Scripting questions for television is not new. Neither is happy talk: how to make the news seem natural when it isn’t.

CNN denies that they told a young man what question to ask during a “town hall” meeting on the network, but one conservative commentators have pulled up history stemming back since 2007.

In my book Don’t Believe It!, in the first chapter, I give another example from 2004 where they did ask a young college student to ask an inane question for which she got lambasted in public, before she revealed that her original — and more serious — question was rejected, and she then was told what silly question to ask instead.

This absolutely nothing that deviates from the usual mode of television news: from the “noddies” that interviewers tape after the interview is done to the scripted “happy talk” between anchors during a newscast, there is very little room for natural talk on a telecast. Things are edited. People are told what to say for the sake of brevity — but also for the sake of spin. You will often notice a flow during town hall events on television — but not so much if you attend on that isn’t televised. Reality shows are scripted, talk show interviews are scripted, and so are many elements of the news.

When writing television news copy, for instance, the software times the number of seconds it takes to read a passage: so to fit everything in tightly without bumps or cringes, many times, the spontaneity is taken out in favour of prepackaged speeches. Many broadcasters have employees sign nondisclosure agreements not reveal their operations, but if you pay attention, you can figure out just how much is actually scripted in the evening news.

It is something to be aware of when you are watching a newscast as anchors fight over who gets to say how much and when. It is silly to deny that news is a highly polished and processed product, especially when the polish is more than visible.



The Richmond Times-Dispatch is losing jobs, and charging more to readers for it. The blood-letting runs amok.

Lots of make-pretend that journalism has never been stronger and is in a Golden Age, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch is cutting employees lose as they increase the price of their newspaper.


With online-only publications such as Vox letting workers go, journalism is losing ground at a rate the profession has never witnessed before, particularly when the rest of the country is seeing signs of economic life, and have money to spend on advertising and buying newspapers and magazines — print or digital.

It’s not happening.

Not on a local level, and not on a national level.

The Great Web Migration didn’t happen, not for legacy traditional outlets with a history and established readership, and not for brash online upstarts/start-ups, either.

The biggest new story of this decade is the death of journalism.

But as long as we have outlets in extreme denial, it is a story that is being buried under its own corpse.

Why Hero Worship and Monster Making hasn’t saved journalism.

Once upon a time when ratings or circulation lagged, the press had a couple of tricks to spice things up.

The first was to slap a hero, and sometimes heroine on the cover:


People magazine is soft news and celebrity-centric, but they had always relied on Princess Diana to boost their circulation.

Have a swagger winner on a cover also applied to the hard news sister publication of Time:


Particularly in the 1980s:


Maybe the grandkids will pick up this issue, or not:


In case everyone confuses Time with People, we still have hope:


Exploit a built-in fanbase who will hopefully snatch up the magazine as a “collector’s item”:


All while telling people who to cheer on, even if you are not Time magazine:


But the lure of gaining extra readers with a “sell” over “tell” cover is irresistible:

WIRED -- NewsandPolitics -- September

Sometimes, you cannot always fawn in the open to the admirers of your cover boy or girl, or else people will become suspicious that maybe you aren’t so much about news, but trying to crib from the old Tiger Beat magazine.



Except the difference is men do not have to have their shirts buttoned down for Time magazine.

For a long time, this strategy worked: after all the teeny bopper rags were driven strictly on cover photos with no deep articles at all. It was pure Patriarchal visual storytelling of propping up a hero for the little people to worship, or at least imagine what they looked like naked on the reader’s bed.

But there was another trick to make it seem as if the coverage was news and not mere propaganda: finding a monster to scare the people out of their wits, or make them hate:


Because there are those who will buy the cover just to incite themselves:


You would think facts tell a story, but it is the monster who used to sell it instead, even if his image is manipulated to do it:


Or you turn those monsters into airheads who don’t even know how to look professional, even if they got a different invitation:


Once long ago, these visual memos did the trick. People bought covers with their favourite heroes and villains on the covers.

And now, not so much.

Simple: people prefer their own partisan takes, and do not need to pay for the covers they can create themselves online, with their own spin and opinion.

The magazine cover has been replaced by the meme poster.

Why pay for propaganda, when you can generate your own for free?

Hero worship and monster making were cheap ways for the press to snag attention, but when their audience co-opted those same economical tricks, it no longer had an impact, and a reliable feint stopped working entirely.

Sugarmommies to the Atlantic’s Rescue: Happy news’ sleight of hand, and why seemingly happy news is no news at all.

Once upon a time, I was a journalist who covered the journalism industry for the likes of Presstime as well as other publications.

I was a complete newbie when I began, but I learned fast. I learned a lot about venture capital, Ebitda, paywalls, and the smoke and mirrors game of keeping up pretences.

