February 02, 2002
A more serious CUP proposal

A little writeup of my ideas of how CUP could do its part to create an alternative to the corrupt media.

posted by dru in politicsoftech

CUP World Domination: a proposal

or, the creation of an alternative to the corrup... er, corporate media, using the resources at hand

At Nash last week, everyone and their keynote mentioned the trouble with the Aspers, “convergence”, and the generally grim state of Canadian media (not that other media is doing much better these days). Lawrence Martin expounded on the need to build contacts and apply lobby-style political pressure to folks who report inaccurately, and those who enable folks like ole Izzy to gain all that power. He also asked us to imagine what Canada would be like if some left-wing billionaire had decided to start a national daily instead of Conrad Black. Since this is unlikely, I started thinking about how CUP could create an alternative to the mainstream media. What follows are some ideas about how this can be done without a massive budget. The fact is, to be a radical alternative to the mainstream media, we don't have to be left-wing, we just have to be accurate.

This is also my response to Agent magazine and CUP's need for a national project. I like it because it is simultaneously much less expensive and vastly more ambitious.

Obviously, I’m not going to be dreadfully disappointed if this doesn’t go through as I have layed it out here. I’m offering this up firstly and mostly for discussion and inspiration. Any of the following ideas could be used and expanded on their own.

If anyone is interested in making this kind of thing happen, I'll be happy to put in a few hundred hours, and I'm only half kidding. If there's any interest at all, I'll put together a mockup of what I think a good CUP site might look like. Heck, I'll even try to get it running and host it on the Argosy web server.

The ideas here are all based on the assumption that as students, we are granted extensive privileges by the rest of society, and in return have an obligation to tell the truth where it is not being told, even when it is not in our direct interest to do so. If folks don't agree with that, maybe that should be discussed too.

--> The plan: build a website that features all the great content that we (collectively, as the student press) already have, with the eventual goals of a) creating a national magazine/newspaper of sorts, but with zero printing costs for CUP and b) creating a venue for bigger projects (e.g. J. Kelly’s big feature on ole Izzy) to get the attention they deserve. This can be accomplished without hiring anymore full time staff by effectively using the latest cutting edge collaborative tools on the internet. Before I sound any more like a press release, I’ll get on with it.

Phase I: do something about the CUP web site

CUP currently has the wire, which seems to work out alright. We also have this thing called CampusNews (http://campusnews.cup.ca), which (apparently) is a view of the wire stories for the general public that never got finished. It seems automated, but it’s pretty broken in enough ways to make it totally unusable.

The first step, in any case, is to get the CUP wire flowing through a public web site, so that there is a central source of high-quality reporting from the student press. That can be done either by fixing what’s there, or creating a whole new system, based on some of the available (free) software.

Phase II: broaden the wire, and make it collaborative

[Assuming we’re into giving priority to this whole alternative idea,] the wire should change its form radically. That, or a new wire should be set up. It would work something like this: a new story gets posted by a member paper; an editor looks at it, and either “approves” or doesn’t; approved articles get posted to the wire that appears to the general public. An editor or bureau chief can edit the stories, but all previous versions will remain available.

Eventually, the number of editors could be greatly expanded. Different kinds of approval, like factuality, readability, etc. could be added, to give the public visitors of the site information about the accuracy of the information presented there. So, Jill visitor looks at the new national news site (good names, anyone?), and while she reads stories, she can view: a) which editor thought that it was worthwhile, b) who, if anyone, fact-checked it, c) who edited it, and what the article looked like before the editors got their hands on it. By clicking on the name of each editor involved in the story, she could see what other stories they had approved of or edited. This, I think, adds a level of transparency that is thus far nonexistent, but useful for folks who want to know who is choosing the news. The system also disperses the tasks needed in a way that takes the burden off of one bureau chief, and spreads it around to as many people as want to be involved in a token but substantial way. Most importantly, this allows a larger number of stories to get posted and edited, paving the way towards a news site that is updated daily.

I’ve written some more in depth comment on radical publishing models here: http://dru.ca/imc/open_pub.html

Phase III: Get other folks involved

Assuming we can eventually get a professional-looking web site that is frequently updated off the ground, and build up a sizeable audience, and keep promoting it (a big assumption, no doubt), we’d then start inviting other independent sources of news, analysis, arts, sports coverage, commentary and comics to use our web site to post their best (and most nationally relevant) stuff. The site, in addition to being a clearinghouse for quality stuff by CUP member papers, could feature other independently produced content from the likes of Indymedia and what’s left of independently run newspapers, and feature a comprehensive set of links to independent Canadian media. Having gained a large enough audience, the site could be a draw for writers in and of itself.

Should this point of success ever be reached, I’m assuming that The Site would a) be indistinguishable from the everday operations of CUP and b) there would be at least one position created solely for dealing with The Site.

Phase IV: Print without printing

Once there is a critical mass of good material, we start laying out a couple of pages of the best and least time-sensitive material, and slapping it online as a PDF. Other papers could print copies locally and carry it as an insert (much like agent, except for decentralized printing costs), and independent bookstores and other indy shops around the country could print out their own copies and sell them at cost or for a small profit.

Appendix Zed: Stuff CUP could do right now

  • Start collaborative regional wires. Using software like Scoop (http://scoop.kuro5hin.org), folks could compile the wire-worthy stories, decide on the best ones, and keep track of the online editions of each other’s papers.
  • Fix campusnews.cup.ca. Nuff said.
  • Next to the general-public version of the newswire, start a weblog (like slashdot, kinda), highlighting good material that shows up on the sites of the various papers. Discussion areas and the like. (I've been trying to do this with argosy.ca).