The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, June 19, 2006

We're Spirited with Energy to spare, we just don't get it

Spirited Energy is a versatile descriptive term.

Michigan State University expects its cheerleaders to have spirited energy during games, along with skills like the standing tuck, tumbling pass, the high torch and the arabesque.

Fans say a song by Hugh Masakela and Mbongeni Ngema has spirited energy.

Actors say playright Harold Pinter has a high-octane, spirited energy that guides them to their best performances.

Knoxville, Tennessee (pop. 173,890) boasts on its website that it "combines the spirited energy of a big, bustling city with the charm and hospitality of a much smaller town."

As a branding slogan, though, "Spirited Energy" is a dud. It's not exciting, informative or inspiring. It's hard to say. And without context, it's actually puzzling, and not in a good way.

To have achieved its purpose, a significant proportion of Manitoban's had to respond to it with "Hey, that's not bad." Instead, the vast majority went "Is that it? You're kidding."

Ash Modha, a member of the Premier's Economic Advisory Council which was behind the branding project, explained to the Winnipeg Sun how this particular branding theme originated.

"Modha said energy and spirit were themes repeated over and over by 59 community leaders, 1000 web surveys and several focus groups consulted during the design stage."


But then the hired brain trust went to work and transmuted the ideas into something unrecognizable, producing a slogan that fails to connect with most Manitobans, the very people its intended to impress. When the most popular first reaction is it's a new energy drink, you've got a problem.

Worse, it was a year in the making, and the end product still had no Wow factor.

Well, we stand corrected.

We actually did go Wow when we thought we saw Carolyn Kepcher, Donald Trump's sidekick on The Apprentice in the video. "What's she doing here," we chimed.
But then someone said it wasn't her, just a lookalike.
Crushed, again.

Ah, yes. The video. A crucial part of the campaign to sell the brand, primarily to Manitobans, and a prime example of what happens when you pass an idea through the PC Filter. (That's PC as in politically correct, not Progressive Conservative.)

There are no men in Manitoba, or damn few if the video is any guide.
We wondered why a Maritime fiddler was prominent in the ad campaign, until we realized it was supposed to be a Metis fiddler.
Of course, we said, Metis fiddling tells everyone that Manitoba is on the cutting edge of music---TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO.

A man wafts "sacred smoke" over himself, but there's not a church or synagogue in Spirited Energy Manitoba.
Nor are there any immigrants who built this province.
No Scots.
No Icelanders.
No Ukrainians.
No Mennonites.
And maybe there shouldn't be, but if you're using one ethnic group to promote the province to outsiders, you better be sure everyone accepts them as truly representative and not just politically correct enough to satisfy the NDP.

There is a -- hey -- is that Ash Modha, a member of the committee that spearheaded the new brand?
And isn't that Bob Silver, co-chair of the same committee?
And what? Gail Asper? Twice? Is that because she's got twice the spirit or twice the energy?

Or she needs twice the exposure to run for Mayor? Oops, did we say that out loud?

Nice to see how the people behind the project worked themselves into the project. That, at least, is the Manitoba we've grown to know and love.Where, exactly, was the buffalo supposed to be in this exercise before it got yanked? And are those the Portage Avenue Christmas decorations in the logo? Christmas lights but no winter in this parallel universe.

The powers-that-be know they've got a turkey in their hands. When they start telling you the slogan will "grow on you" with time, you know the project is D.O.A.
Pass the paddles.

So, what happened? Well, the local business community hasn't shown the best judgement when it comes to promotions. In the Eighties, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce ran a contest for a new slogan to sell Winnipeg.
The prize---a thousand dollars in gold.
The winner---Love Me,Love My Winnipeg.
Ouch. It still hurts.

But, believe it or not, they had the right idea. They just did it wrong.

What event has created more excitement---or more energy, if you want---than anything in recent memory? Canadian Idol auditions, that's what.
Line-ups blocks long of singers who think they have the right stuff to win. The show promoters having to winnow out a handful of contestants from thousands who auditioned. That's exciting.

What's happened since Spirited Energy was announced as the brand of Manitoba?

