Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hardball for the cameras?

So our Prime Minister has suddenly started playing hardball with Uncle Sam, just before Auntie Rice showed up.

"This is a relationship that is deep and broad and good," said (U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice.

"It is important not to speak in apocalyptic language about this issue. It is a trade dispute. Frankly, I think we'll get through it."


Martin has been talking tough lately on the issue of softwood lumber, saying Canada has already won and that the $5 billion is not negotiable.


With an election just around the corner, I'm just not convinced that Martin actually means any of this. I wonder how the conversation went with Rice over dinner, behind closed doors. I wouldn't be too surprised if it went along the lines of, "Condi, I'm sorry, please bear with me. I've just go to win this election."

I've just been part of a few scrums with Martin, all of which took place after closed door affairs. All I can say is that I know that the statements made by the Prime Minister haven't always been a true characterization of what actually took place behind the closed doors.

Who knows what really happened over dinner. Maybe he was so angry that he barely looked up. Or perhaps they discussed how to win elections. Maybe I'm absolutely wrong and they did nothing but talk serious business.

I just wouldn't be surprised if we're being taken for a ride here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's a matter of trust

So you wanna be a crime reporter, huh?
Well pay attention, because the following is a public service announcement, just for you.

Today, some J School students at Concordia University, received a humorous and insightful lecture on crime reporting, from two people in the know.

Pat, is an 18 year veteran of the Montreal police force. Her first 11 years were spent as a patrol officer, and now she is assigned to Community Relations. Dave, is the editor for a Montreal community paper, and he has been a crime reporter for 13 years. He told the audience, "If you can report on crime, you can report on anything."
By that he meant that the subtle nuances and details, that are inherent in crime reporting, can, and will, trip up any reporter. Be you a seasoned vet or a wet-behind-the-ears newbie, you're going to mess up. The key is how well you handle the aftermath of your mistake, and the resiliency of the relationships you cultivated with the police. If you can handle these deftly, honestly, and with the care and respect they deserve, then you should be able to report on absolutely anything.

Trust is a component of any relationship, and it is paramount in a journalist/law enforcement partnership. If a journalist sensationalizes a crime story, or makes the police look bad, then that journalist is going to suffer the severest of consequences - the freeze out!

The police won't return your calls. They won't feed you information. They won't assist you in the future. You'll be blacklisted by the force. In short, you'll become a pariah. So don't cheese them off! If you do, and you were hired as a crime beat reporter, how long do you think you'll be gainfully employed? Obvious to be sure, but keep reminding yourself of those facts.

Dave gave some helpful guidelines to follow;

1) You've heard the expression - You never get a second chance to make a good first impression? Yeah, well don't slouch with these guys, because the first contact is key.

2) Know what you're going to ask, before you call the police. They have neither the time nor the patience for "dead air" - Be prepared, and don't waste their time.

3) Descriptions of people are only printed if the police are looking for someone. (Manhunt, Missing persons, Abductions)

4) PAY ATTENTION!! Ask a ton of questions, because the more information you have, the less likely you'll miss something. Also, a small detail in your initial interview may actually loom large later on. As Dave said, "You can never tell what may become important later."

During Dave's talk, Pat gave knowing smiles and nods of agreement. She also added some tips of her own;

1) Don't ever give the police the, "I'm on a deadline." schtick. Guess what? So are they! Your deadline is not their deadline.

2) Phone them well in advance of your deadline. Let them feel like they're in control of the situation. You'll have a better chance of getting your valuable information that way, no guarantee mind you, but a much better chance.

3) After your initial call (personal visit, or phone call), wait for them to contact you. You're not the only person on a tight schedule, so give them the time to respond that they need.

A crime reporter has to cultivate trust with the police community, and years of effort can evaporate in the blink of an eye, if for but a single instance of carelessness. As Pat mentioned, so eloquently, when describing a journalists appeal to the police,

"Credibility is all you really have."

Journalists are cocky...continued

Here's lyrics to a great singer-songwriter from Hawaii - Jack Johnson. A few of his songs talk about media and reporters.. Here's a good one that demonstrates what I was saying in the previous post - people are weary of journalists...

