeg Free Press On7! Good luck competing with the internet!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swanton for a Million, or James Howard Thinks Too Hard About Music Sometimes

Okay. Here's a little test that I want you guys to follow me on, just as a little conceptual exercise.

Are you familiar with production music? The canned background music that media types purchase to save time and money on actual musicians, the musical equivalent of stock footage? I see some of you nodding. Okay, good. Now, there have to be -- what? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Let's wager conservatively and say there are billions and billions of possible songs available for license as production music, because there is money to be made in it and all of the major labels have at least one music library dedicated to the stuff.

How hard is it to come across one particular track by accident or searching? Here's where the exercise comes in. Sony ATV owns a production music library named Extreme Music, which I would like you (if you feel you have the time) to poke around in with these instructions:

1) Visit the company's website. (And wait for it to load. Ugh, Flash-based websites. Ugh ugh ugh.)
2) Click on the 'SEARCH' tab, bypassing the default and wholly unhelpful BROWSE section entirely.
3) Type "zach tempest", the name of one of their composers, into the search bar. Note that this brings up seventy-one songs across three pages.
4) Locate the song "Loaded" on this list of results. It should be the tenth item, or at least it is on my screen; if it isn't, see how long it takes for you to find it.
5) Hit the green Play arrow beside the song title. See if you recognize the song. (It's okay if you don't. We'll be talking about it in a second.)

Now, that's five steps to reach a single song, and that's while knowing specifically which song we're looking for and where specifically to look for it. And those five steps do not include the necessary steps of actually being able to use the song -- licensing, purchasing, downloading, so on and so forth. And this is just the one library out of, oh man, who even knows how many production music libraries there are out there.

Given this information and this exercise, then, how likely would you say it is that that two entirely different companies at entirely different times would stumble upon and purchase one out of seventy-one songs, by some nobody you've never heard of, in one out of who knows how many libraries, that cumulatively hold hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of pieces of music each? What I am about to say may sound like a brave stance, but I am going to take the position that the probability of this is reasonably low.

Now, some of you may have actually recognized (or got a faint vibe of recognition from) the song that I'd just meticulously directed you to, and I have two theories about where you may have heard it.

Theory one is that you like professional wrestling, because years ago that very chart served as as the entrance theme for the Hardy Boyz, a pair of professional wrestlers who -- surprisingly, given the nature of pro wrestling -- are actual brothers who actually are named Hardy. (The 'z' in 'Boyz' was so the company could trademark the name. Welcome to pro wrestling!) And theory two? Theory two is that, at any time in the past couple weeks, you have come into contact with TSN, the cleverly-named Canadian specialty channel The Sports Network.

TSN is having its annual cross-promotional event with the Canadian Football League and the fast-food chain Wendy's, the Kick for a Million contest where average schmucks enter to kick a series of field goals for cash and prizes. You may recall that back in 2005 a guy actually did hit the million-dollar kick, and Wendy's instead tried to pay him in fourty annual installments of $25,000; the resulting audience backlash was so intense that the company switched it to a lump sum the next year. That's sort of a sidenote, though; I'm bringing it up more because of the seemingly inescapable commercials on TSN for the ongoing series of kicks at various games throughout the season.

So guess what music they are playing in the background of each and every one of these commercials. Guess.

(If you're wondering, I sat down in front of the hockey game and grabbed this myself with my li'l digital camera. Have you ever tried to capture a widescreen image with a fullscreen camera? Man, I don't know how those movie theatre pirates have the patience for it.)

So somebody at TSN, obviously, is being a major-league goof and sneaking wrestling themes into their promotional material for giggles. I would call this 'brazen', but I think it actually shoots right beyond brazen. I don't think TSN even knows the meaning of the word 'brazen', they think that's the extra brand name for those Dairy Queens that sell hot dogs and shit.

