Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Law Courts

Yesterday our journalism class went to the law courts. We met up with CreComm grad, Mike McIntyre, who is also the crime and justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. He gave us some leads on stories from the names in the hearings. All of the cases are posted up on a board when one walks in. Some are the Crown vs. a person, or people v.s people, or people vs. an entity like a life insurance company. I saw quite a few cases that involved CIBC and RBC life insurance.

I chose to go to a hearing where allegedly a young gang member shot at another rival drug dealer's vehicle. The case was actually pretty interesting. The two hours I spent in the courtroom flew by. Another interesting thing was that the accused was actually in the room, along with his girlfriend watching with myself and my fellow classmates. From what I've heard, usually those looking to get out on bail appear on a t.v. monitor in the room. I guess this was different because the accused was actually appealing his bail sentencing from before. Although this was an alleged gang member I almost felt bad sitting in on his hearing. I thought it was a weird juxtaposition where we were both in the same room, but he was facing time and I was writing an assignment.

Another thing that I didn't expect was for a witness to be called. The witness had to leave after she gave her testimony because she might be called at a later date to give testimony again. It almost made me anxious, even though I didn't do anything, to watch the witness be questioned. The Crown went through her entire criminal history and then asked her many, many detailed questions. I could see the witness struggling, and could tell that it would be very hard to tell a lie and keep it straight on the stand.

Overall, I liked that I got to write about something interesting. However, I'm not so sure if I'm cut out for crime reporting. I had a hard time getting past that the fact that everyone in these courtrooms were people with families, despite their criminal behaviour.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Journalism Tips

Last Friday, Alex Freedman, the I-Team reporter for CBC News: Winnipeg came to speak at Red River College. He was dynamic, interesting, and engaging, and reinforced my goal of becoming a broadcast journalist. He had a lot of very good advice not just for t.v. reporters, but for journalists overall I'd live to share:

1) Never think you're smarter than the person you are interviewing.
You can know it, but don't think it. This mindset will come off as arrogant and will turn the person you are talking to off, which isn't ideal when trying to get information from them.

2) Use the "Columbo" style of questioning.
This technique of questioning is not exactly "playing dumb," but helps you understand the story you are working on better because the interviewee will start to "pat you on the head" and talk more, which is what you want. Some examples of "Columbo" style questioning are: 
"Can you explain that to me?" 
"How can that be?"
"I thought ___________. Can you explain that to me?"
(all said in a innocent, questioning tone)

3) When interviewing someone, keep your cool, no matter what. 
Even if someone just told your that they wasted hundreds of thousands of tax dollars, which has happened to Freedman, keep your cool in your conversation and body language. If the interviewee thinks there is something wrong, they might stop talking, which isn't good for an interview. 

4) Don't fill the pregnant pause.

Did you get a little anxious there? Don't fill the silence when someone is talking. When they get quiet, just stand back and let them be the first ones to talk. When someone is silent, that often means they are thinking, and will have something interesting to say when they do speak. 

5) Don't be aggressive, be assertive.
This may seem cliche, and I don't believe Freedman said this exact phrase, but it is what I got from his talk. Intimidating people will usually not garner interviews. However, letting someone know that you're going to do the interview with out without them, showing them that giving an interview would be beneficial to them, is a good way to get someone to speak to you. Freedman also suggested reminding elected officials that it is their duty to talk to you is a good way to secure your interview. 

6) Pictures, sounds, and quotes are the heart of your story and your words are just the glue.
Freedman told us about a news story that was only pictures and sound, and explained why it was "gold."   People care most about the story you are telling as a journalist, not you. So remember, the words that you write are the least important thing to a story. Make sure you have the right pictures, sounds, and quotes (often filled with human emotion) to tell your story effectively. 

Freedman's overall advice was to practice, practice, practice. Whether it be FIPPA requests or interviews, I understood even better after that being a journalist is a craft that needs to be worked on and nurtured, which I am very excited to do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Advertising in Journalism

This weekend among turkey, cranberry sauce, the most delicious green bean casserole, and the return of the Jets, I watched Morgan Spurlock's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The documentary discusses marketing and advertising in movies through product placement, and I wondered, does this happen in journalism?

One example that came quickly to mind was travel writing. I remember discussing this last year in class. There is an instance where journalism and advertising combine to create stories about different places (journalism), but are funded by freebies such as free hotels, tours, etc. Some people wouldn't call this journalism since it is sponsored by those giving out the freebies, but isn't the journalist still telling a story and getting information across? I can understand that it would be perfect if the journalist didn't get anything free, but traveling is expensive. I'm not sure if it's better to have a sponsored article, no article at all because there isn't the budget for it, or an article written by an underpaid journalist.

