Monday, February 13, 2006

Craig Oliver....Come Back Anytime.

This afternoon a roomful of Concordia journalism students received a gem of a lecture.
Craig Oliver would probably groan at being called a lecturer, so let's call it a Q and A with a guest speaker in-the-know.

You can get all the particulars about his credentials yourself (Google it!), this will be a brief encapsulation about his visit.

He briefly spoke about his early days working in Winnipeg, and even mentioned that he didn't bother showing up for his first day of work - July 1, 1957.

It was afterall a national holiday.

He told the students that what the industry needs, and is looking for, are people who can think and make decisions. He thinks it's great that students are learning the technical aspects of filming and editing for broadcast, but he says those can be polished in-house, after you are hired.

In addressing a question concerning the recent uproar over published caricatures, in the media,
he says that you don't need to reproduce something just for the sake of reaffirming your freedom of speech. He went on to say that a journalist needs to excercise good judgment, and that notion of good judgement was a recurring theme throughout his dialogue.

He believes that there is a journalistic responsibility with regards to setting and following limits to our freedom of speech, and in the recent events regarding the Islamic caricatures, he feels Canadian media has, for the most part, handled it well.

In regards to covering politicians here at home, he says that politicians and the media need each other. The media is faced with the overwhelming communications machinery that is multi-layered, and designed to put the politicians in the best possible light.
The days of a Prime Minister hitting the campaign trail with only one media assistant, are long since past. Now, the political parties employ legions of spin doctors, personal assistants, and former journalists as frontpeople, and the outnumbered journalist has to way through this excess.
Meanwhile, the politicians risk being overexposed, and if they're too naive, or just not bright enough, then the "press gallery" will destroy them.

Wow, just imagine how woeful the ones that don't make it must be !?

He lightly touched upon how previous Prime Ministers have handled the media - Brian Mulroney was disasterously overexposed, and Pierre Trudeau was both theatrical and shrewd with his use of the media.

In today's political climate, Mr. Oliver believes mistakes are now blown all out of proportion, and that we don't allow people to make them. He does however see a distinct difference in how Canadian media covers the personal lives of politicians, as opposed to those of Australian and British media. In Canada, if a politcian's private life does not affect their executing their duties of office - then it has no place being publicized. He thinks the public would be amazed at the amount of information journalists have, about their public leaders, but if it has no bearing on their job functions, then the public doesn't need to know about their personal activities.

Simple enough...and very enlightened, given the nature of sensationalism we often see in the media forums of other nations.

Mr.Oliver feels that developing personal access to people, will make a world of difference in getting a story told, and in the world of broadcast, a story told is a timely story.

Approaching half a century in news reporting has not diminished this man's enthusiasim for this country. He is wildly optimistic about it's future, and told the student audience that they were very fortunate to be their age, in this country. He punctuated this thought by saying;

"There's no stopping this country!"

He is also surprisingly positive about his dealings with politicians in general;

"The system lies...not the individual."

Many people will be surprised to learn that Craig Oliver is legally blind.
He can see shapes and colours, but can't read or make out details. He says he wasn't always handicapped in this way, and doesn't recommend starting a broadcast career in this condition.

He broke the audience up with his recounting of his Bureau Chief days (17 years) where he spent hours, "...barking out orders at empty chairs."
He once had a meeting with an MP....and thought it was another MP!!!
That admission also brought the house down.

Because he is unable to read off a teleprompter, he ad-libs everything on camera.

When asked what makes for good television news reporting, Mr.Oliver offered the following;

-Tell interesting stories, and show the "edge" in them.
-Good story construction is the key to good television news.
-Sound elements should be heard early.
-Show your best video off the top.
-Give a line at the top that tells what the story is about (many reporters have difficulty doing this)
-Don't start with "stocks."
-Good bridges are difficult to do, but they must be logical when done.
-If you're unable to do a bridge, then you should appear at the end of your piece.

He says that reporters need to be fair, and balanced, but he says objectivity is a myth.
If something is a bunch of $%*@, then say so!

(Obviously don't use profanity when doing so.)

He spoke at length about the last two federal elections, and believes that it is time for some sort of proportional representation to be implemented. He doesn't believe that Canada is headed for a two party system, but he also feels that the differences between the federal Liberals and NDP, don't even amount to the breadth of a razor.

He believes the principal difference between Canadians and Americans, is that while Americans are willing to "tell all", Canadians tend to be more private, and more judicious in protecting their privacy.

For those would be journalists who are thinking about having a political career themselves, he cautions them. Unlike our American cousins who seem able to straddle both hemispheres, in Canada, a one time journalist is not likely to be accepted back into the fold after trying their hand at politics. It seems to be an almost uniquely Canadian quirk.

Craig Oliver fleshed out his answers for almost two hours.
When you consider he has almost 50 years of news gathering and reporting experience, two hours seems trivial.

Yet, it was anything but trivial.
It was informative, captivating, refreshing, engaging, and alltogether one gem of a session.

Craig Oliver... you come back anytime, ya hear?!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Craig Oliver's visit was absolutely wonderful. He seemed genuinely interested in answering the questions that were asked and gave thoughtful answers (drawing, of course, on his near half-century of experience in journalism. This may not sound like I'm saying much to anyone who sat through JOUR 201 conferences, but Craig Oliver is without a doubt the best guest speaker I've ever experienced while at Concordia. I can't emphasize enough how fascinating I found Oliver's talk and Q and A period on Monday.
Oh, and Darcy, great summary on the talk.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous said...

I'm not very happy since Lloyd Robertson left C T V news I think Lisa Laflam is going to loose a lot of viewers I for one, if they could get Ian Hanamansing from CBC
to take over Lloyds job C T V may be able to keep most of their viewers, he would be the best for the job in my books.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy Craig Oliver's comments on politics.
I wonder if he agrees with me that Harper's Conservative government is a creeping dictatorship.
Also, the extreme right across North America have adopted the tactics of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels propaganda minister for the National Socialist Party of Germany 1933 to 1945. While they may not tell a lie, which would land them in court, they do take something and turn it into a negative and repeat it until people believe it.
I for one no longer believe anything that comes out of the PM's mouth. He is just too desperate to hang onto power.

12:27 PM  

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