anchormanly

adj. /ˈæŋkərˌmænlē / 1. Move over, Anderson Cooper

Fukushima’s international fallout

What does Japan’s nuclear crisis mean for the future of nuclear power? Friday’s double-whammy of a massive earthquake and an equally devastating tsunami were of a magnitude even the best emergency planning could not have anticipated. No doubt, the possibility of a radioactive meltdown and the evacuation of tens of thousands has much of the world on edge. Anyone who remembers the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters has good reason to be afraid. Nuclear power can be extremely dangerous when things go wrong, but in many countries it is a necessary evil due to a lack of natural (read: hydroelectric or geothermal) resources.

Massive hydrogen explosion Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (Source: NHK/AFP)

The Japanese nuclear crisis will have direct political ramifications. Where, you ask? Look no further than Germany. In less than two weeks people in the state of Baden-Württemberg—Germany’s third-largest—will elect a new state parliament, and things aren’t looking too good for the governing Christian Democratic Union, which has governed since 1953. Already agitated over a public transport megaproject called Stuttgart 21, people in the state have been flocking to the Green party according to the latest polls. Germany’s Greens have been the most virulently opposed to nuclear power of the country’s major political parties, and with four nuclear power plants in Baden-Württemberg alone, the governing CDU is fearing an electoral meltdown and the prospect of a Greens-led state government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is naturally worried and has responded to the Japanese crisis by ordering the shutdown of seven nuclear reactors today. With 80 percent of Germans opposed to nuclear power, it’s clear that this issue is taking a political toll on the governing CDU and Merkel is panicking. We will have to stay tuned to future developments to see just how big of an impact it is.

The media’s addicted to Charlie Sheen

Should we pay attention to Charlie Sheen? As he dramatically and defiantly showcases his tailspin into utter insanity, I think we as journalists should be asking if it’s right to offer him platform after platform to incoherently rant and rave.

The man is having a protracted psychotic break in full view of the public, thriving off his latest addiction—media attention. So, do we give it to him? I don’t think we should. And yes, I realize the irony of this blog post, but at least I’m not offering Sheen an interview. I’m not CNN or Good Morning America.

This is what he said in that GMA interview over the weekend: “I am on a drug, it’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

But the media isn’t a person, so it can handle the Sheen high. In fact, I think it’s addicted to this new drug and it should probably go into informational rehab.

I won’t lie—I hate Two and a Half Men and (the at least temporary) canceling of the show is Sheen’s inadvertent gift to humanity. But still, I feel for the people who depend on the show to make a living and are now out of work because the star has gone insane.

So, can we get back to covering real news? You know, like the uprising in Libya? Thanks.

Just tell me lies

Yep, I’m back this week with yet another diatribe about the CRTC and our most benevolent overlords in Ottawa.

After another lovely week reading about how a Montreal lawyer with no broadcast experience and links to the Harper PMO was being tapped for CRTC vice-chair, I was inclined to ignore all CRTC-related news. It just annoys me. I mean, the Heritage minister, James Moore, said Tom Pentefountas was qualified. Apparently the only requirement for a job at the CRTC these days is that you’re “an articulate gentleman from Quebec.”

Wait a sec…I’m a fairly articulate gentleman from Quebec in a broadcast journalism program as we speak. Where’s my federal appointment?

Anyway, that digression aside, it appears the Harper government is pushing the country’s broadcast regulator to loosen up its rules on “false or misleading news”, because, as deputy Heritage minister Dean Del Mastro told Evan Solomon on Power and Politics last week, we need “divergent views” and constituents had told him “free speech is under attack in this country.” Yeah, sure, those same constituents who were adamant about getting rid of the long-form census.

This government pathologically pins its bad decisions on either its bureaucrats or invisible complaints from constituents. We saw it with the long-form census. We saw it in the past week with International Co-operation minister Bev Oda lying about doctoring a funding certificate in December while testifying under oath at a House of Commons committee hearing.

This “false or misleading news” move is perhaps the most dangerous and concerning move by this government yet. Why would we want untrue news? Isn’t the whole point of the news to deliver truth to viewers/readers/listeners? I think this government wants to create as hospitable an environment as possible for Quebecor’s new SUN TV News when it launches sometime later this year. It wants FOX-style “news” that eschews facts in favour of opinion that masquerades as reporting. This, to me, is ridiculous. We live in a democracy. We are already allowed to have “divergent opinions” and our freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed. It makes perfect sense to tell the bulwarks of our free speech–the media–that lying to people is not okay. If you can’t deliver your message because it is untrue or misleading, then change your message to be an honest one. Don’t tinker with the rules that govern the truth on air behind closed doors. That shows an utter contempt for democracy.

