Poll: National Geographic vs. Alberta oil sands

March 8, 2009

This post below received quite a few visits since it got posted a few hours ago. This looks like a good opportunity for a little poll. So read the post and vote if you are so inclined.


National Geographic and the oilsands: what the heck are they complaining about in Calgary?

March 8, 2009

I’ve been scratching my head for a few days now, trying to make sense of the uproar out West about the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine. The venerable yellow-framed publication, famous for the quality of its pictures and focus on conservation, ran a 20-page section on Alberta’s ‘oilsands’. It illustrates the dark side of the sand operations – you know, the scoured landscape, the sick people, the dead birds, the complete lack of restraint from the industry.

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

Gary Lamphier in the Edmonton Journal denounces it as eco-propaganda. Predictably, the National Post is outraged. Biased, soft-handed tree-huggers from New York, don’t they know they need Canadian oil to drive from their country home to their Manhattan office?

But reading the magazine made me wonder why the heck they are complaining about.

Sure, a text in National Geographic about the oilsands would be cause to send Cheryl Rubb at Syncrude’s media relations service into a panic. But as it turns out, the oil patch, as well as the Alberta government, have plenty of reasons to rejoice: even a cursory reading of the magazine’s text shows that it contains all the messages they’ve been trying to get through to Americans for years:

  • Canada is America’s no. 1 oil supplier and has reserves greater than Saudi Arabia’s.
  • Canadian oil is the best way to reduce America’s dependency on oil from the Middle-East.
  • Alberta’s oilsands are open for business: it’s full steam ahead and development will not slow down.
  • Extraction even of the deeper oil is plenty profitable.
  • In the grand scheme of things, the oilsands’ carbon footprint is negligible and First Nations are seeing this as an opportunity.

As for the environmental aspect of the oilsands, the text makes it clear that it’s a Canadian problem that has no impact on the U.S. Canada wants to turn part of their own countryside into a hellish hellhole to pump oil south of the border. It’s their business.

I’m sure the oil patch’s PR wizards see it that way, if they have any wits. Curiously, it’s the newsroom hacks who get blinded by rage. Lamphier can’t even get past the pictures:

“No one reads National Geographic. Like Playboy, it’s all about the pictures. And you can bet that everyone from Al Gore to David Suzuki to the righteous folks at Greenpeace will be using the magazine’s grim photos to convince the pliable masses, and U.S. politicians, that the oilsands are indeed the world’s greatest eco-disaster.”

Right. Apparently publishers have a responsibility not only to be balanced, but also not to publish pictures that could be used to support a public relations campaign. Interesting how the ethics of journalism shift with who is doing the spinning.

If Lamphier and the National Post editorial board like to pretend American public opinion is ripe for an eco-crusade involving oil production right now, it’s fine. After all, we’re used to frequent high-pitched whining from either of those sources. But nobody should think their outrage has anything to do with reality.

POLL UPDATE: What do you think? Take the poll!

Here’s a great stolen podcast

February 27, 2009

I have no particular comments on the content of this podcast, which is a slightly more entertaining version of the standard discussion one can find all over the Internet in these difficult times for the media. I just wanted to see if the inter-Wordpress ’embed’ function worked well.

Okay, it works – copy, paste. Nice.

The podcast’s real home is here on Inkless Wells and here on Coyne’s blog, of course.

Congratulations, Hélène Buzetti

February 27, 2009

Today, Hélène Buzetti was elected President of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery. Félicitations. Richard ‘Badger’ Brennan did not run again, after two years marked by a difficult relationship with the Prime Minister’s Office (and some victories for the reporters – kind of).

The Press Gallery is much less useful than it used to be (from a PR point of view, that is). With the proper invitation, a flack could walk in to schmooze and booze with the members of the old boys’ club. Things have changed – they even closed the bar a couple of years ago, for lack of patrons. And of course, women have risen to the top of the profession, through skill, dedication and force of will.

Cheers! To a better Press Gallery.

Does Canwest need a government bailout?

February 24, 2009

Canwest needs to come up with a $100 million debt payment by Friday to avoid becoming insolvent. And if they manage to beg, steal or borrow the money, there’s always another payment not far behind…

How long before media conglomerates beg for a government bailout? That would be the acid test of journalistic objectivity.

Hamilton ‘Spec’ sheds 35 jobs

February 24, 2009

TorStar’s smaller newspapers are really getting hit: 35 layoffs at the Hamilton Spectator, 21 at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 13 at the small Guelph Mercury.

That is mightily unpleasant. Good luck to everybody. There’s still a future in public relations, by the way.

UPDATE: It could be much worse, of course.

Other memories from the Montreal Star?

February 10, 2009

Interesting reaction from Stu Lowndes here to something I wrote back in September. Any other former hacks from the Montreal Star want to chip in? To facilitate conversation (if any…), Lowndes’ comment reproduced here:

The Montreal Star folded partly because editorial management decided to hire a few hacks from the tabloid press, in particular, the Globe/Midnight operation, then based in Montreal.

The Star was the better paper of only two in the city. The Montreal Gazette wasn’t really a newspaper, it was a scum sheet of St.James’s Street financiers and those PR flacks at the local watering hole, the Montreal Press Club.

Okay, I’m a little harsh on the rag. I used to work for The Star and my moments and memories go back to the early 1960s – and when Peter Desbarats, then feature writer, was dean of journalism of University of Western Ontario, now retired, and others: Walter O’Hearn, Paul (Dodo) McKenna Davis (night editor), Dick Havilland (city editor), and so on …

As for Dennis Trudeau, I met the chap during a stint at the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph. Couldn’t figure him out then, can’t figure him out now.

Trudeau, however, knows how to play the game.

Unfortunately, the QCT online, doesn’t. The oldest paper in Canada still doesn’t get it. Such big ideas for such a small rag with less than 2,000 print eyeballs. But, who knows …

I wonder how The Star would have appeared or have changed in this so-called Google Generation.

I have changed; I haven’t read a rag in years, including The Montreal Gazette. But I was born on a paper, and my heart and sentiments are still with most of them, with only a few exceptions.


Stu Lowndes