Friday, March 26, 2010

Just a 'student'

It's truly amazing what real anger can do. I don't mean sad, silly upsets. I mean a 'so angry you sweat, stomp around the room and need to open a window' mad because if you don't you might yell and scream and start throwing things.

Something happened today that resulted in me doing such things.

I'm working on a story about the New Democratic Party's standpoint on the current Canadian refugee policy. Such a story requires that I do an interview with an NDP official - I had hoped to speak with Olivia Chow, member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina, and also a Citizenship and Immigration critic. Mrs. Chow has made several comments on the Conservative government's policy, and especially on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's actions.

I had been calling Mrs. Chow's office all week, hoping to set something up, leaving messages, sending emails, and yesterday I spoke with a man with NDP media relations, who suggested I call Mrs. Chow's scheduler to set up an appointment. Thus, I called her this morning.

I explained to her what I was doing and that I hoped to speak with Mrs. Chow for even 10 minutes to ask her questions about what the NDP would change. I realize that this information is all on the NDP's website, but as a journalist a story is always better if there is an interview subject - someone to reiterate what is already written, and someone to humanize the story.

This woman said to me that Mrs. Chow is travelling for the next two days and won't be available, to which I replied that I understood, and then I proceeded to ask her if I could set something up for next week.

She then told me that Mrs. Chow - or "we" - doesn't usually do interviews with students because if they do one interview they have to do all the interviews with all the students that call.

This was about the time when I began to get frustrated. Not because it was sounding more and more like I wasn't going to be able to speak with Mrs. Chow, but because I felt as though I was being dropped into the 'you're just a student' category. I explained to this woman that I'm in a class of 20, and each of my fellow students was doing a different story, none of whom or doing a story on the NDP. I was the only one who would likely be contacting them.

There was an acknowledged, "Okay," that I heard, and then a very long moment of silence, which I assumed was her shuffling through Mrs. Chow's schedule to see if there was an opening next week.

Then, "I don't know what else to tell you."

I didn't really understand. Was she telling me that she couldn't do anything to help me speak with this woman for five minutes? FIVE minutes? Really. Working for Metro, working for the EMC, and working for the Free Press, I had never had any problems, especially setting up an interview for a government employee. They generally MAKE time for you.

At this point, my face was getting hot. And I was getting mad. But I tried to remain composed. I asked her, "So, are you saying that if I was a journalist with a newspaper I'd be able to set up an interview, but because I'm a journalism student I can't?"

"I don't know what else to say. She has a really busy schedule."

And that, my friends, was the end of that conversation. I did everything I could to try and set up an interview, to try and speak with this woman who could explain the NDP's beliefs in the refugee system, what they would do to make it better, I gave every opportunity to get their side of it. I even asked, at the end, if this woman had any other suggestions for me, anyone else I could try and contact.

She told me to go search on Google.

I'm a student, yes. I am also a journalist. And lastly, I am a person. And just because I have the 'student journalist' tag on my name, does not mean I deserve unfair treatment because of it, and it certainly does not mean that I don't deserve the same respect that a journalist from an official publication would receive. Even as a student journalist, I should be taken seriously, and not brushed away like a fly.

Frustrated. Angry. Anger is a very powerful thing.


  1. I guess this is like me wanting to diagnose and treat someone RIGHT NOW. But, hence, "just a student." For the past five years. A little frustrating.. but think of it as when you are in your full fledged position, would you want just "anyone" to be doing it? No, because you spent the time and money to get educated for the position. Make sense?
    Just have to be patient....
    it will come it will come! You will get an hour with even cooler people, let alone 5 minutes with miss too good.

  2. oh i know, when i worked for the newspaper in ottawa i had noooo prob. doing these interviews. so i guess its just frustrating b/c i've been there, done that, and never had a problem. but suddenly i'm a student again, and the whole thing changes.

  3. but dear zoe, i appreciate your input. truly :)


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