A plethora of home-grown slogans on radio, in the newspapers, and in every conversation in the province. The province should have held an open contest for the best theme to sell Manitoba to the people who live here and to potential immigrants, investors and tourists. Let the public vote for their picks through the news media. Narrow it down to the top three and open the phone lines.

Annouce the winner, live.

Instead, we're going to watch the province spend a million dollars to, as the saying goes, put lipstick on a pig.

And you can't blame Olywest.

On another topic, The Winnipeg Free Press was so intoxicated by its entry into the blogosphere this week that it lost all restraint.

On Monday June 13th the newspaper decided to put its best local stories on the Internet instead of in the print edition. So only a small minority of subscribers got to read how Portage Place was sold for one dollar, and how a report to government recommends it change the rules to let the NDP run deficits again.

Editor (and newbie blogger ) Bob Cox addressed the feedback to the decision on his personal blog. He acknowledged that subscribers to the newspaper were upset and he did what newspaper brass always do. He blamed someone else.

In this case, it was a night editor's fault to put good news stories in Cyberspace and keep non-news features in the paper, he said.

But what was more interesting, was that his apology to readers appeared only on his blog and not in the newspaper.

It seems the policy of the paper is going to be to hide corrections and apologies from readers as much as possible by putting them on staff blogs, where as few people as possible will read them.

One mistake the Free Press did acknowledge was how their coverage ruined the 50th anniversary of A&W restaurants in Winnipeg by misidentifying the location of the first A&W. Their story said it was opposite Polo Park. Uh, uh. Not even close.

The correction the next day had the site of the original A&W at 3095 Portage Avenue. Oh, and the photo that went with the Free Press story may or may not have been of the original restaurant. The paper, of course, blamed A&W for the mix-up.

Bob Cox's fellow staff blogger, reporter Dan Lett, acknowledged in his inaugural posting his ignorance at what blogs are and how they work. Well, here's his trial by fire.

It appears that Joyce Milgaard has some interesting things to say about Lett and a story he wrote about her son David's case in 1990. Part of her testimony at the Saskatchewan inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard was reported in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix last Tuesday.

In July 1990, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett wrote that (Crown attorney Bob) Caldwell apparently withheld witness Ron Wilson's first statement, in which Wilson said Milgaard was never out of his company long enough to have committed the rape and murder.

The article quoted David Asper, one of David Milgaard's former lawyers. as saying it would be serious misconduct for the Crown not to disclose that information to the defence.

The day the article ran, Joyce Milgaard called Lett, expressing concern that his article was wrong. Milgaard recorded the conversation, as was her habit.
"I almost freaked," Milgaard said to Lett, of her reaction to the error.

The tape reveals that Milgaard remembered the subject of Wilson's first statement being raised at her son's preliminary hearing and trial. She backed up her concern by reading parts of the transcripts to Lett.

Lett discounted Milgaard's concern, saying Wilson's lawyer had told him that if Tallis had had the exculpatory first statement, he would have used it to undermine Wilson's statements against David.

Joyce Milgaard then took her concern to her lawyer, Asper, who also thought it was unlikely Tallis had had the exculpatory statement.

The transcripts contained clear references to the first statement, Knox showed.

"Immediately following this story you engaged in what would be kindly described as a very unfortunate chain of misinformation to the media," Knox said.

Despite her knowledge of the facts, Milgaard notified two reporters about the information in Lett's story without telling them she had reason to believe it was incorrect, Knox showed.

Here's what a real blogger would do:
He would write about his recollection of Joyce Milgaard's call.
He would tell us why he got the facts wrong in his story.
And why the newspaper never corrected the story once he was told it was likely wrong.

And he would discuss the pitfalls of writing about wrongful dismissal cases. He has a lot of experience with that topic since he's now a part of the David Milgaard story and he was sued in March, 2005, by Manitoba Crown attorney Dale Schille for writing what Schille said in his statement of claim were "scandalous and untrue" allegations about him in a story about the murder conviction of James Driskell.

In that incident, the Winnipeg Free Press published an apology the very next day.

But, back then, they couldn't hide it in a barely read blog.

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