Listen to the full episode
[Sound: white noise]
NORA YOUNG: It looked like it would kill TV forever, YouTube, the online service that lets you broadcast yourself share video, watch thousands of hours of whatever you want, and get famous without ever entering a TV studio. The Google owned company is rolling out some new features for its Canadian users this month. Proof that it's trying to adjust to a changed digital landscape. But exactly where YouTube is heading remains to be seen. We're charting the past, present, and future of the decisively disruptive YouTube first up today. Then, the author of Moneyball, The Big Short, and Flash Boys, joins me to talk about his latest book, a romance of sorts.
It was as tortured and complicated and full of drama and any romance I've ever run across. Their wives were both jealous of the other man because this was the most important relationship each had in his life.
NY: It's actually the story of two psychologists an inseparable odd couple who finished each other's sentences and made some Nobel Prize worthy contributions to the way we understand ourselves. Michael Lewis is here with his latest page turner, in half an hour. Plus, news about the news.
Post media is merging the newsrooms of its papers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa, cutting 900 jobs immediately with the possibility of 50 more through voluntary buyouts.
NY: An all too familiar refrain in the Canadian news media. We've been suffering through years of cuts, cutbacks, closures, consolidations, and buyouts. Could they all be adding up to a threat to our democracy and an opening for the spread of fake news? The future of the news, trust, and democracy in an hour. I’m Nora Young and this is the Friday edition of The Current.Back To Top »
YouTube launched a new generation of creators. Now what?
Guests: Corey Vidal, Tessa Sproule
[Music: The Disruptors Theme]
NORA YOUNG: As part of The Current’s project The Disruptors, were opening up YouTube and asking what's in store for the video sharing website that's done so much to define internet culture. But before we get to its future, here's a bit about its past. This is Jean Burgess, a Professor of digital media at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and author of a book about YouTube.
[Music: xylophone beat]
JEAN BURGESS: There was very little thought at the beginning, that this was going to be a major media player. It was a widget for the web.
VOICE 1: Alright, so here we are on the elephants.
[Sound: people chattering]
VOICE 1: And that’s pretty much all there is to say.
JEAN BURGESS: When communities started to form around different uses of the platform, when audiences started to grow, the user base, by which I mean people who uploaded and viewed content on YouTube, started to invent all kinds of uses for it that I very much doubt the original founders imagined or even cared about.
LITTLE BOY: Charlie bit me. And that really hurt Charlie.
JEAN BURGESS: Charlie bit my finger. This video is shot by a dad who happened to catch his two young children just being cute and doing something funny. That was in the top five most viewed videos of all time for the first five years.
LONELYGIRL15: Hi guys, so this is my first video blog.
JEAN BURGESS: Very early on was the lonelygirl15 show, which appeared to be a natural, you know, honest video blogger.
LONELYGIRL15: My name is Brie, I’m 16. I don’t really want to tell you where I live because..
JEAN BURGESS: But actually turned out to be a commercially produced fiction.
JUSTIN BIEBER: [singing] I need you boo, gotta see you boo. And there’s hearts all over the world tonight, and there’s hearts all over the world and I..
JEAN BURGESS: Justin Bieber’s career was actually launched via YouTube.
JUSTIN BIEBER: And there’s hearts all over the world and I. I need you boo, gotta see you boo. And there’s hearts all over the world tonight, and there’s hearts all over the world tonight.
JEAN BURGESS: I don't think you would get a viral video or doing that well these days. So that is one way in which things have changed. But then again, you have got huge stars like PewDiePie.
PEWDIEPIE: Hey, how’s it going bros, this is PewDiePie here. This is a game that I’m really curious about, it’s called Agony.
JEAN BURGESS: Who’s video game based YouTube channel. Who started as an amateur, very much embedded in the everyday sort of vernacular culture of YouTube, and is now still one of YouTube’s leading stars, making huge amounts of money, etc.
PEWDIEPIE: Woo. Welcome everybody.
VIDEO GAME VOICEOVER: The red Goddess.
PEWDIEPIE: I wasn’t done.
JEAN BURGESS: So that these huge YouTube stars didn't really sort of make their name in, you know, in a television format and then carry that idea from YouTube. They built the audience in YouTube, and so that's the point about what makes it real disruptor.
NY: Jean Burgess is a Professor of digital media at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and author of a book about YouTube. It's been more than a decade since Google purchased YouTube for a whopping 1.65 billion dollars in shares. But of course, the digital world of today has changed a lot since then. And this Canadian YouTuber has been there for the ride.
[Music: Corey Vidal]
NY: That's from a video by YouTuber Corey Vidal, he posted it in 2008. It's now been viewed more than 21 million times and it helped launch by Vidal’s successful YouTube career. Corey Vidal is with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
COREY VIDAL: Hey, good morning.
NY: So you've made a successful career as a YouTuber. How did that happen for you?
COREY VIDAL: I joined this website back in 2006, actually before Google even bought it. There was no monetization, nothing what eventually became called the partnership platform. Nobody was making any money. I got really lucky because I joined so early, but it was just a hobby. I was interested in filmmaking. I wanted to go to film school but couldn't afford it. I was a young kid, I was 19. And I enjoyed sharing videos on the website because in high school I was making videos with my friends, you know, just kind of fooling around with a camera, making silly Star Wars videos. And so YouTube really gave me that opportunity to make it easily shareable. Before that, I was sharing, like, as a little video clip through MSN messenger, way back in the day.
NY: [chuckles] Back in the day, yeah.
COREY VIDAL: Yeah.
NY: So what was going on in your life when you first joined up with YouTube?
COREY VIDAL: Well, it was a bit of a struggle, because I grew up in Niagara and I wanted to pursue some form of filmmaking, but different than anything that was available in post-secondary education. I enjoyed making skits and short films with my friends and that's not a career. You can't quite go to school for that. You could go to school to learn to become a filmmaker or go work in broadcast, like come and work at the CBC and run a camera all day. I ended up getting a job filming weddings, just so I could have my hands on a camera. YouTube just kind of give me that creative outlet to be able to share those, you know, teenage, silly skits and videos and songs, you know, outside of the people that I knew in real life.
NY: Mmhmm. So I mean, lots changed since then. Can you give us an idea of the scope of your business now?
COREY VIDAL: [chuckles] So yeah, I've been making YouTube videos for 11 years on one channel the whole time, just my name, YouTube.com/CoreyVidal. And it's been full time for me for the past nine years. And in 2011, I started my first company it was a production company that makes viral videos and, you know, YouTube specific productions for big brands. We've done videos with, like, Tim Hortons or Canon or Intel or Dell, you know. And then I started my second business in 2013, which is a film festival that takes place here in Toronto, specifically for YouTubers all over the world, and that's called Buffer Festival.
