In my Workshop series I bring you behind the scenes of V.I.A., sharing stories of how we operate and also offering my take on other media outlets. With two decades of professional experience in online publishing, I bring you insight that may not be published elsewhere.
Earlier today the CBC launched an Opinion section on their website, which they dubbed "a new destination for debate". Their Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer McGuire, penned this first piece in it explaining that they have a "long history of offering different viewpoints" and that this new section will be offering even more of those space on their pages. They chose to kick things off by giving voice to one of the most controversial commentators in the country, who already has a large soapbox from which to spout from: Sheila Gunn Reid of The Rebel Media.
In case you haven't heard of The Rebel they're a fringe, far right wing media entity that rose out of the ashes of Sun News Network, the ultra-conservative TV network that was dubbed "Fox News North" and was rife with controversy before they even launched (they folded in February of 2015). The Rebel's founder is a former Sun host, a man by the name of Ezra Levant, and to give you an idea of the type of content he publishes it's akin to what will be appearing on the station that Donald Trump is rumoured to be launching. He and his outlet don't trust any of the mainstream media and are considered by anyone left of the far right to be an unsavoury bunch, partly for their conservative opinions but mostly the way in which they voice them; with little consideration for human decency or tolerance. It's no surprise that they exist and are appearing to prosper; they're the answer to activist publications like Rabble and The Tyee, and as well The National Observer who launched with the sole intention of putting an end to fossil fuel extraction in Canada. They are a yin to those yangs over there, and it's a wonder there aren't more publications like them.
It was a genius move by CBC to publish, on their very first day of their Opinion page, a piece by a Rebel contributor who regularly refers to the Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, as "Climate Barbie". Not because it gives a "voice to the voiceless" but because the amount of traffic they got to their Opinion page today was likely ten times what they would have had if they came out of the gate with a piece penned by Rex Murphy, whose angry old man opinions pale in comparison to those of Gunn Reid's. They rolled out with a shot-Gunn blast from one of the most offensive minds in Canada, who wrote about the righteousness of her media outlet to really get the traffic rolling in. They did it on purpose, and it was perfectly executed as many journalists lambasted them on social media for it, spreading the word for them just as they had planned.
Much of this criticism was in the form of "Look at this awful piece of garbage that this person wrote! I totally disagree with this! And on the CBC no less! [LINK]". I see posts like this daily - most linking to pieces on The Rebel's site and Youtube - and cringe at them every time. My view is that the more times you link to things you hate through social media the more people are going to click on that very link and the better the media outlet is going to do - I refer to this type of traffic as "hate clicks". To the publisher a click is a click is a click; the more traffic the better, regardless of whether or not the people reading your opinions agree with what you have to say. So by bringing them under its wing, as it were, the CBC may be diverting a few hate clicks from The Rebel's site and bringing them into the mothership, where people will link to them in disagreement and net tens of thousands of banner impressions that the CBC can monetize. The problem that may lie in all of this is that it just might further embolden those who share the unpopular opinions of far right writers to get on board the train, much like Donald Trump has done south of the border.
The Rebel's stock-in-trade is getting people disagreeing with them in order to spark conversation about how those that oppose them are "elites", and I considered not even writing this post. This article is worth a thousand hate clicks as many of you reading this may never have heard of them. However I wanted to write about this as it's an interesting move by our public broadcaster that many (most?) of us love. I want more people to read the opinion piece by Gunn Reid, and I want more of you to consider writing your own Opinion pieces for CBC. And so do they: they have a form you can fill out right here where you can pitch them on what you want to write about and why.
It will be interesting to see where this CBC section goes, and what other voices they bring in to hopefully deliver a balanced look at the cross-section of opinions that shape Canada, bringing in "hate clicks" from all sides of the political spectrum. Hopefully most of those clicks won't come from stories penned by established media types but from a range of smart, thoughtful humans who don't already have a large platform where they're able to share opinions, attempting to sway public opinion in favour of one cause or another.