Thursday, November 03, 2005

Guest post: Editorial disagreement

Below is an article written by Concordia journalism student Maggie Scott which, to her surprise, didn't run in the Concordian, one of two English-language Concordia student papers, as expected. Maggie is the Production Manager at the paper. Her thoughts follow the unpublished piece.

Some of the issues raised: Judging newsworthiness and editors with potential conflicts of interest.

- S.H.

Students leave Centaur Theatre unamused

Artistic director a no-show due to "miscommunication";
Make-up session scheduled

Maggie Scott
Special to the POD

Concordia journalism students were left waiting and wondering following a production of Condoville on Sunday afternoon when Gordon McCall, artistic director of the Centaur Theatre, did not appear for a scheduled talk-back session.

Seventy-eight students were in attendance, expecting to have a one-on-one meeting with McCall and when he did not appear, many of them felt confused and upset.

"It's like he didn't think we were important enough to show up. I think he disappointed a lot of students and it disrupted our class," said journalism student Melissa Gendron.

The students had been required to pay $15 to attend the play. They were expected to
come to class the following day prepared with material gathered from speaking with McCall.

"I didn't find it was very respectful unless there was a valid reason. As a director you have to be able to show up when expected," said Nila Jinnah, another journalism student who attended the play.

McCall was away in Australia at the time the arrangements were made for the talk-back and apologized for what he thought to be a mix-up.

He said he was out of town last weekend which was why he was not in attendance to meet with students.

The arrangements had been made between Linda Kay, a professor in the Journalism Department, and Kika Armata, the Centaur's public relations representative.

According to Kay, arrangements for this event had been planned since July and as of October 5, an email from Armata confirmed that everything was still a go.

But on the day of the play, it seemed to be a different story.

Kay said she was unable to locate Armata when she arrived at the theatre and was told by staff that she wasn't there. "That's when I started to get concerned," Kay said.

After the play had finished, the cast was invited back out on stage to do a talk-back with the audience. It was unexpected and students appeared to be unsure whether or not this was what they were there for. Even the professors were confused.

"What really made me think that it wasn't for our class was that everyone was invited, not just Concordia students," Kay said. The understanding was that only Concordia students would get to be involved in the talk-back and only with McCall, not the whole cast. The session went quickly, moderated by Kika Armata, and during the 15 minutes, only two students were able to ask questions.

Afterward many students stayed behind, still not sure if they were going to have a chance to speak to McCall and Kay said when she went to find Armata, she was told Armata had left the theatre.

"I find it really strange that the PR person left the theatre, especially when she knew there was going to be a group of 80 people coming," Kay said.

The Centaur Theatre's program states: "We're proud to be the theatre that puts Montreal first, with our plays, with our artists, with our community animation, and with you." The reaction of staff and students at the theatre on Sunday spoke otherwise.

"I was left feeling frustrated, for me, the profs and the students. I was disappointed. If I'd known it was just going to be the cast I could have prepared the students," Kay said.

Both Gordon McCall and Kika Armata have apologized for what they say was a miscommunication, and have offered to arrange a Q&A for the journalism students. No apology was given at the time of the play because the theatre said it didn't know McCall was expected.

"The issue was not addressed at the time because we were unaware that there ever was an expectation that Gordon be there," said Armata.

Arrangements are now being made for McCall to speak at the department's weekly Tuesday conference in early November.

"I want him to know that he's welcome here to speak to our students, and I'm glad that he's coming; that he's making an effort to make this right," said Kay.


So, after that incident at the theatre I was encouraged by my professor, Bob Babinski, to look into the issue further. I informed both our news editor and my editor-in-chief that I was working on it, and got encouragement from both of them. It seemed like a relevant story, and one that would run in the news section of The Concordian that week. Being production manager there and having a lot of involvement, it didn't occur to me that the story would not run.
But it didn't. On Tuesday, our production day, I spent an intense morning and afternoon doing school work, and then rushed home to write and send the article to my news editor for deadline. Both Linda Kay, who I had interviewed, and Bob had received the article by email and
had given me positive feedback.

When I arrived at the office that evening, my editor-in-chief pulled me aside. She told me she couldn't run the story because she and two of our other editors felt it wasn't newsworthy enough. She said that it applied to only a small group of students and that it painted the Centaur Theatre in an unnecessarily bad light. She didn't feel the article was up to the level of other stories in the section.

I disagreed, but respected her decision.

One thing that bothered me, and which I feel was a large part of her feelings about the issue, was that she used to work at the Centaur Theatre and knows the people involved. I couldn't really argue with her decision, but I also feel that it may have a lot to do with her not wanting to step on any toes.

Another thing that bothered me was that in that week's issue, we had two entire pages of CUP stories. My article, which was completely Concordia related, got bumped for CUP stories that were 'more newsworthy'? We use CUP to fill space when we don't have enough original content. It's not a bad thing, and it's good to include news from other universities, but Concordia should be our priority.

The following week in my Writing and Reporting class, Bob handed the article out to the class and had everybody read it. With the exception of one person, everyone who had something to say agreed that the article should definitely have been published.

It was pointed out that anything that happens at the school only ever affects a certain group of students, but that news is still published.

They felt it was an issue worth confronting, since many of the students were quite upset by McCall's absence, and felt the behavior from the Centaur was completely unprofessional.

One of my classmates said he could see where the choice to not run it came from, but still said it was ridiculous for my story to be bumped for CUP.

In the end, I felt good about the feedback I got and I still respect my editor's decision. I may not agree with her, but she's good at her job and I'm glad she didn't decide to run it just because I'm her friend and co-worker.

The experience was positive, and I enjoyed the writing the article, regardless of whether or not it got published.

As a result of my digging and questions posed to the Centaur, Gordon McCall has agreed to come and speak at next Tuesday's first year conference.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey - maggie's my neighbour! great to see you getting your content out there anyway.


4:45 PM  
Blogger Melanie Holubowski said...

Hey! NIce to have some contributors! Kepp 'em coming!

For the article, it's no a bad story. The only thing I believe was missing was a quote from the Centaur theater - a spokeperson, someone. If they declined to comment, maybe that should have been mentionned. This way, the story would be a little more balanced; people would get the sense that the J students were jipped by the experience and that McCall wasn't too cooperative.

I understand why the Concordian decided not to publish it; yes, it was a story affecting Concordia students, but who else than the journalism students will read about this?

A science student will most probably skip over such a piece (not that it's not good or newsworthy) - because people read the headlines first. If they feel they are not involved in the story, they will skip it. So an article about

I would most probably not have put the article in - considering the audience it pertains to. Most students will pick up the Concordian downtown...where journalism isn't even on students' radars.

It doesn't mean however that it didn't have an effect - as you said, McCall will come speak to you. Sometimes, I find that even if you don't get an article published, just because you stirred a few people, asked a few pointed questions, will be enough to make people move.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous wendy said...

i like the headline. "Students leave Centaur Theatre Unamused." How does one amuse a theatre? Do you tickle the theatre? Make bad puns until it cracks a grin?

I think I'll go down there and do my Christiane Amanpour impression. Maybe the Centaur will find me more amusing than the "students." Who knows?

Okay, okay. I'll stop now. :P

Seriously though, although the article itself was geared to a tiny fraction of the Conu student population, she nonetheless raises some pertinent questions about conflicts of interest that are bound to arise, in subtle and overt ways, throughout our careers.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Sikander said...

Students leave the Centaur Theatre in an unamused state, as opposed to students cause the Centaur Theatre to be unamused.

My fault. I should have chosen a better headline. :-)

12:46 AM  

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