VFM 2008 has already failed.

Posted by: | January 13, 2008 | 19 Comments

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.


19 Comments so far

  1. Peter on January 13, 2008 8:03 am

    I could not agree more. Bravo for the article and bravo for the effort. Sadly, it has not been mirrored by those who were supposed to be leading this project.

    Honestly, I don’t know how Mark can stay in this. I know its his project, but what has transpired here is a joke. Not a sham, not a farce. A simple joke.

    If it were not for the fact that it would probably take longer and more work to get my $150 (and that I’m a huge keener), I would have already withdrawn from the contest.

    Two weeks? No information? No formal rules, announcements?

    I say shame on everyone. And they know who they are.

  2. Peter on January 13, 2008 8:26 am

    Also… everyone knows that you’re not picking your nose. You’re too classy for that.

  3. Andrew on January 13, 2008 5:39 pm

    Another problem that a few people have noticed is that the deadline for VFM registration is Jan 18th (the same day the polls open for voting on candidates and VFMs). How exactly are people going to be able to vote for VFMs who have not yet registered, and would therefore not be on the ballot??

    I’m also still waiting to hear back from the EA regarding candidates and their ability to contribute to VFMs.

  4. maayan kreitzman on January 13, 2008 6:22 pm

    Andrew, I don’t unbderstand the concept of candidates being able to write for VFMs. It doesn’t make sense. You can’t cover yourself. You can’t be a candidate and a media that endorses yourself. Come on.

  5. Andrew on January 13, 2008 6:39 pm

    Maayan, I do get the point that candidates should not write in VFMs as it is a way for candidates to endorse themselves and serve as commentators for an election they are also running in. That being said, at the AMS Council meeting when we discussed VFMs, it was left ambiguous whether candidates could write for a VFM under their own name or as ‘anonymous’ as long as they were personally not recipients of the VFM prize money. The Election Committee needs to clarify what the policy is.

  6. Brendon Goodmurphy on January 13, 2008 7:32 pm

    I can definitely take some responsibility for what happened. As the chair of Primary Appointments, the elections committee was hired late. The first time we posted the jobs, we got NO responses. It took me some time to respond and repost, for many reasons, but partly because I was in the middle of a crunch time. So, things started late.

    That conversation, though, fits into a lot bigger picture of the challenges that the AMS faces around hiring – getting qualified applicants, going through our bureaucratic hiring process, and (as chair) getting more support in the hiring process so that it can be done in a timely fashion, and be responsive to challenges that arise. One of the things Brit, Jeff and I have been playing with, and I’ve brought it to the Compensation Review Committee, is for the AMS to hire a permanent HR position to help with recruitment and administrative support in the hiring process.

    Plus, there’s a lot of issues around transitions. Chris did a great job last year, and wrote a transition report for Brendan, but there’s no greater institutional support (like binders of info for each position for how to do their job). I may chair the Appointments Committee that hires the EA and the Elections Committee… but I should not be responsible for knowing how to do their job and transition them, yet at the AMS, that seems to be the expectation. If that was my role, I can assure you, thats what I would spent a large majority of my time doing.

    All stuff that should be addressed in this year’s election…??

  7. Matthew Naylor on January 13, 2008 7:39 pm

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond to this post. I have debated using a couple of jokes – something along the lines of “This is unfair. Do you think that it is easy to make priorities?”, but I figure that, as always, the best policy is to just explain what went on.

    I was, and continue to be very proud of the AMS Turbo Democracy Committee. The work that they have done in designing this contest and creating the prize framework is, in my opinion, unmatched. This was a very dedicated committee through the summer months and into September, leading to the final passage of the code changes in October.

    What I do not realize is how this is a bureaucratic lapse on my part. The committees mandate was to determine the structure of the contest, not to implement it. My role as chair of the committee was to facilitate the discussion of structure, and, again, not to implement it. This pervasive assumption that executives must be responsible for the implementation of all their projects – that it is their job to shepherd them along, is preposterous, and, in my mind, responsible for some of the internal stagnation and centralization of power that is endemic within this Society.

    I think it is regrettable that the VFM contest is not as successful as it was last year, but credit should be given where credit is due. It was not Ian who was responsible for the promotion or information dissemination that occurred in years past. That work was done by Chris Anderson and Tiffany Glover, who postered, placed ads, and otherwise extended invitations on a number of fronts.

    One thing we cannot forget. The VFMA is part of the elections committee, and that is hired by the Elections Administrator. The Elections Committee is independent of council, and it would be massively inappropriate of me – an absolutely HUGE conflict of interest – to participate in the hiring process, especially as a prospective candidate. I do not know the reasons why a coordinator was hired so late – my last act regarding this contest was to post the job posting, with emails going to the applications@ams.ubc.ca account, on the AMS and CareersOnline Websites. That was in late September.

