Monday, July 13, 2009

Just doing my job? What journalism profs don't tell you.

Well, as a result of a little too much Stampede-ing last night I ended up being late for work.  However, platinum seats for the Chuckwagons and Grandstand Show were worth it.  Thankfully people in my office know that I will make up the hours when our other reporter goes on vacation. 

I walked in this morning thinking it was going to be a great day. I had a photo session booked with a restaurant owner whom I'd interviewed Friday.  The restaurant is under new management and the menu has completely changed (the story) and as I was doing the interview, I was getting hungry.  The food is reasonably priced and sounds AMAZING.  I came away from the interview feeling good about it.

Apparently the manager/owner did not feel good about it.  I walked into work today to find that the story has been wrenched from my fingers with the explanation that the owners were a little uncomfortable with a question that had been asked, and the fact that I didn't want them to read my story before we published it.

The question I asked? "How do the previous owners feel about the changes?" The answer was that they were happy with the shift in management and were simply moving on while the new owners took over.  The previous owners in fact were friends of the new ones and that relationship was all good. No controversy there.  Fabulous. I thought I made it clear that I understood, but do recall that the interviewee was a little defensive.  I explained myself completely however.

Then came the request to read my story before it had been published.  As far as I knew, we do not do this. Period.  I explained that I would call if I was unsure of anything and that I'd even read quotes back to check for accuracy.  Then I learned that the competing newspaper reporter in town let them read his story before publication.*  I was appalled but maintained what I thought was my "journalistic integrity."  When the interview ended, I again assured the owner that I wanted to write a positive story and that I'd for sure be back to the restaurant for a meal. We agreed to meet sometime today for a photo with her partner.

Fast forward to today.  I mentioned to my co-worker that I was going to finish the story today, and he hastily said we needed to chat about this.   He explained that he'd chatted with the owners who said they were uncomfortable with the interview, mainly because I'd asked about the previous owners and because I wouldn't send them a copy of my story for their perusal before publication.  I was also informed that they already felt uncomfortable with my editor/publisher because of a previous incident involving a letter to the editor that got edited. As it was put to me, I "ignited some discomfort that was already there" by asking a question. Oh, and you know that thing we never do?  Apparently, with community stories, we do let people read before publication. Also we don't typically ask "controversial" questions.

WHAT? Where was the lesson in our journalism classes about never letting people read your story before publication except when you do?  Also, where is the section in the handbook about questions you don't ask?  

I don't fault the system, the professors of ethics courses, or the people who write journalism handbooks.  I can't fault myself either for asking a question I thought readers might like to know.  For the record, I was going to phone the previous owners of the restaurant as well, because I wanted more than one source for my story.

I feel bad on a personal level that an interviewee was made to feel uncomfortable.

I also feel bad that my co-worker has to smooth things over and explain to them that... "She's new to this sort of thing, and doesn't realize that we actually throw journalistic integrity out the window and let people read our stories before they're published. Oh and that we don't ask questions that might possibly have a negative answer." 

I feel like a bumbling fool.  I also feel like I'm right. I'm not sorry for at least attempting to do my job.

As G.K. Chesterton once said, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly." Meaning: If we wait till we're perfect, we'll never get anything done.

*as for that other reporter and competing newspaper, keep an eye out for another blog post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

At a snail's pace

One thing I've learned on my internship this summer is that slow days are to be dreaded.
Currently, I'm sitting at my desk having already pursued every lead for several stories that I can think of.  I've even looked through past papers to see if I can further milk another story by creatively thinking up a new angle. 

I start to sort through paper, gathering the ones that are blank on one side to staple them together to make notebooks.  Though right now, with nobody to interview and no one calling me back, these recycled notebooks are not all that useful.  

I resist the urge to check facebook yet again because I know nothing new or interesting will have happened in the last minute.  Then again perhaps someone has taken a "Which piece of stinky sports equipment are you?" quiz.

I consider having a nap, but realize that with no door on my shared office, this could be a hazardous decision.  I've attempted to hide behind my computer screen, head in hands and eyes closed, but all I ended up with were two red marks on either side of my chin where my hands had been.

I want to be productive. I don't want to just sit here wasting company time, staring at the phone, stapling paper together and hoping someone will call me. 

My saving grace is that at 10:30 a.m. the Catholic Women's League has asked me to come and take a picture of them presenting a cheque to the food bank.  Now I'm pondering how to take the classic "cheque presentation" picture from a new and creative angle.  How do I make it less posed? Less boring?  We have maybe eight cheque presentations from some group to another per month, and all the pictures are the same. Boring, boring, boring. 

22 minutes till I have to be there.  It takes about one and a half minutes to get there, making it about 20 minutes till I need to walk out the door.

I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather be weeding my garden (which I really detest doing) or having my teeth cleaned (not big on the dentist) than sit here for an agonizing day of time-killing and doing the "trying-to-stay-awake" head-bob. 

Thinking my iPod might be my salvation, I take it out, slip the earbuds in and realize that the battery is almost dead.  Shuffle seems to be mocking me because "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles (probably their most depressing song) has started to play.

And with that, the iPod has died... fabulous.  

Now, not only do I have song lyrics about a man blowing his brains out in my head, I have no sweet relief from the "at work" radio station that the person in the next office insists is "good most of the time!"  I'm sorry, but any station that consistently plays dated Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Wham songs is just not "good most of the time."

It occurs to me that I should ensure there is a memory card and fully charged battery in my camera before I leave.

If I've bored you to tears with this blog post, well... I just hope you didn't get this far.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two point one children.

I had a semi-revolutionary thought the other day, and I just thought I'd briefly share:

We're all familiar with the image of the average family - a mom, a dad, and two adorable children. 

Granted, this image of "average" is changing drastically over time with the increasing blending of families as a result of divorce and remarriage, single parents, families with same-sex parents and Jon minus Kate Plus 8 followers that just want a corral of cute kids to take to the zoo.

Nevertheless, one or two children seems to be what many people desire. If possible, a boy and a girl.  A co-worker said to me a few weeks ago after trying to organize which parent would take who to soccer practice, "Don't have three... two is enough."

Two is definitely enough when prize packages to Disneyland or any destination are for "a family of four."  I felt this discrimination when I was 8, and my brother and I had a new little sister, ruling us out for this "family of four" prize. 

I heard on the radio the other day about how it's "time to ship the kids off to camp for a week, and take that much-needed break."

These and a few other occurrences got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the problem with having more than two kids, and the idea of the "much needed break" for parents is that people don't like kids.

Think about it. Why is it that sit-coms no longer carry that essential "cute child" like Rudy and later Olivia on the Cosby Show, or the Olsen twins on Full House?   Why is it that there is a decrease in the yearly averages of people having children?  Why is it that a mother who has had four or five children is chastised and frequently told she is crazy, insane, or "must be very organized."

We talk about the overpopulation of the world being a problem, but in my humble opinion, this is a total farce.  You can parade starving children in Africa before my eyes, but their starvation doesn't have to do with overpopulation of the earth. It has more to do with allocation of resources.  Show me a starving child in Africa and I'll show you five overweight North American children.  

I heard someone say that it would be "selfish to bring children into our increasingly demoralized society."  To me, that's just a front for "I don't like kids."  
This is not to say that people should be having kids left and right, just for the sake of "liking children." It is a lot of work to raise a child, but often the reason kids are bad, or act out is because their parents don't know how to do their job.

Selfishness is the root of most of these problems.  Why is two kids the ideal? Because it's all most people think they can handle while maintaining their job, their home, their "me time."  It's not about the kids at all.