Newspapers were very good at hiding the extent of circulation declines at the time. Canada began including free giveaway newspapers (count as one cent) as part of their circulation way back in 1999. This would include all those untouched newspapers you see at restaurants, laundry mats, and college campuses. I always had to understand the rig, and why it placed there.

I also understood that when everyone’s fortunes are crumbling, and one seems to buck the odds, you have to look at it with skepticism, and not awe. Bernie Madoff seemed to have the golden touch, and it was revealed that he didn’t.

So when the Atlantic boasted of hiring 100 people, I already was not surprised. They are not bucking a trend, but what they are experiencing is the largesse of a sugar mommy: in this case the widow of Great Man Steve Jobs.

This is not uncommon, but it requires some explaining.

This isn’t the first media player who has had this kind of set-up. Steven Bannon had billionaire widow Rebekah Mercer play patron to him until he became a liability with a big mouth and she kicked him to the curb. These relationships usually end in the patron wising up, realizing they are being used as their endgame is not going to happen funding a sinking ship, and they cut their losses.

I had known about this wrinkle for some time, and knew the score when I was invited by a friend to attend a little Fear and Pity Talk in Toronto at Facebook’s satellite headquarters last year. The little panel discussion on uncomfortable bar stools was supposed to about truth and journalism, but it mostly about how no one in the business was getting any clicks anymore…and too much left-field praise about The Atlantic magazine.

It was more than obvious that people in traditional media semi-got together and tried to rebuild their decimated fortunes with a brand name the same way they tried to bluff advertisers by including not-read-newspapers as part of their circulation (or currently with fake Twitter followers). As a tactical move, it could not be worse, but from a single discussion, it was easy to see right through those see-through heads, as the Hives once sang.

But patrons and venture capitalists are not uncommon, and online publications are now imploding because those funders have seen the writing on the wall, and are bailing out.

For the uninitiated, Crunch Base is a good start in seeing various publications getting funding — not from subscriptions or advertisers, but from funding (or venture) rounds.  You can look at Buzzfeed’s funding rounds, for example.

The upside is that you can raise big money faster with the theory that money will give you a push. Sometimes it works, and other times, not.

Take Meez, for instance, a non-journalism vehicle.

They raised over 12 million dollars for instance, allowing people to make their own cartoony avatars, like this one:


That one pretty much looks like me now (surprising given that the animation is about a decade old), and it was a handy way to add humour to my web site.

But Meez no longer exists.

They had millions of subscribers, and many (such as me who used it for website graphics rather than personal entertainment) who paid for premium perks. They had high-end retailers have virtual clothing for cash purchase so your avatar could dress in that season’s fashions. Bands, movies, and television shows also sponsored various items and backgrounds over the years. You could make animations, such as the one above, or you could enter chat rooms to talk.

It was all the rage in the 2000s. It had subscribers, advertisers, and venture funding.

And then it imploded, going offline permanent in December 2017 without a prior warning (though users had been expecting doom as moderators seemed to have vanished).

I stopped using Meez years ago, but always kept a watch on its fortunes.

If me-centred media could not make it a go with patrons and/or funding rounds, it should aa serious sign for journalism.

How so?

Meez was the ultimate in embracing technology, courting youth, embracing progressive values, and keeping hip and with the times. Time magazine called it one of the worst sites of the year back in the day, as traditional media has always had a fear and disdain for technology. They did everything right.

And they couldn’t make the venture funding translate into self-sustaining success.

Steve Bannon, a shrewd man who understood strategy and managed to secure funding, also couldn’t sustain it.

The Atlantic will not be able to sustain it, either.

Its sophistry is too weak to be taken seriously, and it is no contender to any ideological challenge (when I wish to practice my critical thinking skills, all I have to do is read an Atlantic article, and I can take it down to shreds in seconds). It is the same smug, patriarchal mess that is offered everywhere else, including, the now crumbling Vox which is letting staff go. It has no new model of journalism, meaning there is no way for it to be able to take advantage of any kind of funding. Wealthy widow money burns at the same rate as any other kind of patron funding. Hiring a bigger staff when people no longer see journalism as something to consume will not change its fortunes.

But it will serve as a reason why government funding will not change journalism’s fortunes in Canada, either. You cannot keep opening the same door and expecting a different horizon. The news is pure PR, nothing more, and nothing for a dead profession to celebrate.

It is interesting how they are trying their hand at the same kinds of bluffs Canadian newspapers tried to pull in 1999. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now, either. The Left are losing communications resources, and have decided their best bet is to focus on the inert Atlantic.

They will watch their fortunes continue to shrink with intellectual lightweights trying clumsily to psyche out detractors.

It’s not working. It will comfort the fearful flock for a moment, until the money runs out, and it flops just like everyone else around them.


Vox layoffs: No, it is not just traditional media that is blood-letting. Journalism is just dead.

