I was the “guy” you all groaned at last night at RyeHigh’s “What’s Next for News?” presentation – the one you had to download a PDF to find out about. (Tomorrow’s journalism today: News delivered in a file your browser can’t read.)

The technology journalist who passes for an éminence grise in this country, Mathew Ingram, again failed to disclose his mile-wide conflict of interest as, dressed in his Sunday-best sweatshirt, he “moderated” a panel consisting of international megastars Clay Shirky and Andrew Keen.

I adore Shirky. I’ve read everything he’s written. (And he looks as nice in person as he does in photographs; the ears are actually the best feature. He’s solidly packed into a shorter frame than I expected, and that blue-grey colour palette rather suits him.) I understand where Keen is coming from (I’ve read his books), and he has offered me a bit of help from time to time. So I was predisposed to like our invited guests.

You were too. That’s why they were invited. They’re “Internet personalities.”

But if the ostensible topic is the future of journalism, this isn’t about personalities. Shirky would be the first to tell you it’s about structure. Structurally, there is something offensively colonial about asking an American and a Brit to teach us how to dig ourselves out of a Canadian hole.

A kind of Toby Young effect

I was first in line at the mike for Q&A (at about 16:00 in the resulting video). I asked a fact-checking question first: Andrew, do you have American citizenship? After a great deal of peeved murmuring from stage and audience, Keen took it upon himself to haul out his burgundy U.K. passport. Fine: If we’re here at Ryerson University, I asked, what are we telling journalism students when we import an American and a Brit to lecture us on how to fix our newspapers?

I’d only been up there a minute and the crowd was already against me. Shirky looked insulted and objected to the word “lecture.” I withdrew that and replaced it with “inform.” Shirky replied that national variation will shrink rather than grow, which is another way of saying everybody will naturally do what Americans do. (Surely that is always the way.)

Keen at least reacted to the structural theme of the question, wondering why so much of our online mediascape is dictated by a small elite (in Northern California).

Ingram weakly protested that he was Canadian and I told him he didn’t matter here, which he didn’t. Who is the Canadian Clay Shirky, Keen asked? Don Tapscott was the first name to come up. A plausible choice, I said, but you two and Tapscott benefit from a power law. You’re already popular, so you get more popular. And you’re the ones with the book deals. I knew Shirky would respond well to one of his buzzwords, and he took time out from resentfully staring at the floor to agree with me.

It’s obvious to you I was out of line asking that question

I would expect a reaction like that from conflict-aversive starfuckers, as nearly everyone in the Toronto media could be described. You’re so steeped in Americana that of course you consider Clay Shirky one of your own. He’s an American who became famous in America, and that automatically gives him credibility here. Keen is British and gained fame in the United States; the same applies. You aren’t famous in Canada till you’re famous somewhere else. You don’t even have to be Canadian to be famous here for being famous somewhere else.

You don’t want to accept that Canada is a sovereign nation that might actually need to solve its own problems its own way. (Want a real example of a digital economy? Try Finland or Estonia, not America or Britain.) You still haven’t gotten past the bright, shining lie we heard so often in the sales pitch for the Free Trade Agreement – “Canada is too small a market.” (Too small for what? Implicitly, for anything.)

Canada is a nation of 32 million people occupying a greater land mass than any other country save one. Canada is not “small,” unless you believe nothing counts unless it happens within the boundaries of our former colonists. (You may not know that Americans colonized Canada. They did; they gave you the language you speak.)

You aren’t consistent about this, of course. Your exercise in consensus permits a few complaints around the edges, which in turn are also an exercise in consensus.

  • You think Canada has way shittier and more expensive cellphone service than other civilized countries. (Paraphrased: “Rogers makes my iPhone suck.”) A gripe like that is technical, not cultural.

  • You want made-in-Canada copyright law (i.e., you want whatever Michael Geist tells you we need), but everything you talk about in that regard has its basis in U.S. law. You want U.S. fair use in the guise of “enhanced fair dealing.” (You want it so badly you ignore the evidence [PDF] it won’t work here.) Most of all, you want Canada to avoid anything that reeks of the DMCA. (You know what the DMCA is even though it doesn’t apply to you.)

That’s pretty much the limit of permitted disagreement. Even daring to point out that a city this size has too many technology conferences isn’t permitted. What you very much do not want is a forceful break from consensus. You won’t even tolerate disagreement on details.

You especially don’t want to hear any disagreement from me. Being older than you, and having been online for nearly 20 years, gives me expertise and authority you very much don’t want to hear about. You certainly don’t want me to act like I have expertise and authority, though it’s fine if foreign nationals do. You believe the worst man to voice disagreement is the man who’s probably right.

Hence, no, of course you couldn’t possibly tolerate any suggestion that we aren’t as good as real cities, like New York and London, or real countries, like America and Britain. (We import their “Internet personalities” and put them onstage.) You’re so defensive you don’t even see I am not making that suggestion.

I insist merely that Canada is a country separate from the United States and the United Kingdom. We need our own solutions to our own problems. Only a special kind of cultural sellout would object to that sentiment. You are that kind of sellout. Put that in your Twitpic and smoke it.

What’s next for news? Well, “the future in our industry” appears to centre around the Globe and Mail’s fabulous colour printing presses.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.10.03 13:39. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

(Values you enter are stored and may be published)



None. I quit.

Copyright © 2004–2024