Friday, October 26, 2007

The American PR machine

The American government has stooped to a new ethical low. FEMA held a fake press conference Tuesday morning, where officials posed as reporters.

In an Orwellian move, the organization gave actual reporters only 15 minutes notice -- ensuring they could not make the conference to ask hard hitting questions about fires in California.

The Washington Post published details from the conference before learning it was a hoax.

Is this an attempt by the infamously defunct body (after the Katrina scandal) to regain credibility in the eyes of the American people?

If so, they obviously underestimated both the intelligence of the American people and the capabilities of their press corps.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Press Freedom Index

Reporters Sans Frontieres has released its latest Press Freedom Index, rating 169 countries in terms of the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists over the past year.

Topping the list is Iceland, while North Korea has lost the dubious honour of last place to Eritrea, an African country which closed the private press in 2001.

Sharing status at the bottom of the pack are China (163rd), Burma (164th), Cuba (165th), Iran (166th) and Turkmenistan (167th).

Recent events like the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the military crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma and the continued imprisonment of Chinese journalists all contributed to the rankings.

At 18th, Canada's got nothing on the Scandinavian countries that dominate the top spots, but it is the highest ranked G8 country. The USA sits at 48th, just below Nicaragua.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Walrus came to town

The Walrus, rated Canada's, magazine of the year, came to Vancouver on a rainy Tuesday night, bringing raunchy poetry readings, an unlimited martini bar and some of the city's biggest philanthropists, and more importantly, their cheque books.

The Walrus is known in Canada for promoting important public discourse on matters from the country's electoral system to climate change in its arctic.

But there was little talk of quality Canadian journalism when the Walrus came to town. The event wasn't about intellectual accolades or discourse on the state of magazines in Canada. It was about fund raising.

And when it comes to charity events, the Walrus stuck with the tried and true recipe for success, for even the most high brow soirées centre on those classic staples of a good party -- a fully stocked bar and sexy entertainment.

At the middle of it all is the Walrus' Editor-in-Chief and co-founder, Ken Alexander, wearing a thematic green shirt mingling with journalistic types and capital investors alike, promoting the Walrus' upcoming arctic issue. Part editor and part PR spokesperson, Alexander's job tonight is to pamper his sponsors.

Based on the business model of the renowned Harper's magazine, the Walrus has become Canada's only long form journalism magazine dedicated to ideas and culture.

But tonight the culture of the intelligentsia reigns over their big ideas. The entertainment line-up is jammed with some of Vancouver's biggest media big shots from Shelagh Rogers acting out a special play by playwright Jim Garrard to Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane reciting erotic poetry.

The party moves to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where pseudo-celebs sip martinis and view Georgia O'Keeffe originals while waiting for the results of the silent auction featuring prizes that include a weekend in Whistler and dinner at the renowned Lumiere restaurant.

This event makes one thing clear about those who support the Walrus. While they might prefer sexually explicit content and martinis to discourse on the state of journalism, or the difference the Walrus is making in the Canadian cultural zeitgeist, they certainly celebrate the magazine's achievements with their cheque books.

Surprisingly, Canada's best magazine cannot support itself on revenue alone. It won charitable status from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in 2005. Now it can appeal for funds from foundations and other interested parties.

The Walrus dedicates only a small portion of space to ads, its publisher Shelley Ambrose quickly explains while introducing the evening's entertainment. "We are committed to long-form literary journalism, so you're not going to get features telling you where to shop."

Now the magazine can raise the capital it needs to compete against American magazines that have saturated the Canadian market, staples such as the New Yorker, Time and Harper's, and offer a Canadian alternative to Macleans.

How can an intellectual magazine best raise money from high spending donors? A series of cross- country shmooze fests was decided on.

The Walrus has traveled from Ottawa to Calgary to Vancouver, and the content of each evening's entertainment certainly catered to each metropolis.

While it was not officially announced -- perhaps because of the sheer crassness of discussing money at a fund raiser for a magazine about "ideas, sophistication and wit" -- I am told that despite an intimate turnout, the magazine has raised a substantial amount in Vancouver, thanks to some of the city's richest denizens who have generously sponsored the magazine's event.

And of course, there was plenty of swag.