NY: So, and are you making good living doing that? Sorry to pry, but are you? [laughs]
COREY VIDAL: I get asked every time. You know, it's out there I’ve shared that I mean, I personally I [chuckles] I make in the six figures each year, Canadian. Like, as a business we’re dealing in the seven figures, Buffer Festival costs a couple million dollars to throw. And those aren’t things that you would normally say if you came on a radio show or did an interview. It’s like how much do you make? But I think people ask because they don't understand the seriousness or just, I guess, the credibility that YouTube has. And not even for myself, I am not an A-list YouTuber, I am certainly not, you know, in the tops in the world. But then you look at those A-list YouTubers, it often gets reported that, you know, these guys are making millions of dollars. But even in that I actually find tends to be conservative and its guesses. Because they're friends of mine, all the YouTubers know each other. And they're making considerably more than I think anybody realizes.
NY: So when you were starting out as a scrappy [chuckles] young kid.
COREY VIDAL: [chuckles] Yeah.
NY: How long ago did you say? Ten years ago?
COREY VIDAL: Yeah.
NY: Did you ever imagine that it would turn into a full time career for you?
COREY VIDAL: No, for me it was just the joy of doing it. And it was something that I put money into, not something that I made money from. You know, I would make videos and share them and, you know, to be honest my parents weren't totally thrilled about it. They said, like, go get a job, you're 19. And it actually led to a little bit of, [sighs] some problems in the home. And I actually ended up kind of moving out, slash being kicked out in my very early twenties. And I was actually homeless for about six months. And I ended up in Hamilton applying for welfare. And I actually stayed in homeless shelters. And there's a whole long story behind it, and I was trying to get a job and I wanted to work hard and I had no idea what to do with my life. And I'd been making YouTube videos for a couple of years. I had started making a very small amount of money off of it, a couple of hundred bucks a month. But then in late 2008, I had a video go viral and that was, you played a clip of it at the beginning of this segment, and that, you know, went and got millions of views very very quickly. And that was monetized on YouTube. And that month, I made 10,000 just off of YouTube. But I also made an additional, like, 40,000 dollars through marketing agencies and advertising agencies and selling some licensing. And, you know, all the opportunities that came out of that. And that was more money than I had made my entire life up until that point combined.
COREY VIDAL: As someone who was practically homeless.
NY: Right. So just very briefly, there are new apps and platforms all the time. Why is YouTube still relevant?
COREY VIDAL: I think YouTube is relevant because, I mean, they beat it. They beat the system, they were there first. It's so massive now. I think there's over 300 or 400 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute.
COREY VIDAL: That's a lot. And where I see other platforms not doing as well, whether it might be, you know, Twitter or, you know, or the recently deceased Vine, is because it's limited. Whether it's six or seven seconds or 30 seconds or two and a half minutes, I have a YouTube video that's two and a half hours long.
COREY VIDAL: And tens of thousands of people have watched it. I wouldn't watch it. I can't believe they have. But YouTube is actually everything. Whereas other video platforms, they do try to be niche. Vimeo is kind of for, like, maybe the cinematographers and filmmakers or, you know, Facebook is trying.
COREY VIDAL: Now, which I think is fair to say. At the same time, Facebook has also been over reporting its views, and the YouTubers kind of struggle with that.
NY: Right. Corey, thanks so much for sharing your story with us.
COREY VIDAL: Thank you very much for having me.
NY: Corey Vidal is as a Canadian YouTuber, he joined me in our Toronto studio. Well, according to YouTube, Canadians share a 15 per cent more videos than the average user. A factoid that may explain why Canada was chosen as the first country to get access to a new social chat platform within the YouTube app that launched last week. For more on the evolution and future of YouTube, I'm joined by Tessa Sproule. She's the CEO of Vubble, a company focused on short form video curation. Tessa Sproule is also the former head of digital at CBC, and she joins me from Montreal. Hello.
TESSA SPROULE: Hi Nora, how are you?
NY: Very well, thanks. So what kind of relationship does Canada have with YouTube?
TESSA SPROULE: I think Canada has a stellar relationship with YouTube. Corey is a great example of several folks who’ve actually established businesses within the YouTube platform. And it isn't, you know, cat videos anymore for an awful lot of them, it is actually established businesses where they're employing people and, you know, or independently, you know, there’s a guy out in Ladysmith, BC who's done very well with a woodworking channel. And into his retirement, he's funding his local hockey team so he can play every week. [chuckles] So it's like, it's created this really interesting, innovative entrepreneurial space for creators. And I think YouTube’s done a wonderful job of trying to help lift people that are wanting to be creators but don't have access or didn't have the ability to reach out to the conventional spaces.
TESSA SPROULE: To tell their stories.
NY: So how is YouTube evolving and what are some of the biggest pressures facing the company right now?
TESSA SPROULE: Well I think, around, you know, it's very expensive to deal with 400 hours of content uploaded [chuckles]
NY: [chuckles] Yes.
TESSA SPROULE: To a platform every minute, for sure. And they don't really reveal how much that costs and what their margins are. But one can probably imagine that it's an expensive proposition for them to maintain the platform. I do think that it's under pressure with, as Corey talked a little bit about Facebook launching monetization will certainly put some pressure onto YouTube. That's been coming for an awfully long time, since Facebook launched their video upload platform in March 2015.
NY: So you mean that if I'm posting videos through Facebook, I might make money off it in the same way that a YouTube star might?
TESSA SPROULE: Exactly, exactly. So YouTube is a very, you know, wonderful community, as Corey said, they all know each other, which is quite amazing. Facebook is quite a different story, but Facebook has such enormous reach and so much presence and dominance in the lives of Canadians. 86 per cent of Canadians say they go to Facebook every single day. So if somebody has been, like, thinking maybe I’ll launch a YouTube channel, but then well, maybe not. They might more comfortable to do that in the Facebook space, particularly if Facebook is going to share some monetization with them.
NY: How has content been changing on the platform?
TESSA SPROULE: As Corey said, it's longer too. He’s got this [chuckles] two hour video out there. But people often think that it's, like, 20 second bits or, you know, under two minutes. There's actually quite a shift that's happened in the past few years, particularly among those creators who’ve established businesses around their channels. We've seen things like VSaaS get commissioned by YouTube to create 30 minute documentaries about science and technology. People like Lilly Singh, Canadian Superwoman, has been commissioned to create an hour long documentary that launched with the Red platform through YouTube. Certainly the storytelling narrative structure of the videos are shifting and the quality and the output of the creators are shifting as well. We see creators like mojo.com, which is out in, in Montreal actually, here. And it's a really well established channel, they do a lot of frothy listicle type stuff, but they are really interested in moving into the scripted space. So I think this is a really fascinating moment in time where we have many creators who have fairly solid businesses behind them that are trying to figure out hey now what? What's the next step? Whether it's on the YouTube platform or what am I going to do on Facebook. There's a really interesting new media site that just launched in the past few months that’s very much video focused and it's largely focused on Facebook called interesting S word, and I can’t say the full word. [laughs]
TESSA SPROULE: That’s on Facebook. And that'll be really interesting to watch this Canadian company. It will be fascinating to see how that evolves, particularly if the rumors are true that Facebook's going to turn on monetization any day now. And Facebook's monetization, the rumors are that it will be mid roll, so it's not going to be the prerolls that launch a video, but it will be about 90 seconds in.
