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BC's Political Blogosphere

Sean Holman spills the dirt and URLs.

By Sean Holman 31 Jul 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Sean Holman is the editor and publisher of Public Eye Online, host of Public Eye Radio on CFAX 1070, and the legislative reporter for 24 hours newspaper.

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[Editor's note: Sean Holman ferrets out political stories 12-14 hours a day, "working my trapline."

Three years ago, he created Public Eye
to put them all in. He wanted to cover provincial politics and help hold government and opposition to account. But because it's "extraordinarily difficult" to break in to political journalism, he simply created his own blog.

Before it went to blog form, he was writing and publishing Public Eye as a 30-page PDF magazine but "it was somewhat challenging ... there are never problems in journalism or politics, just challenges," he says. And he's run the blog daily since then except for a brief stint at the Sun in 2005. Although he broke several election stories there (and won a Webster, the highest award in B.C. journalism), he left after only a few months and resurrected the blog.

He traded in the resources and readers of the Sun for Public Eye, which makes little money and has few readers in comparison. On a normal day, it gets around 1,500-4,000 unique readers and on a "major mover" day (like when Minister for Mining Bill Bennett resigned and Holman was the first to break the story) he gets about 5,000.

Holman has since rejoined mainstream media as the legislative reporter for 24 Hours newspaper and the host of Public Eye Radio on C-FAX, but still maintains his blog daily, which he describes as a "daily journal covering the backrooms of provincial and federal politics in British Columbia, breaking headlining stories before they become headlines. Our voice is neither conservative nor progressive. It is independent and irreverent, biased only against pomposity and hypocrisy."]

In the 1994 Ron Howard movie The Paper, fictional New York newspaper editor-in-chief Bernie White -- played by a curmudgeonly Robert Duvall -- declared, "I hate columnists! Why do I have all of these columnists? I've got political columnists, guest columnists, celebrity columnists. The only thing I don't have is a dead columnist. And that's the kind I could really use. We reek of opinions.... You know what every columnist at this paper needs to do is to shut the *%# up." I often feel that way about Canada's political blogosphere -- which has tended to be more about rants than muckraking. That being said though, there are some exceptions in this province.

I've recently been intrigued by the work of Kevin Quinlan, who does communications and policy research work for Vision Vancouver. It's usually not advisable for political staffers to run their own blogs. In fact, back in June, one got in trouble for doing just that. But, writing as Vancouver Kid, Quinlan got a scoop covering the Coalition of Progressive Electors annual general meeting. And, just last week, he wrote an entertaining editorial on an eyebrow-raising Non-Partisan Association resolution promoting free-range chicken eggs. That's a story any blogger (or columnist) in Vancouver could have had done. After all, the resolution is readily available via the Internet. But for some reason, no else did.

Indeed, former provincial New Democrat legislator David Schreck is one of the few scribblers who routinely flips through such public records. And I'm not even sure if he -- like me -- would describe himself as a blogger. Regardless, since 2001 Schreck has been doing an admirable job of looking for the devil in the details -- combining his number-crunching skills with freedom of information requests to afflict the comfortable in both government and, from time to time, his own party. It's a public service he's done without any remuneration. And Schreck should be applauded for it.

Langley Councillor Jordan Bateman, a Liberal constituency association vice-president, also occasionally breaks news rather than following it -- in part, I think, because of his background as a journalist. But I still wonder why more British Columbian bloggers aren't pouring over budget documents, checking donation records and fact-checking political news releases. Perhaps it's because I'm one of the few who thinks that sounds like a fun Friday night?

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the work done by my 24 hours' colleague Bill Tieleman and The Times Colonist's Paul Willcocks, who is among the most reasoned voices in British Columbia public life. Much of their writing appears in print. But Tieleman, who marries a considerable journalistic talent with one of the smartest political minds in the province, has been writing more web-exclusive material. And his coverage of the Basi-Virk trial is a must-read -- whether you're an insider or an outsider.

Just like during an award acceptance speech, I'm sure I'm forgetting a few deserving blogs. The contributors at North Vancouver Politics deserve mention, as does interim Green leader Christopher Ian Bennett whose ruminations, while not helpful to his party, have been a source of much amusement. And it's encouraging to see voices like former CKNW broadcaster David Berner joining the online debate. But I still wish the blogosphere reeked of more of news than opinions.

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