The Role of Blogs in the 2009 Saskatchewan NDP Leadership Race

If you asked what role the blogosphere played in the 2009 NDP Leadership Race, the quick answer would be “not enough.” 

Even though three of the four bloggers who were writing regularly about the leadership race endorsed Ryan Meili (myself, Accidental Deliberations, Louis Riel Trail) and the fourth (Buckdog) didn't endorse anyone, the reality is that Ryan lost in the end.

But that's perhaps too quick of an answer.  Because Ryan has also acknowledged repeatedly, including in his concession speech, that he went from being “that other one – the doctor from Saskatoon” in a field of well-known, well-connected people within the NDP party to a strong second place finish which many would've thought impossible when he first entered the race back in February. 

Blogs aren't solely responsible for this result of course – not by a long shot.  Ryan's well-run campaign with its positive message and dedicated team, his amazing personal biography, the desire for renewal within the party – all of those things played a big part.  But the blogs definitely had an impact too, I think. 

I can only speak to my own experience but the first clue is that I saw my number of unique visitors more than double from January of this year when my blog was doing it's usual mix of library, technology, and cute kid-related posts to May when I was writing almost exclusively about the leadership race. 

I was told by a variety of party insiders – from convention committee members to MLA's – that they read this blog.  Others have also mentioned to me that it often seemed as if an issue would come up on the blogs then a day or three later, they'd see it worked into a story in the mainstream media – whether it was the Leader Post, CBC, NewsTalk Radio or some other outlet.  (I know for sure the mainstream media was checking in because I even got a name check from well-known Saskatchewan talk radio host, John Gormley's show – fast forward to 15:40).  

Of course, he was passing along my report of the altercation between Dwain Lingenfelter and an NDP member on the Sunday of the convention so I'm sure there are some – especially in the NDP – who are mad that I would even report this.  But as I've said all along, we all need to wake up to the changes that technology has made in our world – not just that camera phones and Blackberries are ubiquitous – but that there's been a shift in how society operates.  Today, we live in a world where it's not about control, it's about openness.  Like it or not, privacy and our notion of it is shifting as well. 

This might be a good place for a tangent of another kind – I know there are many who saw me as a mouthpiece for the Meili campaign and some even accused me of running a smear campaign on Ryan's behalf against Link!

Here are the facts – at least as I see them:

I got involved in Ryan's campaign relatively early and because of the non-hierarchical nature of Ryan's operation, it's true that I was given access to information that a new volunteer to a traditionally structured campaign likely wouldn't have been.  Still, I never saw myself as one of the true “insiders” of the campaign team who were making the high-level decisions and steering the ship.  But on the flip side, the openness that Ryan allowed meant that it was harder for them to distance themselves from me when I wrote things that they might not have agreed with or which weren't official campaign positions.  That misunderstanding is why so many people saw me as a Meili mouthpiece – a misunderstanding which I think comes from the same type of people who prefer their volunteers to be at the bottom of the pyramid  so they can be more easily dis-engaged should they become “over-zealous”.

Whenever it came up, Ryan acknowledged that I was an independent blogger who chose what to write and how I would approach my topics.  He only questioned me once – when I was writing about the membership scandal – and mainly in defense of the First Nations people who he felt were being needlessly embarrassed by the whole incident – not out of concern from any political implications (again, yet another testament to his character to add to the long list – whether it's choosing not to run in Riversdale or being the only campaign to take out a thank-you ad in the NDP convention program.) I explained why I felt it was important for me to write about the membership scandal and he didn't push further where some politicians would've demanded their volunteer stop or maybe even freeze them out completely. 

Ryan's campaign never told me what to write either.  Of course, I would pick up little things in conversations with Ryan and others in his campaign – some I would work into my posts and some I'd let slide but I never ever received a direct message from Ryan or anyone else involved in the campaign: “You have to post this!!!”  (And frankly, I think if I would've posted some of the things I heard behind the scenes, we may have had a different result at the convention!) 

Anyhow, that's a
bit of a tangent but it ultimately comes back to the point of what the role of the bloggers were in this race.  I think both Jurist (even though he endorsed Ryan in the end) and BuckDog
who set-up a separate blog just to cover the race were more like traditional journalists – for the most part, objective and fair throughout.  I was more like a newspaper columnist – you knew where I stood from day one and I would always come at things from a very partisan perspective.  That's fine too – as long as you acknowledge your bias and don't try to play neutral when you're not.  (I also admitted things like my name, my occupation, where I live and so on – hell, my number's 306-924-1205 – call me if you want to discuss further!)  So I always thought it funny when commenters on this and other blogs would accuse me of smearing Link – while using pseudonyms and hiding behind anonymous accounts to make these charges against me. 

