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Should journalists agree to be speakers for developer groups? Sure, as long as there are rules

November 26th, 2016 · 3 Comments

I get targeted personally by a tiny but energetic group of people in town on a regular basis, as part of the ongoing very emotional and fraught debate in Vancouver about real estate and foreign investment.

As a result, some have raised questions this week about why I’m appearing on a panel Nov. 29 with the Urban Development Institute with the improbable title “Real Estate in the Media: Crafting the Narrative.”

So here’s an explainer of how journalists on this continent generally operate when it comes to public speaking, for those unfamiliar with the customs.

Like many journalists who cover a beat, I get asked to be on panels, as a speaker or moderator, or to speak to classes or groups on a regular basis.

This fall alone, I’ve been at almost dozen events, including

  • a session with students at the Ubyssey newspaper on basic reporting strategies
  • a panel organized by BC Housing on identifying the priorities for the federal government in its new housing policy
  • a panel organized by SFU on the impact of international students on real-estate markets
  • a panel with the Dunbar Residents Association about what to do about their emptying out neighbourhood
  • a panel with Gateway Theatre in Richmond on the future of Chinatowns
  • a panel put on by the City of Vancouver on the right to adequate housing.

One more coming up Dec. 14, for anyone interested, will be on “Inclusive Cities – The New Urban Agenda: Lessons from Habitat III.”

I try to do a certain number each year, as part of the public service that journalists do. It’s goes with the territory, along with being interviewed umpteen times by students completing papers or graduate degrees, speaking to high-school and university classes, and answering emails about how journalism works from the general public.

I don’t accept payment of any kind for these talks — or from anyone or any organization that I might potentially cover. (That’s typical of most journalists.)

And, because I’m donating my time, I prefer to give it away to smaller groups with no money than bigger ones who could go out and pay someone for advice.

But I generally accept most invitations, from resident groups wanting to know how to deal with the media to the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, where I’ve talked on the same topic, to business groups to classes of planning students, as long as I don’t have to give a big, long speech by myself, which I don’t enjoy.

As for next week’s panel, well, when I was issued the invitation, this is what I was told was the general topic:

Broadly speaking, most people in our industry are not familiar with on how the media operates. People would like to learn more about:

o How and who decides what information is news worthy?
o How does the media gauge what people care about?
o How does the media source the information?
o How does the media select experts and choose who to interview?

I was also told that the panel would likely be:

Other speakers we are approaching include Bill Good, Jon McComb, Farhan Mohamed and Ian Young.

Obviously, the topic and the overall composition of the panel changed from what I expected, to my surprise. But I’ll be talking about what I was originally asked to speak on. No one has been in touch to tell me anything different.


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