My guess as to the culprit? Jay Onrait. This sounds like something he would do! I distinctly remember him showing up as the anchor for the SportsCenter previews, back when RAW was still on TSN, and busting out lines like "We'll get you back to RVD's unbelievably fake looking kicks in a minute" and "I liked Carlito better the first time, when he was Razor Ramon". I'm on to you, Onrait!

Why, yes, I do routinely write multiple pages of text about a single musical coincidence. Look, I don't question what you do in your spare time.

Anyway. Exciting times ahead! Tomorrow afternoon, as soon as I get off work, I'll be logging in half an hour late and -- of all things -- watching the online stream of my own Master's graduation ceremony, in absentia, from fourteen hundred kilometres away because I can't afford to skip work or to fly back out there. Then, to celebrate in my own little way, tomorrow evening I'm going out to the Pyramid Cabaret for the Grady concert.

Blog-wise, after all that, I intend to compose a doozy of a post about this whole On7 business -- and I think it's going to be a pretty good one! So hold tight, true believers, and I'll see you around in a couple days or so.

Monday, October 19, 2009

James Howard Just Does Everything at Once

Man, time flies around here! I had a whole bunch of stuff to talk about a few days ago, but then I was working full eight-hour days and helping people move and going to bonfires and trying out this video game where you punch people in the face -- and then here I am and all of a sudden it's Monday, which must be the fault of that dadgum Daylight Savings Time I've heard about.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

James Howard Liveblogs the TSN Feed of the Lions/Bombers Game

D'aww, nuts. So much for that plan.

Well, that's fine! I've been super busy the last couple of days anyway, so I haven't been able to get out the posts I've wanted to write; this will give me the time I need to catch up and spit out a great big honkin' megapost tonight.

But, first things first; I haven't cracked open today's paper, so I guess I'll get on that before I do any more writing. And since my household subscribes faithfully to the Winnipeg Free Press, I know that I can count on the best coverage in town showing up right at my doorstep every Sunday morning to keep me informed! Boy, customer loyalty is great, isn't it?

In fact, I've recently procured a super-special secret look at the upcoming November 1st subscription edition of the Free Press, so let me just open her up here and have a lo--


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You Can't Both Be Right

CBC News: Bathhouse owner 'sick' over fatal fire

"However, Pengpharsuks said he doesn't believe the business was targeted as a hate crime."

Winnipeg Free Press: Burned bathhouse's owner sees possible hate crime

"Police said Tuesday the fire is still under investigation and did not label the incident as a hate crime.
'I can't really say,' said Pengpharsuks.
'It's still under investigation.'

How do two local news outlets cover the exact same story -- by interviewing the same person -- and still end up that far apart from each other? How do you end up with the headline "possible hate crime" when the owner's closest statement to that effect is "I can't really say" and "It's still under investigation"?

And how far has CTV News fallen in this city if they were the only ones asked not to use his full name? Or did he ask this of everybody, and all the other news outlets just ignored his request?

None of this makes a lick of sense. Journalism in this town sometimes, man, I tell you what.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let Your Pictures Do the Talking

You'll note on the right-hand side of the site that I've done some alterations and additions -- most notably updating the links list, a task I had successfully managed to put off for a good couple of years. I dare say it looks a bit more robust now.

But enough administrative talk! None of that is nearly as important as what I am about to share with you, because I am here tonight to tell you guys about my lunch-hour trip to the Goodwill Store in the Exchange District earlier today.

I can feel your excitement from here. Humour me, at least!

This week is half-off all red-tagged items in that particular store, so I took the opportunity to poke around and grab a few ties. (I've found that I have to actually dress like a grown-up these days, now that I have a grown-up degree and a grown-up job, so it makes sense to build up as wide an array of neckwear as fiscally possible.) Then I skimmed the book section for a couple of minutes, headed along the store's main corridor towards the cash tier, and came by chance across the relics of a long forgotten age.