This will sound like a pretty extreme example but I think there are parallels in the NDP leadership race to what's happening in Iran right now.  Technology – in the form of blogs, social media, YouTube videos, Twitter and other methods – were a big part of why Ryan's campaign was able to do an end rush around the better-known names (at least within the party) of Deb Higgins and Yens Pedersen to reach young people, activists, new party members and others in a unique, direct way.  It's similar to how those techologies are allowing Iranian protesters to get the word out directly to the rest of the world in a many-to-many approach that circumvents traditional media and communications (if they're even paying attention – which doesn't seem to be the case in either Iran or the earlier days of the NDP Leadership race until the membership scandal broke.) 

From the Andrew Sullivan link (which I think I first saw on Jurist or possibly posted by someone on Facebook):

“That a new information technology could be improvised for this
purpose so swiftly is a sign of the times. It reveals in Iran what the
Obama campaign revealed in the United States. You cannot stop people
any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They can bypass your
established media; they can broadcast to one another; they can organize
as never before.

It's increasingly clear that Ahmadinejad and the
old guard mullahs were caught off-guard by this technology and how it
helped galvanize the opposition movement in the last few weeks.”

But whether it's Tehran or ToonTown, the reality of our world today is the same.  Blogs and other cutting-edge technologies play a big role in politics right now and will only play a bigger role in the future.  People connect with each other via many-to-many methods and no longer are thoughts and opinions solely filtered or controlled by a single campaign or a few select media outlets.  I have no doubt that the political leaders who grasp this best will have the most success.  Ryan didn't quite pull it off but he came close.  And I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next! 

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    “I think both Jurist (even though he endorsed Ryan in the end) and BuckDog who set-up a separate blog just to cover the race were more like traditional journalists – for the most part, objective and fair throughout. ”
    With 'journalists and columnists' from the the print MSM (Leader / Star) following the editorial policy of those who own them, I think that there is a role for citizen journalists in cyberspace.
    As a New Democrat with no shortage of opinions, I easily could have tried to slant everything I wrote towards one or another candidate. Somehow, it seemed more important to me to try and uphold some sense of equity and fairness between all 4 candidates.
    As a delegate on the floor, I dutifully cast my vote for the candidate that I thought would do the best job for the membership of the party. But, considering the terrible reporting, anti-NDP slant and commentary from those who work for Leader/Star Services, I felt that someone had to try and be objective.
    FInal example of my point – yes the RCMP is investigating the membership controversy out of Meadow Lake, but where has been the MSM coverage of the four Saskatchewan Conservative Members of Parliament who illegally obtained and used Canadian Wheat Board voters lists to try and sway last falls CWB elections! One of the individuals being investigated by the RCMP is a sitting Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons! If these were New Democrats, the MSM would be going mental with their coverage and commentary. That fact that it is right wing Conservatives under RCMP investigation … hmmm … not so much!

    Posted 15 Jun 2009 at 6:12 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I think the bloggers had a pretty big roll in the race especially early in the campaign when nobody but us was talking about it – we (I am the author of Louis Riel Trail for those of you following at home) forced the hand of the MSM to a certain extent, and sometimes we were the opinion makers – not the “wannable opinion makers” as Mandryk portrayed us. Thinkers around the time of the French Revolution tended to think that journalists and newspapers kept the government accountable, I think bloggers have added another layer to the model – we are useful in keeping the media honest. As a result, we've made it harder for established interests to bury controversial topics and empowered (true) democratic decision making – this is a noble fight.
    As for the outcomes of the race itself, I am still taking a wait and see approach. I intend to continue talking about Saskatchewan politics and calling things as I see them – I hope you will do the same.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 6:51 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for your thoughts – what was so great about all four of the blogs covering the race is that we all came at it from different perspectives and using different techniques which gave interested readers a wide variety of opinions and observations to consider.

    Posted 21 Jun 2009 at 8:13 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    My blog won't be full on politics like it has been for the last few months but they'll definitely be more in the mix going forward I think.
    I think the reason mainstream media tries to marginalize those using new media is that they feel threatened. Newspapers in particular are really hurting with things like craigslist and kajiji cutting into their major sources of revenue – classified ads.
    It's a small but telling detail – the Leader Post's main site (and CBC and NewsTalk) all allow comments on stories, Mandryk's column doesn't. (Of course, I don't think ANY of the leadership candidates allowed this either so they're not much better – but if you're going to go with Web 2.0 technologies, you might as well go “all in”!)

    Posted 21 Jun 2009 at 8:20 pm

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