If you want false or misleading news, check out the Onion News Network.

What’s with Canada having a Big Five of everything?

Here’s something a lot of Canadians have no doubt heard about in the last week or so: the CRTC’s decision to force “Usage-based billing” (UBB) on all internet users in this country, effectively ending the practice of smaller ISPs to purchase bandwidth from the big ISPs and sell it to their customers at an unlimited rate. The five biggest ISPs (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Videotron, Shaw) all complained that the roughly five percent of Canadians who use these third-party unlimited ISPs were costing everyone else money, as the other 95 percent of internet users in this country already have UBB. This is not really true. The big ISPs, especially Bell, want to make a lot more money by avoiding updating infrastructure, protecting the value of their content businesses (Bell just bought CTV) and don’t want to lose any more business to third-party internet providers. But that’s not what I want to argue here. Smaller, third-party wholesalers of bandwidth aren’t the problem. There just aren’t enough players in the internet game in this country to force the Big Five to actually innovate and reduce prices. That’s my problem. Where’s the competition?

First point: Governments should not make policy pronouncements on the fly in tweets from the industry minister. That is just not professional and yeah…don’t get me started on this government and it’s capacity for competent public policy. The federal government should also appoint competent media-experienced people to the board of the regulator, not former ADQ candidate lawyers who are friends with the Prime Minister’s director of communications.

Note to all future cabinet ministers: Don't do this.

Second point: The CRTC needs to be reformed, not repeatedly repudiated by Cabinet. The regulator was set up in 1968, long before the internet came around. In fact, the CRTC didn’t even acknowledge the role of the internet in telecommunications, radio and television until 1999. Simply put, it doesn’t have the tools or proper authority to deal with what will be more and more internet-related decisions. It’s a $60 billion industry and it’s the most important one to knowledge economy and by extension—our democracy. The CRTC loses legitimacy when its decisions are overturned again and again by Cabinet and when the government pre-empts the appeal process by telling them to go back to the drawing board. What this country needs is a bold revamp of telecom rules, not confused ad-hoc policy pronouncements. Over to you, Mr. Clement.

Third point: If we want to pay less for internet, TV or our cell phones, it’s time to stop being so scared of the bogeyman that is foreign investment. This might seem off topic from the UBB ruling, but just a few days ago, a federal court overturned Cabinet’s overruling of a CRTC ruling that told Globalive, the owner of recent wireless entrant WIND Mobile, that its Egyptian investor Orascom held too much equity in the company. I think we need to change foreign investment rules. As long as a company and/or its subsidiary is based in Canada, its employees are Canadian and its management is Canadian, what’s the problem with having more players in the game? It’s nearly impossible to set up a national wireless or internet network without the expertise and money of a major foreign backer. Part of the reason why our e-lives are at the mercy of an oligopoly of telecom companies is because the CRTC is so good at enforcing strict rules on foreign ownership.

Canadians might think they have real choice in the Twenty-First Century, but I’d take a hard look at who owns what first. Let’s start with the big five telecom companies:

Eeeeevil

Bell? Well, they own CTV (and all the channels CTV owns), Solo Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Bell Internet, Bell TV, Bell landline services, Bell stores, The Source stores and such.

Ahh that mobius has enraged me before

Rogers? Rogers Wireless, Rogers Cable, Rogers HomePhone, Fido, Chatr, Rogers Publications (Maclean’s Chatelaine, etc), CityTV, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre (which cost taxpayers $625 million to build…Rogers paid $25 million), Retail stores everywhere.

...to their wallets.

Telus? Telus Mobility, Koodo, Telus TV, Telus home phone, Black’s stores, Telus Stores.

Ugh...just...ugh.

Quebecor? Videotron (Wireless, landline, television, internet), Sun Media newspapers (and soon to be TV), Osprey Media (local newspapers mostly in Ontario, TVA, Archambault book stores.

I don't think they've changed their logo in a long, long time

Shaw? Shaw Cablesystems, (soon-to-be-launched) Shaw Wireless, Global Television network and over 20 specialty TV channels.

These companies control too much. I think we need to hold our noses when it comes to our distaste for foreign investment and let some new players in the game. Who’s with me?

HTML: It’s all Greek to me

I’ve been rather confused about HTML, which I’ve been learning in my Online Magazine class for the past week. It reminds me quite vividly of an experience from my computers class in grade 10.

Remember this old dinosaur?

I remember my old Computer Sciences teacher, Mr. Bailey, teaching us Pascal. Mr. Bailey was a strange fellow—a guy who would leave midway through class to go buy himself a litre of pineapple juice. Or he’d boast about holding UK, US and Canadian passports. Or he’d give us strange advice about letting God into our lives when most of the students in my class were either Buddhist or Hindu.

