Is democracy everyone’s business? Let’s vote on it

For many, irony is dead, but I’m literally staring it in the face.

I’m on old print reporter, a tiny cog in the wheel that sacrificed millions of trees to the glory of newspapers and the great wealth accumulated by their owners.

So now here I sit, using the very digital tools that led to the spiraling decline of my trade over the last 20 years.

Bear in mind, it’s more than just computers and connectivity, it’s the age-old lust for money and power that threatens not just journalism but the liberal democracy that our ancestors–including old John A–took great pains to build.

One day not long ago, a genie came out of a bottle and granted us three wishes. We picked broadband, unlimited data and free apps. The genie agreed, laughed and then he put us in the bottle.

So what did we lose when we embraced this bold new world? The postal service, books, taxis, landlines, bank branches, record stores, all replaced or soon to be, by digital efficiency. The phone book, does anyone care?

Those with long memories (something else diminished by our handy devices) can recall a time when local media sales reps complained of the Yellow Pages sucking ad dollars from the regional business base. Today that’s just a small fraction of what Facebook, Craigslist and the rest take from the ever-diminishing Times-Colonist and other news outlets.

What else have we lost? Our privacy for sure–goodbye. We don’t surf the Internet any more, the Internet surfs us, and we willingly give up our personal data or it’s taken without our knowing. We instinctively know that privacy equals security, but we don’t know what they know, but they do.

Civil discourse is fast-disappearing online and under siege in the real world. What’s real, you ask. The line between truth and lies gets blurred further every day by pixels, pixies–who can tell the difference?

And democracy? Going, going–but wait, this is one of our most precious foundation stones, we can’t give it up without a fight.

So, do we have to worry about Russian bots undermining our faith in the system and sowing discord among Victoria voters?

Of course we don’t. Da, tovarishch? But, regardless, the discord is already flourishing like spring weeds in the tomato patch as many people online—and that’s where the town hall is these day–stake out hard positions without the benefit of hard information. Remove the statue? The worst/best thing the City has ever done, forget about the details.

And why would the Russians bother with Canada–to them, an American Lithuania. They already staged a coup and got the big prize to the south. They expect the rest to literally tumble into place as Agent Orange does his duty to destroy the a\western alliance, starting with us. I avoid using his name to try to fool the data harvesters.

Hey, stop dropping the T-word in Victoria, I hear you say. Surely we have nobody like that running our city. But in some important ways, the situation in Victoria, B.C., is worse than in Washington, D.C. There, the president is covered 24 hours a day by an ever-vigilant, hard-digging media core led by the major dailies, weeklies and networks. You almost feel sorry for him–well, not really. Here, the excesses and missteps of our leaders are of a much smaller scale and consequence, but the media presence is dangerously absent. The contrast is stunning.

Now back to the lust for money and power. It’s important to note that long before the first mainframe computer was installed in any newspaper plant, greed trumped journalism. Even when profits were overflowing the balance sheets of newspapers a generation ago, reporters and editors were pushed aside and forced to take early retirement (sometimes by 20 years)–because of course, too much profit is never enough.

People love to blame “the Internet” for the decline, but the news media crisis began when we were still using manual typewriters and lead type. And the leader of the charge downhill was one Baron Black of Crossharbour, who, yes irony lives, now poses as a journalist, defending, of course, the Orange Outrage.

So here we are, in this little city at the south end of an island we call big but often doesn’t even appear on the wall maps on TV newscast.

It matters only to us, because we live here; if there’s a mess, we have to clean it up. And if we don’t, what will we tell our grandchildren, if they’re still talking to us?

It’s a given that politicians who are not watched will over-reach and do things their way, ignoring the pleas and interests of the rest of us.

Wouldn’t you? If you were on council, you’d work hard to grasp the issues, read the reams of material the bureaucrats bury you under, get expert advice from those same bureaucrats and the helpful hands in the development trade and other lobbyists. And you’d make decisions, that’s your job. If you cut a few corners, voted on items you didn’t really understand, it’s all for the best any way, you’re sure.

And you’d know from the media (un)coverage, that nearly no one is watching, analyzing what you do or don’t, even covering beyond a few paragraphs the once-mandatory stories of taxation and spending, the departure of the city manager and other top mandarins, the deep questions about cost overruns of the civic mega-projects behind us and the much bigger one currently breaking ground. The sound of bulldozers is so prevalent in our city, we stop hearing it.

In the council chamber, gone are the desk at the side of the room for reporters to watch and take notes as well as the press office down the corridor to make calls and file stories. We can’t blame the City for that–why devote precious space to people who are never there? And the media–they have many other councils and elections to cover, as well as those stories about test-driving the newest models to attract those car dealer ads.

So here we sit, frogs lulled into torpor in the slowly warming pot, now suddenly opening our eyes at the word “election,” and asking each other what to do, how to decide, who’s who.

So we at The Record are compelled to answer some of those questions, to breathe life into a few sparks, to rekindle a small fire.

We thank you for joining us along for the ride. Now inhale, there’s your spark in front of you, blow softly.