Journalist shows up at wrong event, writes juicy story for Ottawa reporters

One of the favourite narratives of the Ottawa media is that the Prime Minister doesn’t talk to them on enough occasions. This, of course lazily and unfairly extends to “doesn’t talk to reporters”. However, while some in Ottawa may yearn for more face-time with the PM, the PM’s comms focus has always prioritized local and regional news to get the story told outside of the “Ottawa bubble” and outside of the pack mentality of some in the Ottawa press gallery.

Yet, here’s a local reporter, getting a lot of buzz in Ottawa this morning among my fellow flacks and hacks on Twitter. Brad Bird’s story about a Prime Ministerial “snub” at a shellfish research centre in BC fits the Ottawa press narrative but has me a bit puzzled because it goes against the PMO local media outreach strategy. Or does it? ปืนเกมยิงปลาLocal reporter Brad Bird wrote,

For the media it was an odd dance, since no talking with the PM was permitted, and he allowed but that single comment to acknowledge them, during the quarter-hour allowed.

“Give ya 30 bucks if ya ask a question,” one scribe said to another. But it wasn’t that easy. He was too far away for that, and engaged with others. Interrupting would have been rude.

Reporters gathered for an event and no questions? Why? Here’s the event notice from the PMO that went out to all reporters,

September 7, 2010
Ottawa, Ontario

Public events for Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Wednesday, September 8th are:

Deep Bay, British Columbia

1:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will Tour the Vancouver Island University Centre for Shellfish Research. He will be joined by James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Vancouver Island University
Deep Bay Field Station
Deep Bay, British Columbia

*Photo Opportunity Only

There are no questions at photo ops of course, but can we really have a PM that only does photo ops? Oh wait. There were two media avails later that day. From the same notice,

Nanaimo, British Columbia

3:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make an announcement at Nanaimo’s Cruise Ship Berth. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Nanaimo Port Authority – Assembly Wharf
11 Port Way
Nanaimo, British Columbia

*Open to Media

NOTES:

? Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

Victoria, British Columbia

6:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver remarks. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport.

Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria, British Columbia

*Open to media

NOTES:

? Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

From Bird’s article,

This wasn’t Jean Chretien, who enjoyed engaging with media.

Chretien would come over and talk to us. Sometimes he’d get all choked up about it, or someone else would, he was that intimate.

If Bird remembers the days of Chretien, surely he’s enough of a press vet to know the difference between a photo op and a media avail?

UPDATE (2/25/2011): Brad Bird sends me an email and I’ve received his permission to publish it below.