Sad day for democracy at the Canadian University Press

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7 April, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

It is with great disappointment that I issue this statement to inform you that I will not be able to assume the post of president at the Canadian University Press. I would like to emphasize from the beginning that this was a decision undertaken by the CUP Board of Directors, without my endorsement or support. I will outline further as to the circumstances shortly.

As you are all aware, the Canadian University Press (CUP) has been in the midst of a financial crisis. CUP officials will no doubt issue statements in the near-future stating that the decisions they have made today are a direct result of the financial crisis they are experiencing.

I would like to extend my congratulations to Jane Lytvynenko, the CUP Board’s nominee for CUP 77 President and National Bureau Chief. Although I am outraged by the processes employed which led us to this point, I want to wish Jane well as she prepares to assume the tasks the CUP Board of Directors have appointed her to undertake. She will no doubt have a very challenging role ahead of her.

Since my election in January as CUP 77 president, I have demonstrated good faith and made many sacrifices. These were made evident when I uprooted from my life in British Columbia last month and relocated to Ontario in anticipation of my employment with CUP. I have done so without requesting any form of reimbursement or compensation from the cooperative, a perk traditionally offered to incoming national office staff. And I am proud to inform the membership that I have worked everyday since my election in familiarizing myself with the organization I was elected to lead.

Today, the decision with respect to the next CUP President, made by the membership at the plenary assembled on January 13th in Edmonton, has effectively been invalidated by the CUP Board of Directors. This was done after some budget maneuvering which did not allow for two national office staff positions.

I was surprised to learn, through private conversation, as early as last Wednesday, April 2nd, that the decision of the hiring committee struck by the CUP Board of Directors had already been made. I was asked to consider stepping aside and let the Board’s choice for President/NBC go into the hiring process uncontested. I applied for the newly-established position because I wanted to represent the voice of the membership.

Student journalism in Canada began as a mechanism to ensure fairness in campus politics. CUP member publications hold to account student unions across the country and ensure that students are informed of the fair and transparent practice of student democracy. I must now ask myself why CUP has decided to stray from these democratic principles within its own organization.

I understood the serious challenges that CUP would face moving forward, and I spent weeks in self-reflection, mulling over whether or not I should put my name forward as CUP’s next president. When I applied, I firmly believed I was the best person to lead CUP through its much-needed transformation. My platform was outlined to the membership throughout the six days I was in Edmonton. It does not seem right that the next president was vetted through a 25-minute phone interview with a CUP Board hiring committee of five people.

I am further troubled that the Board of Directors did not consult the membership for such a fundamental decision, nor has it yet communicated to the membership the process which has led us to this point.

Nothing about this process feels right to me, and I feel it right to communicate with you. In the days to come, I will examine my options. One thing is for sure, the book about my time at CUP has closed without even being written.

I wish to thank the dozens of people who have already expressed their support and have issued kind words to me. This is no doubt a very difficult time for me, and in the coming days I will evaluate all of the options at my disposal.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the membership for their support of my candidacy at NASH 76. You have bestowed upon me one of the greatest honours of my life, and I am only sorry I will not be permitted to serve the Canadian University Press as president.

Regards,

Patrick Vaillancourt
Former President-elect
Canadian University Press


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Let your people blog

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Five steps to success in corporate blogging

In one of my previous posts about corporate blogging, I identified three traps that companies tend to fall into when putting together a company blog. In this post, I will discuss how to make a corporate blog more informative and engaging to those who would read it.

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RELATED: Editorial rigidity in corporate blogs
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Some companies have a difficult time understanding the goals and objectives of a blog. Web surfers are increasingly turning to blogs as a source of information, for tutorials on a variety of things as well as to engage in conversation with others. Do not make the mistake of rewording the contents of your website on a series of monotone, unengaging blog articles.

Here are some things that could make your corporate blog a success:

Hire a qualified editor to manage your blog’s content

Most of the time, companies empower their marketing or public relations teams with the oversight of a blog. This is an elementary mistake given that these departments are necessarily rigid in their communications, either to maximize sales efforts (in the case of marketing) or to protect the company’s brand (in the case of public relations).

Recruiting a professional editor to oversee all aspects of your company’s blog eliminates any disputes between teams regarding who has editorial control over your business blog. An editor provides professional advice and guidance as to what the blog needs in order to get noticed. An editor should be empowered to talk to those in various departments and try to get content submitted.

The editor’s role is to ensure that the blog is professional-looking, free of spelling and grammatical errors and includes content that would appeal to a wide variety of people. An editor will ensure that there is a good mix of types of content–from how-to articles to job postings to corporate contests.

