Paul the intern’s eighth week at the press club

Good day, my favourite set of constituents!

(I am in politics mode, given the official announcement for Canadian federal elections to be held later this year.)

Parliament has been dissolved and writs of election have been dropped.

Now, I’m no poli-sci major and I won’t pretend to know what either of those terms mean, but as a budding journalist, I feel as though it’s important to know politics—it’s such a huge and involving facet of the trade.

All the buzz regarding the upcoming elections, which will feature the longest campaigning period in modern Canadian history, takes me back to when I attended Question Period in the House of Commons in June.

What an eye-opener that was to the way our political system works.

This fall, I look forward to the many debates, inevitable blunders and hopefully, above all else, the addressing of critical issues.

Here at MIGS, that’s the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, where I conduct my press club business and help out on MIGS-related projects here and there, we have a special member of the NDP royal family among our ranks.

Thomas Mulcair’s nephew, Cédric, is a political science student at McGill and an intern at the institute. One of his uncle’s biggest supporters, Cédric is the one to ask if you want to know the results of the latest poll or the hottest campaign trail scoop.

For myself, this week has, for the most part, been spent working on a story about union pay scale negotiations at Concordia. These ones in particular have become quite contentious.

This story has been an excellent learning experience as a journalist. I’ve been working on it closely with press club board member Tracey Arial.

Tracey, who writes for the Suburban, is showing me the ropes of investigative journalism. She herself is, from what I’ve seen, a natural at it.

“Nobody hates a journalist for very long,” she said to me, laughing, while we were working on the story last week.

“I have to write that down,” I replied.

I had to do so because I think that phrase describes so well what it is like to be an investigative journalist.

One day, a source might hate you. It could be because you’re trying to expose a truth they would rather not have exposed, or because the story has changed and you’ve become less useful to their interests or goals.

The very next week, that narrative can change completely.

One thing I’ve noticed is that in the field of investigative journalism, things never stay a certain way for very long.

I’m also learning excellent practical lessons. It can be as simple as the importance of recording every single conversation, regardless of how insignificant or casual one may seem at the time. True intentions can easily be picked up on over the course of a second listen.

It may sound like journalism 101 to some of you, but another lesson I’m learning:question everything!

As much as it’s easy to accept people’s intentions at face value, I’m understanding that an investigative journalist needs to maintain his or her skepticism at all times. Though it can be difficult, it’s important to at least try to pick up on what a source may really want or not want, without having to being cold or unpleasant towards them.

Tracey taught me another invaluable lesson: “Never make yourself a central figure in your story.” It’s easy to inadvertently write yourself into a piece, perhaps making the mistake of seeing yourself as involved in its ins and outs. A true investigative reporter, I’m now realizing, is someone who’s as impartial a player as can be.

These things I’m learning, coupled with having read a little unknown book called All the President’s Men in my second semester of j-school, mean that I now comprehend how demanding the job of investigative reporter can be.

It’s also quite amazing to see how much more risky a profession it has become. There once was a time when major publications had teams of lawyers to protect their reporters, such as in the previously mentioned book, but the journalism landscape has changed so drastically in the past few decades—the resources sometimes just aren’t there.

That means that Investigative journalists need to now be well versed themselves in the laws and pitfalls that can threaten their careers daily.

Some may see that as a discouraging reflection on what it’s like to be a modern-day muckraker, but I think it rather cements the fact that good, honest investigative journalism is something that is needed now more than ever.

Until next time,

Paul M.