Bad News

A billion people died on the news tonight
But not so many cried at the terrible sight
Well momma said
It's just make believe
You can't believe everything you see
So baby close your eyes to the lullabies
On the news tonight

Who's the one to decide that it would be all right
To put the music behind the news tonight
Well momma said
You can't believe everything ya hear
The diagetic world is so unclear
So baby close your ears
On the news tonight
On the news tonight
The unobtrusive tones, on the news tonight

And momma said, mmmmmmm
Why don't the news casters cry when they read about people who die?
At least they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eyes

Momma said
it's just make believe
You can't believe everything ya see
So baby close your eyes to the lullabies
On the news tonight

Really, why don't we cry when the news is sad?? We are only human...

Journalists are cocky

Well, well. it seems, according to the Columbian Journalism Review and a US Gallup poll, us journalists think we are pretty snug, and have it all figured out. It seems public opinion differs.

Gallup estimates only 23 per cent of the public thinks TV reporters as having "high or very high" ethical standards. Print writers, fare out much worse, with only 21 per cent thinking of them as ethical. Yikes!

The CJR asked a four question to the public, then to journalists. Here are CJR's questions and the results.

1. In presenting the news dealing with political and social issues, do you think that news organizations deal fairly with all sides, or do they tend to favor one side?

68 per cent of the public says journalists favor one side. On the other hand, only 18 per cent of journalists think they are biased (77 per cent think they deal fairly with all sides).

2. In general, do you think news organizations are pretty independent, or are they often influenced by powerful people and organizations?

62 per cent of the public thinks news is too influenced by powerful organisations, compared to 37 per cent of journalists.

3. In general, do you think news organizations get the facts straight, or do you think that their stories and reports are often inaccurate?

Only 54 per cent of the public thinks that journalists get the facts straight. Journalists, say they are better, with 73 per cent claiming that news is accurate.

4. In general, do you think news organizations pay too much attention to good news, too much attention to bad news, or do they mostly report the kinds of stories they should be covering?

60 per cent of people do not like the focus on bad news, compared to 27 per cent of journalists who think the same.

This has led me to think: are we journalists so out of touch with reality, creating news that we forget about the real, larger picture?

Why are why so dislike and not trusted by the public?

I always think that being a journalist, I need to be fair, to get my facts straight, not take sides (not always easy in touchy situations) and respect the people I am interviewing. I had only one experience of someone telling me that she didn't trust journalists, so she wouldn't tell me certain things. I felt hurt because I was not the journalist who did her wrong, I am an entirely different person. I guess it's like politicians - a few people are crooks or liars, and all politicians are labelled the same.

It's an issue of trust and by the looks of the poll conducted by CJR, no wonder people do not think of us highly. We are cocky about what we do, like we are some all-mighty voice, telling people what is news, what to think and how to react. If there is one lesson to be learned here, is that journalists should never think themselves as gods - we are only humans showing other people what people do.

And there was no sound

Today's news radio class was a disaster; we went to air with nothing but SILENCE.

Let me first explain the way the class works; twice a week, we are asked to produce, as a team (ranging from 5-8 people), a 15 minute newscast for radio. We are in the newsroom from 9am until the newscast goes to "air" (we're not really on the radio, but record the show as if we were) at noon.

We have been producing newscasts for the past few weeks - there are better ones than others. Mistakes happen, things don't go according to plan, the show is a little shaky, but it's part of the learning curve. Today, was by far, the most frustrating experience I've had yet.

I had the role of assignement editor today, essentially deciding what goes to air, how and who will do it. Not an easy job, I must say. Today, we had, I belive, a great lineup of stories: Story of a Canadian that just came back after being stranded in Cancun after WIlma hit / Concordia teachers asking for better equity / Streeter on Rosa Park's death / Debrief on why students over 25 cannot get transport rebates for the bus and metro / Report on why English schools are so empty...etc.

