Reporters beware: Pierre Karl Péladeau doesn’t like it when you call his phone. The media magnate blasted La Presse political correspondent Denis Lessard on Twitter and again in a PQ caucus meeting after the reporter called Péladeau’s personal cell phone number. According to the Montreal Gazette, Péladeau criticized Lessard, saying, “Denis Lessard has no business calling me on my personal cellphone. He knows very well how things work here. He knows it even better than me. He’s been here 30 years.” If Péladeau is vying for the Parti Quebecois leadership, as is being reported, he’s going to have to get used to his phone ringing.
Péladeau tends not to answer questions in media scrums, and has “heard” staircases are private. Speaking to the press, he explained that the PQ has many political aids and that reporters should go through the right channels to speak to him. But that’s not how journalism works. The sound bite story of a politician in a scrum is a commodity, and jumping through these public relations to get a generic response to a question doesn’t get the reporter a story that can add value to the public discourse.
Stories are often collected from private, on the record conversations with people who understand and respect what a journalists’ job is: to jump around the access rules put in place by aids and public relations officers. We’re taught from first year that these rules are often made to be broken.
There’s a lack of a strict playbook in newsgathering. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that people can only sue others for an invasion of privacy if the accused intruded into “highly offensive” information, such as financial or health records, employment and a diary or private correspondence.
This line creates somewhat of a grey area of personal space for sources. In 2011, Dave Feschuk was criticized when he called Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer’s mother for a story about her son’s possible concussion in the Toronto Star. Hockey analyst Mike Milbury called it a “weasel move,” while Damien Cox pointed out the Star doesn’t exist to promote the Maple Leafs, but to provide relevant news to readers. “Beyond sports, quality papers speak to families of people in the news on any variety of topics. Sometimes it’s good news, often it’s bad news. Those of us who have had to knock on a door and ask for the picture of a lost loved one can tell you its not often pleasant. But that’s the job of a newspaper, at least a good one,” he wrote. Adding, “This is what we do. And it’s real-life conversations with people who haven’t been subjected to ‘media training.’”
An organization’s or politician’s press kit and media practices are there to be skirted around. That’s what makes this job interesting. Without calling personal phones, reporters can’t get the stories worth reading.