Photo: Catherine Pinard
Marie-Ève Martel, a journalist at La Voix de l’Est, understands the importance regional news fills in our society. Based in Quebec, she finds the stories that speak to underserved news populations, putting a mirror up to topics that simply can’t find a way into the big-city dailies. We had a chance to catch up with her on her favourite stories and why local hyperlocal reporting matters.
Follow her: @memartel87
Could you describe what it’s like to work as a regional journalist?
I come from Quebec City, our capital – which is old, but oh-so-beautiful! For a long time, I had thought I would spend my entire working life there… until the day I found my first journalism job with one of the regional media outlets. I quickly came to understand the importance of local media to communities on the outskirts of the large cities, which are not served by the major dailies. Local media are the “mirror” of the communities they serve, and we often cover topics that would not be dealt with outside of a hyperlocal forum. The reason? It all comes down to perspective: Local news would undoubtedly not be important enough to assign resources at the national level, but it could be vital to a regional population and would elicit a lot of reaction. In short, the regional media contribute to the richness of life in these communities by introducing a different – but essential – viewpoint than the perspective in large urban centres.
What I like about working for La Voix de l’Est is the team spirit in the news room, as well as in the other departments. The company’s success and their region’s standing resonate very strongly with these people, and they’re dedicated to doing their jobs well on a daily basis. It’s also a tightly woven network of players who come from these communities, and contribute together to the region’s vitality. Excellent relationships develop over time, for better or for worse. Since the newspaper’s readership is spread over an immense territory, I’m still – quite often – discovering new areas of the country, even after all this time. So I’m establishing regular contacts… but there’s also room for new encounters that are, quite honestly, of great interest.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day is full of unexpected events! And that’s what makes journalism so exciting. I never pictured myself shut away in an office or working in a factory, doing the same thing day after day. I need to meet people, talk to them, tell their stories, etc.I enjoy getting to the office in the morning with absolutely no idea of what my day will look like. I could be doing a story about a political or community organization; spending an hour on the road so I can witness the release, into the river, of a tortoise that belongs to a threatened species; or meeting a craftsperson at the other end of our region, who produces works of art from recycled materials… then again, I may have to set everything aside to cover something unexpected!
Some days are quite hectic but others less so, and I spend those trying to move my long-term assignments along… but the one thing they all have in common is a feeling of accomplishment. If time has gone by without my realizing it, that’s a good sign!
What’s your number one tip for PR people?
Avoid disparaging an outlet or a journalist on social media just because they haven’t covered one of your topics, or the coverage wasn’t what you wanted, for example. Regional journalists work in smaller communities, where everyone knows everyone else and this type of behaviour can put a chill on working relationships! It’s the same thing as holding a grudge if we don’t cover a topic that’s sent in. These things don’t work out every time, but if the topic seems worthwhile, we’ll obviously give it coverage. So it will work out someday. A journalist who knows his or her medium well can tell right away if a topic is likely to interest readers, unless this is unclear.
But these examples are, in fact, rare, and many of the PR people I work with know me – and my paper – well enough to get it right!
Favourite story you’ve ever worked on?
There are so many of them! I think my favourite story changes from month to month… and that’s the great thing about this line of work. What I especially like are stories that can make a difference in people’s lives, or encounters that provide food for thought. A recent example is a meeting with a man from Vancouver who’s doing his second cross-Canada run, picking up the empty bottles and cans he finds along the way. He then gives the cans to schools or organizations, to help them with their funding. He doesn’t make a penny from it – he’s just doing it for the environment. A few months ago, I had the honour of being able to spend a half-day with the Pilgrims of St. Michael, known more famously as the “White Berets”. This group rarely opens its doors to journalists, and I was able to do a portrait of the community as it looks today, some 50 years after they came to Rougemont. Another story that comes to mind is the one about a young mother who had had a child through assisted reproduction, but her dream of adding to her family was compromised when the Minister of Health announced changes to the program. There’s also the man from Farnham who was looking for a kidney donor on Kijiji, or the two Good Samaritans who gave a homeless man, whom they didn’t know, an unforgettable day. Each of these stories, in its own way, brings out a lot of questions and compels us to look at various realities in a whole new light.
Dream story you’d love to work on?
That’s a very tough question to answer, because there’s no way of knowing what stories I’ll be working on in the future. I honestly don’t dream of covering a specific topic or talking to someone in particular. As a reporter, I look for depth, emotions and issues that get people thinking – so it’s fairly immense. I would like to do more investigative reporting, taking the time to look into things in-depth, without the geographic constraints that come with working in the regional media. I already have a few ideas… In terms of interviews, I would like to talk with people who have an inspiring vision of life and have lived through experiences that make them unique. Matthieu Ricard and Mylène Paquette are good examples of this.
Coffee or beer?
A good coffee, even though I rarely have one in the morning. You can win me over with a mocha. Otherwise, I really like “girly” cocktails!