‘The world is crying out for great journalism’: Francine Pelletier wins a major Canadian award
At an evening event in Toronto this week, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) will award the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism to Francine Pelletier, adjunct professor in Concordia’s Department of Journalism.
Established in 1992, the award is presented each year to a journalist whose work, in either official language, provides insight into Canada’s policy-making process. Past recipients include The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson and André Picard, and Chantal Hébert of The Toronto Star.
Pelletier joined Concordia in 2014 as winner of the prestigious Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education. She teaches documentary production for video and radio and the popular course “The Art of the Interview.”
Award selection committee member Graham Fraser, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa, past Hyman winner and Canada's longest serving Commissioner on Official Languages, described Pelletier as “passionate, progressive, fearless and, above all, a delight to read.”
‘The key is telling stories that people can relate to’
In what ways do you feel your roles as adjunct professor and working journalist complement and inform each other?
Francine Pelletier: Journalism is a little like medicine: almost impossible to explain without having actually gone through the hoops, the actual practice of journalism. Being a working journalist (and documentary filmmaker for that matter) helps me teach students what it’s all about. It helps me not only talk from experience but talk from extremely recent experience. Also, students generally appreciate having someone who is still actively associated with the profession.
In an era of “fake news” and growing public skepticism of journalists, what is the key to engaging audiences around stories about public policy?
FP: The key is showing people how this rule, that law or the latest controversy has an effect on their lives. It’s telling stories that they can relate to. That hasn’t really changed despite the vast transformation that has occurred in the media industry.
Can you talk about a specific story that you’re particularly proud of that dealt with a complicated but critical public policy issue?
FP: Not a week goes by (almost) where I don’t talk about a “big issue”. Last week, I focused on the trial of the man who killed six Muslims in Quebec city last year. The week before that it was the Facebook controversy. I’ve talked about the health care crisis in Quebec, the problem with the Bloc Québécois, the revolutionary #MeToo movement, the environment and many more subjects that impact people’s lives. All in the last two months!
How does your work relate to public policy journalism?
FP: What I talk about often has to do with the way government “addresses the needs of its citizens” (which is one definition of public policy).
How has your work at Concordia changed and evolved since you joined the Department of Journalism in 2014?
FP: I’m now giving a second class, other than documentary production, one that I proposed directly to André Roy, dean of Arts and Sciences, called “The Art of Interviewing.”
This is a bit of an experiment as it is open to all departments in the faculty. The idea behind this is simple: no matter what the discipline, everyone needs to know how to get information out of people. The response so far has been quite good.
How has journalism changed since you began your career? What is your advice for future journalists who need to stay agile in order to succeed in an ever-shifting media landscape?
FP: The internet is the big game changer, as well as the necessity of being technically fluent and savvy. Otherwise, you need the same old curiosity about the world, an ability to synthesize what you see around you and the capacity to present it in a captivating way. Those are the three essential qualities for a journalist and that, at least, hasn’t changed.
What are your future career goals and aspirations?
FP: To keep doing what I’m doing: write, film, teach.
What are your predictions about the future of journalism?
FP: The world as we know it is in a huge state of flux: culturally, politically and environmentally. The world is crying out, in other words, for great journalism.