Thursday September 30, 2010
On the same page: Should reporters all use the same play-by-play book?
Craig Hill/Voice photo
ately I've been busy reporting on the news in Chilliwack and don't have a lot of time to write editorials. But like everyone else,
I do have personal opinions about some issues and once in awhile I can get on my little soapbox. As a sidebar to the raw milk protest Tuesday, something happened that shouldn't be allowed to slip by unchecked.
Once in awhile I can set aside time to get on my little soapbox and Monday a sidebar happened at the raw milk protest that shouldn't be allowed to slip by unchecked.
We're talking about morals and ethics of community reporting. I've never attended J-school aside from some writing courses and strong school marks and don't need to go through my credentials and certification as a publisher, typesetter and freelance writer, however, I will say that I have produced and or written in assorted English and non-English newspapers and magazines since first starting out on the BCIT campus rag 1981. I'm aware of the ground rules and playbooks reporters use.
The Valley Voice isn't in competition with print media because we aren't print media. What we do at the Voice is we attempt to assist in getting the news out there because for whatever reason, due to a lack of bodies for coverage or copy fitting issues, The Times and The Progress have to let some news go by the wayside. Sometimes in that way we're able to pick up on that and are asset to the community in general.
Since the Voice's inception, its been a tremendous pleasure getting to know some of your other news writers in Chilliwack a little bit. There is a certain amount of camaraderie amongst us. Despite what people may think of opposing news sources, we do try and work together in casual and friendly ways to get the news out to you
Some of us share notes and have each other on Facebook and Twitter lists. At times we talk about what's making news, what needs to be news etc. I admire them for the grinding hours and work they put in. If you're going to write about something then you have to know what you're writing about. Time spent in research and learning about issues are always unpaid hours.
I will say that over the last two-years, two Progress news writers, Jennifer Feinberg and Robert Freeman, have been nothing less than fabulous to work with in and around the community. So too have Mike Hellinger at Starfm and Tim Amey at the Hawk. They are all super people, excellent reporters and newsmen in their own right and the city needs them. Their concern for the community they live in is reflected through their news reports.
As a writer, you want to present the story in an unbiased way without your spin. You also want to connect to and gain the trust of the community when reporting. You watch, observe and you ask questions. You don't want to do things that will affect the outcome or alter the events in the story somehow. You're just there to report back to the readership.
On Monday, Michael Schmidt was at Fraser Health talking about raw milk.
When Schmidt arrived, he began setting up his milk table up against the FHA building. Of course setting it nearer the building would keep the sidewalk clear.
My experience at protests, is that if they are done on private property, there could trouble and they could be tossed off. There is a easement around buildings that extends a few feet from any structure which is deemed private. Public property begins where the easement ends.
I mentioned to Schmidt that if he set his table against the building, he could be booted, but if he put his table on the curb then it's public property.
Times reporter, Paul Henderson, was privy to my conversation with Schmidt and immediately made two mistakes.
"Hey, don't tell them where to put the tables," he said angrily then repeating himself a couple more times.
His first mistake was talking to me like he did and in that tone with complete disrespect. I mentioned earlier the certain aspects of camaraderie and respect that the writers in town have for each other. Who does Henderson think he is and what does he think he's trying to do here?
In contrast to all of the other media in town, I haven't interacted much with Henderson so I can't say what his modus operandi is. But one thing is for sure, you don't go around in life telling people what to do and ordering them about. It should go without saying that you don't take liberties with people regardless of whether or not you've seen them around before. They're familiar strangers. Enough of that already.
In my opinion, Henderson's second mistake, and a bigger one, was not telling the milk protestors about private property rules. He's not obliged to. But the story is always better when you have pictures of grannies jumping on cops. Obviously, Schmidt and his cohorts aren't professional protesters and they simply didn't know the ground rules.
My apologies if I let ol' Henderson down but he did nothing to gain the confidence of the protestors. If Schmidt, Jongerden and the others heard his rant at me, and I'm sure they did because he did it in front of them, then right about now the guy looks pretty dumb to all concerned.
Later Henderson even innocently asked Schmidt and Jongerden if they had seen the two security guards who were meandering around earlier. Oh please already.
Okay, so I broke an unwritten rule of journalism. But by saying nothing the story may be altered. By saying something the story may be altered. So what do you do? It looked like it was a 50-50 call until I considered the community and the people. That tipped the scales.
In every instance like this, the community and the people will get my support and rightfully so because the Valley Voice has always been about the community and without hidden agendas. I talk about gaining the confidence of the community because media needs the trust of people so they open up to and we get the "real" story. Without the community you've got nothing. No news and no Voice.
So I think you know what I'm getting at here. Henderson wants mud. He wants dirt and he doesn't care about how he gets it, just that he does, and sometimes it's at the expense of others in the community.
Take for instance, last year at the All Candidates meeting year when someone accused Mason Goulding of stealing food from the collection boxes at work. Sensing some real dirt, Henderson leapt up and ran over to the guy to get the rub in the middle of the meeting.
In Henderson's blind exuberance to get that information, he completely forgot what planet he was on and that he was interrupting the meeting. He was told several times by the host over the PA system to take his interview outside.
Truth be told, at the milk protest, I also did something else to alter the story. No one was sampling the glasses of milk, so I asked a gent if he would try some milk so I could get a photo of him drinking it. I wanted to setup a shot. The rest of media there zoomed in. My bad. I have seen worse setups, see the above.
On a previous occasion at city hall, I remember Henderson laughing at me in a mocking way when I asked a question directed at the mayor, not him. I've never been vindictive and have always loved humor as long as it's not at someone's expense.
The bottom line of this editorial is this; What does the community expect of media?
The truth for starters.
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