Stewart Bell (National Post) with Laura Lynch (CBC News) at the CIGI Campus. (CIGI/Lisa Malleck)
Stewart Bell (National Post) with Laura Lynch (CBC News) at the CIGI Campus. (CIGI/Lisa Malleck)

Your editor sends you to Turkey for only one day of reporting to cover the recent unrest in Taksim Gezi Park. As a reporter, do you spend the entire day waiting for a much envied interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Or do you focus on capturing the sentiment of, and motivation behind, Turkey’s turmoil by interviewing a Turkish family living close to the park?

This was the question that renowned Canadian journalist Steve Paikin posed to a panel of four widely-known reporters, as he kicked off the annual CIGI and Canadian International Council Waterloo Branch media panel event on June 12, 2013. Joining Paikin on stage were Laura Lynch (CBC News), Greg Mercer (Waterloo Region Record), Stewart Bell (National Post) and Doug Saunders (The Globe and Mail).

“Caught in the Headlines: Everyday Voices in World News,” was the sixth in media panel series and featured insightful anecdotes and candid remarks on the challenging role of foreign correspondents in professional journalism. The event stressed several important aspects of good reporting, especially when it comes to crafting a story that balances context, personal empathy, neutrality and the need for accurate information.

In response to the opening question, Saunders explained that a trade-off exists when choosing between a front-page interview with a political leader versus a field interview, in that the former won’t be the most rewarding work and there’s no such thing as an ordinary person that captures an entire country’s sentiment. In addition to finding out what the ground rules would be for such a high-level interview, Lynch explained that a first order of business would be to convince her editor that it would be a mistake to go to Turkey for only one day, given that the country’s pull between West and East is making this a crisis moment for the nation. She noted that you could tell Canadians a much more contextualized story by getting away from, rather than staying close to, the square for an interview. Bell, who agreed with Lynch on the need for an extended stay, noted that it’s important to find a unique and differentiating angle that contextualizes the events in Turkey but doesn’t fall into typical coverage of what’s happening. Mercer noted that his outlet, as a regional newspaper, would try to localize the international events into a story that would show readers in the Waterloo Region why it matters to them. 

From war-torn Africa and turbulent Syria to foreign-occupied Afghanistan and crumbling Haiti, reporters share a unique uniting bond in the risks and personal dilemmas they encounter, regardless of where they are posted.  The panellists described their most difficult experiences, which often involved run-ins with local authorities, challenges with translators and unverifiable first-hand accounts, wasted hours in anticipation of high-profile interviews, and witnessing the grief and loss that families experience.

As the Q&A segment got underway, audience members were eager to learn more from the panel. Questions addressed several issues including: the rise of citizen journalism and its impact on the viability of foreign bureaus; re-adapting to life in Canada after experiencing and covering life abroad; and how social media is changing the way reporters craft their stories.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you attended the lecture, caught the webcast or watched the archived video, we would love to hear your thoughts on the discussion. Start a dialogue by adding your comments below.

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