Try to imagine a scrum where David Cochrane can’t get a word in edgewise. If you guessed ‘Never in Newfoundland,’ you’d be right – David, the Provincial Affairs Reporter for CBC NL, is in Ottawa right now, covering the election for CBC National News.
It’s the second time in five months that Cochrane has been called up to the big leagues, playing on the national team. During Christmas, he served as anchor at CBC News Network in Toronto. This time, he’s reporting on the election, from CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. The assignment will conclude at the end of April, when he returns to St. John’s to serve as the Newfoundland analyst for CBC’s national election day coverage.
I spoke with David on the phone last week. Following is a condensed transcript of that interview. He began by talking about his day, and how he had followed a breaking story as it unfolded and evolved across every time zone in the country.
Cochrane: I was on the auditor general’s report thing, and it kept changing and changing and we kept getting different people, so we did five different versions of the story to roll out in the different time zones… The story that aired in St. John’s was very different from the story that aired in Vancouver. I never relied on satellite so much in my life! Up here, it’s a totally different game.
Meeker: You were covering the top breaking news story of the day.
Cochrane: Yeah, I have two things to do in my job up here. One, I am in a rotation with Hannah Thibedeau and Julie Van Dusen. Our jobs are to take care of CBC News Network on an hourly basis, and to take care of all the supper-hour shows across the country. So we’ll do a rotation, doing live hits to News Net – like a Q&A with the host at the top of the hour, and talking in and out of live events. And what I’ve been doing, last week and this week, is the campaign story of the day for all the Here & Nows across the country, all the different supper hours…
Meeker: Must be exciting…
Cochrane: It moves so fast. It’s not just the fact that I’m here, and there are war rooms with research divisions and communications staff, ready to react to every single incremental development. Social media is there, and Twitter. I mean, I’m up over 2000 Twitter followers now, so as things happen people are sending you Twitter (notes) and things are just moving fast. It used to be a 24-hour news cycle, now it’s a 1200-minute news cycle! It’s really minute by minute. Everything’s coming in on email and Facebook, and I’m on all the email lists, so the reporters and producers who are with the different campaigns can talk with each other. It moves at a pace like nothing I’ve ever done before. It’s way faster than a provincial election, because it’s so much more sophisticated. You’re dealing with the national political machines of the top parties in the country. There’s a critical mass of resources and talent that just doesn’t exist at the local level. It’s staggering, really. It’s like drinking out of a firehose every day.
Meeker: You’re learning so much, I bet.
Cochrane: Well, yeah, in the newsroom there today, I’m sitting next to Chris Hall, who is our National Affairs Editor and used to be the national reporter in Newfoundland, and I think has one of the sharpest political minds in journalism in the country. And there’s Greg Weston and Laurie Graham and Terry Milewski and Rosemary Barton and all these people running around the room today. It’s just quite a spot to be. There’s a lot of brain power and a lot of talent. Today, I went to a political scrum, with Ignatief, and for the first time in my career didn’t get to ask a single question! I could not make myself heard!
Meeker: Ha! Here in Newfoundland it’s quite the opposite…
Cochrane: Well, yeah, I get 10 to 15 questions minimum, if I want them, at a news conference or scrum in Newfoundland. The other reality is they will stay and scrum with you until you’re done; the politicians won’t turn on their heels and run, like they do here… But it’s very different for me to go to a political scrum and be the quiet, anonymous guy in the background.
Meeker: In terms of your future, this is going in an interesting direction. What do you think all this means, career-wise?
Cochrane: It’s a great opportunity. It’s tremendous professional development… I’m probably going to do a little bit more News Net stuff over the summer. But I don’t know, I mean, right now it’s all just come out of the blue. I didn’t ask to come here, I was called to see if I wanted to come up… They were looking essentially for someone who was comfortable doing live (reports) and was quick in terms of turning out a story, and that’s one of the things I’m good at on the ground – a fast turnaround – so they just asked me if I wanted to do it. The reality is that, during an election campaign, all your core Ottawa people, they hit the road but you’ve still go to produce all the content… so it’s really just a backfill type of opportunity. But it’s pretty cool to be called and asked. That’s the great thing about this company… in terms of a professional development opportunity, as a political reporter in a provincial capital, you can’t ask for a better opportunity than to come cover the election in Ottawa… Full credit to my bosses back home for letting me go for five weeks, when our legislature is in session, there is a budget happening and that sort of thing… The only other thing that would be cooler would be to actually go on the campaign trail with one the leaders, but I’m a little too junior for that at the national level, and I don’t speak French.
Meeker: I’m not sure how much fun that would be, at least with Harper’s crowd, because there’s so little you can ask.
Cochrane: But there’s still getting to see it. I know that’s been one of the big stories of the campaign, how Harper has limited access and limited questions, but some of the questions he has been asked have been very strong, quality questions. I think Terry Milewski has done an excellent job, and you see Roger Smith from CTV and Peter Harris from Global – these people are asking good questions. So it’s making the most of limited opportunities. The thing is, frontrunners always try to limit those things. Opposition parties and people running from behind are going to say a lot more and give you more opportunities, because they have more to gain and less to lose. And it’s different from in Newfoundland where, with the premier, you would scrum until you were done. With Williams, there were the tantrums where he would storm off and that sort of thing, but those were exceptions rather than the rule. For the most part, if he was at Question Period and asked for a scrum, you got it and he stayed until you were done asking questions. It’s very different from that, up here.
Meeker: You had some early problems with a bad flu, right?
Cochrane: Yeah, the only downside was, within four days of getting here, I got knocked on my ass by bronchitis and an ear infection. I just finished my antibiotics cycle today. When I was on talking about Churchill Falls, on News Net, I was sweaty and feverish and gross. My producer said, “Go home. Come back to work on Monday.” So I get sent home for three days to get better… Your first week on your big federal election (assignment) and four days into the week, you’re sick. What a way to announce your arrival! But I’m doing okay now. I’m making all my deadlines. Someone asked me today how it was going, and I said I’ve been here for over two weeks and they haven’t fired me, so that’s about as good as you can hope for.