No matter where you find it, it is likely that at least some of the news you read each day originates with The Canadian Press (CP), an editorial newswire service that supplies subscriber news outlets with completed news stories that they can republish in their own publications. CP journalist Pierre Saint-Arnaud supplies Canada with breaking news all day long, often working on multiple stories per day.
Follow him @psaLaPC
How does being a wire service journalist differ from being a single outlet journalist?
Our primary readership is not the general public – it’s journalists in the newsrooms of the media outlets that subscribe to our service. So we’re treading a much finer line…when we get something wrong, we hear about it. This is why our work is governed by very strict standards
If we make a mistake, that same mistake is reproduced by our member outlets -- something we don’t want to happen. If a single media outlet gets something wrong, it’s easy to fix: they can correct it in the next issue or newscast. But if we get it wrong, the correction has to go to every one of our members and out to their audiences as well.
With a news item for example, we know the victim’s identity but we won’t publish it until it’s confirmed by an official source. Getting the information out isn’t an urgent priority for us – what’s important is getting it right.
Has the advent of social media increased the pressure of breaking news?
Not for us. The pressure lies in maintaining a presence on social channels. The Canadian Press doesn’t have our own broadcast channel, so we wait for one of our members to pick up our story, and we share their link on social media.
Being first with a news item is an illusion. Only news management is obsessed with getting the story out first. The average news consumer tunes in to RDI or LCN, and no-one changes channels to see if a news item is being reported there – we’re the only ones who do that. Being first with the news is a journalist’s thing! What’s important is not missing it – getting there first is very short-lived.
CP journalists are present on social media at an individual level – as people, not as journalists. This is encouraged, with a certain amount of caution.
I’m identified as a journalist for The Canadian Press, but I’m not an easy person to figure out. I would challenge anyone to say what my political beliefs are! I tell myself that if I’m detested equally by all sides, I must be doing my job right!
Is there such a thing as a typical day? What sources do you use over the course of a day?
I start off the day with radio! From the time I wake up, in the shower, the kitchen and in my car or on the bus, I listen to 98.5. I like being talked to! I read the headlines on lapresse.ca.
When I get to the office, I open up Facebook – 80% of my friends are journalists, and the business of media is my area of interest as a board member of the FPJQ. I check to see if chaos has broken out somewhere! This is of great interest to me because the business is in crisis and we need to follow it very, very closely.
I also look at the 10 or 12 news items we released at 5 a.m. It’s a summary of the news that may dominate our day. I also monitor what’s being covered by the other media – our subscribers.
From here, I rarely know what I’ll be covering on any given day – it’s always breaking news.
How many stories does a Canadian Press journalist cover on a daily basis?
It varies. If I go out in the field, I could be doing three or four stories a day. If I stay in the office, that number can easily go up to between five and seven. Since we work on breaking news, we don’t track it. Our job is just to get the news out.
Do you go out and cover press conferences?
Any advice for communications people?
First of all, too much is as bad as too little. Don’t inundate us with releases – sending out several in one day from the same person is too much.
The second thing, which is in fact more important, and something that PR people often forget: journalists are not looking to bury your organization. But if you don’t give us the information we need, we’ll go looking for it from a more willing source – most likely one you don’t want us to use. Give us information we can work with right from the start. If we think you are trying to protect your organization at the expense of the free flow of information, we’ll do everything we can to unearth whatever it is we think you’re hiding from us. So what it comes down to is that things will go better if you provide the info upfront.
Robert Bourassa used to say: “If you don’t want trouble with journalists, give them a piece of news every day!”
If you’re being approached by a journalist, it’s either because some information is already out there or because he or she already know what to look for.
Some last advice about news releases: the title and key points should be highly evocative, and don’t ask us to do your promotion for you!
What are your thoughts on native advertising?
Simple: It shouldn’t be written by journalists, and – above all – it should be clearly identified. If people feel tricked by their news media, they won’t trust us anymore and we’ll all pay the price at that point.
What’s the best way to contact you?
By email and by phone. If a news release is on the newswire and it’s important, we won’t miss it – it’s monitored.
Beer or coffee?
Coffee during the day, beer at night!