TESSA SPROULE: To the video, which will change the format again, that people have to chase to produce for. So goes from being very short videos that you see on Facebook right now. If they launch monetization with mid rolls as the element, the ad piece, then that will shift the way that people actually create their content. It has to be longer than what it is right now and it has to be naturally able to take an ad partway through and not disrupt the story experience with the audience.
NY: Mmhmm. So you talked a bit about Facebook as a competitor. What are YouTube's other biggest competitors today?
TESSA SPROULE: Well I would say it's Facebook. [chuckles]
TESSA SPROULE: Those are two giants, two massive giants and this will be really the big fight. It will be between those two, in particular in the North American space, because they just both have such enormous presence. And there's all sorts of really interesting issues that are going to have to come untangled in that with copyright. Youtube does have its ID tagging system, which is it's meant to use algorithms to source out whether or not there's duplicates of video, because people's livelihoods are now dependent on their one video being on their channel and being monetized. Facebook doesn't have currently such a system and that's causing some pain with creators in the space. So I think it's really going to be those two. I think, you know, there are other companies like Vessel and other alternatives that were trying to push against those two companies in particular. But none have the reach or presence and dominance of those guys in particular.
NY: What about people sharing sort of informally amongst smaller groups of people on something like Snapchat?
TESSA SPROULE: For sure. But, you know, that's not going to be something that the rest of us necessarily see into and it's probably not going to be where they're building audience or brands or presence.
TESSA SPROULE: Because it’s going to have a small audience, particularly if the revenue base is based on advertising, which requires eyeballs and attention. Yes, absolutely. Certainly presence there, but those two companies Facebook and YouTube are the ones that are the behemoth in the mix.
NY: If YouTube wants to continue to be a disruptor in this very competitive world that's always evolving, where do you think it needs to go next?
TESSA SPROULE: I think it needs to do what it's done very well, which is support its creator base and encourage them to evolve with their narrative storytelling and that kind of thing. In particular, you’ve got a company like Facebook that insists that it's not a media company.
TESSA SPROULE: Perhaps that's the way that YouTube can actually, you know, really stake a flag in the sand so to speak. So I think it needs to do what it's been doing but do it in even bigger and better ways. And particularly with the Canadian community, we’re such a huge country, we have so many amazing storytellers from coast to coast to coast. And I think some of those folks, we just did a survey of Canadian creators, not just only on two platform, but across the country. And some of them have pain around the fact that, you know, YouTube's main focus appears to be Toronto in the centre there and the events happen there and, you know, the creator building opportunities seem to be happening largely in Toronto. So some of them out on the West Coast feel more connection to the LA office.
TESSA SPROULE: And then you have people like, I've mentioned Ladysmith guy, like, smaller locations. That in this virtual world, like, there should be better ways that they can be connected to each other and supported. And actually, I'm going to a conversation today to figure out how do you use, like, the accelerator, innovator hub experience to help creators next to each other. Maybe I don't actually think that's necessarily a job of YouTube, I think that's more of a job of us as a community of Canadians to do.
NY: Right. Thank you so much for joining us Tessa.
TESSA SPROULE: Thank you.
NY: Tessa Sproule is the CEO of Vubble and the former head of digital at CBC. She was in Montreal. Tell us what you watch on YouTube, how much you use it. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC, find us on Facebook, or email from our site cbc.ca/thecurrent. CBC News is next. Then the author of financial thrillers including The Big Short and Moneyball turns his attention to the world of psychology. And one odd couple of scientists who changed the way we see ourselves. I'm Nora Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
How two game-changing psychologists changed the way we think about thinking
Guests: Michael Lewis
NORA YOUNG: Hello, I'm Nora Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
NY: Still to come, fake news could happen here. That's part of the message in a new report on the state of the Canadian news media. Edward Greenspon, the former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail will join me to share his concerns about what a weakened Canadian media could mean for Canadian democracy, and what his group thinks needs to change, including at the CBC. But first, changing the way we think about the way we think.
Professor Kahneman, your important insights from cognitive psychology have established new path breaking findings. These discoveries all now guide reformulation of economic and financial theory. The new bridges between economics and psychology are attributed to your pioneering research.
NY: That's from 2002, the year that the Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to a psychologist. Now that may seem odd at first, but the work of Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky forever changed the field of economics, not to mention politics, business, war and peace. The two Israeli psychologists spent their career trying to understand the way we make decisions — and their insights were game changers. Now author Michael Lewis is taking up the story of their life and work together. The bestselling author of books including Moneyball, Flash Boys and The Big Short has entered the world of psychology with The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. And Michael Lewis is with me from Los Angeles. Hello.
MICHAEL LEWIS: Hi.
NY: So a psychologist winning the Nobel Prize for Economics, that’s a bit of a twist. What did Daniel Kahneman do in psychology that won him that award?
MICHAEL LEWIS: It is a bit of a twist because I think he would be the first to admit he didn't know very much economics and wasn't gunning for this sort of thing, it was just one of the consequences of the research he did with Amos Tversky. He and Amos Tversky, for 11 years, starting in 1969, ending actually kind of in the early eighties, had a program of research where they were exploring how people think, and especially how they make decisions in conditions of uncertainty, how they evaluate uncertain situations. And they showed over and again the various mistakes people make when they're making judgments, when they kind of sort of try to judge the odds of a situation, and how people systematically misjudge the odds. And why that was consequential for economics is that much of economic theory is premised on the idea that people are rational and pick the right thing for themselves and judge odds accurately, that they're kind of good intuitive statisticians. And Tversky and Kahneman, Danny and Amos, showed that actually they weren't and that people made systematic errors. And if people make systematic errors then markets can be systematically wrong. So they threw a wrench in and they made economic theory harder for everybody is what they did.
NY: So where are we seeing some of his research or their research being applied today?
MICHAEL LEWIS: Well, you know, I came to this story because I was in one field where it was being applied — professional sports. When I wrote my book Moneyball, which was about the way a poor team in Major League Baseball found bargains for baseball players, the front office of the Oakland A's was looking for mistakes the markets made in valuing baseball players. And they were using, indirectly, but nevertheless they were using Kahneman and Tversky’s work on the kind of biases that people brought to evaluating other people. The whole Moneyball revolution in sports grows out of Kahneman and Tversky’s work in a funny way. Kahneman and Tversky showed why it was that professional scouts evaluating hockey players, baseball players, basketball players, might make systematic errors. That they might, for example, evaluate a player by how he looked rather than his deeper abilities. Their work is applied in hospitals, and doctors is now part of this kind of standard medical training, that you are, doctors are taught that when they're making quick judgments they need to watch themselves, because their minds will trick themselves. It's found its way into finance, Wall Street. I mean, the whole indexing movement. The movement away from people picking individual stocks and the idea that even people can pick individual stocks or that a financial expert, it's a good thing to be listening to them, when they're making very specific recommendations about what's going to go up and what's going to go down. The movement against that, the indexing movement which is one of the great movements in finance in financial history, has its origins some of their work. People were pointing out that, look, these guys explained what, we know the experts get it wrong, we can show that the experts actually don't outperform, just like a monkey throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal. Why might this be? And Danny and Amos’ work helped provide an explanation for that.
