Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top Ten Unreported Stories

Thinking about press coverage of NL (both past and present) brought to mind important stories that have gone unreported or underreported.

I realize that with the ongoing cutbacks in the newspaper industry and CBC, journalists simply do not have the resources that they once had to do in-depth investigative reporting. The days of the Sunday Express are over and they ain't coming back.

Yet Rob Antle's piece in today's Tely shows how much can be done with a quick back-check of government media advisories and a couple of short interviews, for example: And as Labradore and Bond Papers have demonstrated in their reporting of issues such as the NALCO transmission line, an awful lot of material is readily available online.

For what it's worth, here is my Top Ten list, along with fictional headlines:

1) "In the Wilderness." An examination of the decline and fall of the provincial Liberal party from the civil war following Grimes's convention victory through to the ascendancy of DW and his attempts to undermine the opposition in any and every possible way. This hypothetical article would look at how the Liberals lost their grip on power so completely and where they stand today. The fact that they have so few MHA's is often taken as false evidence that the entire Party is dead. It may be recovering from a heart-attack, but it's no more dead than the Tories were during the Liberals' heyday.

2) "Alberta Rebound." We know that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people are returning to NL from Alberta. But we don't know much about the identies and experiences of these people. We don't know much about what they are bringing back to their communities, or what their return will mean for NL. There are plenty of rumours about rampant drug use and other problems, but they are exactly that -- rumours. How will rural communities fare without the remittances on which some towns have relied? How did their experiences in Alberta change these people? And is this a short- or a long-term phenomenon?

3) "The Many-Headed Hydro." NALCO has a nifty web site and plenty of press releases to its credit, but we don't know much about its actual operation, how it fits into the political and economic structure of NL, or who is really running the show. We know little about how it fits with the Eighth Floor, and whether (and how far) it is removed from in-line Departments. Is it, in fact, a Crown corporation or some other beast? And what role is it really expected to play in the Churchill Falls saga?

4) "The Other Bubble." St. John's residents have long known about the sewage bubble in the Harbour, but they seem less aware of the real-estate bubble. The massive rise in housing prices has had a tremendous impact -- from greedy house-flippers to the home renovation craze -- but less attention has been paid to the social effects on affordable housing, property taxes, and the increasing rural-urban divide in NL. The rise in housing prices has been ascribed to the "Williams Effect," but is this effect sustainable?

5) "The Other 'Secret Nation'." While Newfoundland nationalism has been covered exhaustively, relatively little attention has been paid to Labrador. How do Labradorians themselves feel about the rise of DW-inspired nationalism? What do they think about the reckless threats to separate from Canada, or the constant war with Ottawa. How do they view DW? While DW rants about neglect at the hands of Ottawa, there is a real question of Newfoundland's neglect of Labrador.

6) "Boom, Bust, and Retire." How is demography affecting NL? Much has been made about the recent rise in the birth-rate, but what are the long-term trends? What will these trends mean for the social capital of NL and the cost of health care? How do these trends compare with other provinces and jurisdictions? St. John's, in particular, is experiencing a massive wave of retirements, as a whole generation of fifty-somethings is now free to shop at Scavenger Drive anytime of the day. How has this changed civic culture?

7) "The Icelandic Lesson." The dramatic fall of Iceland has received editorial coverage, but there is a need for a more in-depth analysis of how this happened and what it means for NL. There is also a need for a clearer understanding of how Iceland has been held up as a model for NL development by the provincial government, business interests, and even prominent members of the arts community. How did they all get it so utterly wrong?

8) "Folk Branding." There have been studies of various tourism campaigns, but we need a more in-depth analysis of the much larger and pervasive re-branding that has taken place since 2003. From licence plates to an endless stream of TV ads that have carpet-bombed every station imaginable (including the Weather Network in winter!), DW has launched an unprecedented campaign to attract attention and tourists. How much has this cost? Is it working? Does it matter if the ads are not an accurate portrayal of NL?

9) "School's out." There has been an alaming increase in the number of school closures in NL due to mould and other health problems. While this has been reported on a case-by-case basis, no one has looked at the larger problem of education infrastructure. We know relatively little about how the end of denominational education affected the organization of the school system. Are the province's schools a looming health-care crisis?

10) "The People in your Neighbourhood." When the NL media consider events or trends outside NL, it focuses almost exclusively on the anglophone provinces and especially Ottawa. Federalism is often presented as a bilaterial, Ottawa-St. John's, process. As a result, people in NL know remarkably little about their francophone neighbours. As the controversy over the Romaine River project demonstrated, there are strong opinions about the Labrador boundary, for example, but those opinions are not well informed. And while the negotiations concerning the Lower Churchill remain a focal point for provincial politics, we know remarkably little about Quebec-Hydro, which has been (and will continue to be) a major player in these negotiations.

I'm sure that some of these hypothetical stories have already received ample coverage that I have missed. You can email me any suggestions you may have. I offer the list not as a criticism of local reporters, who are doing the best they can with what they have.

Instead, as we endure another news-cycle about how DW "soars" above us, I offer it as an alternative to the daily grind of having the news determined by public opinion polls, official media-advisories, and the omnipresent DW personality cult.

Tely Update:

Looks like someone at the Tely is reading Orwellianspin:

Wangersky even cites the same quotation from the same New Yorker article that I used for my two earlier posts on Iceland:

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