How an RRJ writer investigated the culture of Ottawa’s press gallery.
J-Source is going behind the scenes of the 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. To read past stories, visit our Field Notes section.
By Viviane Fairbank
I’ve often found it hard to interview sources over the phone—at least harder than in person. My voice sounds too high-pitched for my liking. Not shrill, just feminine. So, at first, when the Ryerson Review of Journalism approved my pitch for a story about Ottawa’s Parliamentary Press Gallery, I was nervous to write an entire investigative piece primarily out of Toronto. It meant many, many long phone calls. I worked my way through three long-distance calling cards.
Indeed, during interviews with parliamentary reporters, they sometimes treated me based on my voice. And often, as I mention in the piece, they tried to dissuade me from writing the story—thinking that I, a weak-voiced reporter, might be easily swayed. Luckily, I pushed harder. And I started to receive calls from other journalists who wanted me to keep investigating—poor phone voice or not.
“Hot Mess” is the result of many of those conversations, some more evasive and patronizing than others. The piece, which I first looked into after reading about a parliamentary journalist accepting a small sum of money from a senator for massaging his online profile, turned into a greater feature about the culture of Ottawa’s Parliamentary Press Gallery. It’s a culture of hardworking journalists, yes—but, for some, it’s also one of ethical atrophy and notorious infighting.
My feature explores the delicate relationship among journalists, the press gallery and Parliament Hill. It describes how the poor judgment of some parliamentary journalists could ruin opportunities for many others.
Viviane Fairbank is a 2016 graduate of the Ryerson School of Journalism. She freelances as a fact-checker for various North American magazines, and she writes in her (elusive) free time.