Unsung Heroes: Mike Morrison & Emma Stevens

By Joshua Sealy-Harrington


For this edition of Law Matters, we are striving to explore the complex architecture of democratic processes that contribute to good governance. With that in mind, for our Unsung Hero column, I sat down with Mike Morrison and Emma Stevens — the Founder and Manager of Bloggity, respectively — to discuss the role that media plays in Canadian, and specifically Albertan, governance. Mike Morrison[1] is the author of Mike's Bloggity Blog[2] and the President of Bloggity, a modern media company that runs events for marketers and entrepreneurs across Canada. And Emma Stevens[3] is a public relations practitioner living and working in Calgary. As Manager at Bloggity, she leads events and content creation for the modern media company.

JSH: What does it mean to live in a city, a province, or a country, that has good governance?

MM: The line of good governance is constantly moving. Considering the SNC-Lavalin scandal, what Trudeau did isn’t great, but then, five days later what Scheer did with the Yellow Vests isn’t great either. It all depends on what the media decides gets attention. I’d like to think it means honesty, and setting a standard, but it always feels like it’s moving these days.

ES: Drawing a little bit from my experience working in communications for government, it’s really interesting what people think is good governance. Some people think good governance is doing what’s right for a city, no matter what it costs; other people think good governance comes down to fiscal responsibility. And sometimes those two things don’t jive.

JSH: What role does journalism — in the capacious sense — play in good governance?

MM: Social media has expanded the definition of journalism. Sometimes people call me a “journalist.” Sometimes people call me a “wannabe journalist.” But I’m neither! Please have a higher bar for journalism than Mike’s Bloggity Blog. I think I’m following the rules of journalism, that everything I’m saying is factual and comes from a researched point of view. But everything I’m doing is opinionated, so it has the slant of my opinion. Now, opinion columnists get the cover of the newspaper, which is so weird to me. The cover should be breaking headlines, not someone’s blog post. So what we consider good journalism is really changing. And now, more than ever, we are looking at the influence that owners of newspapers can have on their content. I don’t know that we considered that 10-20 years ago — how the owner of a newspaper would influence a newspaper, or an election, in a way that benefits them.

ES: There isn’t the same bar of trustworthiness that we use to have in journalism. We can’t gauge the relative importance of everything in our newsfeed. One question is, “what is good journalism?” Another is, “how are people interpreting good journalism?” I’m not sure everyone can distinguish the front page of the Herald and what’s in their news feed.

JSH: I agree. The advent of social media has brought pros and cons to journalism; it’s expanded the sources we are able to draw information from, but has also inundated us with information that is harder to manage and vet. It’s an interesting problem that social media platforms are struggling with now.

ES: I think an extension of that is the “echo chamber.” We surround ourselves with content we like, and the algorithms exacerbate this. So, I may never be exposed to “good journalism”; I’m just exposed to content that aligns with my views. It’s putting us in smaller circles and reinforcing our existing beliefs.

JSH: Is there a special role for relatively more informal sources of journalism (e.g., blogging, Twitter, Instagram) that is distinct from traditional journalism?

MM: For minorities — for a gay person like me — there’s not a single LGBTQ person hosting a television show in Canada. So social media has been able to give different people different platforms that traditional media doesn’t recognize. I was just looking at the Global News elections team profile and its literally all white, straight people. They are going to be covering an election which implicates LGBTQ rights and race issues. Can they contribute to the conversation in the same way as if they had a black reporter, or a gay reporter? Nothing I’ve done has been on purpose. I didn’t start a blog because I thought “finally my voice will be heard.” But I’ve come to realize that I would not have had the same opportunities I’ve had if I had just waited for traditional media to hire a gay, bald, 5’5 guy. So informal media lets people create their own audience, and find their own voice.

ES: What’s interesting, too, is the back-and-forth. What is important about social media — and your Twitter, Mike — is that, when you say something, someone can respond. It’s different from a headline. The story can evolve in a way traditional media can’t. People can participate.

JSH:  But a lot of people are critical of social media in a similar vein, because, for example, Twitter character counts promote reductive dialogue. What do you think about that?

ES: That’s so tough. I feel better after reading a Globe and Mail piece in full, than I do after reading a Twitter thread. I definitely trust it more.

MM: I think it’s funny that we call it “long reads” now. Ten years ago that was just the length of any story. Now, a long read means “it’s long, but it’s worth it.” Social media helps stories spread faster. I’m in Edmonton right now and there was a rally here yesterday for LGBTQ rights and that was organized in less than 24 hours and there was maybe over 1,000 people there. And if you had done that in print it wouldn’t have been the same. Social media helps you realize that other people think the same way as you.

ES: Part of it, too, is who consumes what type of media. The people reading the Herald are a particular demographic. So in terms of reach and access, if a paper wants to make money, they have to keep their subscribers happy. And I don’t think there are a lot of queer 16-year-olds getting their news from traditional news sources.

