They discovered the blogosphere.
Will wonders never cease? we cried aloud.
But can a leopard change its spots?
The newspaper's exploration of the world of election blogging was as clueless (to be charitable) and unbalanced (to be realistic) as Peter Kent predicted when he challenged journalism schools to monitor election coverage.
Still, not even we could imagine today's topic: The Peter Kent Challenge---Exhibit D: The Black Rod.
What??? Waitaminit!!! Us????
Calm down, we told ourselves. There's a logical answer.
The Free Press made two journeys this week into the world of blogging.
"...the battle for the hearts, minds and support of a new generation of voters is increasingly being fought not on the doorstep but in cyberspace. Blogs are the fresh medium and they're proving to be a freewheeling, enteraining method of spreading the word," wrote columnist Lindor Reynolds on Sunday.
"Comedian Rick Mercer has one. Prime Minister Paul Martin's speechwriter has one. A Tory MP from Medicine Hat has a surprisingly good one. But few Manitoba candidates have tapped into the power of the blog", said reporter Mary Agnes Welch on Monday.
It was like watching your children put on pith helmets and walk through the jungles of Disney World. It was obvious that neither writer had ever read a blog. And both were working from the same clipping (probably the Dec. 7 story Election War Hits the Blogs, by CP reporter Michelle Macafee), because they both referenced blogs by speechwriter Scott Feschuk and Tory MP Monte Solberg.
What was missing was exactly what you expect in a daily newspaper--- the local angle.
Two reporters scour the Internet and the Free Press couldn't find a Manitoba blog to write about.
Oh, wait. Mary Agnes Welch made a mention of "the only decent local blog I could find" which turned out to belong to Mark Wasyliw, the NDP candidate in Winnipeg South Centre. As veterans of the blogosphere, we can truly say we've never heard of Wasyliw or his blog, which demonstrates his reach and impact in the local market of political opinion, perhaps because his "blog" consists of a series of news releases and party line speeches.
Welch did manage to work in Wasyliw's favorite bloggers-Paul Wells, the left-liberal who writes for Macleans magazine, Liberal party die-hard Warren Kinsella, and progressivebloggers.ca, who describe themselves as expressing the opinions of the left and centre-left community.
So, according to the Free Press, the only Manitoba blogs worth reading belong to an unknown leftwing NDP candidate and his leftwing inspirations. How surprising.
What's more surprising is how easy it is to find local blogs talking about the election.
Lindor Reynolds and Mary Agnes Welch had only to go to their backyard. The Black Rod is well read in the Free Press newsroom, as our feedback from their reporters and editors tells us.
We understand why neither reporter wanted to mention the Peter Kent Challenge and expose the anti-Conservative slant to their election coverage. But it's that blatant oversight that's made The Black Rod exhibit D in the ongoing Challenge coverage.
What's inexcusable is the paper's refusal to recognize the work of so many other local bloggers -- Dust My Broom, Hacks and Wonks, Anarchy Might Be Nice , even Endless Spin Cycle in Brandon.
The Black Rod (and many of the aforementioned locals) have been cited and linked by the nationally known blogs such as Small Dead Animals, Antonia Zerbesias, and Western Standard, and these and others such as Angry in the Great White North and CalgaryGrit have contributed to the national election coverage.
"Blogs sometimes uncover stories and issues before the mainstream media get around to them," wrote Lindor Reynolds.
You mean like the insider-leak scandal that's brewing around the federal Liberal Party and which is being ignored by the Free Press?
The FP has carried stories about voter apathy, about Kreskin the mentallist, about Lindor Reynolds' attempts to find a candidate to talk to, two stories about mailouts from MPs, but the scandal swirling around Finance Minister Ralph Goodale isn't important enough to be reported next to those gems.
Certainly not when the integrity of the Liberals is an election issue in a year that voters learned to say the words Liberal Party, kickbacks, payoffs, convicted and awaiting trial in the same sentence.
Before the election call, the Free Press carried a newswire story about Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and her call for an RCMP inquiry into suspicious trading in the hours before Goodale made a major announcement affecting the value of income-trusts.
After the election call, the only mention of the alleged income-trust leaks was not in the election news pages, but in the business pages, on the back page. Apparently, the RCMP announcement that they would look into the matter to see if they should start a formal criminal investigation into Goodale's office wasn't election news in the eyes of FP editors.
But other news services haven't let the story die.
* CTV and the Financial Post found witnesses who told of getting advance notice of Goodale's decision. Then they reported the desparate arm-twisting of Liberal backroom boys to get the witnesses to change their stories.
* Bloggers posted graphs of abnormal trading spikes in the hours before the announcement. Here are the most suspicious income trust trades: http://www.stephentaylor.ca/archives/000485.html
* Others (hackoncrack.blogspot.com) discovered strange trading in Medisys, the stock of Paul Martin's personal physician.
* And still others ( http://www.boundbygravity.com/SEC/ECSearch.aspx ) uncovered the Liberal ties of the head of the Ontario Securities Commission, which has shown no interest in investigating the suspicious trading.
All this is being discussed widely on the blogosphere but not in the Free Press. And certainly not in the stories by Reynolds and Welch.
Whether the Free Press wants to admit it or not, blogs have already had an impact on the election. Ask yourselves- would there have even been an announcement about surgical wait-time benchmarks yesterday, if this blog hadn't caught Winnipeg's Dr. Brian Postl admitting that health ministers were going to break a Liberal election promise by not establishing benchmarks by years-end? Opposition critic Stephen Fletcher used our research to corner Ujjal Dosanjh in Question Period and get a commitment from him reversing Postl's position, sending him back to work with orders to get a deal done.