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How to work with the Canadian press

By Kristen Shane      

We break down who to pay attention to in the Ottawa media bubble and how to get your country on their radar.

In 2015, the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery had about 350 full-time members and 30 press-support members. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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So you’re new to Canada and want to get your country’s message out to Canadians. How do you do it?

The following is a guide to understanding and working with Canadian journalists, with a focus on those on Parliament Hill.

Ownership

Canada has a free press, though the owners’ and advertisers’ interests are always in the background.

Aside from public broadcasters like the CBC (Radio-Canada in French) and TVOntario (with its flagship current affairs show The Agenda with Steve Paikin), most media organizations are privately owned and operated. Canadian media ownership is largely concentrated in the hands of a few. In Ottawa, for instance, both the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun daily newspapers are owned by the same company, Postmedia, which also owns both The Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, Montreal Gazette, and National Post.

Other big names in print include Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star daily as well as the Metroland group of community newspapers, the Metro chain of free daily newspapers in seven Canadian cities, including Ottawa, and the Chinese-language paper Sing Tao.

In Quebec, Quebecor owns the French dailies Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, as well as the TVA television network and Videotron cable, phone, and internet provider.

The other big national daily paper (it publishes in print every day except Sundays), The Globe and Mail, is owned by the Thomson family, one of the richest families in Canada, which is also the majority owner of Thomson Reuters, which runs the Reuters global business newswire.

In TV, Bell Media owns CTV and a number of specialty channels including CP24 and the Business News Network (BNN), as well as being a cable, internet, and phone provider.

It competes with Rogers, another telecom giant that owns magazines Maclean’s and Chatelaine and the TV stations Omni and City, among other properties including radio stations and sports teams.

Global Television is effectively controlled by the Shaw family, which runs the telecom company Corus Entertainment.

The Canadian Press (La presse canadienne in French) is a national newswire jointly owned by The Globe and Mail, Torstar, and Gesca Ltée, which runs the French paper La Presse.

The Hill Times is owned by Hill Times Publishing, a family-run, private company, which also runs The Lobby Monitor, Parliament Now, and The Wire Report, all of which cover federal policy from Ottawa.

Most of the big Canadian news organizations have reporters on Parliament Hill who are members of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, a 150-year-old self-governing accreditation body supported by staff employed by Parliament. In 2015, it had about 350 full-time members and 30 press-support members, according to its website. Its head office is in the so-called Hot Room in Centre Block on the Hill, but it has a second in the National Press Building, across the street at 150 Wellington St.

What and who to pay attention to

Hill watchers tend to pay attention to daily news sources including The Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, CTV, CBC, Ottawa Citizen, Canadian Press, Global, The Hill Times, Maclean’s, and iPolitics. Other international media agencies with reporters in Ottawa include the Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal.

Several news agencies such as The Hill Times, iPolitics, and the Globe offer daily email briefings (sometimes for subscribers only) with a quick rundown of what’s making news that day.

Politicos often watch weeknight political shows Power and Politics hosted by Rosemary Barton on the CBC and Power Play hosted by Don Martin on CTV. Like in the United States, there are also Sunday morning political shows: The West Block with Tom Clark on Global News and CTV’s Question Period, hosted by Evan Solomon, formerly of Power and Politics. CBC also has a political radio show that airs Saturday mornings called The House, hosted by Chris Hall, and it hosts several political pundits every Thursday night during The National newscast’s At Issue panel.

Then there’s CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel. Similar to C-SPAN in the United States, it provides live and taped gavel-to-gavel broadcasts of unfiltered parliamentary proceedings, including the daily House of Commons Question Period (in the weeks when the House is sitting, that is), committee meetings, press conferences, and scrums. Started in 1992 by a consortium of cable companies, the channel is commercial free and not for profit.

Amalgamating all this news in one place is National Newswatch (nationalnewswatch.com), an online political news aggregator that Hillites pay attention to. Whatever’s in the top box will likely come up in Question Period.