    I have to wonder why no information was put up on the AMS Elections website, or why the forms were not put up for download. That, however, is, again, the job of the independent Elections Committee. I did give a press release to Brendan to announce the start of VFM near the end of November, as well as a list of media contacts, but I am not sure if or when this was sent out. Again, what I was doing then was off the clock, personal, and not related to my duties as chair of a committee or as a Vice President.

    That being said, I would like to offer my most sincere personal apologies to Mark. His patience is appreciated in this, and I would hope that VFM will continue into the future. I would also like to apologize to my committee for any perceived lack of response on my part. It is my fondest hope that this contest will continue in the future.

    This leads me to believe three things:
    1. Mark’s idea for continuous VFM should be adopted.
    2. January is not a good time for elections.
    3. Hiring, more than anything else, needs to be a priority.

  8. Mark Latham on January 14, 2008 1:26 am

    Thanks Maayan and commenters for helping to publicize the UBC VFM contest. We now have two weeks to make the best use of it that we can.

    While the AMS Elections website is slow to update, I posted the VFM entry form at http://www.votermedia.org/ubc and emailed it to 72 people (media, AMS reps, profs, other students etc.) on January 9.

    Who else has entered the contest, or is planning to enter? If you send me info on that (email mark at votermedia.org) I’ll post it at http://www.votermedia.org/ubc.

    We can discuss the possible future of VFM after the current contest is well underway. I’ve blogged quite a bit about that question at http://votermedia.blogspot.com.

  9. maayan kreitzman on January 14, 2008 4:33 am

    This pervasive assumption that executives must be responsible for the implementation of all their projects – that it is their job to shepherd them along, is preposterous

    If executives are not responsible for shepperding their projects along, who the hell is? Part of your job is project work. In fact, the most interesting part of your job is project work. If you see that your project isn’t, well, working, who’s responsibility is it to nudge things along if not yours?

  10. Matthew Naylor on January 14, 2008 6:35 am

    I see that even I have fallen victim to an error in nomenclature. They’re not really Executive projects, are they – they belong to council.

    I think that the centralization of power in the exec is one of the major problems of this society, and we need to empower our councilors to not only be a review body, but to actually be able to take ownership over the AMS, and whatever it is doing.

    This is why I have made council empowerment one of the main issues of the campaign. We need to start making council work better – to use the array of people elected by the students to actually do more than act as a glorified oversight committee. Let’s get our councilors ideas out there, and act on them.

  11. Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes on January 14, 2008 12:08 pm

    I would like to point out that although I do agree that the concentration of power on the executive is a major issue with the AMS Council, and an issue that I will address in debates, there’s another point that should be considered about the last extraordinary AMS council meeting last week, called by a petition of reportedly 10 signatures, and which barely reached quorum.

    I have requested from the current executive publication and release of this list.

    A motion to adopt the condorcet voting system was brought forward and rejected, and the very members of the committee that produced the proposal seemed to have been suddenly informed of the decision to bring a motion that was obviously not ready to be brought forward.

    The waste of time that serious councillors and engaged members-at-large are subjected to is directly related to the lack of transparency and democratic representation in the current agenda-setting process. I invited an independent observer with computer expertise to analyse the condorcet proposal – I had to beg and he showed up, and sat behind me by the wall with the most current student council photos, near another GSS rep.

    As the meeting moved along, I looked back and saw my friend, who was reading the condorcet proposal, shuckle and shake his head. At the moment I imagined that he found such a flaw on the condorcet proposal that he had to laugh, but that was hardly the case.

    Then I asked WHY he shuckled, if the condorcet proposal, as he agreed and proposed, could be, indeed, easily implemented with the creation of a computer program? His answer was blunt and humorous: “I was laughing at what the people are doing in this meeting”. I then asked what he meant with that comment, thinking he had a critical take on my behaviour, and he explained: “the girl sitting in front of me was playing ‘bejeweled’ on her computer for most of the time”… I sighed.

    Others reported independently that they witnessed someone playing a game of parking cars, or browsing for shoes online, or making jokes while another councillor was speaking.

    And then exam time comes, and the exec suffers another type of pressure, with a number of final exams and papers to write.

    Many students would like to see the bloggification and dynamization of standing committees and the democratization of the agenda setting procedure implemented according to a vision for true student government transparency.

