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The Alberta PC leadership contest: Where are the media now that we need them?

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Here's a thought for your holiday Monday: Now that the federal election is over and the Progressive Conservative leadership race is again the most important political story in Alberta, where the heck did the media go?

In case you missed it -- and if you depend on conventional media for your news coverage, you likely missed it -- the leadership campaign is now under way.

There have been all-candidates' meetings in two Alberta towns, one near Whitecourt on May 18 and the other in Hinton on May 20. Both times, all six declared candidates bothered to show up: Doug Griffiths, Doug Horner, Gary Mar, Ted Morton, Rick Orman and Alison Redford. So, obviously, they thought it was important.

But the reaction from the people who have the resources to cover this important story properly? Zzzzzzzzz…. Indeed, it hasn't registered at all, apparently.

There's something wrong with this picture. With six interesting candidates in the race, every one of them capable of doing the job at least as well as the premier they are trying to replace -- and at least three more reputed to still be considering a run -- there should be plenty of media interest in what's certain to be an important and sometimes exciting story.

You'd never know it from the half-hearted coverage the contest has received since the federal election campaign ended. What happened at those two all-candidates meetings, for example? One seems to have been covered only by the editor of a subscription-only legislative newsletter, the other only by a local radio station.

Maybe the media's waiting to be sure that all the candidates who are going to run are in the race.

Maybe they're suffering from post-federal-election political fatigue syndrome (PFEPFS, pronounced "peffipiss").

Maybe they've decided that with the selection not scheduled to take place until September -- or October if it goes to a second ballot -- it's just too soon for this story to be interesting.

However you explain the lacklustre news coverage, there’s no excuse for the profitable mainstream media operations on whom most Albertans still depend for their news just to abandon the field on a story that is already developing in important ways.

I say this not to take a cheap shot at the media -- though I confess I’ve been willing to do this from time to time and I expect I will do it again -- but because there's simply no point at which this leadership contest is not important.

After all, whoever wins will become the premier of Alberta. Notwithstanding what you've heard about the right-wing opposition, the winner will probably be the premier for a very long time. So anything the candidates say -- even at this early date -- is important to Alberta voters, who still have to depend on the mainstream media for most of their news.

Back in the day, major media companies would have sent out their B Teams to get stories like this that were important, but not quite yet on the front burner. Today, it's hard to shake the suspicion there is no B Team, and precious little left of the A Team.

There are limits to what bloggers and "citizen journalists" can do to fill the obvious gaps in media coverage in this province. They are not being paid for their efforts, after all, and frequently have to fill their days with real work. The candidates themselves, of course, will only be too happy to provide us with on-line "news" about their activities.

If Alberta's commercial media will not do their job, someone is going to have to come forward to do it.

British Columbia's Tyee has provided a model to the rest of Canada of how an on-line news source funded by progressive elements in society can be a success.

The coverage of the important Conservative leadership race -- or, rather, the lack of it -- illustrates one of several reasons why we need an on-line news source like The Tyee here in Alberta.

And just a suggestion: we should call it The Chinook.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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