For breaking news and if you’re looking to see what the Press Gallery types are paying attention to, follow the action on Twitter. Use a program like TweetDeck to view the chatter on multiple timelines and trending hashtags using one customized interface through your internet browser. Follow the #cdnpoli stream and key journalists like David Akin (@davidakin), Rosemary Barton (@RosieBarton), Kady O’Malley (@kady), and others.

Several top political players also tweet regularly. Following their accounts provides good insight into their thinking, and what they say on Twitter sometimes makes news, like when Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (@MichelleRempel) criticized a CBC comedian for a post on the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting. Ms. Rempel’s feed is one to watch, as well as those of Conservative MPs Jason Kenney (@jkenney), Tony Clement (@TonyclementCPC), and the prime minister’s principal secretary Gerald Butts (@gmbutts).

On the foreign affairs side, Canadian diplomats have recently jumped onto Twitter in a big way. And while many watch without posting, or retweet tame government-account posts, some are avid users who post more personal messages and photos, giving insight into their daily work. Global Affairs Canada (GAC, on Twitter @CanadaFP) maintains several Twitter lists, groups of users whose collective feed you can follow, including its heads of mission and missions abroad, and more than 300 diplomats in its GAC at Home & Abroad list.

Canadian federally-focused English-language foreign affairs reporters whose coverage is worth paying attention to include: Lee Berthiaume, Mike Blanchfield, and Stephanie Levitz with the Canadian Press; Peter Mazereeuw, Chelsea Nash, and Marco Vigliotti with The Hill Times; Steve Chase, Campbell Clark, and Michelle Zilio with The Globe and Mail; BJ Siekierski and Amanda Connolly with iPolitics; David Ljunggren with Reuters; Marie-Danielle Smith and John Ivison with The National Post; and Mercedes Stephenson with CTV.

For analysis and opinion on foreign affairs, a good website is opencanada.org, a publication of the Canadian International Council, the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, and the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History out of the University of Toronto.

How to get your message out

So you’ve got a delegation coming to town and want some media attention?

A press release to be distributed to the Parliamentary Press Gallery can be sent to pressres2@parl.gc.ca.

But keep in mind that reporters may get hundreds of press releases each day from the gallery and other sources. If you really want a journalist to take notice, it may be best to call them directly. Their newsroom phone numbers are listed on the gallery website.

When thinking of which journalist or news agency to contact, keep in mind their audience, reach, and coverage areas.

Same goes for publishing an op-ed. One rule of thumb is to reach out to an individual outlet and offer it exclusive content, rather than offering the same thing to multiple outlets at once (we’re a competitive bunch; we like exclusivity). But give them a deadline: if you don’t hear back in three business days, tell them you’ll shop it elsewhere. Or, if you’re in a time crunch, send the piece to multiple outlets at once and tell them directly that the first one who agrees to publish gets the piece.

Don’t be afraid to go out for lunch with a journalist to get to know them and establish a rapport and a level of trust, especially if you’re likely to encounter them over and over through your work.

Ethics

When it comes to working with Canadian journalists, though, you should know that many won’t accept gifts or anything of much monetary value, including paid-for trips sometimes called junkets. And many also won’t send questions before an interview or allow sources to look over text they write before it’s published or aired. In-person exclusive interviews are generally preferred, though teleconferences and in-person press conferences are often the norm on a hot topic. Each newsroom has its own code of conduct or ethics policy, some of which are publicly available.

Be sure that if you talk to a journalist, you’re clear about what’s quotable. Establish this at the beginning of the conversation. Assume whatever you say is on the record if you haven’t explicitly said (and they’ve agreed) to make it off the record.

Be clear if you prefer to go “off the record,” on “deep background,” “background,” “not for attribution,” or use the “Chatham House Rule,” and explain what you think the term means so everyone’s on the same page. Often, a source may say they want to go “off the record,” but in fact they mean the journalist can quote them as long as they’re attributed generally as a “source” and not by name.

kshane@hilltimes.com

@kristenshane1

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