Saturday, January 12, 2008

VFM 2008 has already failed.

Dissillusioned VFM sponsor Mark Latham and I chatting yesterday. I'm not picking my nose, I swear! Photo Peter Rizov.

Poor Mark Latham. Well, actually he's not on the street yet, but the AMS is definitely living in the doghouse.

Yup, this is a media on media story, so have your cringe and be over with it. Voter-Funded Media (VFM) is the media contest that ran in parallel with last year's AMS elections and prompted the birth of this blog and other student media groups. The contest's sponsor, Mark Latham, in his quest for a worldwide media revolution, chose UBC and the AMS as a testing ground for his idea. Theoretically, publicly rewarded media would increase quality of information, inform more people, and thus improve the health of democracy. He gave the AMS 8 grand for a prize pool, spent months discussing and planning with the VFM committee and then-VP external Ian Pattillo, and finally saw the launch and conclusion of the contest. The first VFM, though it was fraught with issues, (late start, lack of "non-insider" entrants, non-serious entrants in it for the money, lack of publicity), seemed promising. It didn't increase voter turnout, but it was a great resource, a hell of a lot of fun, and probably increased the level of knowledge for the people that did vote. It could have worked. It could have grown.

This year, there was no excuse for making the same mistakes again.
(the rest behind the jump).
Yet, if possible, this years' contest has been worse organized than last year. The VFM committee completed its code changes in October, when they were passed at AMS council. Since then, a bureaucratic lapse on the part of Matthew Naylor, who's the VP responsible for the project, seems to have doomed the project to another year of middling results and poor participation. "He just became totally unresponsive," said a VFM committee member of Naylor. The VFM coordinator, Paul Gibson-Tigh was only hired in mid-December. As of today, TODAY, not a shred of publicity for the contest has been seen, though it officially opened (unbeknonst to me) near the end of exams. Nothing on the AMS website. No ad in the Ubyssey. No attempt to reach out to parts of the writing and journalism communities. The VFM page on the elections site still has last year's entries. How are media groups supposed to get organized and cover elections if they have no idea themselves? Currently, I know of three media groups, including this one, all of which are snugly within the circle of "AMS insiders". The lack of media voices paired with the sham of contest organization will be sure to spell poor results.

The intent of voter-funded media was never to have a perfunctory cash-grab over the course of a desperate two-week campaign. It was always meant to start earlier, end later, and eventually become a sustained and continuous media reward system. This vision is clearly giving way to something entirely less useful, and much more brief. Mark Latham, for one, is not amused. "What the hell was that? I don't get it," he interjected when I asked him about the contest's lack of any outward vital signs. He made it clear to me last night that he would not be sponsoring the contest again unless a change in approach occurred soon. "To me, this is water under the bridge already ... I'm game to sponsor VFM again, starting next month." Not next December. "I wrote the check today. I could have said I wouldn't write it, but I follow through. I didn't want to be the bad guy." The AMS has the check, but that won't save the remarkable opportunity the AMS has had from being wasted. It's a crying shame.