Get senior management involved in the blog

Nothing gives a corporate blog more legitimacy than the full participation of the company’s senior management team. A quick update from the chief executive officer or a tutorial from the company’s director of marketing can really be a rallying point for your business blog. An engaged executive team gives the blog more credibility and shows the public how committed your business is to engage with the general public.

Welcome negative feedback or comments

The only form of bad engagement is no engagement at all, and this is especially true in business. Many small businesses fear the negative comment from a customer which could tarnish their company, but the fact that someone was engaged to the point of responding to a blog post is encouraging. Most of the time, the most engaged customer on your blog is the one that cares enough to tell you where you are failing as a company.

Take a negative comment from a customer, reply to them asking for suggestions and ideas on how to rectify the situation and take action on the feedback you’ve been given. This shows your customers and the public at-large how committed your business is to providing the best customer service.

Set goals and objectives for your blog

This should be done before the blog goes live and should be well-thought upon. Blogs are a great tool to complement a company website because it allows you to do all of the following:

  • Increases public awareness of your company and its brand;
  • Can lead to direct and indirect sales;
  • Frequent updates assists with search engine optimization, making your website/blog easier to find online;
  • Provides information to a broad audience which could direct them to your business;
  • Demonstrates your business’ expertise and positions your company as a leader in your industry/field

Blogs will not work miracles for you overnight and require a great deal of patience before you start noticing some payoff. Companies should not measure a blog’s success by how it adds to the company’s bottom line, but by how many web metrics it can meet.

When setting up the blog, be sure to have your blog linked up to an analytics program (I recommend Google Analytics) so that you can measure things like the number of unique visitors, number of visits, where your blog is being accessed from and some of the most viewed articles on your blog. This allows your blog’s editor (assuming you went with that suggestion) to understand what works and what to stay away from.

Finally (and most importantly), let your people blog

An editor will likely also be a professional writer, and part of their job will no doubt be writing some of the articles for your company’s blog. But they should not be the “designated blogger” for your business. Their area of expertise is to edit some of the submissions received for consideration on the corporate blog.

Your employees are the best positioned to write about their experiences and expertise within your business. A business which employs 300 people also has 300 potential blog posts, all which have varying writing styles and different experiences. Sure, it’s not reasonable to expect that all of your employees will be interested in writing for your corporate blog, but some of them will. Giving them a mechanism to contribute to the blog adds more value to your blog’s “personality”.

A single person (such as the editor) will not have the same kind of expertise in hiring as your human resources manager does. The editor should be a focal point in gathering content for the blog submitted by others in the company. All of the following could be a blog post:

  • A human resources manager looking to hire a new bilingual sales representative;
  • A sales representative talking about their experiences on the road;
  • A call centre manager sharing positive customer feedback;
  • A product expert sharing some tricks about a device being sold by the company;
  • The CEO talking about how the company Christmas party was a success;
  • A customer sharing their experiences with the company’s call centre operation.

By letting your employees (and in some cases, your customers) submit articles to your company blog, you are effectively making it more engaging, conversational and diverse. Writing styles will change with each writer; subject matter will change with each post; and suddenly, what started with a single welcome post has grown to a few hundred posts by the end of the year.

It is important to understand the functions of a company website versus a company blog. Both are essential nowadays, but serve two fundamentally different functions. Save the “talking points” for your company’s website and let your blog show your business’ personality.

 

If you'd like more information on how to make your company blog more engaging and would like to get in touch, contact me.

 


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Editorial rigidity in corporate blogging

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How Canadian businesses are failing on their company blogs

Large businesses in Canada are increasingly looking to a blog as a nice addition to a company website, which is now a must in today’s digital era. A corporate blog is effective at getting your message out there, increasing brand awareness, generating sales and keep your search-engine ranking high.

Many Canadian employers; however, fail to see the benefits of maintaining a blog. If it doesn’t play a role in the company’s bottom line, many executives will decide to discontinue the blog altogether.

But why are these blogs failing? Or at least, why are they not as successful as originally believed?

The truth is that a corporate blog cannot be viewed as simply another short-term communications project undertaken by a designated team or department. The goals of a blog are much too different than press releases or other print and digital advertising. In order for a corporate blog to be successful, it must provide value to a number of different constituencies, including your customers, employees, suppliers, industry insiders and the general public.

Here are some of the key failings of corporate blogs:

Marketing or public relations team having editorial control over blog content

This is often the first mistake executives make when thinking about the development of a company blog. While placing editorial control in either the marketing or public relations team does seem to make sense at first, both have a different (although similar) role to play in the smooth operation of a business. Placing editorial control over a corporate blog in the hands of either marketing or public relations will impose a rigidity on the blog’s content that will ultimately lead it to fail.