    Another important detail that students should be aware of is that an attempt to allow for candidates to run in slates and brands was also proposed in last week’s ‘extraordinary meeting’, and also rejected by council through a roll-call vote.

    Why propose crucial changes to the structure, voting system, and regulations of the elections on the very week that candidates’ nominations were to be made public?

  12. Anonymous on January 14, 2008 4:20 pm

    Come on,Naylor.
    That’s such a big excuse.By the way, who interviews and hires the election admin? Who is the one setting up the code and procedures for the VFM Contest? If it was done perfectly, how could it fail the contest in such a disastrous manner?

  13. Anonymous on January 14, 2008 7:28 pm

    Let’s keep this all in perspective. A lot of the failure is on the committee, and council as a whole. The VPX turned Presidential candidate is a nice scapegoat for this failure (its a nice time to attack him), but this failure goes much deeper than Matthew. There is no doubt that Matthew is part to blame, however if you attended council and kept up on his work you would know he put a lot into just keeping VFM from being scrapped altogether.

  14. Anonymous on January 14, 2008 11:35 pm

    With respect Roderigo, you’re both off-topic and way off-base. Condorcet was ready. It was simply delayed because it isn’t an urgent matter and many councilors weren’t there.

  15. rodrigoferrarinunes on January 15, 2008 1:05 am

    Hello – please be clear, detailed, and transparent in your claim that I am ‘off topic’ and ‘off base’.

    If “it isn’t an urgent matter”, as you claim, what are the reasons behind calling an extraordinary session right before the elections to implement it?

    There is nothing wrong with asking this question.

    And just for the record – read my entire post – I went out of my own way to insist to a friend of mine who works for the Earth and Oceans Science Department at UBC as systems analyst and programmer for many years JUST TO PROVIDE STUDENTS with an unbiased perspective on this proposal.

    I wanted to make sure someone with the proper credentials for writing the program had actually been exposed to the proposal. AND, for clarity’s sake, he told me that it would indeed be easy to implement it.

    I invite all AMS councillors to voice their opinions on their understanding of the condorcet voting.

    No matter how much you may claim that the proposal was ready, check out the minutes from that meeting and see that I seconded Peets’ motion to pass condorcet in principle.

    So why wasn’t it ready?? Because the councillors were not yet confortable with the proposal. Because, as the VP Finance pointed out (refer to minutes), the committe that proposed the condorcet was supposed to come up with a solution for student (even though a change in the voting system seems to be looming for thr future thanks to the work by this committee).

    Condorcet has to be checked and proven workable to ALL councillors, especially those who are having the most difficulty in understanding it. There’s also an extended commentary thread on this blog about the first AMS meeting that dragged on contentions about this issue.

    Beware that I am committed to answering back all comments directed to me transparently, so please make sure your claims about my positions are substantiated, public (not anonymous / not mere name-calling) and responsible.

  16. participatoryengagement on January 15, 2008 1:17 am

    Follows my CORRECTIONS to a paragraph in the comment above.

    So why wasn’t it ready?? Because the councillors were not yet confortable with the proposal. Because, as the VP Finance pointed out (refer to minutes), the committe that proposed the condorcet was supposed to come up with a solution for student APATHY AND NOT A NEW VOTING SYSTEM(even though a change in the voting system seems to be looming for the future thanks to the work by this committee)…


  17. Paul GT on January 15, 2008 2:49 am

    Hello insider blog. As you are one of the two registered entrants in the VFM contest I thought I should check out your site, and am delighted to be mentioned in your post here.
    In my opinion I think we would be jumping ahead of ourselves a bit calling the contest a failure. However, I must say that I really like the content you’re putting out, and fundamentally agree with your message.
    Moreoverm, I think you guys are really embracing the underlying philosophy of the contest with posts like this. The critical attitude is great, and you are definitely articulating it all super eloquently and constructively. You seem to have a solid understanding of some important issues faced by the AMS and the elections committee.
    You go to the AMS council meetings right? What a good time the last one was.
    Thanks for starting off the contest strongly, I appreciate your support and initiative here, no matter how condemnatory your first message was. All press is good press (I’ll just keep telling myself that. ha) If all the entrants put forth such a strong and evaluative effort I dont think we could possibly be headed towards failure here.
    I’ll try to respond to any pertinent articles on your blog here but am also available at paulgt(at)interchange(dot)ubc(dot)ca


  18. Anonymous on January 15, 2008 8:14 am

    that’s the VFM Coordinator, Paul.

    *Isn’t he dreamy?*

  19. paul gt on January 15, 2008 11:53 pm

    Thanks for that anonymous. That picture of me on the votermedia.org site is pretty fantastic.

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