Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Letter to the Editor, re: VFM

This was sent to us as an anonymous letter to the editor, and we would like to run it as continued discourse on the VFM:

How to Drink the VFM's Milkshake
name withheld upon request

The VFM contest would have very easy to hack this year. The main problem with VFM is that it is extremely easy to enter. For a measly $150 and five minutes filling out a form, any publication can appear on the ballot. The entry fee was raised from $100 to $150 this year as an attempt to filter out the 'noise'. As Matt Naylor put it, "the idea is to limit the number in the contest; otherwise it would collapse under its own weight." Great idea Matt! Too bad you went about it
entirely the wrong way. The voter media website explains the choice of using an entry fee: "It's better to charge an entry fee than to require media entrants to collect signatures, because an entry fee has far lower social cost." That last part seems to about sum it up: an entry fee has a low social cost. With a $2000 cash prize on the line, an entry fee with a low social cost and a high return on investment, it is almost like the contest was inviting fly-by night publications to enter just for the money. Matt Naylor's mistake was focusing on the number of entrants and not the quality of the publications.

So, how could one hack the contest to assure themselves the top prize. The easiest way would be to pull a James Green. James Green, a relatively unknown, ran for mayor of Vancouver in the 2005 civic elections. He received an impressive 4,273 votes, but many think that the majority of James' votes were actually intended for the similarly named and far more well known candidate, Jim Green. Voters, when scanning the ballot, just voted for the first J. Green they saw. So if
one were to enter the contest with a name similar to another a publication, it can be reasonably assumed that some of the voters would mistakenly vote for it. So which publication's name would one mimic to generate the most accidental votes? It might be tempting to riff off the The Underground, the top finisher from last year, but as that publication is likely to enter the contest, one would more likely split the vote than win the prize. Luckily for the would-be hacker, the most well known newspaper on campus, The Ubyssey, doesn't enter the competition. Mark Latham did something called a "multifactor analysis" of last years results, and concluded that had The Ubyssey entered it would have won by a landslide. And thus, The Ubussy is

So unless the election code is changed next year, I am going to drink the VFM's milkshake. I'LL DRINK IT UP!