NY: Mmhmm. And of course, we come to rely so much now on data and the power of algorithms, as opposed to something like trusting the experts opinion, because we've uncovered so much of these kinds of biases in decision making, especially on certain situations.
MICHAEL LEWIS: Well this is absolutely true. At the very beginning, it was pretty clear their work, one of the things their work was pointing towards is a world in which algorithms made decisions that human beings had previously made. At the very beginning, there were studies done by colleagues of theirs, that shocked people in the early seventies when they were doing it. That radiologists, looking at x rays were worse at diagnosing cancer than the algorithm than a couple of psychologists had dreamed up just using the information radiologists gave them. And this was, and it was all partly explicable by the description of the human mind that Danny and Amos had offered. The way that the human mind, for example, thought in stereotypes or that its judgment was queered by memory. That it was always responding to what had just happened or vivid things that had happened. They gave a kind of, they gave an explanation for why, they have an extension for what was about to happen in the world. This huge data revolution, data based decision revolution.
NY: Mmhmm. So this book is in large part about this, you know, pretty extraordinary relationship between these two guys. So tell me a bit about the early backgrounds of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
MICHAEL LEWIS: it's absolutely true it's about the relationship. I mean, what interested me was that I had on my hands a love story between two just extraordinary characters. And they were, in many ways, in the views of their colleagues just complete opposites. Kind of Felix and Oscar odd couple like characters. Kahneman was this brooding, self-doubting, child of the Holocaust. He had spent much of his childhood, formative years, hiding in barns and living in chicken coops, trying not to be exterminated as a Jew in France during the Nazi occupation. Watched his father die as a result of it, had a sense of his own, that any day he might die. And he emerges from this extremely interested in what makes people tick and why people are the way they are. And he has an odd gift for applying psychological insight. At the age of 22, Danny Kahneman, who was at that point a self-taught Israeli psychologist, was the best trained psychologist in the Israeli army and he redesigned the Israeli army intake system to determine who became an officer and who did not. And the algorithm he designed to replace the judgment of Israeli military experts is still used to this day.
MICHAEL LEWIS: By the Israeli army. Tversky was regarded by everybody who knew him as the most upbeat, positive, self-assured intellect they’d ever met. And was widely regarded as the smartest man anybody had ever met. I mean, effortlessly. There was a famous intelligence test designed by a Michigan psychologist named Richard Nisbitt, distinguished in his own right, it was called the Tversky test. And the Tversky test was the longer it takes you to figure out that Amos is smarter than you after you’ve met him, the dumber you are.
MICHAEL LEWIS: And he and Danny come together. There's no reason that anybody thinks they're going to get along.
MICHAEL LEWIS: And Danny instantly challenges Amos’ belief that people are basically kind of rational and good statisticians, and good at judging the odds of situations around them. And he does it so persuasively and with so many rich anecdotes that Amos falls into an intellectual love with him. And they go into a room and spend 13 years, 11 years, 12 years, 13 years, around that amount of time, just noodling on what is going on in the human mind when it’s facing uncertainty.
NY: Yeah, I mean, it’s this kind of platonic love story that the two of them had in this unlikely sort of way. How would you describe their relationship?
MICHAEL LEWIS: You know, platonic love story makes it seem more sterile than it actually was. It was as involved as a sexual romance without the sex. It was this tortured and complicated and full of drama as any romance I've ever run across. And their wives were both jealous of the other man, because it was very clear, very quickly that this was the most important relationship each had in his life. What made it tick? I think what made it tick was Danny had this unbelievable gift for discovering his own fallibility. He was an exquisitely intelligent and imaginative person, but he was always looking for why he was wrong. The downside of this was the Earth was never stable under his feet. Every idea he had he would dismiss two days later. Amos had the most stable ground under his feet of any man on Earth. He was so sure of himself and he was so often right. He provided an environment for Danny to spitball a safe place an assuring place for a reassuring place for Danny to have his ideas and be Danny. And he formalized Danny's ideas in a way that Danny found, I mean, as Danny put it, he said it's often I didn't know what I thought until Amos told me what he thought of what I thought.
MICHAEL LEWIS: And that we finished each other's thoughts. It was a very private relationship. They closed the door and no one was ever witnessing this thing. But the tone in the room, I think, was very much the tone of an improvisational comedy routine, where each was trying to build on what the other said, rather than criticize the other. Because when it falls apart is when they become critical of each other.
NY: Mm hmm. Can you give me an idea of how they carried out some of their research?
MICHAEL LEWIS: They invented a style of research and as they invented an entire field in psychology called cognitive psychology, or rather judgment decision making, not fair to say they invented the whole field of cognitive psychology, but judgment decision making. And what they did, was basically what they did is they found the mistakes they made in their thinking, and if they both made it, they would assume that everybody on the planet made it. It ended up being a fair assumption. But the research was to find ways to test the ideas that would essentially sell the ideas to the academic public. So for example, I mean, one funny little example is that they stumbled upon the insight that each of them could have their judgment warped by some totally irrelevant piece of information introduced before the judgment or before the decision. And they wanted to dramatize this, test it, you know, the scientifically respectable thing is to test it and prove it, but actually what they were doing is dramatizing it. And they dream, so one little test they dream up, is they build a wheel of fortune. And the wheel of fortune has numbers 1 to 100 on it. They bring subjects into a room, they have the subject spin the wheel of fortune and it comes up on some number 52 or 22 or 10, some random number. And then after the number comes up, they ask the subject what percentage of the country’s in the United Nations come from Africa? And the answers they get from the subject are totally queered by the number on the wheel of fortune. If someone has spun a high number on the wheel of fortune, they estimate the percentage of the countries in the United Nations to be much higher.
MICHAEL LEWIS: Than someone who's spun a low number. That's really funny right? I mean, it's bizarre stuff but every used car salesman knows this right? You walk into the shop and they start with a high number. That's a slightly different theme because it's actually relevant information to the thing, but they call this anchoring. You can anchor people's minds with totally irrelevant information right up front. And that's an example of, like, a little test they dreamed up. And then generally what they were doing was dreaming up tests for people to take, having a theory about how they would fail these tests, and then an explanation for why they failed the tests.
NY: So Israel is a state that's in, you know, armed conflict with its neighbours, especially during the time that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were there. They had both served in the military. How did the Israeli experience help them formulate their ideas on decision making?
MICHAEL LEWIS: This may be, as they might say, hindsight. Kind of like me imposing a pattern on events that is only obvious after the fact, and therefore probably bogus.