JSH: Is social media contributing to diminishing attention spans, and if so, is that impoverishing the depth and nuance of our conversations? Does that have implications for political discussion, and in turn, good governance?

MM: Absolutely. Someone can take my 140 characters to their dinner table without understanding what I said or interrogating whether what I said was accurate. In contrast, a newspaper has more vetting and nuance.

ES: A few years ago I started to think about: “What’s the next front page?” We used to think of the front page as the be all end all; you want to be on the front page. And now the front page doesn’t mean the same thing anymore. I think there is a need for a new front page; a new journalism with the accessibility of social media, and the integrity of more traditional outlets. Facebook is working on a project called the “Facebook Journalism Project” and it’s an important one. After the 2016 election, I called my mom and said: “It’s Facebook’s fault.” I knew there were Trump supporters, but I didn’t know how many there were.

JSH: What do you see as the future of social media, and its role in political accountability and governance?

MM: I’m still surprised that politicians get taken out with a bad tweet. We’ve had some candidates here in Alberta, and they’re not old tweets; some are from this year. I’m surprised people don’t realize that what they say online can come back to haunt them.

JSH: The implication being that you think politicians will be more circumspect in what they say online?

MM: I think both sides are very smart. There are people screen-grabbing homophobic and racist things “just in case.” And potential candidates are screened for social media history. So, it just depends on who gets there first. Both sides are trying to outsmart social media, but eventually we’re going to have candidates stop saying things altogether, and then we won’t know where they stand at all, which is not a great place to be. We had a candidate here in Calgary for whom four years of social media history was missing, and she was a prolific tweeter. We’re left asking: “Where did that go?”

ES: What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing on social media, is maybe not absolute transparency, but its close. She stands by what she says in chambers and in the streets. She carries herself the way she wants to be portrayed. I love following her. She gives her supporters so much great content to share. And I would love to see more politicians investing in transparency. AOC talks about how she spends all day speaking with constituents, not donors. And that alone, I think, is a great talking point, which she can stand by through her social media.

JSH: I find it interesting that you two have, in the span of five minutes, presented very different visions for the future of social media and governance. Mike has raised concerns about people being silent for fear of being confronted with what they’ve said, and you’ve raised how, to be seen as transparent, politicians will need to be routinely engaging with constituents through social media. I think you’re both right; I think both are going to happen.

MM: I think that’s right. We don’t know. If politicians are going to stop posting on Facebook and Twitter, the question then becomes, where are they going to post? And does that become a darker place that is even more of an echo chamber? Even for me, I’m very vocal. Sometimes people will screengrab me rather than retweeting me. But everything I say, I stand by. A few months ago I said something that was wrong, and the Reddit people who dislike me said: “Delete it! Delete it!” Instead, I replied to myself and added a correction and an apology. And when people asked why I didn’t delete it I said, if I delete it, then you’re going to criticize the deletion in a separate conversation. I’m trying to keep this to show the whole story.

JSH: Last question: What would you both recommend to Albertans who are considering greater participation in social media from the standpoint of politics and governance?

ES: I would say The Sprawl. It’s an independent journalism project. They’re issues-based rather than deliverable-based, and that allows them to focus on content rather than needing to keep readers and advertisers happy 24/7. They’re also great on social media. So I feel like The Sprawl is straddling that line between traditional and modern media really well. That said, I have to recognize my own bias, and The Sprawl, while it does produce non-biased content, is usually pretty progressive, and so am I.

MM: What Emma and I have been trying to do, with this Alberta election in particular, is to come up with ways that people can participate in social media, government, and elections that makes it feel safer. I don’t talk about the bad stuff that people say to me or have tried to do to me because I don’t want to scare people away. So, we have this thing called “Democracy Doughnuts,” where we will feed people doughnuts if they vote early. We are using social media to promote early voting, and to make it fun and instagrammable. We also have #OneThingForAlberta. I support Rachel Notley, and so every day I tweet one thing that you can do that is free and easy to support her. And then we are doing #DragOutTheVote, to get all the area drag queens to vote together; Emma even called Elections Alberta to ask them something they’ve probably never been asked before: “Can drag queens vote?” And they can vote in drag! So, while we are trying to get issues to the table, we are also trying to empower people in the political process.

ES: Politics used to be something you don’t talk about; you don’t talk about sex, money, or politics. And I’m more of the mind that you should talk about those things. You don’t need to talk about sex with everyone, but you should talk about it. And you don’t need to talk about money with everyone, but we should be comfortable talking about money. And — most importantly — we should be comfortable talking about politics. And I think social media gives people a chance to talk about politics. It’s a double-edged sword; people can be behind the keyboard and say whatever they want, but by that same token, they can be behind the keyboard and say whatever they want, and that can be a good thing for people who would be at risk otherwise.


Joshua Sealy-Harrington B.Sc., (UBC), J.D. (Calgary). Joshua is an LL.M. candidate at Columbia Law School, where he is a Fulbright Student and Law Society Viscount Bennett Scholar. He is a former Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court.