The newsletter that CBC doesn't want you to read

Celebrating Technological Heresy

I was on a teleconference call last week and one of the participants told me that they love listening to me on CBC radio. This was not unusual, as I regularly encounter people who tell me how much they enjoy listening to me on CBC.

The problem however is that I’m no longer on CBC. At least not regularly. Either they’ve got a great memory, or time really is an illusion.

Next week will be the one year anniversary of my calling out CBC on CBC for their support of Facebook.

While the radio segment was genuinely spontaneous, it was a long time coming. If you didn’t hear the segment you can listen via the link/embed above. Overall I think it was great radio.

I was increasingly upset with not being able to speak my mind and talk about the subjects I wanted to. I resented that I was presented as someone who was providing their own perspective when in reality I was not. Yes there was room for me to express myself, but only within specific and sanctioned boundaries.

I had previously been a technology columnist for morning shows across the country, but stopped doing that in 2016. At that time I was already being openly critical of Facebook and the Silicon Valley monopolies, and my executive producer at the time was not interested in critical coverage.

I did however remain on Metro Morning, in large part because Matt Galloway recognized how important critical thinking is to making good (public) radio. Yet I was still not able to talk about the subjects I wanted, but instead had to be content with whatever was in the news or getting significant attention.

As a result I was waiting for the right story, the right segment, to poke CBC, and provoke a public debate on what role a public broadcaster should play when it comes to covering technology, using technology, and being critical of the companies who profit from it all.

While I didn’t expect CBC management to react as they did, I was not surprised. They’ve got a long track record of doing stupid things in the face of legitimate criticism. They’re also notorious for trying to control what their staff and personalities say:

This current Don Cherry episode is a lot like all the past episodes except for the part where he was fired by Rogers Sportsnet. Which begs the question why CBC never fired him for saying much worse than what he did this time?

In my own instance I was not suggesting that CBC quit Facebook (though that would be nice), nor was I staking a moral high ground or holier than thou position, given that I was and remain a Facebook user.

What I did want was a discussion about the power Facebook has acquired, and the role that CBC played in making it happen. As Canadians we put trust in our public broadcaster, and when the CBC transfers that trust to Facebook, there are consequences. I don’t think it’s ironic that the trust people place in the CBC is low and falling lower.

Critical and incredulous coverage of the technology industry is essential to our current economic and political climate. Such coverage is generally hard to find. That CBC fails to do so is clear evidence they’re not fulfilling their mandate as a public broadcaster. (Though I will be quick to point out that both Wendy Mesley and Ramona Pringle are doing great work within a constrained and limited environment.)

A year later and I’ve never been happier.

I spent these past months contemplating how I wanted to make media. I enjoy participating in the public sphere, and my research leads me to possess knowledge that only has value if it is shared with other people.

We’re living in a golden age of media and communications, with no shortage of platforms and tools that make it easy to publish and engage people.

I decided to go the newsletter route as it combines my desire to discard my CBC voice with a need to move beyond social media.

The CBC voice is a by-product of not being able say what you want, so instead you say what is expected of you. What the host and producer want you to say.

Writing an email newsletter brings me back to the original days of email lists, Majordomo, and the Anarchives.

After all email is one of the pillars of the Internet. One of the original protocols that allows us to bypass all of the algorithms save for the anti-spam filter, and get back into the kind of relationships that inspired many of us to invest time online in the first place.

Not only does writing this newsletter make it easier for me to reach and build a community of fellow travelers who are interested in learning as I learn, but it also allows for a body of thought and knowledge to be developed collectively.

That was the second most frustrating thing about CBC. Not only was I not able to say what I wanted, but I had to pretend that the audience (and to some extent the hosts) were stupid, and not able to learn along with me.

There was no collective memory. It took a lot of effort on my part to link back to previous stories, yet even then I got push back, and collectively had to pretend that everything was new, that the same questions were not being asked over and over again, and as a result there was little we could do as a society in response.

The dumbing down of the news is not about maintaining accessibility, rather it is about avoiding the hard questions and the important debates that mark our moment in time.

This newsletter will not do that. While we aspire to be accessible, we also assume that our readers are smart and engaged. Each issue builds upon those that have come before, and with the benefit of hyperlinks, we don’t have to keep revisiting the same tropes, but can instead build our collective knowledge and get deeper and deeper into the interesting subjects that matter to all of us.

The inspiration for this newsletter largely comes from my friend and Metaviews O.G. Marc Weisblott. In the early part of this decade, Marc and I published the first iteration of the Metaviews newsletter. It was a great roundup of media and technology trends that was available for institutional subscribers along with a weekly teleseminar. We did this for a few years before moving on to the first iteration of the Academy of the Impossible (that was located on Wallace Ave in Toronto).

In the past few years Marc has found great success with his 1236 newsletter, most recently making use of the platform. I’m always learning from Marc, and it has been his success using substack that encouraged me to use it as well (rather than patreon or other comparable platforms).

This issue is my 47th since starting this newsletter in September.

I’m sending this issue out to subscribers, but I’m also sending it out publicly, as a kind of personal update for people who knew me from CBC and may be wondering what I’ve been up to.

This is the newsletter that CBC doesn’t want you to read.

Of course that’s not entirely true. Rather this is the newsletter by the Jesse Hirsh that CBC was too afraid to let you know or listen to.

This is the newsletter by and for technology heretics who are curious and eager to learn more about their world, especially when it comes to the impact technology has on politics, culture, and business.

I have no regrets about what happened a year ago. Far from it. I am enjoying a new approach to research, knowledge, and media. This newsletter is the embodiment of it.

The newsletter is also in response to the kinds of tweets I’ve read over the past year as people express a desire to hear my analysis:

A big thank you to all of you who have voiced support and offered me encouragement to keep doing what I do. While I have been on CBC semi-randomly in the last year (it is a large and heterogeneous organization), this is where I share my best thoughts, energy, and passion.

This newsletter will continue to move forward, mobilize knowledge, and share the stories and critiques that are necessary and interesting.

While the newsletter will continue to be published for subscribers only, said subscribers are welcome to share it as they see wish, including forwarding to friends and colleagues without restriction. I’m also always open to barters and payments in the form of social capital. Contact me directly for more info.

Over time we will make some of the knowledge available publicly, including for example a YouTube playlist of some of the videos we’ve featured (or will feature) in the newsletter.

So for those of you who didn't know, now you know. Consider this the origin story of this newsletter. Please subscribe if you do not already and encourage others to subscribe so together we can build a strong and resilient knowledge network.

For those of you who do know, thanks again eh. This has been a long time coming and I would not be able to do what I do without you.


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