MICHAEL LEWIS: However, it does seem to me that Israel is totally necessary. Israel and even the Holocaust experience. It's not, it doesn't seem to me an accident that it's two Jews after the Holocaust, in a highly volatile uncertain situation of the creation of the Israeli state, are the ones who are interested in what the mind's doing when it's dealing with uncertainty. Because these judgments, the judgments they're studying, or the misjudgments they're studying are a matter in Israel of life and death and they themselves are intimately involved in both Israeli government and the Israeli military. Danny not only designs the test for determining who's going to be an officer and who's not. He's training air force pilots, he's training tank commanders. Amos himself is a war hero. He killed people and he saved people. They are so committed to the Israeli project that when they're in their early fourties and the 1973 war breaks out, they’re in Palo Alto, California on a sabbatical and they instantly hop a plane and sneak back into the country, and get in a jeep and go into the Sinai and fight the war. That I think, as Danny said to me, when we were in that room talking to each other, Israeli war and Israeli politics were never quite far from our minds. And I give you a specific way in which it entered into their thinking, Amos’ thinking. Amos was a leader of troops in the desert. He was often disturbed by how easy it was to get lost in the desert, because the desert plays tricks with your eyes. It's very hard to judge distances. And if you get
a little lost when you're in combat, it can be fatal. And Amos was, he said later, he was predisposed to accept the idea Danny was presenting to him. That the mind might be less than less than optimal tool for making judgments because his experience in the army told him that the senses were less than optimal tools for making judgments. If the eye could be tricked or the ear could be tricked, why couldn't the mind be tricked?
NY: Michael, I'd like to get your thoughts on what you think that Kahneman and Tversky would have made of some moments of decision making. I want you to listen to former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan testifying before Congress about the 2008 crash. Here he is being grilled by Congressman Henry Waxman.
HENRY WAXMAN: You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price. You feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to, to exist you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not. And what I'm saying to you is yes, I found a flaw, I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I've been very distressed by that fact. But if I may, may I just finish an answer to the question previously.
HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality?
ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.
NY: Michael Lewis, what do you think Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky would make of Alan Greenspan’s self-analysis of why he went along with what would prove to be a catastrophic decision.
MICHAEL LEWIS: You know, I'm sympathetic to Alan Greenspan in that moment. And I think they probably would be too. I think he was trying to grapple with the shock he endured on the back end of the financial crisis when he discovered that markets could do these crazy things. He didn't believe that. You know, more generally, I think Kahneman and Tversky would say that when you're looking back on events, you impose an order on them that wasn't possible to impose going into them. And that people, what we are, we aren't odds calculating machines. We don't do that very well. We aren't natural statisticians. What we are is natural storytelling machines. And so what we do after we have the facts in hand is build a story to explain the facts. But in fact, the facts were never deterministic. And upfront it would've been impossible to make accurate predictions about what was going to happen. So I think they would have been sympathetic about Alan Greenspan's inability to foresee the financial crisis. I think they would have been antagonistic upfront about his pretense that he could.
MICHAEL LEWIS: So that's where they would have had a kind of dispute with him.
NY: I want to ask you about some more recent history. During the Brexit campaign, the pro-Europe side was sure that the referendum would fail because they thought the population would realize that it was in their best economic interest to stay. So what are the ways that external influences can convince the mind to vote against what seemed to be its own best interests?
MICHAEL LEWIS: People in the voting booth are not purely rational creatures any more than they're purely rational creatures outside the voting booth. And it's less clear to me that the people who voted are for Brexit were voting against their interest than the people who vote for Trump are voting against their interests. But what goes on? You know, what Danny and Amos would I think have to say about this is that when the mind is dealing with an uncertain situation like who to vote for president or whether to vote for leaving the European Union, it's easily swayed in ways it shouldn't be. But in these cases, I think you're dealing with big emotional events, right? I mean, people are angry. Anger is the defining feature of both these elections. And Danny and Amos didn't pretend to be dealing with emotion. They were interested in how people made mistakes even in coolly rational states. The point was that the mind even in a coolly rational state, was capable of doing things that wasn't in it's own interest. So how much more is it capable of self-defeating behaviour when you introduce emotion?
NY: Mmhmm. How do you think Kahneman and Tversky would view the election of Donald Trump?
MICHAEL LEWIS: Ha.
MICHAEL LEWIS: With great dismay. But I think they'd be the first to say that psychology isn't enough to explain them, you need psychiatry too.
MICHAEL LEWIS: So I think that they would say that if you view it through their lens, the thing that's maybe most disturbing is what they showed, if you want to summarize what they had to say in a sentence, is that our intuitive judgment is fallible. And we would be well-advised to pay attention to the way it's fallible. Here we have a president who is in love with his own intuitive judgment and has no sense of his own fallibility. He is a prime candidate to make exactly the sort of mistakes they identify. I think that would be the first thing they would say.
NY: Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky had a falling out, and you talk about this a bit towards the end of the book. So what happened?
MICHAEL LEWIS: They moved from Israel. Danny left his wife and family and moved to North America. And Amos who was kind of an Israel’s sun first type of guy, who never imagined himself living anywhere but Israel or dying anywhere but Israel, was faced with a choice. And he decided to follow Danny. He thought the collaboration was too important. And they came the United States and their statuses were instantly radically different in a way they weren't in Israel. Amos was, everybody who met him thought he was the world's smartest man. He got the fastest appointment in the history of Stanford University. They heard he might be available in the morning and they gave him lifetime employment four hours later.
MICHAEL LEWIS: Danny couldn't get a job. He ended up getting a job at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but American universities were not that interested in him. And one thing, there was one indignity after the other that Danny suffered. Very soon after they arrived, Amos was given the MacArthur Genius Award alone for the work that they had done together, basically. That's all the award cited. And so what happened was, first, Amos seemed to get all the spoils from the joint work because people thought Amos must be the smart person there. The world was hostile to the collaboration, it didn't understand that two people could do work that was so different from what either had done alone and they wanted to attribute it to one of the two. And then second, the big thing that happened I think is Danny began to sense that Amos thought he might be a little superior to Danny. In any case, Danny thought Amos started to become critical of him. And from that moment, in the letters between them are this roller coaster, emotional, dramatic breakup. It really reads like a romantic breakup. My favorite line in their letters, which kind of says, anybody who's been in love and been the lover, the frustrated lover, will recognize the sound of doom in this line Amos wrote it to Danny. He writes to Danny, “I don't get your sensitivity metric.”
NY: Oh. [chuckles]
NY: Anybody to write that line to someone who’s in love with them is never going to get anybody’s sensitivity metric. And so in the end, Danny walks away from the relationship, because it's too painful. He felt possessed by Amos and it was too painful to be with him.
MICHAEL LEWIS: But it was messy. As Barbara Tversky, Amos' wife said, it was far far more painful than a marriage breaking up.
NY: Michael Lewis, thanks so much for talking to me.
MICHAEL LEWIS: Thanks for having me.