Oh! Snap! (See what I did there? I used the--ah, never mind.) All aboard the express train for Nostalgiaville! You can click those images for a better view of them, if you'd like, just so you can get the full experience of such snappy banter and highbrow wit as "I TOT I TAW A PUDDYTAT", "DA AGONY OF DA FEET!", and "REAL CATS DON'T EAT LASAGNA". Copyright was a distinctly greyer area in those days, I guess.

There is absolutely no information available about these things online, so I don't even remember for sure which era these are even from, but these sticker sets definitely hearken back to simpler times. Have you read that Telegraph article on 50 things that are being killed by the internet from a month or so ago? If we were to add a fifty-first entry to that list, I think "monkeying around with photographs by hand" would definitely be a strong candidate for eligibility.

Just think! Back in the day, if you wanted to add some o' the ol' belly-laughs and knee-slaps to a freshly-dried Polaroid, you 'n' yer best buds'd need to fork over the bread for a crisp new set o' stickers every time y'wanted to "get the goat" of yer buddy 'n' his stodgy still-lifes! All that fuss, that muss, the effort it took to get that sticker in just the right spot! Funny how that worked. No, when the fine folks at Sooter's (is Sooter's even still a chain any more, oh my god) printed these sheets of stickers out way, way, way back when, they couldn't possibly have foreseen the world that lay ahead -- because now, having bought two of the sets for a quarter each, I can use the magic of digital manipulation to generate a theoretically infinite supply of "amusing" stickers for a theoretically infinite supply of pictures. And I didn't even open the plastic wrap.

So I think it's safe to say that this medium of comedy is pretty brazenly obsolete. But is the message still viable? How well can born-analog funny-word-balloons survive in this crazy, madcap digital new world?

If you pointed at your computer screen upon reading that and blurted out "LET'S FIND OUT!", then you are my kind of people. Let's put these suckers to the test! I put them through the grueling rigour of trying to make our provincial politics any more entertaining, so view these sample cases and draw your own conclusions. We distort, you decide!

And one bonus round, because I inevitably laugh at this picture every time I look at the front page of CJOB's website:

And there you have it! Vigorous intellectual scholarship for our modern times. In conclusion, REAL CATS DON'T EAT LASAGNA

Saturday, October 10, 2009

We Can't Stop Here, This is Today's Country

It's been an eventful few days for me. I came down with what felt like everything at once Thursday morning, so I haven't quite been at the top of my game since despite sleeping entire days away and attempting to drink all of the juice in the universe. And then everything went white on Friday, as if the weather went "haha wait this is Winnipeg and it's almost Thanksgiving" and decided it had some catching up to do. But particularly interesting was my bus ride home from work on Wednesday afternoon, and if you don't mind I'd like to tell you a bit about it right now.

I caught a 16 along Main Street after work that day and sat along the driver's side, riding the route as it carried me along Graham and down Memorial to Osborne. As it was travelling through the Village, I saw the bus reflected in the windows and finally noticed the gigantic advertisement I was sitting above -- a banner for QX 104, one of the local country stations, that has a shirtless cowboy celebrating in a field for no immediately obvious reason.

"Ha ha, ouch," I vividly remember thinking to myself, being no fan of the station's playlist at all. (Any 'country' play on the radio these days is just shitty pop music with steel guitars. Let's not kid ourselves here.) "If I'd known it was the QX 104 bus, I wouldn't have taken it." I do tend to exaggerate wildly in my thought processes, which I'm sure comes as a surprise to no one reading this, but you gleam the sentiment.

So the bus continues down Osborne, and as it's heading south under the bridge I hear this ominous -- and very close -- clunking noise. I pop out my headphones, look around to see if anything looks amiss, and--

--what the hell the banner is falling off the bus. Guys, the banner is falling off the--


By this point everybody around had noticed what was going on, including the bus driver and including the poor motorists who happened to be driving near it at the time -- so there we all are, on Osborne during rush hour, with half a banner hanging off the bus and flapping around into neighbouring traffic. A recipe for disaster? Not so! On any other street, the driver might have been forced to stop along the curb and disrupt traffic by running directly into it to corral the signage's bid for freedom; on Osborne, however, he had the good fortune of being able to pull right into the main transit depot.