For example, if your marketing team is responsible for the blog’s content, the blog may become nothing more than another medium to pitch your products or services to the public, and that\s what the website is supposed to do. Given the rigidity by which sales pitches and speaking notes are drafted to maximize sales potential, a marketing team would likely turn away potential blog posts that do not fit the “sales pitch box”.

On the other hand, the public relations team, as caretakers of the company’s image and brand, may turn away articles that are more informal and conversational in tone. Blogs are meant to engage people, provide information and get people talking to you, about you. No one out there wants to read a re-worded press release on the company blog.

Outsourcing the blog to a third party

A common mistake of those companies who venture into the blogosphere is to have a 3rd party contractor write all of the content for your blog. If you’re looking to see how a corporate blog can positively impact the company’s bottom line, this is not the way to go.

Outsourcing this responsibility is not only costly, but also damages the credibility of your blog. There is no one out there better equipped to represent your business, products, services or brand better than the company itself through its employees and executives.

Having a designated “blogger” for your company

Having one person or a small team of designated bloggers is better than outsourcing, but also not the most effective way of generating the diverse content your blog should have available to those who read it. This is especially true if you’re company is just starting a corporate blog.

The diverse content your blog needs should be reflected in those who post articles on the blog. Having one person, or even a small team of designated bloggers does not allow for a wide-range of topics simply because they may not have the expertise in all areas of the business.

Fewer bloggers also means less of a variance in tone and writing style, which is often important when trying to connect to a larger audience.

You can start putting your company’s blog on the right path right now with a few relatively simple fixes. To get the most out of your corporate blog, have a look at the related post below.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Let your people blog: Five steps to success in corporate blogging
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If you are a business looking to spice up your corporate blog and would like more information on how I might be able to help, contact me.

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Five bucks says MH 370 wasn’t a terrorist act

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My take on the tragic end of the Malaysian flight bound for Beijing

It takes a lot to get my mother riled up about a news story. Usually she’s only interested in gossip about the British Royals or the horribly long extension to winter weather we’ve been experiencing in Eastern Ontario. The mystery of a doomed Malaysia Airlines flight bound for Beijing; however, has caught my mom’s attention.

It must be all the speculation about the facts of the incident: trying to find the plane and the fate of its passengers and crew have led it to be the world’s biggest news item for the last couple of weeks. Something about media speculation and a botched communications strategy on the part of the Malaysian government has raised the profile of this story and attracted the eyes of millions around the world.

Today, the Malaysian prime minister announced to the world that the flight was indeed lost somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean with all 239 souls aboard presumed dead. An examination of the circumstances, especially considering the flight plan was not to fly anywhere near the hypothesized impact site, makes this an unimaginable tragedy for the people aboard and the families of the victims. It’s a heartbreaking event.

As sad as it is, I’m also angered by my own interpretation of the facts being reported.

My mother, who has strong opinions when she wants to have them, insists that this plane went down due to a terrorist hijacking of the aircraft. Such an outcome might make the tragedy easier to take for those closely affected, but I do not believe it to be the case. Based on my own analysis of the facts, I am convinced that this was a pilot suicide.

Like so many times before, my mother and I agreed to disagree — even making a five-dollar bet on the cause of the aircraft’s demise.

The Case Against a Terrorist Hijacking

There is nothing to indicate that this plane came down as a result of a hijacking. The option is being considered only because of the sensationalistic profile the event has received in the media and the mystery surrounding the change in course and the deactivation of the transponder.

First of all, terrorism isn’t a personal issue — terrorists do not kill people for the sake of killing. Terrorist acts are performed with a specific purpose in mind: to strike fear into a community of people. Extremists want to be heard and seen, and thus far, they have been quiet. MH 370 has been the biggest news story in the world for the last two weeks and yet no terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility for the downed airliner.

Nothing about the crash itself, assuming that the analysts are correct in where it went down, makes any sense either. If the aircraft did indeed go down in the Indian Ocean, the terrorist mission would have been a colossal failure. Fears of terrorism consist of the threat of further danger — in this case, I haven’t heard of a mass boycott of Malaysia Airlines or Boeing’s 777 aircraft.

Simply put, the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are not sensational enough to allow for the theory of a terrorist hijacking to really stand up to scrutiny.

The Case for Pilot Suicide

I’m not a psychology major nor an aviation expert, but the few facts that have been reported about the flight lead me to believe that this was a murder-suicide initiated by one of the flight’s two pilots.