The New York Times has a strong stand on the ethics of travel journalism. You can check out their ethics on travel journalism below. Journalists are not to accept any free amenities. The New York Times are even to be aware of freelancers who may have had special treatments in the past because, "such a reputation can embarrass us."

From the New York Times Company website:

Travel Journalism

65. No staff member of our company who prepares a travel article or broadcast — whether on assignment or freelance, and whether for us or for others – may accept free or discounted services or preferential treatment from any element of the travel industry. This rule covers hotels, resorts, restaurants, tour operators, airlines, railways, cruise lines, rental car companies and tourist attractions. This prohibition does not rule out routinely awarded frequent-flier points.

66. Editors or producers who accept travel coverage from nonstaff contributors have an obligation to guard against real or perceived conflicts of interest. They should exercise care in assigning or editing freelancers who have accepted free services while working for other news organizations; such a reputation can embarrass us. We do not give travel assignments to anyone who represents travel suppliers or who works for a government tourist office or as a publicist of any sort. A newsroom manager may make rare exceptions for special purposes – for example, to assign a writer widely recognized as an expert in a particular culture. In such a case, the journalist's connections must be disclosed in the published or broadcast coverage.

67. Writers of travel articles must conceal their identity as journalists during the reporting, so that they will experience the same conditions as an ordinary consumer. If the affiliation becomes known, the writer must discuss with a newsroom manager whether the assignment can be salvaged. In special cases, the affiliation may be disclosed – for example, when a permit is required to enter a closed area.

68. No journalist may report for us about any travel service or product offered by a family member or close friend.


But what if there was a disclaimer telling the reader that certain amenities were provided for free to the writer of the article. Would that maybe make it okay? Could advertising within journalism give newspapers the profit they need again to stop laying off journalists and shutting down papers as we saw in Page One: Inside the New York Times, a documentary our class watched last week. 

Another idea that came to mind was beauty products in magazines. Magazines are sent free beauty products all the time. Are the articles on the products real evaluations or just advertisements? Is the article not credible because the magazine got the product for free? 

Obviously, advertising within journalism would not be in line with the purpose of journalism because advertisers would then have say in the content of the writing. Advertisers aren't stupid. They have contracts, as I saw in Spurlock's documentary, of exactly how their brand or product should be portrayed. Advertisers are paying big bucks to advertise. I could definitely see the danger of incorporating advertising into journalism because people would abuse it. It would be a very thin line that people could cross when the smell of that sweet advertising money is under their nose. 

What if advertisers didn't pay for services for the journalist, but had naming rights or product placement in journalism. Would it be so harmful if each article in the paper was brought to you by a brand or if it was mentioned that the interview subject was sipping on a Coca-Cola? I believe some people would definitely think advertising in their journalism/news would be intrusive, but what if they traded that intrusiveness for journalists who are paid a proper wage so they aren't overextended freelancing and working as a bartender at night. What if as journalists we turned the whole thing on its head and used those advertisers for their money to fund we want to do. If journalists are already mentioning products or brands in their writing, why not ask for the advertising dollars for the mention?

In the documentary even school's are "selling out" by selling advertising on school property so the school doesn't have to cut programs. 

I think advertisers would be clamouring to get into journalism. Journalism still has a credibility that people trust. If it's in the paper or my local news anchor says it, it has to be true, is still the thought process of many people. I think that's where ads come from that look like articles in newspapers and commercials that look like informative, buyer beware segments like those Brand Power commercials.

Local news casts mention what salon the anchors get their hair done at and where the clothes they're wearing are from. Is that only okay because there isn't a story on the salon or store. Is it different when a journalist receives a free flight while traveling to write an article opposed to a free hair cut. The journalists are still getting something for free. But is it because one freebie may sway a story more than another, it's okay? 

In our broadcast journalism class we've been warned not to advertise in our news stories, which can be hard because we cam do it without even noticing it, especially when covering events. We need to make sure that we aren't promoting the event just because it's happening, but finding out and telling the viewer why it's important they should know about the event. 

