Looking for election numbers? You’ve found the right place

Elections produce a lot of numbers. A guide to some of the online resources available to help you get on top of the numbers game.

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It’s the economy — are we stupid?

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How prepared are journalists to analyze and report on economic issues?
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Election north of 49 mostly ignored by foreign media

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Canwest News Service reporter Archie McLean looked for coverage of our federal election in the foreign press and didn’t find much. News media that have reported or commented on the Canadian campaign include The Guardian (columnist despises the Harper government), The Wall St. Journal (editorial writer loves the Harper government) and The New York Times (amazed Canadian politics gets dirty). 
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Poll Dancing

Back in 2005, researchers at the universities of  British Columbia and Saskatchewan found that the press was sloppy in its poll reporting during the ’04 federal campaign. The study concluded with a “hope” that future poll reporting would be more compliant with the Elections Act.

Now, a group of Laurier University researchers, critiquing the Globe and Mail’s ‘key constituency’ poll information, state: “Unfortunately this innovative approach seems to be making claims that cannot be substantiated by the data.” 

Are we coming down with  Poll-mania? A review of the Committee of Concerned Journalists’ How Poll Sampling Works may offer a cure.

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Young voters not impressed by Web 2.0 election coverage, U.S. study suggests

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Bored WomanAs Canadian news organizations bid to outdo each other in displaying Web 2.0 savvy in their online election coverage, a U.S. study of young voters suggests they should beware of going overboard. Younger voters, it reports, may actually be turned off.
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Greens and the election debate

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The leaders of the NDP and Conservatives have backed down on their opposition to Elizabeth May being included in the leader’s debate. Was it common sense and an example of character? Was it mere petty politics, a response to a public outcry that May was excluded? Whatever — it’s about time.

Meanwhile, former CBC News chief Tony Burman has a piece in the Globe and Mail online calling the election debate process “a sham” and calling for  “Canadians – through the CRTC – to pull the plug on the networks and entrust this vital mission to an independent, non-partisan ‘commission’ similar to how it is done in the U.S.”

I think Burman is right. The refusal of the Tory and NDP leaders to debate May was essentially blackmail — the stand by Stephen Harper and Jack Layton that were May included they’d take their marbles and go home was juvenile at best. It was not only an embarrassing, craven way to play politics, it was a successful attempt to hold the media at ransom. If the political parties were not capable of rising above it, the media consortium that organizes the debates should have been. Independent decision making and clear rules are needed.

As things now stand Joe Clark is right: in a piece criticizing partisanship and arguing that the tone of Canadian politics has sunk, the ex-prime minister called for May to be included and slammed the system as “a club, whose members set their own rules.”
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Carleton launches election blog

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Carleton University’s School of Journalism has launched a new blog, called Campaign Perspectives 2008, about the federal election. Carleton’s faculty includes many of Canada’s senior political reporters, who have covered previous campaigns for news organizations such as CBC Television and The Globe and Mail, including Chris Waddell, Jeff Sallot, Paul Adams and Susan Harada.

Waddell, the associate director of the school, says faculty are providing analysis and commentary on media coverage of the campaign as well as the political dynamics of the campaign. He says over the next few weeks students in Carleton’s political reporting and public affairs reporting courses may also contribute to the blog.
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Greens and the election debate

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The consortium of  broadcast networks that organize the debates among political leader announced they will  exclude Green party Leader Elizabeth May. The group said in a news release that other other party leaders would refuse to participate in the debates on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 if May took part.

The Canadian Press story is here

Shame. As I said before, by setting strict rules for inclusion the media is overstepping its role, acting as a gatekeeper and shutting out ideas during a Canadian election. I expect this announcement will not be the end of it, however, because May has already said she would go to court over the issue.
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Globe politics site fails on many levels

The new Globe and Mail politics portal that was launched in advance of the election announcement is an incredible effort and represents some major resources. However, it fails on several levels.

First, it does not fully utilize the interactive features available. It is heavily moderated (which is understandable), but the subject matter seems regulated to what the Globe thinks is important or the political campaigns define as the issues. There does not seem to be a lot of places where ordinary voters can raise issues. And, no obvious commitment by editorial staff to follow up on any issues that get suggested by the audience. Why not let part of the coverage become generated by the audience? Like traditional newspaper products, it seems like a lot of information is presented (which is great); but, it is all from the news organization. Why couldn’t there be a section where people could write in from their ridings about the local issues that are important. Each riding could be listed and users could go to see what their neighbours are saying is important. I see this as a huge lost opportunity.

It also is using the same talking heads and elite sources for blogs and special sections (Strategists corner, etc.). Where are the every day people who could make a regular contribution.

And then there is the stupid polls. When will we ever give up the horserace mentality? Sure, a couple of polls. But it is the first day!

Next, there is no convergent media. As of Sunday (Sept. 8) evening, it is mainly text and images. This overall Globe website works mainly in multiple media (the juxtaposition of text, images, audio and video), not multimedia (the blending of content into a single form that uses text, images, audio and video combined through a platform like Flash to tell a story). The multimedia section consists of a pathetic photo gallery of political cartoons. Also, considering the Globe is part of the CTV network, we should be able to get live streams of events, like the announcement. There should be a ton of video from reporters. How about audio files of interviews with clips? Hell, they could put up the raw interviews as podcasts so we can hear exactly what was said. There is nothing like this.

Also, there is no hyperlinking between related stories or external information that would be useful to users. The arrogance to think they are the only source of information is beyond anyone who is truly trying to create a modern news website. Again, we see the traditional attitudes towards journalism migrated online.

We should also see original documents. Where were the full-text, original speeches from today’s campaign launch from each party? It does not take a huge amount of resources to post a copy as a PDF. The Globe gets access to a huge amount of paper from all sides. Why not make it available to everyone in relation to stories covered?

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Community newspaper coverage of Sunday’s election call lacking

While it is said all politics is local, a quick survey of community newspapers sites in British Columbia, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Ontario and the Atlantic region found an overwhelming majority did not have any breaking news regarding the election call Sunday.

About 10 per cent of the more than 200 newspapers reviewed had some type of election story, mainly focusing on the election call only. One newspaper, Northumberland News, in Central Ontario, had full coverage of the election call, candidate reactions, and profiles of candidates Sunday night.

This demonstrates how community newspapers continue to view the online product as a value-added resource to the main traditional newspaper.  Rather than viewing it as an opportunity to provide breaking news to local audiences, the online products consist mainly of repurposed content placed online within the same publishing schedule.

But, this may also say something about media concentration and the nature of a federal election campaign.

While sites display local content, there is no question many pages are part of a chain of newspapers. The websites are made with templates. And, in the case of some chains, a single website is used for several traditional newspaper products.  For my informal survey, one website was counted once, even though it represented several newspapers.

Another consideration is the way in which national political campaigns are run. Mainly, the focus is on the leaders and not on local campaigns. One political organizer I know on a local level said when someone votes, 90 per cent of their decision is based on the national campaign and 10 per cent on the local race. It will be interesting to see if this plays out on the community newspaper level.

Also, many community newspapers leave national, provincial and regional coverage to the major urban newspapers. Supposedly, community newspapers focus on local issues. It will also be interesting to see to what extent coverage of local campaigns mirrors national ones. Will the issues be the same or will we see different ones emerge?

And, will local papers create a space for debate of the issues? So far, as we have seen already, it would appear the traditional values of community newspapers are merely transferred online. I know I will certainly be tracking who uses online newspapers, and the features of the Internet, to create a democratic commons to facilitate discourse.
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