MH 370 was meant to be a routine flight, flying north-northeast en route to Beijing. A sudden turn in the flight had the aircraft headed due West, followed by another course headed South. Prior to the course corrections, the transponder was turned off as well as well as another system which relays data to the manufacturers of the aircraft’s components. The transponder could be turned off with the push of three buttons, but the data relay to the manufacturers could only be shutdown by tampering with the wiring inside the panel. This suggests intent to have the plane go completely dark.

The flight path is also suspicious enough to rule out a host of other theories. Mechanical failure could be ruled out because no SOS was ever signalled to ground controllers, no emergency landing attempt was made when the plane was over land and the aircraft was able to fly for hours before finally diving into the inhospitable waters of the Indian Ocean. This flight was simply on a path to nowhere — which is what I believe the pilot wanted.

While incredibly difficult to imagine, I have tried to put myself in the head of a stressed out pilot. If I were a pilot looking to end my life, and wanted to do it in a fashion that made it impossible to prove that it was a suicide, what would I do?

Well, truth be told, I’d probably crash a plane in the southern Indian Ocean.

The prospects of recovering the flight data recorder are incredibly slim, and despite the massive recovery operation currently underway, the Indian Ocean is massive and contains some of the world’s most hazardous weather conditions. With absolutely no land bases to plan missions from, any recovery operations would be limited to assets at sea and in the air. Without the flight data recorder (commonly called a “black box” despite the fact that the box is orange) the chances of being able to prove anything about the flight’s devastating end are remote.

Why is this important: life insurance policies are not paid out to beneficiaries of those who take their own lives. Coupled with all of the facts that suggest the flight’s path was deliberate, it isn’t a stretch to suppose that either the captain or the co-pilot took the plane down in the Indian Ocean knowing that the circumstances of these 239 deaths would never be discovered. Investigators should be looking again into the two pilots in command of the flight — look for an insurance policy, look for life stressors. The answer to this mystery can be as simple as that.

I am not usually one to speculate on these types of things, and in a way, I feel bad for doing it. I suppose since the world’s mainstream media is doing it, it’s fair game. That said, the theories being proposed make for great television, but ignore the basic human element that resulted in the flight’s demise.

Terrorism and mechanical failure does not explain why or how this plane went down while a pilot-initiated murder-suicide fits the bill. It will not be a comfort to the families or anyone closely linked with the victims, but the quest for truth can lead us to some pretty ugly, inhospitable places.

 


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Bloggers should write like journalists and think like editors

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A blogger’s guide on writing effective posts

The writing craft has seen great change over the years, with the development of technological infrastructure. Writers can now benefit from dozens of cost-effective ways to get their work out to a global audience. Social media and analytics allow writers to test new ideas and really hone their style.

Blogs permit writers of every skill and genre to do a great deal as well–they can be used as a tool to talk about themselves, rant about political issues, and even use it as a platform to generate new ideas and test the viability of others. The blog has now become an almost-essential tool powering the career of any writer.

But how does one write an effective blog post? With close to 30-million individual pieces of content being produced on the internet daily (excluding tweets and Facebook status updates), you’re food review or rant about babysitting your baby brother will inevitably need to compete with everyone else’s stuff. The importance of producing quality content cannot be overstated in the digital age. When it comes to writing a blog entry, regardless of what kind of post you’re planning, the production of effective blog content is a two-fold process.

Think like an editor

The editor in you is constantly at work when thinking about what to post on your blog. It is an editor’s job to determine what is viable for publication and what is to be omitted. Have an understanding of what your readers want to see on your blog, and go to work. These skills will prove useful when you are brainstorming article ideas and conducting research for your blog posts.

The goals of blogging, when the idea was first conceived, was to allow people a space on the Internet where they could take their experiences and relate them to something larger. This is an all-too-familiar exercise for mainstream journalists, but not something that is practiced much by the blogosphere. When thinking up ideas for posts, go through your own life and see what experiences are relevant to a current or ongoing issue.

Another way of brainstorming ideas is to relate current events to past events. For example, I wrote a blog post the other day about the 2014 Quebec provincial election and how a star candidate for the separatist Parti Quebecois can create the winning conditions for a sovereignty referendum. Much of that article was a look back to the previous referendum in 1995. Have a look at a local newspaper or go to Twitter to see what’s going on in the world, and think critically about the events that may have led to current events.

Equally important is to research the pros and cons of the issue you wish to present in the article. As I will mention a little later, the importance of providing information that allows your reader to come up with their own opinion is how you will come to be known as a trusted source of information online.

Another role of an editor is to ensure the accuracy and overall cosmetic look of the writing itself. I understand the urgency of hitting the “Publish” button when I finish a blog post, but the process doesn’t end with the writing. Go over the article again to ensure flawless spelling and decent grammar. Cut out sentences that are too lengthy or don’t even belong in the piece and only publish the article when you reach a level of comfort with it. The post you write will go into cyberspace–be sure to put your best foot forward.