Pictured above.

This is Ron; everybody say hi to Ron. Ron is one of the maintenance workers at the Winnipeg Transit bus depot, and he had this very serious problem fixed in less than a minute. He just walked up to the side of the bus, ripped one half of the sign clean off, ripped the other half of the sign off for the sake of balance, and then gave the driver a big thumbs-up.

Well met, Ron! Great guy.

So the day was saved, the bus rolled a long circuitous route back out onto Osborne, and the driver thanked us all for our patience. "THIS CONCLUDES THE TOUR!" he also yelled, because a man may as well have fun with his job once in a while.

That's... pretty much the whole story, yeah, but I did think it was kind of funny. Curtis Brown has a three-part interview with the frontrunner candidate to become the next Premier of Manitoba, and I write about signs that fall off of buses. I'm not very bright, but I work well within my limitations!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I Can't Top That

Everything you need to know about the user comments sections of the Winnipeg Free Press site, in one handy image.

Well played, stranger. Well played.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Strange Marketing Decisions (or, Why Do They Use the American Spelling of 'Donut')

Doughnuts, man. Blows my mind.

So here's the deal, no pun intended. I noticed this past week when I went into a Tim Hortons that its locations are now displaying gigantic hanging signs, proclaiming the amazing savings that we, the customers, can enjoy if we purchase a coffee and a doughnut together. This promotional blitz is also online, as you can see from the following example on their website front page--

--and I saw television spots for this combination hit Hockey Night in Canada this weekend, which has to be some of the most expensive advertising space you can buy in this country. They are not half-assing this campaign by any means; they are determined to have you know that a medium coffee and a doughnut currently retail for one Canadian dollar and ninety-nine Canadian cents (plus applicable taxes, they sheepishly append in a considerably smaller font).

So the first time that I was in line at a Tim Horton's and saw this promotion, I naturally thought to myself just the same thing you might think: a dollar ninety-nine, okay, what would it be normally? So I looked over the menu. A medium coffee by itself sells for a buck fifteen, and a single doughnut by itself commonly costs eighty-five cents. So let me run that through the ol' supercomputer, here, then copy and paste that into the text file, compare it against my original figures and AWW HEYYYYY WHAT

Yes, this exciting deal -- being marketed down our collective throats from coast to coast to coast -- appears at first glance to be a total savings of a single penny. Is this a real thing? I guess their campaign worked on me, because they got one sale out of it; the next time I was at a Tim Hortons I made a point of ordering a medium coffee and a doughnut, just to see what happened.

The woman at the counter rang up the coffee, at $1.15, and rang up the doughnut at $0.85. Then the most magical thing happened, after this two dollar subtotal incurred its five-per-cent General and seven-per-cent Provincial Sales Taxes. The cashier did some wizardry with her till, and I swear to Doug Flutie that the LCD display actually read the following to conclude the transaction:

TOTAL $2.24
TOTAL $2.23

"Do they seriously make you punch in the discount every time?" I asked her.

"Yep," she answered.

"Wow. Weak," I sympathized.

"Yep," she answered.

The store was pretty busy at the time -- of course it was busy, it was a daytime shift at a Tim Hortons -- so I let the conversation drop at that and made off with my, er, 'meal'. So I still have no answer for why the front-line staff have to manually key in the promotion rather than programming the till to recognize it, and I really have no answer for why the one-cent discount is displayed to the customer as a zero-cent discount.

Does the whole thing strike anybody else as being a bit sinister? I get that the 'discount' is more than likely just a bean-counter thing, so that head office can count up how many of us idiots are flooding the Tim's tills to take advantage of this 'deal'. But is this just their promotions department having a laugh at our expense, or is this a canny ploy to keep up the company's already inescapable marketing presence without their actually having to offer anything?

