November 29, 2011

A "Chat" With The Prime Minister of Canada

The Prime Minister is in front of the second flag from the left. 
I am two seats to his right.
Interviewing the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper – leader of the second largest country in the world was new territory. I have interviewed the Prime Minister of New Zealand John Keys and brushed air space with the Dalai Lama. In all three situations, a reporter mandated to question is also concerned how much time and access is given or can snatch, given one has to write a story of at least a decent 400 words size plus a photograph.      

Well it was a rainy cold late November morning on a Saturday in downtown Vancouver. I knew I was in the right building when I saw a phalanx of men in black (uniform trench coats), no women, noticeably all fit with an average 31 inch waist. And of course the odd security men in blue with their dogs.

I was assigned a reporter’s seat closest to the PM seat. While we were waiting for the PM, three Members of Parliament mixed with the press – if this was a rock concert, you would say they were the opening act.

We were supposed to start the well-controlled media Q&A at 10:30 am but Prime Minister Stephen Harper came in around 11: 10 am. Due to time limitation, coupled with the delay, we were only allowed one question each with no follow up.

At 6’2” taller than my 5’8” frame, the prematurely silver-haired 52 year-old Prime Minister shook my hands and went around and did the same with everybody else. The PM is a conservative dresser from a blue print necktie, blue-striped grey suit, and starched white shirt to black oxford shoes. He can easily pass as a Midwestern or Prairie pastor who just had a full heavy breakfast about to give his Sunday sermon. The shoes, well-shined and clean all around the edges of the outsole, had seen some mileage as evidenced from the under sole, which was facing me most of the time.

Since we as reporters were briefed by one of the PM’s aides that we will get a transcript asap and an official photograph, it was both a relief that I didn’t have to record the proceeding and listen forward/rewind to it later, and a disappointment that we have to rely on an official photograph, which as it turned out was not “journalistic”.

I was the last one to ask, and since my planned question had been touched upon by another reporter, I had to think of a different approach and yet still focused on the subject of economy. The PM was looking at me intently and I thought I saw a smile at some point as he answered my question.

Then the photo op with the PM came. I was first and I asked Mr. Harper whether he wanted me on his right or left side, as some personalities have preferences. “It doesn’t matter.” A hand shake and that was that.

A few hours later, back in front of my laptop and with an emailed transcript received and a very small size jpeg photo, 40 KB, coupled with research, I was able to write an exactly even 450 word piece (shorter than this 750 word blog) which got the thumbs up from my editor. I must say that in order to write the story, I had to weave in the PM’s answers to other reporters’ questions on economy.

It took a couple of e-mail ping-pong returns, for the aide to finally send me a good-size 2 MB photo. It turned out the aide was sending the picture initially from her blackberry because she was not in her office. The deduction was that the blackberry was reducing the size of the picture.

The editor cc'd me as he e-mailed the page editor to take one last look and for the graphic artist to lay out the story for printing.

Writing a story is like having a baby; you anxiously wait for its arrival and see how it turns out. Where there typos? Was the structure clear yet interesting? You tried to figure out these in the pre-printing stages but now and then there are slips through the cracks. Fortunately none for this one. I was a happy camper.

NOTE: Due to copyright laws, I cannot publish the article in this blog yet, and the article is in paper print, not online so there is no link to provide. If you e-mail me a request, I can send you the text.

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