Suburban Bureau

The Power of the New Press

Did this election discredit the 'power of the press' or confirm it?

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published November 23, 2006

(This article has been updated)

If you listened closely enough on November 13, you could hear the sound of jaws dropping. What was thought to be a predictable campaign turned into one of the most exciting, unpredictable election nights in Hamilton's history – at least in the mainstream media.

I remember reading Jason Leach predict in a blog comment, "if the vibe on the street is any indication, we may have a new mayor come Monday". I paused, thought about blogging back, and finally left it alone, thinking he may be right.

I will admit I was surprised, but not as surprised as I thought I should have been with the results. In the November 18 Hamilton Spectator, both Terry Cooke and Dana Robbins wrote articles trying to explain themselves for getting it so wrong.

Cooke's article seems to be in contrast to his Cable 14 appearance alongside an equally surprised Laura Babcock. Cooke is a seasoned, well-spoken, intelligent individual, but he felt compelled to announce that he's been playing squash with long-time friend Eisenberger after his win.

His hindsight assessment was correct but he stopped short of saying there are other influences in this town, in the form of Raise the Hammer, Mayday, Community Action Network (CAN), Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), and the growing centre of power within the post-baby boomer generations.

Still, he was correct about this being an election based on trust. Is it now fair to say Hamilton lost its trust in Larry?

Robbins used his column to explain the Spectator's endorsement of Di Ianni, while thinking out loud why it is that his finger is not on the pulse of the community; after all he is the editor-in-chief of the city's only daily newspaper.

"So much for the power of the press," he wrote, as if the only press in town is the Spectator.

Mayday and CAN endorsed Fred Eisenberger, and Raise the Hammer endorsed policies that were similar to Eisenberger's. Could it be that the power of the press is shifting?

Could it be that these new media influenced a mere 452 votes from the incumbent to Eisenberger to secure his win? With over 7,000 daily page views to raisethehammer.org in the days leading up to the election, it's possible.

Babcock referred to this influence as the "blogosphere", a nice coined phrase for opinions that aren't influenced by undue factors.

Mayor-elect Eisenberger showed real creativity using the "blogosphere" with a campaign ad posted to YouTube. He didn't treat it as a fringe medium but he embraced it.

This is exactly what Hamilton needs for a mayor: someone who will be creative with the resources available. Maybe we can put an end to our cap-in-hand budgets every year when we cry foul over Queen's Park downloading but take no responsibility for our own mistakes - and then repeat it, year after year.

Di Ianni unfortunately had very little he could champion as a track record. Some of his losses were difficult to take. We still don't have a sustainable tax system, Via Rail is in question, a dangerous halfway house is still downtown, the Lister Block's future is shady, the Music Hall of Fame, the Maple Leaf fiasco, the Commonwealth Games, and more outdated sprawl development on Stoney Creek mountain.

The purpose of the Red Hill Valley Expressway was supposed to be for jobs and real employment in land that is now just used for daily commutes out of the city.

Oddly, some of Di Ianni's campaign promises concerned issues that he's had the last three years to address, for example poverty. I wasn't looking for an in-the-bag solution but at least a direction that I could see going somewhere. No, DI Ianni was leisurely adopting a business as usual strategy, a strategy that has not been relevant since well into Bob Morrow's watch.

Hamilton has practically missed out on the economic prosperity that has touched much of Ontario and mostly in the cities surrounding Hamilton for the last five years. We have made some progress but not nearly what it could have been.

I wouldn't entirely call Eisenberger's win an "anything but Larry" vote; that would be taking too much away from him. Call it a sign that Hamiltonians are fed up with status quo thinking, status quo planning and status quo development.

Call it the blogosphere influence, but I call it democracy, and the people have spoken. Fred, take us there.

Update: - I do deeply regret that I forgot to mention CFMU, Hamilton Indymedia, and View in my list of alternative media. I've been listening to CFMU since I was a student myself, so I don't know why I forgot to mention it. These news sources are very important to Hamilton. Indymedia actually broke the Di Ianni over-contribution story. -Trevor Shaw

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".

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By Yes sir (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 12:19:40

Given Dana Robbins move to KW Country (at best a lateral promotion I'd guess)it appears that senior management at Torstar agree with your assessment of the shift in local media power. Might you expect a buy-out offer soon, followed by a devastating drop in competing advertising rates?

You might be a bit more generous though, by recognizing VIEW Magazine and CFMU among alternative media to the Spec. Their Braden interview was devastating to the status-quo.

And I'd like to suggest that your well-deserved crowing is marred by generallizing your defeated opposition into the broader category of "boomers". Not everyone over the age of 55 agreed with the direction this city has taken over the past 55 years. For many of us, seeing the central mountain express routes open in time for the waterfront brownfields to begin emptying was enough to recognize we'd been building for the past.

There's a lot of work to be done in this town yet. Please don't make the mistake of dismissing an entire generation as unworthy for the task.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 12:49:41

Great comments Yes Sir. I have been heartened in recent years upon becoming more involved in local issues to see 'boomers' or in general, 'older folks' than I, working hard to the same end. David Cohen, Bill Freeman, Don McLean and Jim Quinn to name a few have provided tremendous vision and leadership to us younger folk.

