Thursday, March 6, 2008

VFM launches at SFU

In my life, there's always time to kill. And now I have a fresh method of doing it. Mark Latham has begun sponsoring a Voter Funded Media contest of a slightly different stripe over at SFU. Take a look at the SFU VFM page HERE. The idea is broadly the same as VFM here at UBC, but instead of being a one-off coinciding with the student society elections period, prizes are instead being distributed on a monthly cycle of continuous voting. The prizes are $300-$500 per month, which will add up to around $5000 in a year (compare to UBC's contest which had a prize pool of $8000 for a whole year, given out all at once). Votes are calculated using the interpolated consensus method that we used here at UBC this year.

(Note to newer readers: VFM is the media contest that birthed this blog. According to Latham whose brainchild it is, rewarding media democratically from the public purse will improve democracy. For a previous posts discussing VFM, take a look here, here, here, and here. )

Another interesting difference is that the SFU contest is administered by Latham himself, not the Simon Fraser Student Society, which is equivalent to our AMS. This is interesting to note, because though one would think that having the institutional and organizational support of the student society behind such a project would be a boon, this year's contest at UBC was magnificently botched by the AMS, both on the political and bureaucratic side. Not surprisingly, Latham has managed to run things smoothly at SFU so far.

The continuous monthly model maps much more closely to the ultimate goals of VFM: providing long-term, in-depth media which are accountable to their readers through a democratic reward process. SFU certainly has a smorgasbord of contentious issues to deal with at this moment, with their SSFS elections and referendum to defederate from CFS, the national lobby they are a member of. Media outlets could certainly provide a valuable service to the SFU community by providing some insight on these issues, and make a buck into the bargain.

All this is to not say that the SFU contest is anywhere near effective. So far, it seems to be marginal in both content and readership. The SFU campus radio station has entered, which I think is a brainwave (hint hint, CiTR), and one or two of the blogs have some content worth reading. Nobody seems to be trying very hard at this point. But these things take time to build momentum, and it seems almost stochastic whether such an idea will catch or not.

The question is, how much of a future does VFM really have? If Mark continues to encounter tepid half-successes, how long can he be expected to fund these experiments? And if he stops before the value has been unequivocally demonstrated through a jump in voter turnout or irrefutable data (which the AMS has yet to collect through exit polls. *strangle strangle*) would student societies be inclined to fund such innovations themselves? According to Jeff Friedrich, the incumbent AMS President, probably not. He told me in a meeting last year, that to him these projects are bonuses, and not as essential as making the AMS democracy itself run well through systemic reform in the AMS structure which has yet to be achieved. To me, innovative democratic projects like VFM (or a students' assembly) should be looked at separately from improving the AMS democratic and organizational structure. We shouldn't shy away from investing time and money in either.

For now though, Mark is still willing to pick up the tab. And UBC may soon be transitioning to the continuous model itself. A proposal for this just went up today on the website - take a look.