Vox is letting go staffers as it shrinks. Online publications can make excuses all they want as to why they are blood-letting, but there is a single reason for it.

The mindset is broken. No foundation, no base, no future.

Online journalism is more disgraceful because they had a superior mode of dissemination, and could have created an alternative to journalism entirely.

What they did was use the old model, and then do everything that sunk journalism, only did more of it.

There should have been more experimentation, not less. The online kids thought they could just pump up the opinion, narrative, smugness, sophistry, attitude, and snark, and that was all that was needed.

They kept the Patriarchal structure in a medium that screams for Matriarchal. They were as misogynistic as their forefathers of the previous three media. It was all white boys swaggering around, trying to be the One as they shut down people whose beliefs weren’t exactly like their own.

Well played, gentlemen.

They cribbed ideas, never giving credit where credit was due. They filled their product with listicles and quizzes.

Now that reality is sinking in, they are not special, and the fate that befell the traditional outlets befell them, too.

You are now dealing with a selfie generation who do not care about anything else save for their Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. To engage a public is an uphill battle as people are now convinced their thoughts are perfect as they are, their opinions are facts, and differing points of views should be shut down in favour of a photograph of their free appetizer from the Outback.

It is an information crisis. Information literacy is now nonexistent. People are schooling themselves on meme propaganda posters.

And it is a serious problem with no end in sight.

Journalism’s obliviousness: Why they are running on their hamster wheels. They never see. They never listen. They never learn.

Three articles that show that when it comes to journalism, it is a profession that sees nothing, hears nothing, and it knows nothing. There is plenty of virtue-signalling in the profession, but with no self-reflection, the results will be no better than the decimation the profession has already experienced.

We have articles over-praising flawed methodology without looking at those flaws. It was the sort of confirmation bias that gave reporters the false sense that they were beyond reproach. Most impactful? The shoulder-patting has no place in fact-gathering professions. This is, as I have pointed out numerous times, advertorial writing where the client is journalism.

We have Poynter’s perpetual obliviousness, with articles that are banal with assertions that journalism has changed, but it didn’t change with the times. There is no critical lens.

The third article has also missed the bigger picture: journalism’s narratives are more than just colonial, but patriarchal: its structure is a rig that prevents deeper understanding. There is an implication that stories are negative toward those who do not fit the One paradigm, but, it misses the point: facts are not effective if they come with a built-in filter. We need facts as they are; not with spin, positive or negative.

Because if we had facts surrounding the treatment of First Nations people in Canada, those facts would speak for themselves: that their treatment has been horrendous, and the disrespect a single group has endured is abusive. We can collect data on suicide rates, unemployment, missing persons, poverty, living standards, and the like, and, when we put those facts together, speak volumes without the need to spin it.

Just as we can gather facts on the treatment of that demographic by the various levels of government. Has the situation improved? Or gotten worse? We can compare and contrast, creating a map of reality.

But that picture cannot emerge through the Patriarchal mode of storytelling, as it compels us to cheer the One, and that there is a narrative of good and evil where the One is good and triumphs over evil; so there is no need to worry: something is getting done, the story is over, and we can stop thinking about it.

None of these articles delves into the mechanics of reality. None look at the situation with a realistic lens. What we have is an artificial mode of putting a positive spin or offering a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

Or, not seeing the larger issues at play.

We have no map or guide. Journalism has collapsed, and yet the artificial takes cannot solve the problems because the problems are hidden or ignored.

Yet we live in an information void, dooming solutions as we make problems worse. The lack of foresight crushed journalism, and the illness has spread without opposition.

We are living in a modern Dark Age because of it. When we begin to create alternative forms of journalism, it is only then when we can begin to see the world around us as a whole as we can finally ponder the grains that make the whole.

Remember when the Left believed that mental illness could compel a person to murder? Since memories are short, let this radical centrist take you back to Calgary, July 30, 2008 for a bus ride with Vince Li. That may jog a few selective memories.

There is a benefit to being a radical centrist: you are beholden to truth, reality, and facts, not contrarian stances that shift and flip depending on what people you do not like spew out of their mouths.

The narrative that mental illness never causes someone to kill is absurd.

It does not compel everyone, but we do have not guilty by reason of mental defect for a reason: because it happens.

Paranoid schizophrenics have been known to hear voices that tell them to kill.

Do I believe the Florida shooter was compelled by mental illness? Given all his recent stressors and prior behaviour, I do believe this more than possible, but probable. I would still prefer more facts before I committed to any one position.

Once upon a time — and in the very recent past — the Left were as smug as they were assured that there were killers of this ilk, and they should be viewed with compassion.

Until the US President called it mental illness — and then suddenly, the Left had to be contrarian, and then without facts, decreed it wasn’t.