Ernest Hemingway said it best:

I write one page of masterpiece to every ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the waste basket.

Write like a journalist

The job of any good journalist is to establish a connection between themselves and the reader. This is accomplished in the provision of quality, accurate information–specifically, the journalist’s ability to answer a reader’s questions. When writing your blog post, be sure to answer the key questions (I would typically start with the who, what, where, when, why, how, and what’s next).

Be sure that the information you are presenting to your reader is accurate. One factual error or oversight kills the credibility of your post and may even endanger your reputation as a blogger. There is so much nonsense on the Internet these days and there are some who genuinely aren’t sure as to the authenticity of the facts being presented. The relaying of accurate information is vital to the success of your blog.

Thinking about blog posts in such a manner allows you to be a responsible source of information, regardless of the way in which you present that information. The need to present good quality information to others is just as important in a written post as it is in a video. The medium, in this case, isn’t the message.

Some measure of objectivity in your posts is also important. This does not mean you are prohibited from presenting your opinion, but rather allows you to provide your opinion in a way that’s transparent. Journalists have points of view on a wide-range of topics, but are only responsible for the reporting of facts. A blogger has much more flexibility–present your opinion, but be sure to provide the information that will allow your readers or viewers to formulate their own point of view.


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Supreme Court of Canada rules against one of its own

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Harper nominee for Canada’s highest court ruled ineligible

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a landmark ruling on March 21 which addressed the eligibility of one of its own justices and has ruled against the government’s latest appointment to the highest court in the country.

The case was sparked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nomination of Marc Nadon, a federal court judge and an expert in maritime law, to sit as one of the Supreme Court’s Quebec justices. Harper has appointed five judges previous to Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada without any controversy.

Nadon, 64 was nominated by the government to replace retiring Supreme Court of Canada puisne justice Morris Fish. He was sworn-in by the Chief Justice, Beverly McLachlan, on October 7 but never sat in on any cases.

Nadon’s nomination to the high court was contested by a Toronto-area lawyer, Rocco Galati, who argued that Nadon did not meet the eligibility requirements to be appointed to the Supreme Court as a justice from the province of Quebec. The Quebec provincial government also challenged the appointment, stating that Nadon did not meet residency requirements to represent the province on Canada’s highest court.

Quebec is represented by three justices on the Supreme Court of Canada. Judges from Quebec must either be a member of the Quebec bar, a member of the Quebec Superior Court or a judge on the Quebec Court of Appeals. Although from Quebec, Nadon had spent much of the last 20 years in Ottawa as a judge on various federal courts.

Residency requirements for Supreme Court of Canada justices representing Quebec are constitutionally mandated to ensure that there is some familiarity with the Quebec’s legal system at the federal judiciary, which is modelled after the French Civil Code.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court ruled six to one to find Nadon’s nomination invalid and ruled that the appointment had never taken place.

“The role of Quebec judges on the federal courts is a vital one. Nevertheless … judges of the federal courts are not, by virtue of being judges of those courts, eligible for appointment to the Quebec seats on this court,” said the ruling.

The judgment went on to say that the appointment of federal judges are not uncommon, but not for the court’s three seats allocated to Quebec.

The sole dissenter on the case, Justice Michael Moldaver, said that the Supreme Court of Canada had no business striking down Nadon’s nomination because judicial nominations are the prerogative of the federal government.

“Those are political matters that belong to the executive branch of government. They form no part of our mandate,” wrote Justice Moldaver.

After Justice Nadon had been sworn in, he recused himself from cases and, after the court challenge was filed, was prohibited from going to his chambers at the Supreme Court building or having any contact with any of the eight other justices.

The Harper government issued a statement after the ruling, stating that they had been “genuinely surprised” to by the court’s decision. The government will now have to introduce a new Quebec judge as a nominee for the high court to fill the vacant Quebec seat. In the next few months, the prime minister will also have to fill another vacancy as Justice Louis LeBel, also from Quebec, will be retiring.

The ruling could have serious implications for another reference case the government has sent to the Supreme Court of Canada–that being the question of whether the government can reform the Senate unilaterally by requiring elections for Senators and the application of term limits on members of the Red Chamber.

It is very possible that the Nadon case will be used to thwart the government’s plans to reform the Senate.

Justice Nadon has not yet announced whether he plans on retiring from law or continue sitting as a federal court justice part-time. The maritime law expert has been semi-retired for a number of years before his nomination to the Supreme Court of Canada.


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