Votermedia at UBC

6 minutes
New strategy for media reform: Let voters allocate public funds to competing blogs. University of British Columbia students started testing this in 2007. They describe how this system “… far surpassed any of anyone’s expectations.” We plan to spread this to larger democracies — municipal, national etc — and corporations.


[We’ve shortened the name from “voter funded media (VFM)” to “votermedia” — reasons here.]

Mark Latham – Founder, is a website that helps a community connect with its elected leaders, by letting voters allocate community funds to competing blogs. It motivates the bloggers to become community media. In this video, students at the University of British Columbia talk about how votermedia has helped their student union, which is called the Alma Mater Society, or AMS. [Insert: Photo by Gerald Deo – Matt Naylor blogging re AMS Elections Results, 2009-02-04]

Alex Lougheed – AMS VP Academic 2008-2009; Blogger, UBC Insiders:

It’s been about four years with the project. I was involved on AMS Council when Mark first came to us with this idea, that he really wanted to get off the ground. At the time we figured, hey, this is a great idea, we’ll give it a shot, it’s not going to cost that much, it’s not a big deal. If it fails, it fails; if it succeeds, it succeeds. And it far surpassed any of anyone’s expectations.

Jason Ng – Blogger, Social Capital: 

I think one of the challenges that UBC has always been dealing with over the past few years is: You’ve got a campus of 45,000 students; that’s enough for a pretty big town. And everyone has different interests, everyone’s from all kinds of places, and it’s hard to bring that community together. And voter funded media has helped start that. It’s helped bring together students that were not interested, necessarily, in student politics before. And helped them realize that a lot of the issues that affect UBC go beyond students who have a direct interest in politics, and really affect all the students that are part of the community for the years that they’re here. And [votermedia] has helped start that and helped generate a greater interest. I think we’re seeing that reflected through better voter turnout, through better attendance at voter-related events. That hasn’t happened before in previous years, partly because of the support that voter funded media has provided. [Insert: Photo by Mark Latham – AMS Elections Debate, 2007-01-22]

Justin McElroy – Coordinating Editor, The Ubyssey, 2010-2012: 

…in terms of creating a conversation though, on campus, I think that that’s what [voter media] really do well. It allows it that if you do care or if you want to care about what’s happening, with your student government, with the provincial government, with the UBC administration, there are lots of people talking about it, there are a lot of views there, and it’s easy to quickly find a lot of people from different perspectives who want to engage you, and want to discuss the pros and cons of different situations. And regardless of where you stand, that’s good.

Alex Lougheed – AMS VP Academic 2008-2009; Blogger, UBC Insiders:

… having those eyes going towards a student voice that’s well informed, has been instrumental, not only as a tool for student governments to get their message across, but also as a tool for the student body to get their message across to the student governments.

Matthew Naylor – AMS Votermedia Committee: 

[Votermedia] has been able to not only democratize the mediasphere of campus life, but also has been able to engage more people in the process itself, because more people know what’s going on, more people around the council table know what’s going on, executives know better what they’re doing, and how their portfolios are being viewed by the campus population. And more members-at-large have gotten involved. [Insert: Photo by Mark Latham – AMS Council, 2010-07-10]

Alex Lougheed – AMS VP Academic 2008-2009; Blogger, UBC Insiders:

So it’s not uncommon for [voter media] to partner with student governments. I know that during my year on student government, Neal Yonson of UBC Insiders [a votermedia blog], was often around our offices, in particular working with the AMS President at the time, Michael Duncan, over UBC’s athletics fees. Neal is someone who really cares about athleticism on campus, and in particular how expensive it was, and UBC had the most expensive rates in Canada compared to similar universities. So what Neal did is, he started writing stories about it. He started doing some research. He gathered the numbers, right? And Mike Duncan, who was the President at the time, was talking to him about these numbers, trying to assist in the advocacy. And as a result we had this kind of joint approach. You would have Mike Duncan in committee meetings speaking with university officials, presenting them with data and information that Neal investigated for the blog, for the [voter media]. Neal would then turn around, and they would talk, and they would be like, well we have this information, this is what these people have been saying, well let’s bring it to the public eye, let’s post it onto the blog. So what you saw at the end of the day was UBC virtually eliminated all of its athletics fees, and that couldn’t have been done without Neal through the [voter media], and it couldn’t have been done without Mike working within student government. [Insert: UBC Insiders – A Brief History of Athletics, 2008-10-24]

Isabel Ferreras – AMS Elections Administrator 2010: 

During my time as elections administrator, I received multiple emails from other universities asking about how they could get [votermedia] started at their own establishments, which is a really positive thing, I think, because UBC’s setting an example. Voter apathy is something that exists among all universities I think to some extent, at least in Canada this is what I’ve heard. So finding a new accessible way, a really easy way to get students interested in the issues that go on at their own universities, I think is always a positive thing. And it increases engagement. It increases perhaps student pride in their own universities, or maybe not, but depending on the events. But I think it’s up to UBC to really set an example and provide guidance to these other institutions. So if people are interested, they should really contact us. So, for example, there’s a movement at U Vic [University of Victoria] I know to get this started. And I’ve also heard things from University of Calgary, so that’s just an example. [Insert: Photo by Gerald Deo – AMS Electoral Debates, 2009-01-27]