Friday, February 13, 2009

Reporter Barbie misses the obvious

In today's newscast it was my job to cover Question Period in the house of commons.

I've never been to QP. I've been in centre block once, when I was interviewing the House of Commons Curator during my internship. But I figured it wouldn't be too hard. Listen to politicians yell at each other, elbow some people in a scrum, grab a clip or two, get out, look like a big shot.

There were a few things I did not take into account:

1) Parliament is BIG. Really big. And complicated. There are lots of security checks and "do not enter signs" and security guards who get nervous when you look like you don't know what you're doing. Which I did not. I wandered into the press room and looked around like a deer in headlights. Two security guards asked if I needed help. "I'm a journalism student. I'm covering Question Period." Awkward silence. "... So... I guess I'll go do that now." I left quickly so I didn't have to hear the muffled laughter.

2) Parliament is noisy. The rumours are true: MPs are rude. Very rude. They talk through each other's speeches if it bores them, they yell insults at each other across the floor, they try to drown each other out with heckling. Besides being obnoxious, this makes it very hard to figure out what's going on. I only realized there's a little radio phone thing you can hold up to your ear that amplifies what's being said when it was almost over. And even with that, you still have to strain.

3) MPs don't wear name tags. Even news junkies and political nerds like me don't know more than a few MPs by sight. This means that if you miss who's talking, you're SOL: "Some MP in the back left corner who I'm pretty sure is from the NDP said..." doesn't cut it in a news cast. The little map of who sits where doesn't help.

So I spent most of QP sweating about all of the above, plus the fact that the house was half empty because it was a Friday and not much was being said. I left for the scrum with the vague plan of standing in the biggest crowd of reporters, shoving my mic in front of whoever they were interviewing, and somehow spinning that clip into a story. This plan was foiled when only two MPs stopped to talk to reporters, and one of them was speaking French. Did you know that there's actually a literal back door in the House that MPs who don't want to talk to the press can leave by? Neither did I.

So I came back to campus rattled and downtrodden, told my editor there was no story, and turned a press briefing on a court case that I'd gone to earlier that morning into a short, crappy story.

It's not my fault, I consoled myself. There was nothing going on. No one said anything that hadn't been said 900 times.

Then I read this in The Globe and Mail online.

Crap. Only a new development in a GIANT POLITICAL SCANDAL that I totally missed because I was too busy panicking there was no story.

At least this was an in-class newscast and not a real assignment. Right?

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