It can be easy to generalize when referring to the 'boomers' because many of them have overseen the destruction of our cities, economy and environment. Rest assured, we know and appreciate the many boomers who understand the error of their peers and are willing to work at leaving the world a better place instead of a ravaged-over, empty place when their time ends.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted November 23, 2006 at 14:21:56

Jason,

Just to throw my 2c in: I don't think it's an issue of one generation being to blame over another. Many of the Planning Departments in our cities employ youngsters like you and I. It's not a generational mindset - it's just a mindset.

I once asked an Urban Planning Prof at York why so many enlightened graduates went to work for City Planning Departments and then made the same mistakes as their peers. He told me that they quickly learn they have to 'work within the system' and 'do what works'...

I think a lot of the mindsets we talk about are already half way on our side. We just need to keep pushing for them to do what they know is right.

Cheers

Ben

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By Shiny (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 15:52:43

Rusty nailed it. Look at 'Trying to kick the car habit' - "He also recommended: listen to generalists. So-called experts generally get it wrong as they pursue their narrow, bureaucratic interests. Sixteenth-century Spanish pirates did a better job of designing the old part of Sarasota, Fla. than their 20th century counterparts - especially traffic engineers."

Too true!

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 17:00:59

great points....when I stop and think about it, I know many young people my age who 'don't get it' either. the cycle is destined to repeat itself generation after generation unless we can move forward, have some successes and help the next generation realize that city living doesn't have to be a car-dependent, boring, strip mall drag.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 20:43:25

I am fairly involved in my community and I can attest to the fact that it is the 50 plus crowd that are the driving force behind progressive initiatives in my neck of the woods (Westdale). Younger folks are too busy with careers, young families, etc. Hopefully this will change as they 'grey'. I also agree with your assessment that alternative media are growing in influence, I just don't agree with your assumption that alternative media = twenty-somethings. Lefty blogs in the States have found that the majority of their readers fall in the 35-55 age range. I myself am an avid consumer of alternative media and I fall on the (cough, cough) north side of 40. So there.

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By Yes sir (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2006 at 10:38:31

I didn't mean to start a great debate on the merits of boomers. My point is that this is age-ism, a generalization similar to racism. Even if the majority of my generation agree on certain values it does not mean that I as an individual accept those values.

I'd also have to argue against the notion that boomers were the first generation to jump into the suburban lifestyle, though they/we may be first to have grown up mostly in the suburbs. Westdale began as a pre-war suburban survey and "planned community" did it not?

When I was born my parents moved from Queen Street to a survey just outside the edge of Hamilton. Personally, boomer though I was, I was excluded from that decision. A year later the city expanded to include that survey. As a teen it used to take me about a half-hour to walk downtown. Now with city expansion, I'd have to say that Upper James and Fennell, and beyond, are very much part of the city centre, though the escarpment continues to be a psychological divide. Sometimes it isn't attitudes that change, it's the circumstance.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 24, 2006 at 10:48:20

I'd like to know where all the real planners went? I'm always amazed when I hear the phrase "master planned community" used to describe Westdale, as well as The Meadowlands. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that only one of those 'communities' was master planned and still working properly to this day.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 24, 2006 at 12:04:58

I was in Boston recently and rode out to some of their 'streetcar suburbs' near Harvard. I was amazed. They are almost identically planned as Westdale. Of course, being Hamilton, we have since torn up the tracks and replaced the streetcars with parking lots in the middle of the old village centre. Westedale was a proper streetcar suburb like many others. And still functions well today, even with high transit ridership despite the clear shift to a car-centred focus in the city. Boston's 'Westdale' style neighbourhoods were amazing...many more people, cyclists and of course transit users due to the quick streetcar ride from downtown.

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By Oldgit (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2006 at 01:20:50

Hindsite is often 100%. When you have enough of it in your rear view mirror you can apply it to the present situation.

When I tried to ask the then local councellor about better public transit in my area, I was told that 'Everyone has 2.5 cars here, & we don't need it.'
When i also tried to talk about 'car sitting' being very unhealthy, & how we could make the area more walker friendly, I was poo-pooed. (We have an intersection with pedestrian lights at our only local store, that won't let me cross before it turns red, & there are about 5 seniors residences within 2 blocks of that store. I guess they better move after they stop driving? I walk pretty fast & I can only get 1/2 across before the ped. light changes. Every member of my family including the dogs has had a near-miss at that corner.)

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - The Who

I don't expect our new local boss to be anymore receptive than the old one, unless somebody supports putting in a pedestrian toll booth at that red light.
You folks are doing a 1st rate job with this web site, but you are dealing with a City Hall that mostly doesn't get it. They are the ones rooted in the 50's mentality, & most of them were not even there to see what a mess it became later. God help us all.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 12, 2006 at 22:42:25

great comment. I wonder how much 'hindsight' Hamilton council is going to need before changing directions? Another 50 years?

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