NY: Michael Lewis is the author of The Undoing Project, his previous books include Moneyball and Flash Boys. He was in Los Angeles. If you heard our interview yesterday with Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs than you weren't alone. NDP MP Charlie Angus caught it yesterday and wanted to rebut one of her major claims. He'll join us to say his piece in our next half hour. I'm Nora Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
Minister Bennett lied about funding to Indigenous communities, says MP Charlie Angus
Guests: Charlie Angus
NORA YOUNG: I’m Nora Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
CONNIE WALKER: So last November, the Liberals passed a motion, an NDP motion on child welfare that called for an immediate injection of 155 million dollars to ensure that the government complies with this human rights tribunal ruling. When will that money start flowing to communities?
CAROLYN BENNETT: The money is already flowing.
NY: That’s The Current’s guest host Connie Walker yesterday, interviewing Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. The minister joined us for a report card on how well the Trudeau government has done on delivering its promises to Indigenous Canadians. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s landmark finding that First Nations children on reserves were being discriminated against by the federal government. After Minister Bennett's assertion that the money is already flowing, we received a letter from the office of NDP MP Charlie Angus, saying that he was, quote, “gobsmacked” at the suggestion. Charlie Angus represents the riding of Timmins-James Bay. And we reached him in Toronto. Hello.
CHARLIE ANGUS: Good morning.
NY: So what went through your mind when you heard Minister Bennett say that the money is already flowing to Indigenous communities?
CHARLIE ANGUS: Well, the reason parliament took the extraordinary step of forcing a vote to bring the government of Canada into compliance with the human rights tribunal ruling is because the government had refused mediation with Cindy Blackstock, they were continuing to fight in court, and they were adamant that they were not going to flow this shortfall. So it's really straightforward. There was money set aside by the previous government, the Harper government, on child welfare. This is foster care, kids in, you know, in really bad situations in foster care. And the shortfall that was identified out of that money is a 155 million dollars for this year alone.
CHARLIE ANGUS: On top of that, the motion also instructed the government on Jordan's Principle. So this is the denial of medical services to children that happens all the time. For example, I just dealt with a family, they were denied an audiology appointment because a bureaucrat said it wasn't necessary to find out if this child had hearing problems or not. So Jordan's Principle’s the medical money that's supposed to be put, then there's the foster care money. So we called on the government to close both those gaps. And so what the minister is trying to do is throw some kind of crazy arithmetic together to pretend that money that they're claiming they're going to spend on medical, which they haven't spent at all, and their shortfall on child welfare, somehow meets the parliamentary order and they're not even in the game. So, you know, when we're talking about the lives of children, you just can't get away with alternative facts.
NY: So how short is the government on its promises then?
CHARLIE ANGUS: Well, they haven't moved squat on the issue of the foster care crisis. So there was 71 million dollars set aside by the Stephen Harper government, and that's what this government is doing. Minister Bennett’s claim that they've got 120 million this year for Jordan's Principle, well, as she was talking to The Current, her lawyers were in court fighting Cindy Blackstock. And looking at the documents the minister's lawyers put in, they've only spent 11 million dollars out of that 120 million, and the year’s almost over. And the other thing that’s really important to know, those documents say they only found 22 kids in Ontario who need those services. I know 26 kids in the community of Wapekeka alone who are considered extremely high risk for suicide. And they're having to rely on a private charity to get mental health services. So that's what the shortfall looks like in real life.
NY: So then why do you think Minister Bennett would make this claim?
CHARLIE ANGUS: I think what's really disturbing is that we have a government that made really clear promises to First Nation children. And I have enormous respect for the minister, but I think she's been hung out to dry here. This is a government that is following the exact same pattern that the previous government did. They spent over 500,000 dollars fighting Cindy Blackstock in court. Their internal documents show that they’re denying children mental health, medical lift beds, they’re denying children access to speech pathologists. That in some communities they only deliver services on Monday to Friday during business hours. And kids, who on the weekend, we had two children die in Treaty 9 area, they were given Tylenol in the middle of a rheumatic fever outbreak. So the shortfalls are enormous. And kids, we’re losing kids every day. So my question to the minister is why not just tell the truth? If you're not going to spend the money, if you're going to continue to fight Cindy Blackstock in court, at least tell Canadians and tell them why.
NY: The letter your office sent to us said that the, quote, “lack of clarity and honesty around this is distressing, if not dangerous.” Are you saying the minister lied on air?
CHARLIE ANGUS: Well, if the minister says that they are flowing that 155 million dollars, to be polite, she's trying to present alternative facts. That's not what's happening. Her own court documents show otherwise. You know, we had two beautiful young children die last week in Wapekeka reserve, Chantel Fox, Jolynn Winter. The community had written, because their program dollars had been cancelled, they said there was a danger of a suicide cluster among young females. The government knew those children were at risk, they didn't spend the money and those children died. We have 26 others in that community who are high risk. We have that pattern repeated again and again and again. I’ve seen it in La Loche, where I was in Saskatchewan talking to frontline workers I met in a coffee shop because they had been laid off just before the suicide cluster started to form. We saw it in Attawapiskat, we saw it in Neskantaga. There's a pattern of denial of service that creates crisis and then we get condolences and get warm words from ministers, but kids are dying and they're dying every day.
NY: It's been a year since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision. Why do you think it's taken so long to act on the recommendations?
CHARLIE ANGUS: Well, I was really thought that we had that moment. When a human rights tribunal calls a country like ours for systemic racist discrimination, you think it would end. But here we are a year later, Mr. Trudeau has his lawyers back in court cross-examining, you know, frontline child welfare workers about why they believe that they're entitled to this money. They've spent over half a million dollars fighting this. It just doesn't make sense. I mean, Canadians believe all children should have an opportunity in life. So where is our government on this?
NY: Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas asked the Prime Minister directly about where the promised funding is during a town hall earlier in the week. Justin Trudeau responded by saying funding alone will not help. Is the government rolling back on the promises made a year ago?
CHARLIE ANGUS: I was really distressed when I heard the prime minister say that. He's a teacher, so I think he would know how important this is for children. Money does make a difference. When I talk to young Nadine Tookate in Attawapiskat who told me she wanted a school for her little sister so she didn’t have to wear mitts in the classroom to write her tests. I talked to another young woman who told me, she had beautiful long hair, she said she didn't want to use a shower in her community because her skin broke out in blisters. This is about children being ground down into poverty and hopelessness at a young age. Where else in Canada would ten and 12-year-old children start to give up hope and die? So when the prime minister says money won't cut it, there's a there's a legal order for him. He's defying a court, a human rights tribunal, so he needs to put this in perspective. We're talking about the lives of children.
NY: So just very briefly, what would you like to see the Liberal government do immediately?
CHARLIE ANGUS: Well, we ordered them to the flow that 155 million dollars now, for this year. And then to do the full implementation of Jordan's Principle, which they're refusing to do. The full implementation is that any First Nation child who needs proper medical services that any other kid in this country gets, they are entitled to it, no bureaucrat can override it. That's a simple thing and I think for Canada's 150 birthday, giving all children in Canada a chance, that would be the best birthday gift we could ever give ourselves.
