Yukon bloggers start flexing their muscle

The Yukon blogosphere has reached planetary status. Not only is the word on everyone’s lips, the territory is populated with bloggers…

The Yukon blogosphere has reached planetary status.

Not only is the word on everyone’s lips, the territory is populated with bloggers publishing their family photos, blow-by-blow accounts of how they brush their teeth and controversial political opinions.

And though blogs were once a niche corner of the internet, more and more Yukoners are now consuming every word Yukon bloggers publish.

“Eventually it makes its own little network,” says Geof Harries, a blogger who created  HYPERLINK "http://www.urbanyukon.com" www.urbanyukon.com, a popular portal that collects Yukon blog writing onto one webpage.

UrbanYukon currently features 28 Yukon bloggers, and continues to grow, with more than 3,000 hits per month.

“During election time, or when things are really heating up, it forms its own little news network of opinions and people talking,” says Harries. “It’s very informal, but it’s very dynamic.”

Blogs create a clash of ideas and opinions in cyberspace, which coalesce into an ongoing, always accessible conversation.

That conversation covers topics from whether the movie Borat is funny or racist to whether the Yukon’s latest economic figures are a boom — or a bust in disguise.

And the welcome mat for chatter allows once-stifled voices to add their thoughts, ideas and opinions to the zeitgeist.

That can create positive political change.

But in a tight-knit community like the Yukon, it can also result in negative and reactionary punishment.

Just talk to Fred Hutter.

Hutter’s wife, Evalina Zamana, was fired from her job at St. Elias School in Haines Junction because of comments that appear on her husband’s controversial blog  HYPERLINK "http://www.theyukon.tv" www.theyukon.tv.

Fitting the blogger mold, Hutter subversively posted the termination letter on his blog.

While many Yukon bloggers admit to worrying about a backlash for their opinions, there is a strange freedom created in the Yukon’s small-town atmosphere that seems to encourage blogging, too.

“I think the blog doesn’t really open people up to any more criticism than normal in the Yukon,” says Murray Lundberg.

Lundberg is a Carcross-based web techie who recently won a seat on the South Klondike Local Advisory Council, and who recently added a blog to his popular website, Explorenorth.com.

He uses the blog to write and rant about politics.

“So many people know what we’re saying anyway, so I don’t think that any of the things most of us are saying are anything new to people in the Yukon,” he says of blogging.

 “I have a feeling it’s in the nature of Yukoners” to blog, he says. “Our self-absorption takes off in a lot of different directions than it does in other places. There’s a lot of talk (on blogs) here about recreation, travel, the news of the day, rather than just about what I’m doing.

“Some people make it (a blog) a really personal statement. Others go into social commentary — and there’s a lot more of those social commentary types in the Yukon than in most places.”

Lundberg is “surprised” by the lack of negative comments about what he writes on his blog, he says.

But after calling the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse a “monument to stupidity” on his blog, he was banned from former mayor Ernie Bourassa’s website, which he had helped administrate for years.

Blogging pushes the boundaries of freedom of speech and political correctness.

Just ask Garth Turner, the independent MP for Halton, Ontario.

Recently, Turner was ejected from the Conservative Party caucus for the rebellious, tell-all comments about his party he wrote on his blog, www.garth.ca/weblog.

“I can tell you about consequences,” brags Turner of his recent ouster.

“If you’re a member of Parliament for the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, you’re supposed to believe and support what the government believes, but that’s not what most Canadians support,” he says. “So there’s friction. That’s what the internet is causing: sparks, a clash.”

Turner says his blog is a part of his persona as a politician. He spends every waking hour connected to the internet, either through a computer or his Blackberry, he says.

That constant connection allows him to tap popular sentiment about policies in a revolutionary way.

“We’re supposed to send representatives away to government, and for those representatives to decide what’s best for us,” he says.

“That’s the old model — based on the fact that all of us were just a bunch of ignorant farmers and we weren’t apprised of all the information in the world.

“The internet has changed all that,” he says.

“Never before has a man been able to Google — and a man who can Google is a powerful man. Instead of voting once every three or four years, we really have the ability to comment, constantly, on what’s going on,” he says.

“The internet poses a massive threat to the political establishment.”

Turner says his blog both saved him and led to his ouster.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the controversial appointment of former Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson to the Conservative party’s International Trade portfolio, Turner opposed it loudly on his blog.

“The PMO was ready to crucify me then, but I had so much support on my blog — it was just so phenomenally overwhelming — that I had public opinion behind me,” he says.

“That saved me — or extended my stay of execution, let’s say.”

Blogging is a new way for people to find information and then add their thoughts to the mix.

It therefore poses a threat to established forms of communication, like newspapers and television news, says Turner.

“The internet is instantaneous, one-on-one communications,” he says. “It’s not like a newspaper — a newspaper is kind of like the premier talking to all the people.

“But the internet is one-on-one; it’s you and your screen, it’s a much more intimate relationship that people have with the computer screen.

“When I blog, I use the ‘I’, it’s me talking to people, that’s what makes this such a powerful medium. It is a revolutionary kind of communications device.”

Turner’s ejection from the Conservative Party has become a touchstone for an emerging debate over the freedom bloggers should have to post whatever they like on the internet.

The debate isn’t going to go away.

Blogs have made people realize that they want to talk, and feel entitled to do so, says Harries.

And when that sentiment clashes with old conventions, there are sparks.

 “It speaks to a bigger sociological problem or issue,” he says of internet censorship. “As people learn to use their voices to talk more on the web, old laws that have been around forever become irrelevant. Are they adapting to that or are they trying to squash voices they can’t really squash?

“It just gives people a voice that they’ve never really had before,” says Harries.

Many feel those in authority who are threatened by the freedom of what’s said on blogs just don’t understand the potential power they offer.

Dawson City mayor John Steins apparently gets it.

Steins created the Dawson forum on  HYPERLINK "http://www.themayorsblog.com" www.themayorsblog.com, specifically to allow his town’s citizens to comment on political issues.

Yukon Party cabinet minister Archie Lang has a blog — www.marchforarch.blogspot.com

So too does recent NDP candidate Samson Hartland — http://hartland.blog.com.

And Lundberg uses his blog as a forum to hear comments from people in Carcross.

Turner has taken that concept to the next level, consulting with his supporters and detractors in real time.

 “Only smart MPs will have blogs; the dumb ones won’t,” says Turner.

 “Internet culture is changing by the minute. People need to work at this. But if they do, it is a supremely effective form of communication.

“Politicians will ignore it at the peril,” he says.

“I believe that more and more voting decisions will be based on online information.”

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