Editor’s note: Names of communications staff were deliberately withheld. It is not the intention of this article to unfairly attribute the silence of an organization to individual choices or agendas. We are aware the communications staff are doing difficult jobs to the best of their ability. Since this article has been written they have also been very responsive to subsequent interview requests.
The communications department of Dalhousie University has been busy recently. Starting with the dentistry scandal in 2014, the university has since had a murder, an alcohol related death, and a stymied school shooting.
Now, just in the past few weeks: two stories about racism/discrimination in the DSU and a homecoming party-turned-riot.
In the wake of the homecoming, the Gazette started reporting on the party to provide in-depth coverage for its student population. Part of that reporting was trying to find out what the response was from Dalhousie, obviously.
Our request for an interview was received by Dal communications on Monday, but the Gazette didn’t get one.
In a media scrum at the sudden community meeting in response to homecoming, president Florizone awkwardly answered “I can look at that. I’m sure that communications staff – I think that would be unintentional.”
“That’s not accurate,” said a communications staffer behind the cameras.
The scrum was one day and six hours after the initial request.
In an email, Dal communications staff wrote, “I’m sorry we have not been able to accommodate an interview due to scheduling and the high volume of request we have been handling. There will be a community meeting tonight at 7 pm in the Great Hall. Media are welcome to attend. This is not a press conference but there may be a chance to ask questions following the meeting.”
The head of communications said that he had received the request, and that “ultimately, responsibility for why an interview didn’t occur with the Gazette resides with me.”
The Chronicle Herald, Canadian Press and local stations of the CBC, CTV, and Global all received interviews from Dalhousie communications prior to the community meeting.
It’s frustrating when student journalism takes a back seat to “real” journalism.
Any student journalist who has ever reached out to a large organization is familiar with the “sorry, who are you writing for? Oh – I’ll get back to you,” media relations ghosting. When it’s an assignment for class, or reaching for an interview that the even the CBC might not get, it’s frustrating. Understandable, but frustrating.
But in the wake of a major incident, a school not responding to an interview with the publication that is the voice of their students? That silence is deafening.
The frustration of being turned down lead to an increase in journalistic persistence. The Gazette did end up getting an interview – two days and two hours after the initial request.
Journalism at its core is the telling of stories for the people who need to hear them.
The coverage of homecoming by other media outlets was geared towards their audiences. CBC, for example, had the breaking news coverage, community meeting coverage, and what Dalhousie plans to do. All of which is important for Halifax at large.
For the student population of Dalhousie, the major news outlets didn’t answer their questions:
What did Dalhousie do for homecoming? What could Dal have done for students to prevent the Jennings street party? Are Dal students considered members of the community or just a problem to be solved? Will homecoming actually boost the university’s student life ranking?
It may be student journalism, but it is journalism. It’s important to our readers, and it’s important to us. It needs to be important to Dalhousie, too.