Why Comedy "Journalism" is Often Better than "Real" Journalism and Hamilton's Faux Bike Lane Debate

The U.S. Government Shutdown is an interest case-study in false neutrality by the media, each side is to blame, or no one is to blame, or the persons behind the decisions that lead to the shutdown are ignored. As Dan Froomkin best put it, it is a failure of journalism to properly inform the public that needs to know what’s dysfunction in order to elected the best politicians to fix their democracy.

False neutrality is how I describe this practice. The View from Nowhere is the more common industry term and there is a strong movement to rid the untruth it creates from the practice of journalism.

Why does the View from Nowhere prevail in journalism repeatedly?

False neutrality protects the people too many journalist see as their most important sources – the powerful politicians who give them “exclusives” and documents. Challenge those politicians by printing just the truth? A journalist finds themselves isolated from other journalists and information.

Clipboard11It’s why I don’t accept leaks from politicians who are seeking to advance their own agenda or receive favourable coverage in exchange. It’s also why I’m often the only reporter at City Hall tweeting when some Councillors are acting immaturely or without decorum.

Journalism don’t like being criticized, nobody does. False objectivity is often mistaken for fairness. When someone calls to criticize a piece, the journalist can reply they gave each viewpoint an equal amount of coverage.

Comedy Journalism Doesn’t Rely on the Powerful as “Sources” – It’s Truly Independent

Getting back to the United States debt crisis. The best coverage and explanations are coming from comedians. The Onion, for example, provides a comprehensive explanation of how a speech by President Ronald Reagan asserting that government itself “is the problem” over 30 years ago sent in motion the events leading to today’s Tea Party and the shutdown.

The Onion provides this insight within a mock infographic (pictured Left) that is meant to entertain. It’s insightful commentary.

Read the final paragraph. It concisely explains how the US Congress became as dysfunction as it is today. No other media outlet has achieved such an informative concise explanation.

Journalists are Doing It Wrong

When comedians are doing a better job of holding the powerful to account, and providing more insightful background of daily events, and are the only media source empowering citizens with the information they need to actively contribute to their democracy – this means that journalists are doing it wrong.

One of the things we are doing wrong is allowing politicians to have their own truths without any facts.

We allow politicians to drive the agenda, we allow them to distract us with shiny objects, faux scandals, and we ignore the bigger issues. All of this in the name of a quick dollar from advertising revenues that flow from providing junk news.

Hamilton’s Faux Bike Lane Debate

Strathcona Transportation Plan Map (City of Hamilton) [Click to Enlarge]Strathcona Transportation Plan Map (City of Hamilton) [Click to Enlarge]

This week, one of the top stories was a supposed proposal to remove one of the five lanes of one-way traffic on Main Street and install bike lanes.It had all the workings of a traffic-driver (“War on Cars”) for the media. Only one detail was missing: truth.

The proposal is to remove a lane of traffic on the north side and expand the sidewalks to meet the minimum width under the current Urban Hamilton Official Plan.

Bike Lanes are not proposed for Main Street. When asked by Ward 12 Councillor (and undeclared mayoral candidate) Lloyd Ferguson if there are any future plans to add bike lanes to Main Street from the 403 to Queen.

Daryl Bender, the City’s project manager for alternative transportation, replied there are no plans for bike lanes along Main Street and that staff are proposed signed bike routes and lanes north of King Street to divert bicycle traffic off the main arterial roads. (See map right)

The proposed transportation plan does not include bike lanes to connect the Main Street West bike lanes over the 403 bridge to Dundurn.

Don’t Let Facts Get in the Way of  “Gravy Train” Narrative

Despite these facts, CHML debated bike lanes on Main Street West, Councillor Lloyd Ferguson skipped out of the General Issues Committee on Wednesday to rally against bike lanes on CHML’s Bill Kelly, and **online forums filled with comments regarding the merits of this alleged proposal.

This is a proposal that not even bike advocates are proposing!

We’re not even discussing the proposal in the context of complete safe streets.

Meanwhile, the discussion about the major issues impacting our city: debt, infrastructure deficit, aging population, smart growth, waste management, condo property taxes (which was supposed to be debated this week, but is postponed to January), intensification (which was part of the Strathcona Plan) is ignored.

Why? Because they are complex, because covering them will upside valuable powerful sources. Because they are not sexy like the “War on Cars.”

Even the death of a pedestrian at Ray and Main wasn’t enough to derail this train.

Election 2014: Single Simple Issue or the Complex Reality of the Future of Our City?

Arturas Zuokas Mayor of Lithuania's capital, Vilnius is really waging a war on cars. Hamilton's urbanists, not so much. (Artūras Zuokas' Office)Arturas Zuokas Mayor of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius is really waging a war on cars. Hamilton’s urbanists, not so much. (Artūras Zuokas’ Office)

This week witnessed a media frenzy as CBC and TheSpec competed to give us the scoop on who is running for Mayor in 2014 after Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie declared his intentions on Monday. At no point did we enter into a discussion of *what *qualities we need in our City leader, we focused purely on *who *the candidates may be.

This brings us back to the advantage that comedy shows have over legacy media – even when they are covering the *who *of an election, they focus on the *what *by focusing on the positions of the candidates.

The comedy shows don’t allow politicians to drive the agenda with distraction of the moment or simplified non-reality based one-liner soundbites.

With 2014 fast approaching, are Hamilton’s media outlets prepared to discuss the big issues or are we going to fall into the trap of the 2010 stadium debate and focus on one issue?

I for one love gravy, I love trains, but I’m not jumping on the Gravy Train narrative express.

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