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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spec Stories On Stelmach's Cabinet Are Spin - Not News.

I read with interest the two different speculation stories on the new Stelmach Cabinet from Neil Waugh of the Edmonton Sun and Jason Markusoff of the Edmonton Journal. These two MSM outlets are fierce competitors and especially these days as they battle over political stories around a new government.

I see that same gamesmanship is continuing in these “spec” stories on the new Stelmach Cabinet. In a competitive media market the media goal appears to be around getting the story first more than getting it right. Is that what is happening this morning in the Cabinet spec stories in these two papers? Both these writers will have “sources” and both have different takes on what they say Premier Stelmach has decided about his Cabinet. As if they or any of their “sources” actually know…they don’t…and shouldn’t. So don’t get fooled Alberta.

I often speak to journalists on matters of public policy and offer personal opinions on political events and public policy and have often been a MSM source as a result. Media relations is part of my business. The right and responsibility of the Premier to announce his Cabinet when and how he wishes is nobody’s business but the Premier’s. Full disclosure, I am not one of the sources for either of these writers on these speculative stories. I have no inside information on the cabinet making process and results - nor should I.

Nobody but a very small group of advisers, who are totally loyal to the Premier or senior government administrators, who are duty bound to the government, knows the outcome of this process in advance. They would never get ahead of the Premier and be a media “source” on a matter so crucial to his leadership.

Citizens, including myself, are content to let the Premier make his cabinet decision in his own way, for his own reasons and in his own good time. To otherwise speculate on the Premier’s decision from the outside falls in the same category of gossip like what changes Mr. Katz will make to the Oiler organization. There will likely be changes but only Mr. Katz knows for sure and anybody else who thinks they know the final decisoin in advance is delusional.

Cabinet making is the work of political leaders and at the heart of public policy leadership. It is so important to the successful launch of a new government. That is why the Premier has to keep his own counsel on such important decisions. At the end of the day he alone has to make up his mind and deal with the consequences of his choices. He alone has to take the time to brief his Cabinet Minister's on his expectations of them and to do this in his own way and on his own terms.

In the mean time anybody else who the MSM quotes as “in the know” on such matters are simply not. They are gossiping and spinning and speculating - or very naive…nothing more. That does not mean you won’t get people, especially pundits, lobbyists and even bloggers talking about the make-up of new Cabinet. But rest assured none of them actually knows anymore than anybody else.

The MSM media will naturally be nosing around the margins of the political class for any tidbit, piece of gossip or rumour from “insiders” or “reliable sources” in advance of the final Cabinet announcement. These “insights” from so-called insider’s are mere rumour, gossip and pure speculation.

Remember MSM is a competitive business. They are all prone to speculation on such newsworthy events. They will even “sex them up” up as a “news” story from time to time and then claim that they got the “story first.” This is the nature of the media and for any politicians to complain about it is as about useless as a sea captain cursing the ocean.

This speculation approach is fine for op-eds and other opinion pieces but the public should not confuse them with “news.” Speculation on personality politics is fun, entertaining and engaging but that is all it is – it is not news. If these items are presented and perceived as “hard news” they do nothing to add to the battered credibility of the MSM. This approach to cover gossip as hard news does nothing to enhance the public’s perceptions of the reliability of the MSM either.

We need the MSM to be authoritative, credible and reliable because the alternative news source of the world-wide-web is so deplorable on these criteria. Citizens need an informative news source they can continue to believe and believe in. That reliability and credibility is the ultimate differentiating factor for traditional media these days as the Internet encroaches on their news source territory and their market share for readers.

Let’s hope the proper role of the opinion piece does not get conflated with hard news in our newspapers like entertainment has conflated with new on television. They all have a place but they ought to be very clear and distinct from each other.

So polish up your media literacy and read these spec pieces on the makeup and implications of the Stelmach Cabinet appointments today and realize that it is spin, speculation and supposition…but not fact based news. If the speculation turns out to be “accurate” that will be by coincidence only not because of the authoritativeness of the media’s “sources.”