Essentially, things were going great - I checked up on everyone a few times during the morning, gaging where people where at with their stories. Everyone told me, things are coming along - I'll be ready. Some even asked me for a little more time. I tried to accomodate as much as I could. 11;30 rolled around, time where ALL scripts should be on the table for the announcers to look over - there was only 2 or 3 stories. Things started to unravel....11:45am - our biggest story (the hurricane survivor interview) was not ready, the editorial was being written on the fly, the printer was going crazy, the debrief wasn't ready....Panic set in...

11:55 - I tell everyone - there is 5 minutes to air - Announcers, grab whatever is on the table, and go. But noon came and music for the intro played....onto dead air. Oh it was dreadful! I felt like a complete failure, not having been able to lead the group to create, what couls have been a great newscast.

Everyone's news piece was potentially great - and al of it was wasted by not going to air. We worked our butts off for 3 hours and then, nothing.

The teacher, was obviously furious. I can't blame him. I take this class as the real deal - if this were my job, I would have been fired for what happened today, not doubt about it.

So what happened?

A few things: 1. one person, in charge of lineup editing, never showed up to class today (???) 2. People assuring me that everything was ok - they were going to produce their piece. I never felt so helpless, not being able to put something on air because they were still working on it. 3. People constantly asking to change the length of their piece - after times have been pre-established so everyone gets their time on air.

Now, I am as much to blame for the disaster as anyone else. Should I have given this big story to my announcer, when she should have focused on copy stories? Why didn't I prepare the headline / weather sheet / intro - extro right from the start? Should I have forced people to submit somethign for 11:30am or threaten to cut the story altogether?

To be sure, this is a group effort, as much as it is a group failure - we are all somehow responsible for making the castle crumble. I am upset that all this work was "wasted", but I know I am learning from my mistakes - better now than to get fired on my first job!

The teacher was harsh, yes, but as journalists, we must be able to take criticism. If hundreds, or thousands of people will read, listen to or watch our reports, it is in the public eye for dissection. People will remember your mistakes. Let's just hope one of my mistakes will never lead to dead air actually happening at a TV or radio newsroom. My reputation and credibility is on the line.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Have you tried turning it off?

Last week, Montreal Gazette columnist Josh Freed wrote a hilarious column about technology and our inaptitude in understanding it.
He says, "technology is now so complex that no one knows how anything works except for Stephen Gawkins and Bill Gates." He isn't kidding.

I might understand the basics of computers and how to work my VCR, but even that is becoming a challenge. How many of our grandparents know how to record a show? Use a CD player? Even our parents are sometimes baffled at new technology.

Freed then goes on to say that no one knows how to fix anything anymore. He's right; what is most people's response to a frozen computer? Have you tried re-booting it? How many clocks or VCRs have the time flashing indefinitely because we have no idea how to set them?

Everything is computerized, to our detriment. Some teachers in high school were adamant to let us use calculators for everything - I remember our math class in Secondary 4 and 5; it was so complex, it took several classes just to figure out the basics. Even after that, I knew more than the teacher, because I read the manual and fooled around with the various functions. Teachers tought we would forget to count for ourselves. They were right. Do most people remember their multiplication and division tables from grade school? What's 9 x 12? 14 +8? Without counting on your figures now...

I always take notes during interviews with a good old pen and paper. Darcy was asking me, "why don't I use a recorder?" I said, "no thanks. I like to write, plus it's more natural when talking to someone." Poor person is already being interrogated by me, why stick a mic in his face when it's not needed?

Do I miss out on good quotes? No - I listen, I take note of what is important, the inflection of a person's voice. Plus, I don't want to go back and listen to the entire interview again; I know straight away which quotes I'll use and they are already on paper. Also, there is no chance I will erase my interview, forever loosing valuable information. Sure, I can drop my drink on my notes, but hey, I'm no slob! lol

Technology is driving our everyday lives - when electricity shuts off, people srambled, they are bored. People would rather pick up a computer and read from it, than read a book.

I admit - I am addicted to technology. I am one of many who must check their e-mails at least once a day, use my cell phone, watch TV, Google everything I research. Technology in its various ways is driving my life.

Excuse me now, while I Google my next assignement topic - I can't remember how to use the index in an encyclopedia...uh oh...