My burning question, basically, is this: do they think that we're stupid, or do they know that we're stupid? It could go either way, at this point!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Strange Coverage Decisions

You know what you really don't see on the evening news every day? A crowd of homeless people giving you the finger.

I initially assumed that I had completely just hallucinated this when I watched it on the CBC local news, yesterday evening, but no -- the modern magic of rewindable television let me confirm that this image actually made it across the airwaves to my screen. It also turns out that the CBC archived the entire show online, unedited, so you can watch the story for yourself from 14:43 to 15:40 here -- a fifty-seven-second spot about unreasonable WRHA quarantine policies for homeless shelters.

Now, I wouldn't exactly call the CBC's chosen cross-sample of homeless people "ethnically diverse" -- for a fun game you can play at home, try and spot the white guy! -- but I can recognize that the time constraints of television journalism meant that the cameraman really only had time to show up near the Main Street Project and just shoot whoever he could find. And I guess he couldn't find enough homeless (or homeless-looking) people right there to fill the half a minute or so of footage he needed, so he had to run the half a block over to the Booth Centre and get some video from there. (If you have a better explanation for why the Booth Centre appears in a one-minute story about the Main Street Project, I'd love to hear it. Aren't the two shelters run by completely separate groups? Does the CBC just bust out Booth Centre shots as stock footage whenever 'homeless' appears in a story?) I can understand those parts, or at least understand them well enough that I'm willing to roll with it.

But of all the establishing shots to work with, why did they specifically pick a clip of downtrodden-looking Aboriginals (and one lone black guy) sitting in a closed circle, drinking from a great big bottle of unidentifiable liquid, and flipping off the camera? You guys had however many hours to edit the story down to fifty-seven seconds, and you decided that you absolutely needed to have that as the lead-in?

I don't want to sound like I'm overthinking this, but I am, so that's how it's going to come out.

Was the shot just included for the bizarre humour of it? Did the editing team see this footage the cameraman brought back, think it was (admittedly) kind of funny, and decide that it would be a shame not to share it? Or was this opening snippet included so we wouldn't feel too bad for the homeless people after hearing the story? And, if that's the case, were they expecting us to react more like "look at this classless trash, they don't deserve our help" or more like "aww, look how plucky and scrappy these guys are, I bet they'll be okay"?

There was an equally brief CBC web article on the story, which went almost completely unnoticed even by the normally vociferous crowd of combative commenters that can usually be counted on to ruin everything on the god damned CBC web site. And the news of the WRHA mandatory guidelines never even got mentioned by any of the other media outlets in this city -- but in a way, I'm actually sort of relieved by that knowledge.

People have a demonstrable tendency to overreact and jump to conclusions when presented with a news item -- especially when it has to deal with public health -- and it's probably just as well that nobody really ran with this story, because a fair percentage of the audience could no doubt be counted on to decide that "swine flu" and "homeless people" are inextricably linked.

(I would worry that I'm unintentionally starting this snowball effect by bringing the news story up again, but pfft. Ain't nobody still reading this blog any more.)

And if the whole H1N1 thing should ever become an actual fatal epidemic and break out big time among the homeless, I'd call it a safe bet that the 'respectable' folk would follow them in dropping like flies pretty shortly afterwards. Do you think anybody in power would bother giving them medicine or anything? Ha! Tell me another one, why don't you. The current government plan is to vaccinate everybody over sixty-five, then vaccinate everybody who lives in long-term care or has a chronic illness, and then they're planning to just stop because they'll be completely out of the vaccine long before then. So all you prospective science-fiction writers, keep this particular scenario in mind; it would make a great setup for a story, if we all live long enough to read it.

I'm just a ray of sunshine, tonight, aren't I? Be sure to tune in for our next installment, when I completely change gears and talk about doughnuts instead. See you then, true believers!