Slate claimed it was anger and not mental illness, completely forgetting that uncontrollable anger is a mental illness. Paste also made the same extremist decree along with a very insensitive headline:

Here’s Everything That’s Wrong with the GOP’s “Mental Health” Excuse for Mass Shootings

Here’s everything wrong with that sentiment:

I remember when I was an undergraduate student at McMaster studying psychology, I took numerous courses where were learned that yes, mental illness can cause those kinds of delusions. When you are a threat to yourself, or others, that was the benchmark to know you were suffering from a mental disorder.

Not everyone does. I don’t care if you don’t, you cannot paint everyone with the same brush. Some people have cancer and are cured; some have it and die, but just because your loved one died and someone else got cured, doesn’t mean the person who was cured didn’t have it.

The same holds true when it comes to mental illness: in the drive to be overly politically correct, all facts and logic have flown right out the window.

But it wasn’t always like this: once upon a time the Left were pushing for rehabilitation and lenient sentences for those whose mental illness compelled them to kill, and the Right just bristled at the notion, repeatedly using that obnoxious phrase Bleeding Heart Liberals and soft on crime.

When you are a radical centrist, you are balance, and you are not swayed by dogma or the tweaking of noses. Extremists rarely get it right, and people completely unschooled in a subject have no business making sweeping generalizations just because a fact does not fit in with their untested theories.

To show just how insincere the press coverage has been, let me take you back to Calgary on July 30, 2008.

It was a shocking day for Canada because there were two men on a bus: one was Tim McLean who was just sitting quietly.

The other was a man by the named of Vince Li.

Li killed McLean on the bus.

Here is the New York Times’ article on March 6, 2009 that described the outcome of the trial:

A judge on Thursday found a man not criminally responsible for killing, decapitating and cannibalizing a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus last year. Justice John Scurfield of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench called the actions of the man, Vince Weiguang Li, ”barbaric” and ”grotesque,” yet concluded that they were ”suggestive of a mental disorder.” Lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense had recommended such a verdict, and Mr. Li, who was found to be schizophrenic, was sent to a secure psychiatric center.

Well, how interesting. No one — not the defence, nor the prosecution disagreed with the facts of the case that Li was driven to kill by his mental illness.

Did anger cause Li to murder?

No, mental illness did.

People do not understand mental illness. They may understand anxiety and depression, but they do not understand what it means to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia. If it is caught and treated with medication, a person can go on with a functioning and peaceful life.

But not off the meds.

Not all who have it kill.

But not all who have it do not.

The Globe and Mail had an article how the mental health system failed Vince Li.

The CBC also had a piece how Li was not evil, but sick, and that article came out on February 13, 2017.

One year and week ago today.

Even as far back as December 2017, the consensus was that mental illness drove preteen Anissa Weier to try to kill her friend on behalf of the fictional character Slenderman.

Her partner in crime Morgan Geyser had the press comfortable with the notion of mental illness driving one to harm as recently as February 1, 2018, even though the crime was committed by two people and the attack was premeditated.

I can call up a whole slew of other articles and stories on the Li and Slenderman cases, and others from the US, UK, and Canada, with the same underlying theme, going all the way back to the 1960s.

So what is the difference? Why has the press suddenly turned on their own mantra in less than a month?

Because their mortal enemy co-opted their theory.

You either believe something or you don’t. That is the reason you need facts, data, and evidence to draw conclusions. There are a lot of people I do not like, but if what they say is true, I am not suddenly going to say the opposite.

If they say the sky is blue, then I am not going to say it’s pink to spite them.

It is one thing when you are bickering over petty nonsense that has no consequence. It is very different when the stakes are high and real.

This is not the time to politicize tragedy or pretend you know more than you do.

This is no time to push an agenda. Right now, it is time to gather facts before drawing a conclusion.

Was this boy mentally ill? Was he a paranoid schizophrenic? We absolutely need to know this. Many of these mass murderers are killed before they can be stopped, meaning we don’t know as much about their mental state as we need to know.

Now is the time to find out how the systems (yes, plural), all failed.

We have to see if social services dropped the ball and when.

We have to see if the school dropped the ball and when.

We need to know if the police, FBI, or any other government agency could have intervened, but were stymied by rules, laws, procedures, or some other breakdown.

We need studies. We need studies dealing with current cases because these have exploded within the last decade, hinting the reasons are different than ones of the past.

When you are a radical centrist, you do not profess grand simplistic theories. You begin to gather facts. You find out who is this child. You find out about his history. You find out about his family. You find out if any other blood relative has the same issues. You isolate the most salient factors and then you hunt for more facts.

Then you look at his environment. What happened?

People want a solution. They can’t have one that works if they do not pull back and see how very little they know about any of the details.

If we had a functioning media — which we do not — we wouldn’t be throwing fits — we’d be finding out as much as we could about what went wrong.

But we know nothing as of this point, let alone enough to decree a solution.

We cannot continue to pretend we have the answers when we are having petty squabbles over conjecture.