Journalism department alumna talks about the importance of local news
CBC Montreal anchor Debra Arbec’s lecture on Wednesday, April 4 in the Communication Studies and Journalism building wasn’t simply about discussing why local news matters. It was also about the changing responsibilities of journalists reporting on multiple platforms, specifically at the CBC.
Though an alumna of Concordia University’s journalism department, Arbec didn’t always know she wanted to become a journalist. In fact, she wanted to become a doctor, but said calculus got in the way of that dream.
“Working in a nursing home, I became really good at listening. It made me who I am, and I became a bit of a wallflower,” she said. Arbec said this wallflower characteristic is important to have as a journalist, because she’d hear people’s stories without feeling the need to talk about herself. “Taking a documentary film class changed my life. It was an epiphany for me to learn that I can listen to people, tell their stories and do it visually,” she added.
When people think of journalists, Arbec explained, their minds often wander to foreign correspondents in war zones or politically charged cities, rather than local news. Even though journalism students may not consider the latter as an option, she said “the stories in this city are fascinating.”
“We tell the stories about politicians, the police, corruption, city councils, school boards,” Arbec explained. According to her, the decisions of these community players affect Montreal directly, and local news reporters are the ones who keep them in check. “It’s really our job to keep people on the straight path, whether it’s with a foreign bureau or here in Montreal,” she added.
Arbec emphasized that local reporters often bring those authority figures to justice. For instance, in January 2017, former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum was found guilty of eight corruption-related charges because of a reporter’s work.
Examples like election nights, the rail disaster in Lac Mégantic, and shootings, according to Arbec, are enough evidence to prove local news as anything but boring.
Arbec explained that local newsrooms are changing as much as national and international newsrooms. “Think about local news as an option,” she insisted. “It’s not easy work; the demands on reporters now are tough.” According to Arbec, Facebook Live interviews, such as the one she did with Montreal mayor Valérie Plante about the city’s budget, are a way to adapt to the digital and multimedia world.
At the CBC, it’s not unusual for a reporter to adapt the same story for two platforms; either web and radio or web and television. According to Arbec, some reporters may even adapt their stories for three platforms.
In an interview with The Concordian, Arbec said sharing a story with another reporter to have it told on multiple platforms doesn’t create tension in the newsroom because there usually isn’t enough time for a reporter to cover all platforms. “Usually, the reporter will do the story in their preferred medium, so there are no tensions there,” Arbec said. It also isn’t a struggle to determine who the story in question belongs to, she added, because the story belongs to the person it’s about.
Arbec made it clear that not only is local news a challenging job for journalists, it also provides the local community with essential information about what goes on in the city. “We’re not chasing cats up trees,” said Arbec, referring to local news. “We are the keepers of democracy.”
Photo by Mackenzie Lad