NY: Thanks very much for joining us.
CHARLIE ANGUS: Thank you so much.
NY: Charlie Angus is NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay. He was in Toronto. You're listening to the Friday edition of The Current, I'm Nora Young. This week, Anna Maria Tremonti was in Vancouver to record another public forum in The Current’s series on missing and murdered Indigenous women. The Current has been holding these events across the country this season, and this latest one in Vancouver focused on how to tell the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Stories that for too long went largely untold in our public life. You can hear that whole discussion next Wednesday. But here's a bit for right now. This is filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, hip hop artist Jerilynn Webster and filmmaker Lisa Jackson talking about the burden they face as artists taking on these issues.
ELLE-MAIJA TAILFEATHERS: There's sort of this emotional labour and mental labour that's asked of artists, of Indigenous women, to talk about this issue, to educate others. And it is, there's a certain emotional burden to it. It feels like listening to a broken record in a lot of ways, just hearing my voice over and over and over again talking about the same issue. And I can only imagine what it's like for family members who have been talking about this issue for decades now. It really sort of begs the question of are things actually going to change, you know. And how much of this burden of responsibility of educating, of talking about it do our people have to bear before Canadians are going to get it, before things are actually going to change?
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Jerilynn, how do you think about that? The sort of the political message that's always underlying this. Do you feel a burden sometimes? Do you feel a weight, a extra responsibility?
JERILYNN WEBSTER: No, I'm ready to, like, yell on the mountain tops and, like, protect our women and our children. And, like, I'm ready to go. Like,
VOICE 1: [laughs]
JERILYNN WEBSTER: I will bring the people together and I will put my fist in the air. Everything I do, waking up is supposed to be political. Me talking on the microphone is political. You know, and I know my role and I know my duty here as a Indigenous, empowered woman, right?
AMT: Lisa, what are your thoughts on this?
LISA JACKSON: Oh, I agree with both of those two.
LISA JACKSON: Sort of a little of both. No, in a way it's hard to imagine like, oh boy I'm tired of this, you know, Indigenous filmmaking thing, I think I'll just, maybe I'll get a marketing job or something, you know.
MANY VOICES: [laughing]
LISA JACKSON: It’s probably not going to happen, it's just such a driving force. So it's not something that's a real burden. It does take a toll and I think I've always felt, just from a young age, that I would do something to contribute however you can. And when it comes to an issue like this, it's daunting and you sometimes feel like how can I. I have friends who work in film and they sort of do, I don't know, rom coms or something like that. And when they look at what I do they say, well, how can you, that's such a responsibility, what if you get it wrong? And I'm like well what if I do nothing? You know, that would be worse. So you just have to do what you can.
NY: That's part of The Current’s public forum on missing and murdered Indigenous women recorded this week in Vancouver. The focus was on how the media, from journalists to artists, tackle these stories. Tune in next Wednesday to hear the full conversation. And a reminder that you can check out The Current’s previous specials from town halls recorded in Prince George, in Winnipeg on the program's website cbc.ca/thecurrent. You can also view the virtual reality documentary Highway of Tears online or on our app. The instructions are on our site.Back To Top »
Canadian news industry at crisis point, suggests new report
Guests: Edward Greenspon
NORA YOUNG: I'm Nora Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM.
VOICEOVER: Fake news has become a global crisis. How do we as Canadians fight back? By producing more trustworthy journalism and holding the powerful accountable. But Canada gets only a trickle of the online ad revenue that real journalism needs in order to compete. The rest goes to global giants supporting a flood of click bait and other unreliable content. We're getting less verified news just when we need it most. Canadians are noticing a decline of investigative reporting and less accountability among powerful interests. Yet we're no longer supporting news organizations and the journalists who uncover the truth and protect our democracy. How do you ensure your news is really news?
NY: The increasingly sorry state of the news media in Canada has been a story for years, albeit a slowly simmering one. And as layoffs, consolidations, closures and buyouts continue — there were more just this week — the news options available to Canadians have been shrinking. Now the authors of a new report on the state of our media hope that the advent of fake news and the disruptive impact it had on the US election might finally wake Canadians up to the way in which a declining media can lead to a deteriorating democracy. The report by the Public Policy Forum is titled The Shattered Mirror, and it does include some real suggestions for the way ahead. Edward Greenspon is the Public Policy Forum's president and CEO. His three decade career in journalism included Editor-in-chief at The Globe and Mail. And he's with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
EDWARD GREENSPON: Hi, good to be here.
NY: So as a former journalist who started out in small community newspapers, what struck you as you were researching the report?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, you know, the degradation of the media, and the level of it was quite striking. We estimate that probably one third of journalism jobs have been lost in the last six years. That's a hard number to get and we put that together through various unions giving us their bargaining unit sizes and extrapolated from there. So, you know, if you lost one third of journalism jobs on a single day, that would be very striking to you. But you have a little bit of, you know, the famous boiling frog syndrome here.
EDWARD GREENSPON: If you turn up the heat very slowly, very slowly, you know, when does the crisis occur? And we believe the crisis has occurred. The traditional media does not have the kind of reporting muscle on the ground that it used to. I was very hopeful that the new digital media operations would pick up that slack, and a lot of them are trying and they're doing creative things. But none of them can scale appropriately to have enough journalistic firepower as well. And then as you know, as in your clip, I was really struck how much revenue, I mean, in one quarter last year 82.4 per cent of all the digital ads served in Canada were served by Facebook and Google.
EDWARD GREENSPON: And all the Canadian publishers and broadcasters together only accounted for 11.5 per cent of the ads. That's going to lead to a weakening journalism system.
NY: Yeah, so what is the state of the media industry mean for Canadian democracy?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, that was, you know, totally our focus. You know, we started from the premise that we're not here to save a business model that might be failing. We're not here to say specific companies, we're here to make sure that democracy is well served. And democracy is not being well served as we're accustomed to. There is less information, there's less investigation, there's less analysis, there’s less accountability. To some extent, and you mentioned me starting in a small town newspaper in Lloydminster on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, you know, today city halls get covered less, school boards get covered less, legislatures get covered less. The Parliamentary Press Gallery doesn't have the robust coverage it did. But it's still actually an institution with a lot of journalists working the streets and working the other precincts of Parliament Hill. But down a level on two levels, where democracy also needs to be very alive and very robust, that's where you have the problem and that gap isn't getting appropriately filled.
NY: Can we talk about the whole fake news thing? We've just come out of the US election cycle rife with fake news. What are some of the things you saw play out during the election that illustrates some of the concerns here?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Yeah, well, you know, we started getting concerned about this in our analysis in June, July, we were paying some attention to filter bubbles and this phenomena. And, you know, it's hard, if people are going to get news from algorithms that reinforces their views of the world and never challenges their views of the world, you know, even in the real news part of it, before we get to the fake news, you know, that's problematic. So I think you have three problems. One, there's less genuine news. Two, people are being put into filter bubbles and, you know, the difference between an echo chamber and a filter bubble in my mind is an echo chamber you choose to in with likeminded people, a filter bubble chooses you and you don't really see it. And then the third problem of course, is that either for profit or for political malevolent reasons, people are polluting the otherwise wonderful democratizing agent called the internet, with all kinds of things that are not trustworthy. And people are confused.