But I digress.

Pascal was easy, but I could tell it was really old-school stuff. I mean, it was useful up until the early 1990s. Nowadays, though, we have programs that do it for us. On that point, we have programmers who build programs that simplify the process for us all. Online tools like Blogger and WordPress make posting a blog entry and designing a webpage simpler than ever. Software, such as Adobe DreamWeaver also simplifies the process for the would-be webpage amateur.

Yes, Pascal was extremely important in the development of countless programs, one famous one being Skype. But I’m not developing a program—I’m trying to make a webpage. This is where HTML comes in. It’s confusing, convoluted and so 1990s. Why learn it when there are tools available to do it for you? I don’t know. I guess I’m gaining a new understanding of the complex code that goes into all our assignments?

Mr. Bailey disappeared right after the winter break, making off with our midterm grades and seven TDSB laptops. Last I heard the police were looking for him. That shifty guy was replaced by yet another strange character, Mr. Wardberg. The new computers teacher loved his trenchcoats, smoking from a pipe, wore purple-tinted glasses and listened to disco music before class. And he hated Pascal. He told us it was useless. Four months of our young lives wasted on learning a virtually obsolete programming language.

That was 2004. This is 2011. Should we leave HTML to the likes of computer nerds? I think so. As long as those experts can create tools that make HTML make sense to me, more power to them.

However, whether I like it or not, I’ve got to learn HTML. This is going to be harder than the first month of learning Russian. I can tell already.

Какой ужас.

Everyone’s a [news website] critic

So, I’ve been tasked with comparing two news websites I frequently use. For this assignment I’ve chosen CBCNews.ca and CTVNews.ca to see which of these two big news agencies can offer up the best content and user experience.

Here goes…

CBCNews.ca

Organization: 17/20

Ease of use: 18/20

Aesthetics: 15/20

Content richness: 18/20

Content style: 16/20

Total score: 84/100

The CBCNews.ca homepage

 

Given the budget cuts at the CBC in recent years, one might assume CBCNews.ca would be a pretty lacklustre news offering. Au contraire! It’s actually a very solid news website.

The homepage is well-organized with a prominent navigation bar at the top that allows the user to navigate through the whole range of CBC News content (World, Canada, Politics, etc.) and to CBC’s sports, radio and television webpages. I like the navigation bar on the top of the page with the coloured background much better, because it’s more eye-catching than the small sidebar on CTVNews.ca. CBCNews.ca also crams much more content into their home page than their private rivals. Aesthetically, the front page and the news reports look a bit cluttered, but images and links to video content all make sense. Links to photo galleries, live and pre-recorded video, special reports and other audiovisual content are all very interesting, but the front page could do with a few more pictures. One feature I really liked that I would definitely incorporate into any news site is the search box for CBC’s news archives at the bottom of the homepage.  I popped in a few major dates in the past decade (Y2K, September 11, 2001 the 2006 Canadian federal election, etc.) and got the end-of-day CBCNews.ca homepage complete with readable articles. Cool!

Moving on…

CTVNews.ca

Organization: 13/20

Ease of use: 15/20

Aesthetics: 17/20

Content richness: 16/20

Content style: 16/20

Total score: 77/100

The CTVNews.ca homepage

 

CTVNews.ca is a lot cleaner and slicker than its Mothercorp competitor. I noticed that right from the beginning. While it might be more aesthetically pleasing, the amount and quality of content is just not the same. The top headline section is eye-catching, including a thumbnail for each news story. I really liked that. Most articles were accompanied by video content and a relevant photo as well, which was good. The standard CTVNews.ca font is too small for my taste and the actual content of the articles is slightly inferior to that of the CBC. Many of the articles are either short on details or just newswire copy with a clip or photo to accompany them.

Furthermore, I had to scroll way down the page—we’re talking halfway—to get to categorized news content. While I appreciate the less cluttered layout, I feel like there is a lot of wasted space. One thing CTVNews.ca has that the CBC does not is a box with the latest financial and market data…but it’s all the way at the bottom of the page. I’d consider that a squandered advantage. As I mentioned in my CBCNews.ca review, CTV News uses a less effective sidebar menu. It just isn’t prominent enough and contributes virtually nothing to navigating on the website. A navigation bar on the top, which CBCNews.ca and numerous other news agencies use on their websites (BBC News, New York Times, The Globe & Mail, etc.) is way more effective in my opinion than a small sidebar menu that only appears once you’ve scrolled down past all the top headlines. What good is that? Put the damn navigation bar where I can see it!

First post!

Hello world!

I’m blogging now…partly for school purposes, but mostly because I need an outlet of sorts for my thoughts on the news.

Stay tuned for future posts.

With gravitas,

Roland

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