I may be an outsider, but working at CiTR 101.9FM, it’s easy to see the tight-knit camaraderie of News Collective under the watchful eye of Alex de Boer, CiTR’s Current Affairs Coordinator. As delightful as their bond is, it has been a special treat to see the work that the collective has done with their new podcast series, Seeking Office. I get a kick out of the interviews with politicians who aren’t expecting any difficulty from student and emerging journalists, and I can tell that they have caught a few of the earlier interviewees off guard. As the summer has progressed, many candidates for Vancouver’s civic election have wised up and learnt not to dismiss this plucky group of volunteers as they look for transparency from their potential political representatives. The following is an interview with Alex.
What is Seeking Office?
Seeking Office is a new podcast about the upcoming Vancouver civic election. It’s made by CiTR’s News Collective, produced by me. We have interviews with politicians, we have interviews with experts and some sort of narrative storytelling in there. It’s meant to make the civic election interesting and to provide some social and historical context for where we are now, to equip people with the knowledge they need to vote and move forward actively with intention on how they want their city to be.
Were you just thinking at the end of last school term like, “I love working, I can’t stand not having another thing to produce?”
Yeah, I guess so. *laughs*
I just thought, with local journalism suffering as it is, there’s a notable drop in local coverage. As newsrooms shrink, the first thing to go is their City Hall reporters. We’re seeing across Canada and America, less coverage of civic governments, so being that there’s an election in October, [the News Collective] just saw this as an opportunity to make engaging content and get some practice at creative, non-fiction storytelling and to provide a service that’s needed in Vancouver.
There’s really nowhere you can go to get consistent coverage of what is happening. If you want to pay attention to the civic election you really have to be on Twitter — which a lot of people aren’t!
Have there been any interviews that didn’t go how you were expecting?
A recent one was with the president of a new civic party, Coalition Vancouver. His name is Peter Labrie, and he’s a former board member of the NPA ( Non-Partisan Association). I did an interview with him about why he left the NPA and joined Coalition Vancouver, what this party was all about and why they describe themselves as being a centrist party despite being fiscally conservative. So at the end of the interview, I said goodbye without asking a final question I had wanted to ask because I had gotten too afraid. [It was about] his Twitter page — he had a number of off-colour…*looks for the right word to characterize the tweets*
I would say they are poor-bashing.
Yeah. There are a few straight-up misogynistic tweets, as well. I want Seeking Office to be as objective as possible. Obviously there is no such thing as objectivity, but I do want to be approaching all our interviews and content with hard-hitting questions that are fair and are bringing to light things that the public deserves to know.
I ended up calling him back. He’s the president of a new party who describes themselves as centrist — because he’s saying that he’s socially progressive — even though he’s retweeting things that are essentially hateful and condemning of the poor and those who are drug users. So I called him back and I asked him about this tweet. I think it was worth it and I tried to stay as neutral as I could.
Accountability interviewing is scary but it’s important and can produce really rewarding information. There are so many people that feel that when we’re trying to process what’s going on politically, you just wish you could ask this person about that. You’ve got an opportunity to get at something that most people don’t, and they deserve to know because these are their politicians who they might elect to represent them in office. So it’s really a privilege to do this work.
You know a lot about audio production and narrative storytelling, but you’re kind of experiencing some things for the first time with Seeking Office. Do you find that you can share with the News Collective members the experience of being new to journalism and new to accountability journalism?
I have a degree in journalism from UBC, but in the past I haven’t done accountability interviewing, it was mostly arts and culture writing. I think something valuable that I bring is a certain earnestness and a willingness to ask dumb questions, because I am newer to this type of journalism and I think there’s not enough of that in journalism, especially radio journalism — asking clarifying questions and really pressing people if you don’t understand something. So I think my weakness can be my strength.
I think the News Collective volunteers watching me is valuable. Just to say that, if you’re prepared, you can call someone up and ask tough questions. You can talk to anyone. Half the job of being a reporter is just showing up. Hopefully that’s a lesson that the News Collective and maybe listeners are learning.
You can hear all episodes of Seeking Office by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or hear past episodes online at citr.ca/radio/seeking-office. And make sure to vote in the municipal election on October 20.