NY: On that topic of filter bubbles, there's the story of Caitlin from Alabama. I wonder if you could just tell me that story. It’s very Illustrative of what you’re saying.
EDWARD GREENSPON: Yeah. You know, I met the woman who was Caitlin, who is a former CBC journalist, now living in the United States. And she told me the story of, you know, she said I felt I was living a left liberal filter bubble and I wanted to understand the Trump supporters, this was last September. And so I created a persona on Facebook named Caitlin from Hoover, Alabama, who worked in T-Mobile and I didn't give her very much, and I signed up for one site. Caitlin signed up for one site, which was Alabama for Trump. And she thought she was going to get kind of the alternative right wing universe to her left wing universe factually based, but coming at it with different angles. Then instead she got junk. She got, you know, Hillary and Bill Clinton have murdered 44 people since the 1970s, Hillary Clinton suffers from a series of disorders that included syphilis and seizures constantly, she wears these sunglasses to prevent seizures, they found ballots marked for Hillary in an Ohio warehouse showing that she was going to cheat in the election. And she found it very disorienting really.
NY: Mmhmm. So let's talk solutions. Your report recommends 100 million dollars in federal spending to fund journalism. So can you tell me more about what you're proposing here?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Yeah, you know, I think there's a couple of things that are very easy and a couple of things that are a little bit more complex. The easy ones are things like, you know, the way that GST works in Canada and the way sales taxes tend to work in the world is taxes are paid in the country where services are sold and not in the country it's received. So therefore, the upshot of that is that the large international sellers of advertising or subscriptions in Canada don't pay GST, the foreign firms do not pay GST, but the Canadian ones do. That seems to me a terribly unfair penalty on the Canadian firms. About 30 countries have corrected that already, Canada has not. Having philanthropy participate in journalism and supporting journalism has done in many countries in Canada the rules are very cloudy and that inhibits that. The more complex things that I think are at the heart of the report is trying to find a way, and I think we've put the needle through the middle here, try to find a way that you can create a pool of funds that will support journalism and support digital innovation while making sure that government stays away from it. Because, you know, the industry is different from all other industries in needing to have distance from government. And we think we did that with reforms to a long serving section of the income tax act that's meant specifically for the news media. And this creates a fund that would be paid as a 10 per cent levy by companies that earn money in Canada off digital advertising but don't put anything back into journalism. And we think that would produce three or 400 million dollars a year from the industry, not from government.
NY: Right. I want to play you a clip. This is Tom Henheffer, the Executive Director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
We've got to be extremely careful about it because if the government, depending on how things go, this create a huge chill in the news industry, if people are dependent on government handouts and they're afraid that if they report negatively on the government then they won't get their cash any more, that's a huge problem. But I think that steps can be taken to prevent that from happening. And I think it's important in Canada that we have some kind of fund, even if it's purely from charitable sources, that can go into upstart journalism.
NY: Tom Henheffer says there's a risk that government involvement could create a chill in the industry. What do you think about that?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Yeah, no, I think if the government was, you know, a lot of people are suggesting tax credits, the government should give tax credits to media companies for instance. I think that would create a chill. I think if the government keeps going back, you know, that's not a great thing. And that's why we tried to design something that's independent of the money coming in and independent on the granting council going out. Having said that, the CBC seems to be fairly independent, you know, Maclean’s Magazine receives, you know, millions of dollars a year, you know, a million and half dollars a year or so from the Canadian Periodical Fund from the government. I don't think it's impaired it's a sense of independence. So it's a matter of how you design it and how you keep it distant from government. And we've kept this more distant from comment than the CBC or the Canadian Periodical Fund for instance are.
NY: Two of your recommendations are specifically involving CBC. One suggests distributing CBC journalism for free under a Creative Commons license. So what's the thinking there?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, the thinking is that, you know, we need to begin to explore what a CBC looks like truly in a digital age, in a digital age in which you've got a lot of fake news coursing through the system. So CBC News is verifiable news, it’s news that’s been produced professionally, it's high quality news. CBC has already made the decision that its news will go out of its own distribution channels, it goes on Facebook, it goes on YouTube. So why don't we start perhaps with the non-profits, who are trying to move their way uphill and say OK, you can have access to more content, and CBC content will be seen more and actually probably seen by different demographic groups as well. So it's a way to get CBC out there because there is no real solution to this without the CBC. But you have to proceed very cautiously, because you could sideswipe other news organizations doing a good job by the same time. So, you know, we say let's start with the not for profits.
NY: Your report also recommends that CBC remove digital advertising, and the CBC has described this as a half measure, because the CBC is in fact calling for an increase in funding by 12 dollars per Canadian in exchange for getting rid of advertising on all platforms. So what are your thoughts about that?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Yeah, well, you know, this half measure was kind of a 200 per cent measure two months ago before the CBC shifted its position on this. So, you know, the CBC is saying that it should get out of digital advertising. it’s also saying I should get out of TV advertising, it’s saying it should be compensated for that. We're saying digital advertising is the one that really affects news. Digital advertising is the one that creates incentives towards click bait and sort of gets you out of the mindset of the serious news that's needed and the serious news that CBC is very good at it. So we're saying let's get out of there to start with. There's bigger questions around television but those questions actually really aren't questions that affect our agenda, our mandate, which is how we can make sure we have good quality news that holds democracy accountable, and creates a trustworthy system. Other people can look at the television issue.
NY: So just very briefly, what do you hope to see come out of this report? What’s next?
EDWARD GREENSPON: Well I hope to see change. I mean, I think that like that boiling frog, I think, you know, we've hit the point where damage is being done to the coverage of our democracy. And it may not be completely obvious to people until after we see the damage really wrought. I'd rather not wait till that point. So I think the government, the federal government, I think is interested. I think they're, you know, seized by the issue and I think the fake news that was in the US election campaign has really doubled their concern. So I'm hoping these recommendations will be taken seriously. I think they will be taken seriously. And all we're trying to do is really sort of supercharge the public debate about this.
NY: Edward, thanks so much for joining us.
EDWARD GREENSPON: Thank you.
NY: Edward Greenspon is President and CEO of the Public Policy Forum, and author of the report The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age. We'll post a link to it at our website at cbc.ca/thecurrent. And Edward Greenspan was in our Toronto studio. And that's our program for today. And remember, you can always take The Current with you on the CBC Radio app. It's free from the App Store or Google Play. And finally, after our discussion about the impact of YouTube and its future, we thought we would go out with some music from the number one most viewed YouTube video of all time. But who could stand to hear a Gangnam Style by Psy again. Instead, here's the number four video of all time on YouTube, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. I’m Nora Young, thanks for listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
[Music: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars]
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.