Friday, 11 April 2014

How My Tweet Ended Up in the Globe and Mail

John Doyle published  a column recently contemplating a smaller and distinctive CBC.  

A quote attributed to me appears in this column.  The quote is taken from a tweet of mine, which outlined a possible strategy for CBC. It was a bullet-form, single page document. I sent John and others this tweet asking for suggestions a day or so before his column appeared.  He initially responded via Twitter, commenting on one element of my tweet and including an accusation he probably wouldn't put into his column.

In his published article John introduced two criticisms of the proposals contained in my tweet.  The first referred to requests for viewer donations and the second to producing more TV drama based on Canadian fiction.  John, after quoting me slightly incorrectly, says that "the idea that iconic novels can be turned into compelling TV is, frankly, ludicrous."  

Putting these criticisms aside, has John respected journalistic ethics by not acknowledging his source was Twitter? 

John's use of Twitter is not explicitly stated in his article.  The reader could assume that there exists a published "Strategy for CBC," not something which John simply found on social media - Twitter.   Guidelines for dealing with social media have been established by most news organizations.  Does the Globe and Mail provide guidelines to its journalists, the majority of whom are on Twitter, on how to use social media?. 
NPR, for example, have established clear policies, which stipulate, among other things: "when a social media posting is itself news, try to contact the source to confirm the origin of the information and attain a better understanding of its meaning."  John didn't contact me, although he has done so in the past.  NPR, like most news organizations, has a policy about how its journalists should behave on social media: "Don’t express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on"  Google "Twitter and journalistic ethics" to find the policies of other media outlets and note the references to how journalists should behave on social media.  To be fair to the Globe, all news outlets are struggling with this issue.  

The Globe and Mail may not have clear guidelines about social media, so John's use of Twitter may be acceptable to them.  Unfortunately, this has lead to a misrepresentation of my views about the CBC and mislead readers of the Globe and Mail on an important issue. 

P.S. John didn't think asking for donations from viewers of CBC New Network was a good idea (lots of people don't).  On Twitter he called it "on-air begging" and "unseemly."  For the record I am in no way proposing that CBC considers beg-a-thons or offering tote bags and coffee cups as a way of funding the network.  However, some believe that requests for viewer donations could take many forms, for example a low key graphic after program credits.  Those who support donations cite not only the financial rewards but also the interaction and engagement with viewers.  For example, TVO reports that over 41,000 people made donations in 2012-13, totaling over $5 million. Not much, although it pays for a few staff,  and 41,000 people feel invested.  If nothing else, musing about donations, as the CBC president did this week, might be a strategy to get the public and politicians to consider innovative, new ways of funding CBC.

P.P.S. The premise of John's article is based on the claim that the Conservatives have cut the CBC government subsidy to " well below $1 billion" but this is in error.  According to CBC's most recent corporate plan the grant will continue to be over $1 billion for a number of years to come and that's not counting government funds from the Canadian Media Fund and production tax credits.  John can't be referring to only CBC English because its government grant has never been $1 billion.   If the CBC is to find its way out of this crisis, the facts about its funding, staffing and audiences need to be complete and understood.  

P.P.P.S. As for the opinion that making TV programs based on great Canadian fiction is "unworkable," some readers must have been scratching their heads, especially those who remember "Anne of Green Gables," "Road to Avonlea," "The Piano Man's Daughter," or "The Englishman's Boy," which John gave two-thumbs up when it appeared on CBC in 2008.  Internationally there are hundreds of TV shows based on novels.  "Anne of Green Gables'" record audience of almost 6 million viewers still stands today. Note to self---tweet that to John to get his feedback.