Q52. Do you have any advice for citizens about how to deal with reporters?

Build a relationship, and become known as a reliable speaker

A52. It’s very useful for citizens to know how the news media works at Province House.

I came away from my fifteen years in politics with a profound respect for reporters, and for the important role they play in maintaining democracy. That doesn’t mean I always agreed with them, or liked what they wrote, but their role is fundamental. They are professionals with standards and ethics who try every day to tell important stories in an engaging way.

For the citizen, the best reason to engage with reporters is because getting in the news will amplify your voice. If you stand on a busy street corner in downtown Halifax and shout “Listen to me!” you might get a dozen random people listening. If you deliver the same message in an interview or newscast on CBC’s Information Morning, you’ll have 100,000 citizens listening.

Here’s the most important thing you need to know: On a typical day at Province House when the legislature is sitting, there are dozens of different things going on. The reporters have to decide which one or two stories matter most to their audience, and then decide how to report those stories, all within their deadlines. They are under no obligation to choose the story you want, nor to report it the way you want.

Here are some other tips about how to engage effectively with reporters:

  1. Become known as a knowledgeable and reliable speaker on a given issue. That way, they will turn to you for comment whenever the issue comes up. It may take time for you to build a reputation, and it may take some practice for you to be able to talk about an issue in a way reporters can use.
  2. Build an ongoing relationship with reporters. Know their names, know who they work for, have a general idea of who their audience is, know how to contact them. Be helpful to them, by sharing information and insights. When the time comes to include you in a story, they’ll know who they’re dealing with.
  3. Try to understand what a reporter’s job is like. The more you know about what they’re trying to accomplish, the better you can figure out how to work within that framework to get your message out. For example, it’s no good to call a TV reporter at 5:00pm. Their news-gathering time is done for the day. Another example: don’t expect a reporter to do an investigative deep-dive on every little thing that bugs you. They don’t always have a lot of resources, and they have to choose carefully how to allocate the resources they do have.
  4. Try to understand what is likely to appeal to a reporter. A story might matter a lot to you, but it may not look so interesting or “doable” to a reporter. Remember that a reporter needs reliable sources and good evidence. The more you can do to supply those things, the more likely the reporter will pick up your story.

 

 

 

 

 

Q51. How does the news media work at Province House?

Reporters play a crucial role at Province House

A51. The news media plays a crucially important role in how the legislature works. The place would be quite different if reporters were not there.

Politicians and reporters have a symbiotic relationship. They need each other. Politicians need reporters to “get the message out”. A good deal of what they do at Province House can be explained as an attempt to obtain or avoid coverage in the news media. By the same token, reporters need politicians in order to generate stories for their publication or broadcast. They are always on the hunt for new and interesting stories.

At Province House, you will often see reporters in the hallways. Sometimes it’s obvious who they are, because they’re toting cameras or microphones. Other times, you’ll know them only by their Media passes. Reporters are not allowed into the legislative chamber, but they’re free to roam elsewhere in the building. The major news outlets each have a small office in the basement of Province House, off-limits to the general public.

Reporters who regularly cover Province House have an association called the legislative press gallery. The current president is Jean Laroche, the veteran CBC reporter. The “press gallery” gets its name because some parliaments have special reserved seating—a gallery—for reporters. If you look closely at the front row of the public gallery at Province House, you’ll see a small section with built-in tables. This row is reserved for reporters.

Members of the press gallery in Nova Scotia represent media outlets such as CBC, CTV, Global TV, the Chronicle Herald, LocalXpress, Allnovascotia.com, Metro Halifax, the Halifax Examiner, News 95.7, and CP-BN (Canadian Press–Broadcast News). I am currently a member of the press gallery, in my role as a political analyst for the CBC.

The best place to see reporters at work is on the second floor, just outside the legislative chamber. This is where the action is. Every MLA going into or out of the chamber has to pass this spot, so it’s the best place for reporters and politicians to meet. They will then engage in a “scrum”, which is an informal news conference during which reporters from the press gallery surround a politician and ask questions. If a reporter wants to ask questions privately—for example, if the reporter is working on a story that they don’t want other reporters to know about—they will move away and find a quiet spot elsewhere in the building to do the interview.

More formal news conferences are usually held either in the Red Room of Province House—which is the big room on the opposite end of the second floor from the legislative chamber—or in the Media Room in One Government Place. Citizens may attend any news conference in the Red Room, but news conferences in the Media Room are restricted to reporters, government staff, politicians, and political staff. The reason for the difference is that the Media Room is a government facility, whereas Province House is operated for the benefit of all MLAs and therefore tends to be more open.

Here are the official rules, written by Communications Nova Scotia, governing access to the Media Room in One Government Place:

Upon entering One Government Place to access the media room, reporters must present a valid media pass or have a letter from their employer to confirm that they in fact work for that media outlet. Student journalists may provide a letter from their professor or the university publication they represent. Recognized online bloggers/writers have attended events in the media room, and are also recognized under the legislature’s house pass policy.

Stakeholders connected to the subject of the event are often invited to attend events in the media room. Where this is an opportunity for media to get their questions answers, key stakeholders are invited to observe the news conference, technical briefing or media availability. As per fire marshal regulations, the media room can only accommodate 50 people, therefore given reporters, MLAs, staff, and stakeholders attending, it is not open to the general public.

In my opinion, it’s disingenuous for CNS to cite fire marshal regulations as a reason for not admitting the public to the Media Room. The fact is that citizens are not welcome in the Media Room, regardless of how many people are already in it.

One of the unwritten rules of news conferences is that only reporters are permitted to ask questions. If a citizen were to ask a question to a politician in a scrum, or during a news conference in the Red Room, it is quite likely the politician would decline to answer. The reporters would also be displeased, because they know that their continued access to politicians depends partly on the orderliness of news conferences.

A note on jargon: Journalists will sometimes refer to news conferences as “press conferences” or “pressers” or “newsers”.