March 31, 2014

Covering Both Sides of the Camera

Dealing with the various types of media such as print, radio, television, and social media become inevitable when it comes to politics. Candidates for office use media to promote their campaigns to voters, while reporters cover and scrutinize campaign content. For some people such as Jennifer Hollett, whom I interviewed for this post, she has been on both sides of the camera, given her journalist career and her past candidacy for the NDP nomination in Toronto Centre.
RZ: As a journalist, were you focused on specific issues? If so, which ones?
JH: When I started with Talk TV, I covered current affairs. At MuchMusic, my focus was not only on music, but also engaging youth with politics and social issues. I covered a lot of human rights stories when I was overseas, particularly in Africa. At CBC, it was about cross platform. An overarching theme throughout my career is social justice.

RZ: Tell me a story you covered which you felt you made the biggest difference.
JH: In 2002, I worked on a documentary which focused on women in the post-Taliban era called “A MuchMusic Special: Afghanistan.” It was aired on the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which included a half hour focused on the United States and the remainder on Afghanistan. People still comment on the documentary to this day, and it inspired me to see more of the world and get more involved with international development.

RZ: Given your expertise with social media, including your current job as digital director for Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign, how were you able to adapt your journalism experience to social media?
JH: When I was working in New Media from 1997 to 2000, I learned alternative media tools early and weaved them into my career. TalkTV was my first TV job, which included both on air and social media components such as chat and message boards. By 2009 and 2010, the use of social media had become more mainstream and I was able to use tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in my storytelling at CBC News. The best example of this was the 360 coverage I did with cbcnews.ca for the G20 Summit in Toronto. Social media allowed me to cover breaking news that weekend closer and faster than TV and radio.

RZ: What are some common mistakes you find elected officials make when using social media?
JH: People tend to think social media is about what someone’s cat had for lunch, and that a tweet is the be all and end all. Instead, a tweet is supposed to be a beginning of an engagement process involving issues and campaigns. Increasing engagement is what allows people to move up the social media ladder, and I do not believe in “slacktivism.” (e.g. changing a profile picture for a cause without backing it up with action)

RZ: How did your journalism and social media experiences come into play when you campaigned for the NDP nomination in Toronto Centre?
JH: My nomination campaign involved the use of new tools to bring in new people to politics. As a candidate, I used technology to make government more accessible and interactive; hopefully helping people see themselves as part of the political process. Most of my work during the campaign was at the doors, on the phones, and at pubs, caf├ęs, and street-corners. Campaigns are still on the ground, but digital allowed me to tell my story to the press and pundits, as well as to audiences who don’t always follow politics and bring people along for my nomination journey.

RZ: What do you feel is the role of media in politics and what message would you give to those interested in journalism?
JH: I feel the role of the media is to inform what is going on (or what is not going on) and hold decision makers accountable. An average person cannot follow all the news unfolding in their community/country on their very own, which is where the need for a free press comes in. Journalists sit in court rooms, examine large documents, investigate, and provide context. Digital just offers journalists new ways to discover and cover stories, as well as find sources. Social media often fills in the gaps of mainstream media, especially with international news or topics that don’t fit neatly into a sound bite. For those interested in journalism, embrace all the new tools at your disposal, but the lessons taught in journalism school – or what one learns as a cub reporter in a newsroom – never changes.

The implementation of social media has transformed the way politics and other events get reported, in which information is almost instantaneous and there is a shift from one way broadcasting to two way engagement. Even with this shift, the need to hold decision makers accountable and get the facts remains consistent across all media types. It’s a matter of using the right tools for the occasion.

Write on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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