As a journalist, I don't want to be told what to do by advertisers, but I sure wouldn't mind a piece of the pie from Coca-Cola or Brand Power. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Providing Questions Up Front

Last week I was published for the first time as a paid journalist. It was very exciting as I received positive feedback from family and friends for getting the front page of the Lance with my election article. Here is the link to the story: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/lance/Housing-services-top-issues-for-newcomers-130653958.html

The article was about what candidates in the upcoming provincial election in the St. Vital riding are going to do to ensure housing and programs for the thousands of newcomers settling in St. Vital every year. I also did a election script and clip radio story last week for 92.9 KICK FM's election night coverage this Tuesday, October 4th.

Doing this election coverage meant that I had to interview politicians. Out of the four candidates that I interviewed, three of them or their campaign managers asked for the questions or topics I would be asking about up front--before the interview.

As a young journalist who hasn't interviewed many politicians I thought this was standard. I thought it would make the answers the candidates gave during the interview better and my story better. However, what I didn't realize at first was that if I did provide the exact questions up front I wouldn't get the opportunity to properly evaluate the candidates' answers unrehearsed and how much they truly know about the issues.

As a I learned from our journalism radio instructor Dan when discussing how our election script and clip assignments went, journalists are not required to provide questions up front. If someone doesn't want to participate in an interview, it's their loss that they don't get to get media coverage, which isn't what most politicians want especially around election time.

Although potentially losing an interview may be scary for a young journalist it is always best to keep in mind that a journalist's job is not to make an interviewee look good or make it easy for them to answer your questions, but to ask questions and fairly report the answers people you interview give.

On another note, there were some facts that weren't able to be included in the article that I thought were quite interesting.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s most recent numbers from April, the
neighbourhood’s vacancy rate was 0.7 per cent.

Of the 20,528 2-bedroom apartments in Winnipeg, only 142 were available in April 2011. Of the 1,060
apartments with 3 or more bedrooms, only 5 were available.

13,518 immigrants landed in Manitoba in 2009.

Here is the article I wrote for the Lance.

Housing, services top issues for newcomers

Catherine Moss, a teacher in the VM EAL program, helps newcomers who have settled in St. Vital  learn English at Glenwood School.
Catherine Moss, a teacher in the VM EAL program, helps newcomers who have settled in St. Vital learn English at Glenwood School.
A local advocate for immigrants wants candidates in the upcoming provincial election to pay attention to the needs of thousands of newcomers settling in St. Vital every year.

"Most newcomers find work in the beginning and find a place to live they’re happy with and their children go to school and fit in," said Audrey Owens, program manager of  the St. Vital-based VM EAL program, which helps newcomers learn English.

"However this is not true of every family, some struggle," said Owens, who has been working to help immigrants settle in St. Vital for 15 years.

Owens said newcomers can struggle if they take longer to learn English, which makes it difficult to find jobs.

They may also struggle with finding affordable housing, she said.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s most recent numbers from April, the neighbourhood’s vacancy rate was 0.7%.

"Morrow Avenue, Bonita Avenue, and Beliveau Road are always full," said Owens.

Mike Brown, the Progressive Conservative candidate for the St. Vital riding, acknowledged affordable housing is "always an issue."

"We can’t invite immigrants without housing being available," said Brown, who noted there will be more housing available when a Manitoba Housing complex currently vacated for repairs reopens.

Brown said programming for immigrants also needs to be examined.

"If we are successful in forming government we will be listening to the experts in all fields, including those related to immigration," he said.

"If we find the services wanting we will ensure those services required by new Canadians are adequate to ensure they make a successful transition to life in Manitoba."

Manitoba Liberal Party candidate Harry Wolbert said he heard from people living in Manitoba Housing on Marlene Street that workers were given three minutes to spray each unit for bed bugs, which he said is not enough time.

To prevent future incidents like this, Wolbert said he would like to see Manitoba Housing turned into co-operative housing where people would collectively own the complex and would have "ownership of day-to-day activities and (a) say in how the complex is run."

Wolbert also said he wants "more money to go towards after school programs and programs run by the community centres to keep kids off the streets."  

NDP incumbent Nancy Allan said affordable housing will come to St. Vital through a pledge made in March by the NDP provincial government to build 707 affordable housing units over the next two years in Winnipeg.

Allan said she plans to continue to support programs run through the Salvation Army’s newly-renovated Multicultural Family Centre on Morrow Avenue, which was partly funded by the provincial NDP government, and the Victor Mager Job Re-Entry Program, which provides employment training, academic upgrading and life skills.

People can "get stabilized and get settled into the community," and "learn about life in Manitoba and get job placements," Allan said, referring to the Multicultural Family Centre.

Voters across Manitoba will head to the polls on Oct. 4.