NTV seemed to have the story on a platter. But a CBC reporter swooped in and seemed to snatch it from under their noses.
I first learned of the story on Facebook, when David Cochrane of CBC Here & Now posted this update:
“Big Scoop. Listen to CBC news at 10:30 on radio and soon at cbc.ca/nl”
I did tune in and, yes, it was quite the scoop. There is much discussion, analysis and celebration going on in other quarters, about the Muskrat Falls terms that were agreed between this province and Nova Scotia. I will offer my take on those terms in a future post, but, for now, let’s focus on the story itself.
Because, for media, getting the story first is everything.
“I had been hearing since the premier’s October 25 speech that a deal was imminent,” Cochrane told me, in an email exchange. “I got a tip from a source that it was done, and an announcement was coming on Thursday. I worked the phones, and confirmed it. I put the story up, then called the premier’s office for reaction. They didn’t give one.”
When the story broke, a thousand phones began ringing at once, as media sought to confirm the information. This resulted in an uneasy moment for Cochrane.
“Of course I got really worried when initial media reports from Nova Scotia were quoting (Premier) Dexter and Emera as denying the deal,” Cochrane said. “But my sourcework was good and my bosses never doubted me. I had the usual pangs of self-doubt about the whole thing. Every reporter goes through that when they go exclusive on sources. But I trusted my sources and my own instincts. And in the end I was dead right.”
(Apparently, the story was denied by the Nova Scotia camp because Emera is a publicly-traded company, and any speculation – without the release of solid information – could have had an impact on stock markets, which were still open.)
In catch-up mode by now, NTV also tried to take ownership of the story that evening, on the NTV Evening Newshour. Host Fred Hutton said, “NTV News has learned that the province and Emera Energy Corporation of Nova Scotia have reached a deal to…”
Now, “has learned” has a specific meaning in the news business. It indicates that you have developed the story on your own, and are not recycling from other media sources.
In this case, NTV was probably correct to use the term. They didn’t break the story, but they seemed to be on the inside track, in the week prior to the announcement.
As we saws in the NTV News piece, they were invited into a Cabinet meeting – the most powerful, exclusive and private chamber in the province – for a photo opportunity, just before a briefing from Nalcor executive Ed Martin, on the Muskrat Falls deal.
It was a remarkable sight, really. The camera panned the room and its massive, circular table, with the ministers gathered around. The premier came in, bid everyone a good morning, and sat down. The cameras actually caught a bit of Martin’s presentation, but apparently were ushered out before too long.
However, the NTV camera was there for a reason. They clearly had an inkling that something was up. And if they did, access to the Cabinet table for the Nalcor photo op must have had conditions attached – that whatever NTV knew was subject to an embargo, until the premier’s office was ready to grant the exclusive.
This is pure speculation, but it’s clear that NTV had to know something was afoot. I sent a note to Fred Hutton of NTV, asking if they were aware of the impending announcement but working under an embargo. I will update this item, should he reply.
While NTV’s Cabinet photo-op did make for some great video clips, it also raises questions about editorial independence. By gaining such exclusive access, are they bartering away some of their objectivity? Are they getting too cozy with the subject of the story?
Or, as one media colleague quipped, “CBC may be the public broadcaster, but NTV is looking like the state broadcaster.”
I don’t think that’s quite the case, yet. But it’s something the station should keep in mind, on a ‘go forward basis,’ in its coverage of the most powerful person in the province.