Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Comparison: Independent vs. Mainstream Media

One major news story making headlines across Canada today is the pending strike by The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). As of June 1st, postal workers across the nation plan to halt their jobs, demanding Canada Post to not go through with its planned changes to the postal program, including lower wages for new workers, less paid sick days, and a (slightly) higher retirement age. With a story so recent and popular, it is no surprise that it would be covered by various forms of media, both independent and mainstream. Though only one truth can really exist, the media is infamous for spinning the news anyway it wants, and through this comparison, we'll see that where you get your information from may prove to be more important than the story itself.

INDEPENDENT SOURCE: Halifax Media Co-op (via Labour Start Canada)
LabourStart logo.


Comparison 1 - The Owner & Bias

The Halifax Media Co-op is owned by the Dominion Newspaper Cooperative, which is a grassroots newspaper published monthly by independent journalists. From the mission statement found on their website, they are proud to be independent because they feel as though it provides them with the opportunity to create factual news stories to inform the public. They come right out and say their bias, which is "towards the perspectives of those most affected by events." This makes their newspaper out as the underdog, like many independent sources. This does have some advantages, meaning many untold stories get heard, but it creates a bias towards the underdogs of the world - those left out, forgotten, or seen as less important. The voice of this newspaper will likely be empowering to the regular people, and most likely never on the side of wealthy, corporate, upper class citizens.

The National Post was previously owned by Canwest before they hit financial troubles a few years ago, selling their media assets to Shaw Communications and their newspaper ownings, including the National Post, to Postmedia Network Inc. Before the sale, Canwest owned Global TV, E!, Showcase, Slice, HGTV, and other huge stations in Canada. Though the newspaper is not technically linked to these TV players anymore, Postmedia and Shaw definitely have some associations in the corporate world. Postmedia Network Inc. itself also owns some advertising companies as well as a bunch of local newspapers across Canada. Being a corporate source, especially one with a large set of assets, makes the National Post very careful of what it publishes, staying favourable to all associated business ventures. Also, since it is a privatized company, this newspaper must support and adhere to the corporate world, never putting down wealth for fear of seeming hypocritical - quite the opposite of an independent media source.

Comparison 2 - Dedication to Story

Not much of the National Post was devoted to this story about the postal strike. Though it was featured on the home page, it was more towards the bottom and not accompanied by a picture like many of the other articles. Through a search, more articles were available on this topic, but the National Post probably doesn't want to call much attention to this dilemma, as they are greatly biased towards one side and don't want this obvious favouritism to decrease their reputation as a reliable news source. Also, the unhappiness of workers makes the Canada Post look bad, so reporting on this story would just show to readers how upset postal workers are if this is such a big deal, rather than downplay their anger.

On the contrary, I found the Halifax Media Co-op article on an independent news site completely devoted to labour stories in Canada. Needless to say, the entire upper half of the website was filled with links to stories about the possible strike. This is favourable to independent sources because they want to shed light on issues that affect "regular people", for the purpose of sticking it to the mainstream corporate world.

Comparison 3 - Explicit & Implicit Messages

The National Post and the Halifax Media Co-op have very different messages, even though they are reporting on the same story. Both stories have very blunt explicit messages, which is somewhat surprising, as news source usually like to at least seem unbiased. The National Post article gives the explicit message that the postal workers are being unreasonable and "playing an obnoxious game" for not accepting Canada Post's new rules while many are struggling to find jobs in this economy. The Halifax Media Co-op takes the side of the workers, saying that their jobs are already hard and under-respected, and calling the restructuring of Canada Post "an obvious ploy to weaken the [postal workers'] union."

Even though the message is slightly obvious, both sources are implicitly saying who they support in this debate - the National Post supports Canada Post and the Halifax Media Co-op supports the CUPW. This leads to the other implicit message of the story - the political support that each source is known for. The National Post is wide-recognized as being pro-Conservative and extremely pro-corporate, which is why they would support a strike, in hopes of the government seeing that it is time to privatize our mail system rather than keep it as a Crown Corporation, another point mentioned favourably in the article.

Why We All Must Support Our Postal Workers
An image from the Halifax Media Co-op article.
On the other hand, the Halifax Media Co-op is, like most independent sources, anti-Conservative, as the current leading political party never seems to consider the underdog over the white collar worker. They are against this strike, saying that it will provide further incentive to privatizing the mail system, and that a "defeat of the postal workers would be a major blow to the Canadian labour movement," showing they are on the side that is not with Stephen Harper, no matter what that side is. This point is driven right from the beginning of the article, which opens with the hook, "In all honesty it is as simple as this: You want to fight Harper? Then support the posties!" The sources' views on the strike all come down to who they support in parliament.

Comparison 4 - Included & Excluded Voices

Since each news source has a different view on the story, they tend only include the voices that support the same side they do. In the National Post, the author herself puts down the demands of postal workers, but to make her opinions seem more like facts, she cites many percentages of the Canada Post usage going down. Also, she adds in her thoughts within the statistics, like in this line: "In its contract negotiations with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), it is proposing to create two tiers of employees, grandfathering current hires and offering new ones a cheaper (but still sweet) deal." Who's to say if the deal is still sweet? She should just stick to the facts. Also, later in the article she talks about other countries who have privatized their mail systems and how they see this as favourable, hinting that we should follow suit. She doesn't include any voices of the postal service workers, because they would likely disagree with her arguement. Towards the end, she includes a quote from the CUPW, but immediately afterwards points out that what the union suggests would not work without privatization, spinning everything in the National Post's favour.

In the Halifax Media Co-op article, the main voices are those of the CUPW overall and postal workers. Without specific quotes, the article goes on about how postal workers deserve better treatment and the many hardships involved in working for Canada Post, even before this dilemma. This is somewhat suspicious because if all these bad things are true, why would they not get confirmation from a worker to authenticate these stories? This article is more obviously an opinion piece, rather than the National Post article that pretends to be factually-based, so it does not have a lot of reliable sources to prove what it is saying, and not many voices are represented, for they may discount the points the opinioned author is making.

Comparison 5 - Benefits & Disadvantages of the Message

If the message in the National Post is accepted, it benefits first and fore-most the Conservative government. Their advocation for privatization of the mail system is clear, so if readers accept this, than they will agree with the beliefs of Stephen Harper and his interest in a privately-owned Canada Post. Also, this article's message would benefit Canada Post, because it is calling the possible strike unreasonable and pointless, and therefore agreeing with their restructuring of the workers and leading other readers to believe that this is right. However, this message disadvantages the postal workers because it does give them the chance to share their side of the debate, and immediately targets them as the wrong-doer in the situation without allowing them a fair explanation.

If the message from the Halifax Media Co-op is accepted, quite the opposite affect will ensue. This article benefits the Canadian postal workers, completely taking their side and standing by them on all their demands. If this message is accepted, it also would benefit all union members in Canada, as this article points out the importance of unionization over giant corporations. In contrast, this article greatly disadvantages Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, as it puts down their idea of a privately-owned mail service, and goes into great detail as to why their plans would not work, causing the audience not to support them. And of course, it would disadvantage Canada Post by making it look like the bad guy in this fight and seem unjust and cruel to its workers.

Both articles also disadvantage the public in general, seeing as they are obviously biased, and don't give Canadians the proper chance to learn the facts and form their own opinions. This is a fault in many media sources as the hidden agenda of an article usually takes precedence over factually informing its audience.

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